Thursday, April 30, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
The connections are physical, economic, cultural, and even familial. At the same time, differences in income, opportunity, and in the concentration of wealth are great. Across one of the world's longest and most important land borders, misconceptions abound in both directions.
I have had the opportunity to travel in several parts of Mexico and to live from 1990 to 1997 in the border zone (Tucson, Arizona and Pharr, Texas). Recent stories, especially from some areas of the border, have left me sad and worried. On the occasion of President Obama's visit with President Felipe Calderon, Kai Ryssdal's interviews Council of Foreign Relations expert Shannon O'Neil. Describing the many dimensions of the binational relationship, she helps to keep the current turmoil -- important though it is -- in perspective.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Leaders of the pesticide industry shudders (their word) at the thought of the First Lady eschewing "crop protection products" (their phrase).
CREDO Action has issued an alert; if these guys cared much about what I think, they would not be pesticide executives, but I signed CREDO's petition anyway.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Saturday, April 04, 2009
TILT: The reason for the seasons!
This story, about environmentalists seeking a permit to cut down trees, includes quite a few lessons in environmental geography.
Thanks to my friend Tom for pointing out the most obvious of these: this story results from the inability of an architect and two ecologists to account properly for winter sun angle. At 42 degrees north, the noon sun on the winter solstice does not go higher than 24.5 degrees above the horizon. (90-(42N+23.5S) = 24.5) Even in the summer, the sun does rise higher than 71.5 degrees, (90-(42N-23.5S) = 71.5) though it may seem to be directly overhead. Nobody should be involved in solar power without being able to map out this sort of thing.
Even without trees in the way, the solar panels are not going to be very productve in the winter, given that the winter sun provides far less energy than summer sun (otherwise, winter would be just as warm as summer). First of all, the energy is diffuse -- hold a flashlight perpendicular to a wall and then at a low angle to see this effect. The panels would need to be close to vertical to compensate fully for this factor. Secondly, although the earth is slightly closer to the sun in our winter months, the sunlight must pass through a thicker slice of the atmosphere, so less energy reaches the ground.
The story is a reminder that the "best" environmental choice may not always be obvious. An obscure folk duo known as the Pheromones once sang this about a common question at the grocery store:
Paper bag or plastic?
Going to make me spastic!
Either way we lose the trees,
Or the ozone by degrees!
They were not quite right about the ozone, but the point is well taken -- environmental purity, or simply figuring out how to do the most good or the least damage is difficult at times.
In this case, as with the grocery dilemma, more than two choices (to cut or not to cut) are available. The grocery customer can, of course, bring a canvas bag or simply carry small purchases by hand. Similarly, itwould be useful to look at the necessity of having such a large house, the total carbon impact of energy use plus landscaping, and the possibilities of using other sources of renewable energy in the low-sun season, such as electricity purchased from more productive sources elsewhere.
Finally, the story also points out an interesting conundrum about environmental decisions and spatial scale. To her credit, the homeowner in this case recused herself, as she would otherwise be ruling on her own application. This simply highlights the fact, however, that in Massachusetts the first line of enforcement of many provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act is a locally-appointed board -- very locally! I have actually completed the certification program for Conservation Commissioners in Massachusetts, and I still do not understand this: friends and neighbors get to decide if proposed actions (or completed actions) are in compliance with the Federal law. Of course some safeguards are in place and most of the people who do this work are trying to be honest, but it does politicize decisions that would be better left to professionals who are independent of the stakeholders.
For example, he advises us not to eat anything our great-grandmothers would not recognize as food. I try to imagine telling my own great-grandmother that such advice would ever need to be given. She died in 1987 at the age of 102, having eaten local, organic food all of her life (though she did try a hot dog in her last decade).
Pollan also told us that before becoming a famous author, he had difficulty getting editors interested in his writings about agriculture. When he started telling them that the articles were about food, they became much more interested. The connection between the two had not been obvious to them, which is a sad and telling symptom of our current disconnection from our food.
Read about Pollan's visit at Eating Right, Living Well. My modest geography of food page has many other links about this important subject.
Writing for Edmunds.com, Mac Demere provides Top 10 Ways to Waste Gas. My favorite line from this article, because I've seen it so much:
"You can make a Corolla get the same gas mileage as an 18-wheeler by sitting in the car with the air-conditioner running while waiting in an elementary-school pickup line."
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
It is a policy that clearly has not worked, and has given Castro a pretext for many of his abuses, such as the execution of three men who tried to hijack the Regla ferry in 2003, a couple of months after I had ridden it.
Every U.S. president since Eisenhower has supported the embargo, which makes no sense at all to most people who are younger than the Cold War. They did so to appease a small but vocal group in Florida who believed in the fantasy of reclaiming their long-lost wealth after a counter-revolution. Even most younger members of that community do not believe in the embargo any more.
I had the privilege (should have been a right) to visit Cuba in 2003 under an academic license that the Bush Administration took away in 2004. I would hate to live under its political restrictions, but as a U.S. citizen, I have the right to travel to a lot of places that have far more abusive governments.
From my perpsective the current president and vice president see this issue a bit differently from each other. I am very curious and a bit worried about how this will unfold, but I'm glad that some in Congress are pushing for change now.
The Wild & Scenic designation sometimes causes alarm, because people assume it carries draconian restrictions on land use. In reality, the river's new status would only impose limitations on major, federally-funded projects such as new dams, which are highly unlikely. The designation does, however, make proposals for environmental protection projects automatically more competitive.
Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard on this -- the next chapter in this river's history promises to be even brighter.