the Science of Sustainability


I am at war. I struggle with science, scale, societal governance and popular emotion. I know the planet is self-sustaining. Earth is far bigger and powerful than we generally give it credit for. The Earth might shake us off like fleas, but our planet will “go on” cause it works in repetitive cycles with slow, effective processes at work. Science tells us matter cannot be created or destroyed, only altered. You can’t really “waste” water, you just make it undrinkable for humans. Truthfully and scientifically, the idea of  “Save the Human” really is more the point of sustainability than actually saving the Earth.   

Human history has taken severe and aggressive leaps into the future over the last 100 years, especially when compared to science and technology from the 100 years prior to that, ad infinitum. But in todays social and political climate, sustainability and going green is wholly linked with reducing our individual impact. Get off the grid, paperless billing, recycle, compost, use rain barrels, organic food, caveman diet, just turn on the tv for another example. But how is all of this really reducing human environmental impact… exactly? In real terms of impactful scale to actually effect climate change. My ultimate concern is big business continues to  shirk the full brunt of the environmental monster they created by pitting us against ourselves, like a well planned guilt trip.  And perversely, individuals are spending a lot of consumerist energy trying to reduce their marginal impact. Have you seen the commercial where they suggest you throw away your old vacuum and replace it with this environmentally friendly one made from recycled plastic! Uh wait, what? Actually… the best thing to do is keep one vacuum for the rest of your life, fix it when it’s broken and recycle it if it dies. But who fixes appliances anymore? Repair is usually more expensive than to buy new.  If you are claiming environmental sustainability while you are selling something, I’m suspicious. The jury of scientists is still out, but marketers are running hot and heavy with it anyway.   

Everything, every material and every resource on this planet is natural, but not every natural thing is good for humans. It is not just the scientific altering of matter that creates all the problems. In every generation the experts or “smartest” most influential people, don’t always fully understand what they know or what they are doing, exactly. Not so long ago in our history, a nifty machine in the big shoe stores let you slip your foot into a box and look down on your foot to see if your shoes fit. (Sold  to retailers with the idea parents may better fit children’s feet) This box was a live x-ray machine… irradiating people to sell them shoes! Who approved this for commercial purposes? I’d guess the experts in science and technology of the time. It leads me further to assume that the science and technology of our time is no different in base dynamic.  I immediately think of trans fats and wonder what where the blinding motives of the science at the time or perhaps more insanely, did it have a big business agenda?  Also consider a simple alloy of lead , copper and tin called pewter which for many hundreds of years, people fashioned into plates and cups! While no lead is allowed in pewter today, it took many generations of scientists to discover the facts behind why lead is so dangerous. It is clear, historically, that the world of science will repeat this pattern no matter the advancement of their collective knowledge.  A part can never know the whole but gosh they sure will make assumptions along the way. The cutting edge of science always cuts both ways and so long as we forget to temper scientific academia with the potential dangers of the unknown we will always be their guinea pigs.  The modern use of the words Natural and Organic in the food marketplace is disturbing to me for this exact reason.  All carbon based living things are organic, if it decomposes, it’s organic. The word’s definition has instead been hijacked to imply pesticide or hormone free. Now consider Rotenone, a natural pesticide made from jicima used by organic farmers.  (I’d bet you didn’t know organic farmers used chemical pesticides!) This naturally derived chemical, banned from use in 2005, has since been re-approved for organic farmers. Uh, wait what? Clearly they are still experimenting!  

"The Earth Laughs in Flowers" is one of my favorite books of poetry


Remember all those gullible people who were willing to sign a petition to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide (aka water)?  This study mistakenly assumed people’s scientific ignorance as the  reason for agreement. I would argue that our aversion to complex scientific names is intrinsically linked to a general understanding that the world of science is experimenting on us, whether through carelessness or intent.  


Farming ain’t Easy  

 So I happened on this article about farmers who are rogue planting GMO crops in Italy and getting shut down by their government. (Feel free to take a minute and read it. ) So… I think it quite a mistake to assume that because no ill effects can be proven today of GMO crops that there is no cause to be cautious, and how weird is it that any country must submit to planting seeds it doesn’t want to. That would be like my neighbor insisting that I plant blueberries in my yard because he’s planted some in his!  

 The argument that never happened in the US over GMO has produced fields of very little but those. The argument supporting GMO, is the alternative heavy use of pesticides. The only reason we cannot currently see side effects from GMO is because not enough time or study has been done with this singularly invisible factor truly isolated.  Perhaps a more thorough timeline of GMO can be studied to potentially connect some dots to obesity or diabetes or cancer or longer life, who really knows?! But we got in the game too late and more than 75 percent of corn and soybeans in this country are today, right now GMO. If you watched the movie FOOD Inc. then you see Monsanto for what it is, a shifty pedler of its branded seed. We cannot allow any company to establish a monopoly on plant life. The very idea that anyone altering mother nature can fully “own” the rights to it, is perverse and wrong. We all “own” the plants, the water, the air, they are a divine gift. Can you imagine the day when households are required to pay the city monthly for rain barrels because we are collecting their water? Well… if water companies can ever claim to “own” water with full rights, then one day they just might.



   “Now we are thinking it will be worse than Exxon Valdese”  is what I just heard from authorities…  SHAAAA, You think?
This isn’t a leaky boat, this is mother natures vein and she is bleeding out! I can’t believe what is happening here. Also shocking to me is the lashing people are giving other individuals about driving a car. This is not a result of the use of fuel. It is a result of the practice of off shore drilling and in deeper waters. On land this same problem is much more containable.  Water and oil don’t mix unless you are making salad dressing. Goodbye Gulf seafood, goodbye Gulf fishing folks, goodbye clean beaches. If BP doesn’t foot the bill for every penny of this clean up we really are screwed. If the US Gov is helping in the clean up, taxpayers better be accruing billable hours. Holy sludge!
 Now we get to pay even higher prices at the pump…that’s just what we need at this point in the economy. *Come on Solar Car!* If I didn’t need a car to live my life, like for example if public transportation in my city was actually effective or that my whole life could somehow be lived in a four block radius, awesome, but that is not the case. I already strive not to drive because my budget is roomier without it, but now…holy sludge.
   Recently it snowed in my town which it hasn’t done in a long time. Beautiful glowing landscapes emerged but people did not. After a few days the yuck of cars was visible in the black sooty snow at the side of the roads. I had forgotten. Without the white background, the sputter of exhaust goes unnoticed. It’s not just soil dirty, it’s oil dirty.
In this…a machine for sale that pollutes, why aren’t the auto makers held to task in creating cleaner vehicles? Where is the accountability environmentally? Hundreds of thousands of toxic waste sites are scattered across this beautiful country in every state as a result of the automobile industry.  The meaning of government responsibility in this case should ensure that any contemporary business (in any industry) is not creating a longer than lifetime problem for the rest of us and our kids and our kids-kids.
I would like to buy a solar car, that to me makes the most sense. Get to work you so-called auto industry R&D brainiacs, prove to me you CAN DO IT!

Would you like Smoking or Non?

        Smoking ban in restaurants and bars is coming to North Carolina Jan 2 2010, three days. Secondhand smoke is a serious hazard. Children should never be confined in it, they have little choice. Every adult can choose to be exposed or not be exposed, and stupid as it is, I choose smoking. As a parent, I only smoke outside.

 Banning smoking in bars and restaurants is often tied with setting workers free from this environment. The problem is that these workers are adults. When I hire a person, they are asked if they have any objection to working in smoke and are accomodated.  Most of them smoke themselves!  I get that smoking is bad but so is drinking.  How many places are we really affecting with the formal LAW. Most places are non-smoking these days anyway. This law confines only a few holdout businesses. Don’t believe the old “saving health care costs” rational because a healthy person usually outlasts a smoker by 8 years. Those last aged eight years are more expensive than a smoker’s death. Smoking taken too seriously and goodbye smoked bacon, see you later charcoal grill, mark my words. I think it is ridiculous that banning smokers outdoors is steps closer and even discussed. Especially by example of Prichard Park, where you can’t smoke a cigarette, but a delivery truck can sit idle for 15 minutes puffing out black smoke?  Secondhand smoke studies have NEVER been done outdoors because there are too many variables. The wind goes where it wants to, so can you.

 I will comply with the new indoor ban but I don’t like it! I see it as the Squeaky Wheel Act. Non smokers all over this country have rallied round the capitals to get their way so they can go everywhere and anywhere they want to. Smokers are fully within their rights to smoke, yet have no freedoms or places to do so except in “certain public places”. Exemption of Cigar Bars, exemption of smoking in non-profit clubs, (hmm…open alcohol container law exemptions in limousines), gee, these all together scream what is not good for the goose is okay for the gander. And that gander has expensive taste! These un-banned exceptions are disingenuous and another example of our political leaders treating “the public” like dumb sheep.  Those who can afford to can be seen drinking in limousines to and from the cigar bar and club enjoying a smoke, while the average smoker is forced outdoors, freezing in the winter or boiling in the summer, not able to find anywhere publically indoors to commit this legal adult behavior. How equitable!

Honestly I don’t see my small business as being a “public place” in nature, it’s certainly open to the public but quite privately owned, it is my second home. I can ask people to leave and not return, just as  people can choose to come in or not. It’s not the post office.   That’s why it’s called the hospitality industry, you are the host, they are the guest.  People smoke, I would like to be able to accomodate them but my hands are tied. More people smoke than you think. Believe me when I say there are numerous self-labled non-smokers who occasionally have a smoke with a drink!

UPDATE : 4/4/10

So a few months in to the ban it is not so bad… I guess.  Like I said, I smoke outside in my own habit, but it should would be nice to have an adult spot where I could hang out indoors and enjoy!  Ha! Likely story.

I know I have to quit one of these days. Today is not the day.

Government Responsibility…and automobiles

These days you hear a lot about “the Big 3″. They want money to support their business, because the American public has stopped buying their cars. There are lots of industries that influence our economy and many who have seen a shrinking of their profits. Small business makes up 2/3 of our economy. Big business only 1/3. Where is the small business stimulus? Thankfully our Senate has had enough backbone to refuse the auto deal. But when will the political pressure overwhelm common sense? The old adage money talks and bullshit walks means if as a company you are not generating enough business you must adapt to the market and fill people’s needs to bring in the money. It’s that simple and it that hard. If the government is asked to prop up a company that the public no longer supports with its wallet, a few basic questions must be asked and answered before a government pay day is even considered.
Why are these Big 3 companies not doing well?
Everywhere you go you see a car. Some old some new. What’s the problem? It’s not like we all junked our cars and started riding the bus or a bike. Perhaps their business model has been in trouble for a while. Personally I own a rice burner, not because I don’t love the USA or dislike American cars. Mostly because it was cheap, got decent gas mileage and cost little in maintenance and repairs. Most average people look for these ideals in a vehicle. American cars are big and bulky and suck up gas like no other. Why do I keep hearing that Americans won’t buy smaller more efficient cars, but at the same time the automakers can’t keep enough in stock? My ten year old car gets 30 mpg, I am not very excited when I see a current ad for a car that touts its environmentalism and gets the same mileage as my TEN YEAR OLD car. Really, in ten years that the standards haven’t been raised, is that the best they could do? Our choices swing from one end of the spectrum to another, from the smart car that hardly holds two people to giant suburban’s that hold 9 people but rarely land in the middle. Where is the midsized miracle that gets great gas mileage and holds enough people to satisfy the average American family’s needs? People are not going to continue to invest in the same old dirty technology when we see our green future staring us in the face…and it doesn’t look like your average American car, it looks more like your average foreign car. What have US auto makers done to fill the real needs of their customers?
How are they running their businesses?
Every business must balance the costs of their activities, advertising, payroll, and materials with cash flow and profits. These costs of doing business are reported internally at least quarterly, if not monthly, weekly or daily. Executive compensation, costs for lobbyists, advertising and other frivolous costs are sore spots in the budget as executives apportioned considerable sums of money to inefficient and self-serving spending. Who are the Boards financial advisors? The Board of Directors is put in place to manage the business; it would seem they were asleep at the wheel or perhaps unmotivated to be efficient. Maybe if they were more interested in reducing their costs while contributing to our global environment they would have long figured out how to partner creatively with junk yards to reclaim steel, plastics and other valuable materials. Perhaps if they spent some time in R&D to actually improve the efficiency of their cars and trucks they might have more funds on their bottom line. Perhaps if they had been leaders in their industry instead of laggards of technology, they would not be in the position they are in today. It cannot be overlooked that while company financials have signaled serious problems for years, frivolous and irresponsible spending continued.
What are their plans for the future?
Even before the thought of Government money crossed their minds they should have had some plans for the future. The auto industry is estimated to employ 3 million people, a point that many auto bailout supporters cling to. Currently more than 10 million people are collecting unemployment, what is so especially about these particular 3 million. If the Big 3 have no corporate plan for the future, they should go back to business school, where they teach you to always have a business plan with clear goals and strategy. If the Big 3 have failed to plan, they are planning to fail. The US government should not stand in their way.
So where does Government responsibility land in all this private industry mess? The US government should only take a stance in the auto wars in terms of the tax payer’s big picture. Environmental emissions, toxic waste, physical safety and other consumer protections are the beginning and the end of what the government should regulate. If thirty years ago, we passed regulatory laws that required min. 40 mpg Americans and automakers might be in a better position than we are now. But when you look back thirty years ago, the Big 3 were the first to implore to lawmakers that higher mpg was everything from impractical to impossible, not to mention too expensive to implement. The Big 3 are victims of their own success. The annals of history will show that the American people have already paid dearly for the auto industry and its wasteful practices, let’s hope our Government doesn’t increase the burden.
Bankruptcy is not the death of a company. It is a marked change from its past, something of which US automakers are desperately in need. Our government has no right to enter this debate; it is a war being waged on the streets of every town USA. The American people speak quietly but effectively with their wallets. The US government should follow our lead.