Thursday, June 21, 2007

Barry Commoner at 90. NY Times photo.
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No Common Commoner

Barry Commoner is one of the surviving first wave environmentalists, whose book, The Closing Circle was particularly influential in the 1970s. Born the same year as JFK, Barry Commoner was recently interviewed by the New York Times. There's a new book and a big conference about him upcoming.

In the Times interview, the 90 year old Commoner describes himself as still an optimist, although he is also famous for saying, "When you fully understand the situation, it is worse than you think."

In particular, his Four Laws of Ecology became deeply embedded in the ecological consciousness of activists, and have become bedrock knowledge for ecology ever since. They are (from his Wikipedia article)

1. Everything is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.

2. Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no "waste" in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.

3. Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system.”

4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. In nature, both sides of the equation must balance, for every gain there is a cost, and all debts are eventually paid.
Getting to Real Change

Apropos of the aforementioned apparent exemption of considering real world climate crisis consequences of computers, the nonprofit group Climate Counts found that Silicon Valley computer firms are lagging in their efforts to address the Climate Crisis. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, The valley's passion for green tech notwithstanding, many businesses in older industries such as clothing and food have done more.

Apple got the worst score: on a scale of 100, the Ipod People got 2. However, several of the firms surveyed are just establishing new programs, so Climate Counts will be back to rate them often.

Though Google's ranking wasn't great, David Lazarus outlines its substantial new efforts which indicate it is committed to a "green future."

On a larger scale, to make meaningful changes requires the power to do so--for instance, by controlling where your (electrical) power comes from. California law enables municipalities to do that, and an article in our North Coast Journal suggests how our local committment to alternative renewable energy sources can become more reality than rhetoric.
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Happy Solstice! Check out Summer Literature at Books in Heat.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to Christina Renee Ivory (at left, with
her husband Dave, daughter Olivia and son Alex.) BK photo.
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

student learning to quiet the mind. NY Times photo.
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Beginning With Mindfulness

Largely unheralded in the daily media, schools have been successfully experimenting with various methods for resolving conflicts, and preventing violence. I mention several in my original Skills of Peace article. They include such innovations as the "jigsaw" and Peace Games.

But outer peace and the interface of communication to reach it require inner work as well. The self-knowledge that allows for psychological awareness, for example. And the ability to calm the mind, to center and concentrate. The New York Times writes about one school in Oakland, California using a very ancient technique: meditation.

In their case, it is derived directly from Buddhist practice. The Times story starts:

The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness. With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground.

Just another Bay Area fad? Well, first of all, Oakland is not San Francisco. The school is mostly black and Latino. And more to the point, real results are in the very next paragraph, from out of a student's mouth:

I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” Alex Menton, 11, reported to his classmates the next day. “The mindfulness really helped.”

The story continues: Mindfulness, while common in hospitals, corporations, professional sports and even prisons, is relatively new in the education of squirming children. But a small but growing number of schools in places like Oakland and Lancaster, Pa., are slowly embracing the concept — as they did yoga five years ago — and institutions, like the psychology department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to measure the effects.

Years ago, Jon Kobat-Zinn revolutionized medicine with his program of meditation and yoga applied to the most intractable back pain patients at the University of Massachusetts. Now these efforts in schools are adapting his methods.

Like the back pain efforts, this also zeroes in on a felt need: the ability of students to concentrate. “Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention,” said Philippe R. Goldin, a [Stanford] researcher. “But we never teach them how.”

It also applies to other problems students have, caused by anxieties and peer pressure. Dr. Saltzman, co-director of the mindfulness study at Stanford, said the initial findings showed increased control of attention and “less negative internal chatter — what one girl described as ‘the gossip inside my head: I’m stupid, I’m fat or I’m going to fail math,’ ” Dr. Saltzman said.

The mindfulness program didn't begin in Oakland. Although mindful education may seem like a New Yorker caricature of West Coast life, the school district with possibly the best experience has been Lancaster, Pa., where mindfulness is taught in 25 classes a week at eight schools. The district has a substantial poverty rate, with 75 percent of students qualifying for free lunch.

Teachers report mixed success, which wouldn't surprise anyone who has tried to meditate. Even those who have been meditating for many years have problems--it is a vital part of the process, which is not always obvious to the inexperienced. But the need is so great in a generation surrounded by violence, even among their peers, that even a small help constitutes progress. Above all, linking outer peace with inner change is a crucial step forward toward equipping us all with effective skills of peace.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Welcome to the world, Persephone Boulay Kelso, son of
Matt and Christy, and Margaret's first grandchild.
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Unplug This Book

Technology is magic. We grew up believing it. Who knows or cares how it works? Plug it in, fill 'er up, and go. Who knows or cares what makes it go--or what happens when we throw it Away-- and what they cost us and the planet and the future in other ways?

We started sobering up on that in the 60s with anti-pollution environmentalism, in the 70s with oil shortages and gas prices, in the 80s with recycling, and more recently with the Climate Crisis and the spectre of Peak Oil. But not entirely.

Here online you'll see alarm and anger over deforestation to feed the McDonalds habit, oil to feed the auto eroticism, coal to feed the air fresheners and the freezer the size of the Ritz. You'll see advice on hybrid cars and cooking oil fuel, on replacing lightbulbs and installing insulation, and all manner of conservation strategies. But generally what you won't see is anything about the medium of the message. Computers. Desktop to laptop, Ipod to cell phone and all those hybrid devices. And not too much about the cable TV either. Because they're still magic.

We're starting to wake up, but slowly, about this as well. George Gilder projects that Internet computing will soon require as much power as the entire U.S. economy did in 2001, and author Hunter Lovins estimates the manufacture of a laptop computer creates 4,000 times its weight in waste, much of it toxic. In his prize-winning book, Made to Break, Giles Slade asserts that at least 90 percent of the 315 million still-functional personal computers discarded in North America in 2004 were trashed (it was 63 million just a year before), and more than 100 million cell phones -- 200,000 tons worth -- were thrown away in 2005. Slade is warning of a massive ewaste crisis as U.S. television is mandated to go High Definition digital. Some attention is being paid to this, but is it enough?

As for how much power we are using for computers and the other electronic objects of our affections, some awareness is growing of the electricity they consume when they are supposedly not "on." Because they are, big time. The latest expose is by Larry Magid in the New York Times, with some work-arounds.

But I'm still waiting to see the connections being made between the need to cut CO2, and to get control of the ewaste problem, and the rapidly expanding use of computers and electronics. Somehow I doubt it's going to stop anybody from lining up for their Iphone later this month.
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The myths and meanings of Star Wars at thirty and Star Trek at forty, at Soul of Star Trek.