Archive for the ‘climate change’ Tag

Canada Free Press – What A Joke!

Every now and then, I stumble across someone (usually an intellectually-barren right winger) who cited http://www.canadafreepress.com to support an argument. Even more amusing is that occasionally people seem to think that writing for this blog is some kind of journalistic credential.

When your tagline is “Because without America there is no free world…” I have to wonder what the “Canada” part is all about. CFP started as a print paper in Toronto, a right wing free birdcage liner, but it’s now rarely about Canada, and more a haven for American conservatives, and frankly, not good ones. There used to be a comedic value to it, but even that’s gone. Now it’s just… well… I can’t describe it. So let’s look at one of their articles, about the evil (well, if you grossly misinterpret it) UN Agenda 21) and its impact on the military, by Dr. Ileana Johnson Paugh. The article is here. Read carefully, because some of the hilarity is subtle.

The good doctor’s article is based on a US government directive about sustainability and designs for military bases – to make them more “walkable”, something that’s been, as I understand it, an urban planning concept for a long time. Most military bases I’ve been on aren’t, don’t offer much in the way of incentive for transit or ride share, and are thus often traffic nightmares. A base I spent a lot of time on has three gates fed by a series of collector roads, and it’s not uncommon to spend 15-20 minutes or more trying to get out at the end of the day, sitting in traffic. To travel a kilometre or two. That’s a lot of cars idling for no good reason. But I guess, if you’re a right wing moron, that’s not a big deal.

She wastes little time to turn an architect’s report on the community around the US Air Base at Aviano into a snipe at Italy – suggesting “they can defend themselves”. Which, of course, they do, which a fairly large and well-equipped military. I’m not entirely sure who or what the US base at Aviano defends Italy from, and would guess it primarily serves US and not Italian interests.

I particularly love this paragraph:

The military leadership explains that transit-oriented development reduces traffic congestion and accident rates while encouraging walking, bicycling, and overall healthy communities. This is a ridiculous excuse since a soldier, by definition, has to be healthy and fit in order to serve in the military. Walking and biking actually increase accident rates of hit and run. There are retirees, even young ones, who are handicapped, and biking and walking is not an option for them. We have thousands of soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Iran with severe, life altering disabilities.

I literally cannot make any sense of this. Where to begin? First, military communities don’t just include “soldiers”. Bases employ civilians. Military families use their facilities as well. And ultimately, that soldiers have a fitness standard that the general public doesn’t has pretty much nothing to do with this. Increased rates of hit and run? Okay, whatever. Conveniently, the Good Doctor offers no statistical support for this, and I somehow don’t think it’s particularly important. Biking and walking aren’t an option for lots of people, sure, but nothing in the ideas of better urban planning makes it impossible. Thanks to not right wing people, after all, we have laws about making sure that we accommodate disabled people. Of course, if you’re a certain class of conservative, you think those laws are an encroachment on your civil liberties and free enterprise, but we’ll try to leave Paultards out of this, shall we? I also love she says soldiers “returned from Iraq and Iran”, to help build the case that on basically the entire subject matter of this post, she has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Iran? Really?

Another gem of a paragraph:

Because of drastic cutbacks in the military for cost-saving reasons, at a time when the world threat to our country is at an all time high, we do not have money to refurbish and modernize the military capability. We let soldiers fight in Afghanistan and Iraq with scarce resources and protection, having to duct-tape their body armor to non-armored vehicles in order to provide some level of safety.

Well, “we” sent soldiers to fight a way in Iraq without proper equipment because there wasn’t enough of it to go around. By invading Iraq, Afghanistan was neglected with victory declared early, and it was allowed to fester. And the war with Iraq was totally unnecessary. By the way, which political party has members that actually voted against better equipment for soldiers? Ooops.

The military is more concerned with rules and regulations, like a soldier being licensed properly to drive an un-armored SUV through a war zone. Those who make ill-conceived rules from the safety of their offices in Washington, D. C. do not worry that this soldier might be blown off by a roadside bomb because his vehicle is not armored.

Why are soldiers “licensed” to drive UP-armoured (not “un-armoured”) SUVs? In the case of some places, because they’re less conspicuous and easier to maneuvre around cities. Big convoys of armoured vehicles are juicy targets. Consider the attack on the Rhino Bus on October 29, 2011 in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was a big, heavy, armoured vehicle, and a vehicle-borne IED destroyed it and killed all its occupants. It was a clear, significant target. SUVs disappear into traffic, theoretically. Why are they “licensed”? Because they have to pass a driving test that’s a little more than what most people do – how to drive evasively, and maneuvres that increase the safety of the driver and their passengers. Not just anyone should be thrown keys and told to have at it.

“Which would you rather have? Would you rather spend $4 billion on Air Force Base solar panels, or would you rather have 28 new F-22s or 30 F-25s or modernized C-130s? Would you rather have $64.8 billion spent on pointless global warming efforts,  or would you rather have more funds put towards modernizing our fleet of ships, aircraft and ground vehicles to improve the safety of our troops and help defend our nation against the legitimate threats that we face?” (Sen. James Inhofe as quoted by Caroline May)”

I like the solar panels thing. I recently read an article about the US Marine Corps using them on FOBs in southern Afghanistan, saving massive amounts of fuel that would be needed for generators to power the installation. Not only does using less fuel save money, and hey, it’s good for the environment (particularly relevant when the US military is under fire for the air quality on their bases, generator emissions are not exactly good in that sense) – but it saves lives potentially because less fuel consumption means less convoys to transport fuel, means less vehicle movement on the roads, regardless of whether the vehicles are armoured or unarmoured.

Yet we spend billions to needlessly restructure military bases into global environmentalism compliance. It is more important for our executive branch to “sustain” the so-called endangered environment, and please the environmentalist wackos, than to defend our country.

Actually, as I understand it, the directives apply to new base construction and chages thereto. Environmental compliance not only is good for the entire world, it saves money, and in most cases, if you look at what sustainable communities are actually about, it makes them more pleasant places to live. Saving money on defence facilities (the massive of cost of which she references in her article, oddly enough!) leaves more money available for defence, or whatever else. There’s literally nothing bad I can see about that, at all. Unless, like The Good Doctor, you want to make a series of arguments from ignorance to hear yourself speak.

Advertisements

Musings About Agriculture

Between reading Collapse and the fascinating program I heard on CBC Radio One’s documentary program Ideas, I’ve been really fascinated with agriculture lately. Well, it’s not totally a new thing, it’s something I have always had some interest in.

Like so many, I grew up in suburban sprawl, with not a tremendous amount of contact with food supplies. I did have some idea about how we got our food insofar as we grew a fair variety of vegetables in our garden, and frequently during the summer we would travel down to the Niagara Peninsula to buy fresh fruit from the farms there.

My parents were no fans of convenience foods or fast foods so we did a lot of cooking from scratch which gave me some interest in culinary arts in general as well.

Most of what I knew about industrial agriculture came from a study in university on the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy and anecdotes about my uncle, who was a dairy farmer in England, who eventually gave up farming altogether.

Without trying to rehash a nine year old essay, what you might call industrial intensive agricultural has been encouraged in the West as a means, theoretically, of providing cheap, plentiful food. It requires significant energy inputs, both to operate farms and to produce the fertilizers required to keep land productive.

The impact has been rather damaging – both the externalized costs of pollution and run-offs, but also in unusual consequences. The CAP encourages production of as much as possible because of guaranteed price system, which has led farmers to plough up hedgerows and culverts, destroying habitat for migratory birds, etc.

It is interesting to note that in many places where societies/civilizations have collapsed misuse of land has been a significant contributor. Livestock is often a contributor to the problem, which is where I think the argument for vegetarianism got a lot stronger, the idea being that the inputs for raising, for example, beef, would actually feed many more people than the beef itself would. It makes a lot of sense.

Then I heard about more sustainable agriculture models, which resemble the original more traditional family farm model, where pastured livestock is raised on grass forage rather than heavily subsidized grain, and a variety of symbiotic relationships can be harnessed. This is what Polyface Farm in Virginia does, and to have heard Joel Salatin, whose family runs the farm I heard about, talk about his model is pretty incredible. You can check it out at http://polyfacefarms.com/ and see a lot about how it works.

The contrast he talked about in the doc I heard was the concept of the feedlot, where livestock are packed in tight, fed subsidized grain, along with loads of antibiotics necessitated by the potential for the spread of disease in such unnatural circumstances.

The trick it sounds like is that because the agriculture industry is dominated by large players with the ear of government policy continues to seem to favour them, and the Ideas piece highlighted the fact that small packing plants which could process small herds for local sale have largely disappeared, because of onerous regulation.

Without trying to sound conspiratorial it is rather hard to try to explain such legislation and ignore the concept of lobbying impact. The big players in agribusiness surely have a role to play.

The thing is that I am starting to learn how mismanaging land as a resource – soil fertility, fresh water access, etc – is a key factor in failures of civilizations. One need not look far to see what happens with bad stewardship, even beyond the stark examples Jared Diamond writes about.

Consider, for example, Zimbabwe. Once the breadbasket of Africa, Southern Rhodesia was a political pariah after the unilateral declaration of independence under Ian Smith. Thriving commercial farms not only produced ample food, but tobacco and other products. The impact of sanctions made Rhodesia create its own economy and it muddled through. My father corresponded with ham radio operators there and learned much about the place during that era.

Then came 1980 – Rhodesia became Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe became president. And things began to unwind dramatically. First in the early 1980s Mugabe launched violence against rivals in Matabeleland, but the real damage came starting in the late 1990s – “land reforms” a forced redistribution of land from mostly white commercial farmers to blacks, mostly ZANU-PF cronies dubiously called “war veterans”.

Not shockingly, with no aptitude for farming, these folks have in a few years destroyed the land, with fertile soil eroding away and Zimbabwe now relying on importing food. This sort of thing happens globally but this is the shocking extreme.

A recent op ed in the Globe & Mail looked at the other side though, how smallholders are not any better. It seems like ingenuity in farming will be essential to increasing food production in a sustainable way, but the reality seems that nature may have a means of dealing with the problem – starvation as population control.

This subject will continue to fascinate me and I think will get me to study it more. As I contemplate a new home in the spring I’ve already got quite an interest in looking into growing a lot, rather than having some lawn to look after.

On Human Costs of Disasters

We’ve all seen the atrocious toll that the Deepwater Horizon disaster has taken, the oil and tarballs on beaches, the pelicans coated in the sludge.  We all heard (though many complained, with some justification, not enough) about the fact that 11 men who worked aboard the rig were killed in the initial explosions.  I say with some justification, because I don’t actually know if they were all men.  The industry is dominated by men but not exclusively ruled by men…  We have seen ample evidence of the havoc that has been wreaked by our efforts to extract more precious petroleum, that resource on which we have an unbreakable addiction, from more and more inaccessible locations.

There’s been only little bits said about the ripple effects spreading throughout the region, as fisheries are likely forever poisoned, and the people who depend on the Gulf to eke out some sort of a life for themselves stare at a future more bleak than any they have likely ever known.  It’s not just this one thing, either – but a series of catastrophes, mainly natural, that blight the region.

I’ve never been to Louisiana, but sometime soon I want to go – I want to see as best I can what’s left of the place, to try to and imagine what it was like before all these messes befell the region.

The great encapsulation of the tragedy is the story I heard the other day of William Allen Kruse, the captain of a charter fishing vessel based in Alabama called the Rookie.  His business basically destroyed, he took work from BP as part of the cleanup, and according to what I can read about him, became utterly despondent at seeing the fact that what he had build his entire livelihood around lay in ruins around him.  After putting out to sea, he was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.  His story, I fear, isn’t particularly unique – the ending perhaps more tragic than many will be, but the cost on the mental health of the people impacted directly must be staggering in ways most people cannot even begin to comprehend.  There are a variety of sources (that I’m apparently just too lazy tonight to link) about increases in domestic violence, people seeking medical attention for mental health issues, etc in the region, because of the impact of the spill.

It’s not just fishermen and charter boat operators being trashed.  It’s the various companies that service drill rigs.  There is a company based not far from where I live that is big in this industry, and these are very, very good paying jobs that are vanishing.  From a purely economic standpoint, that impact too must be felt in places like Port Fourchon which is one of the main supply bases for drilling operations.  Companies that own the support ships, companies that supply the rigs, they are all basically grinding to halts.  That means less people having money to spend on virtually everything, the wonder of an economic concept called the multiplier at work, except in the reverse of the way we generally learn about it – the money flowing into these communities already drying up.

I read not long ago several interesting articles about the severe environmental issues that already existed in much of the south.  I’ve always had an interest in these sorts of things, you see, and I’m the kind of person who needs the distraction of randomly reading up on something from time to time during the day.  I was drawn to the story of some of the small towns in Louisiana in the Lake Charles area, for example, that play home to huge petrochemical factories, factories that some argue only exist there because of the fact that the locals, who we’ll just say are generally part of a particular identifiable group, were so significantly disenfranchised that they couldn’t prevent them from coming, even if they claimed to offer good jobs.  Companies making things like vinyl chloride, generating toxic pollution on scales incomprehensible to most people, in flagrant violation of the law.  Go take a look on Google Earth – look at Lake Charles and then pan east and south and see the massive complexes there.

This is the lot that these people have had to contend with for years.  And it’s gotten dramatically worse since Deepwater Horizon.

When I heard about Mr. Kruse’s suicide, I was riding in to work with my wife, as we do, and the conversation was one of the more interesting ones, and one of the few tiems it seems we wound up vehemently disagreeing.  While I don’t condone Mr. Kruse’s choice, I think I can empathize to some extent, I can see why he may have found there was no way out.  I can’t imagine the stress of watching everything you’ve ever worked at evaporate because of corporate greed (if that in fact was the cause, but it does sound that way thus far), with no ability to do anything about it.  I can imagine the financial hardship, and can’t help but wonder how leveraged he was already – what bills he couldn’t even begin to pay.

It’s hard to find any sort of hope in a situation this bleak.  I hope that this will be the only story of it’s kind I hear, but I can’t say I’m optimistic.

A Short Musing On Cheap Oil

Between the European fiscal mess, the BP oil disaster, North Korea sinking a South Korean Navy ship, and the fact that the weather in Nova Scotia is just finally starting to get nice, I’ve been unable to really focus on any particular issue or event in the world to really pump out good blog fodder.  (That, of course, assumes that I do in the first place, which may or may not be the case).

I’m on an environmental kick lately though, and I think I have always had that streak.  Right now it’s being fuelled by a few desires – mainly market signals, which are to someone who likes the idea of markets creating allocative efficiency, is good.  I made what I think is a very wise decision a while back to buy a diesel-fuelled car.  At the time I bought it, I had a fairly long commute and ideas about great long roadtrips, and the fact that it gets far better mileage was something I welcomed.  In fact, my biggest grip at the time (October 2005)  was that there were so few diesel models on offer in North America.  Europe has always been far ahead of us there.

Diesel engines, of course, are not really as clean as gasoline engines, litre for litre of fuel consumption – but the advantage comes from using less fuel per kilometre travelled.  I have two Volkswagens – a Rabbit and a Jetta.  The former is gasoline-engined, the latter diesel.  The Rabbit’s a little lighter in curb weight but uses about 50% more fuel for travelling.  I know this because I’ve been using an iPhone app to track it, just out of interest mostly, but also in the vain hope that I’ll be able to claim some of it as a tax deduction.

The whole thing about markets and what I was starting into last night is a belief I have that we don’t pay anywhere near adequate cost for things like fuel – particular petroleum and other non-renewables.  The simplistic solution is to use taxation to adjust the cost to something more realistic and then use the tax revenues toward remeditation.  Great idea, but I can already hear the more reasonable complaints, and I’d echo them – the funds wouldn’t go into remediation or alternatives, they’d go into general revenues and be squandered in the manner practiced so effectively by governments.

I saw the same thing living in Ontario with the Liberal Government’s “OHIP Levy” that “wasn’t a tax”, even though it was determined by income and collected by payroll deductions.  The money didn’t get earmarked specifically for healthcare, it just went into general accounts and disappeared with no real explanation.

Never mind that jacking up the price of a significant input without good alternatives would be economically very destructive and probably counterproductive in the end.  We need to have a little more complex and working solution that that – it’ll take thinking, something that some in the realm of politics seem woefully unwilling to do in any way.

The trick, I would think, lies in expanding the range of alternative fuels available, and alternatives to driving – rail and other mass transit infrastructure.  Until they become more accepted they’d need some subsidization or tax incentives to expand.  This is something that is being tried in Canada, where monthly transit passes attract a federal tax credit – but it’s on the lowest tax rate of 15.5%.  I’d like to see the passes attract a higher credit rate – maybe against the maximum federal income tax rate.

At the same time as this expansion happens, there then can be efforts to disincentivize driving – at least in areas where there’s effective mass transit.  The issue that I can see with the idea of promoting alternatives to driving is that they work well in urban areas, but in a country like Canada – or the United States, too – where there are huge amounts of people living in rural areas where transit simply isn’t an alternative, is that you’ll punish those folks – and the resentment will build quickly.

It’s not an easy thing to think through – how to get us off our addiction to cheap oil, when the alternatives are slow coming and not universally available.  It has to be something one feels in the wallet in order to create incentive to change – but how to make it happen without causing too much adjustment pain.  Or maybe, just maybe, we have to consider that the pain is necessary and just take the big shock at once, get it over with, like ripping a bandaid off – but I don’t think that’s possible given the amount of things that would change quickly.

The trick is to find that sort of balance that allows us to wean ourselves off – the incentives to develop alternatives to oil, and to find ways to maximize what we have – the ways in which we have wasted the resources over the past 150 or so years – making lots of cheap plastic junk, burning off usable gas as a byproduct, building ridiculously inefficient cars because it didn’t matter, all of that has to end and be used as a base point from which to improve.  We’ve put people on the moon, we have to be able to solve this sort of problem, surely.

On labels – and my own views

Frequently, when engaged in what I consider to be discourse spiralling off the rails, I find people who can no longer defend their position and cannot withdraw with some manner of decorum like to throw out labels and expletives and end. Sometimes I accept this as inevitable, sometimes I feel like I want to push on to make clear.

My Twitter profile describes me as a “recovering conservative”. I actually got that, sort of, from a Tori Amos T-Shirt. I think it’s a line from a tune but cannot think of which song it is that contains the line. No matter. It gets the point across at least.

Amusingly enough, when it’s Canadians I’m talking to, people tend to think I’m fairly sharply right-leaning. American right wingers in particular label me a liberal (or their more juvenile variations of the word). Not surprising then that I like to think of myself as a pragmatic centrist. I have views that fall all over the spectrum. So the purpose of this entry, started as I wait in line to get my car washed, is to try to set out some of my points of view and perhaps that’ll help those who choose to read this. I’ll go through a myriad of major issues and try to let you now how you can expect me to argue on any of them.

Origins are a good place to start, to give you some context as to where I came from. I grew up in a fairly wealth suburb of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My father, who immigrated to Canada in his early 20s from England, worked for one of the Big Five banks. My mother is from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. She came from a working class family, who lived a modest life. She left Cape Breton to work as a nurse, a career she practiced until being forced into early retirement after a car accident.

My mom’s family was Roman Catholic, but religion wasn’t much to her. I got baptized in an RC church as is the custom primarily, I think, to appease her parents. My father is non-religious. I know he believes in something – or rather – that he did as he was a Master Mason before I was born. He’s actually mused about joining a lodge again, but that’s another matter.

I started in Montessori School when I was three, and when the time came to go on to “regular” school to start Grade 1, my parents decided to enrol my in a Catholic School. Without getting too into the weeds, in Ontario, due to some bizarre historical reasons, There is a publicly-funded Roman Catholic Separate School system, and that’s where they decided I was going, as they felt the school was the better option. You might have the idea of a parochial school being taught by nuns and that sort of nonsense, but that’s actually not really at all what it’s like. It’s more or less like any other school, with a little catechism mixed in. In any case, even as a kid I didn’t really buy into the religious nonsense, and it certainly wasn’t reinforced at home so it didn’t bother me much.

I took no real notice of religious anything as a kid, until I was about 10 or 11. The world was a changing place then, and that’s when I started watching the news as things like the fall of Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that sort of thing happened. I was also a voracious reader – of history, or science, of all sorts of things. I started to realize that fairy stories about gods and so on were basically nonsense – a part of the evolution of the species, perhaps, but one no longer needed.

I rejected religion completely and finally in Grade 8, which is when you make the Sacrament of Confirmation. Rather than doing the course of study required to prepare for it, a sympathetic teacher instead had me study all sorts of religions, which was actually quite enlightening. The next year I started high school, and went into a regular public high school.

I gravitated toward a lot of right wing ideas initially. Even to some extreme ideas at first, because it was easy to be targetted as a white kid in a multicultural city when you started to wonder if you could live as well as your folks did. Canada was slowly emerging from a severe recession, and it looked like the future was pretty bleak. Blaming newcomers for our perceived miserably bleak future was easy. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to see the stupidity of those ideas, and I realized that being surrounded by so much from all over the world is actually amazing. Toronto is a phenomenal city to grow up near for that reason – you can find literally everything there as long as you know which neighbourhood to go to.

As I got to high school the views I hold now really started to gel. I became a very staunch social liberal in most cases. I took up an interest in debate then, arguing heavily for legalization of marijuana, for example – but also against pointless efforts are gun control, and so on. I believed that the idea of fiscal conservativism, but that government should largely not interfere in people’s private lives – but I also saw what I would later learn more explicitly in university, about how the free market is not perfect, that it doesn’t deliver socially optimal outcomes, and that the reason we created governments and societies is that we realized a need to organize certain social structures.

Into university I started to get involved in politics, becoming a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, provincially and federally. At that time, the effort to “Unite The Right” was in full force, and I found myself immersed in those of the more right wing ideas, and as a Red Tory I started to feel unrepresented. When the merger of the Reform Party and Progressive Conservative Party of Canada happened, I gave up my membership and watched as the social conservatives from the Reform side get more and more clout in the party. I think that’s when I started to adopt the “recovering conservative” label. During university I joined the Army and politics didn’t mesh so well with it so I just stopped really caring, other than to vote.

So I guess I could now go into a few of the issues that tend to be top of conversation, and you can slot me into whatever pigeonhole you feel like slotting me into.

Religion: Well – this is pretty clear. I’m a fairly fervent atheist, though I fit mostly into what has been labeled the “weak atheist” camp. I don’t really care about what most people think in terms of religion. If that’s what you need to get through the day, I feel a little bit of pity perhaps, but that’s fine. If your beliefs don’t in any way interfere with my life, or you have respect for those who reject religion, then I’m fine with you. I’ve actually had some very, very enjoyable discussions with religious people, including Chaplains in the military, and even pastors in some cases – of course, progressive, decent ones. The people I hold in complete contempt and have no issue grappling with (because honestly, it’s pretty fun at times) are the evangelical nutcases that I really fear gaining any sort of political power. The rich irony of these people bleating about freedom, liberty, and so on is priceless, when the reality is that they crave some manner of theocracy that will be the end of freedom. I fight their influence because it has to be fought. It’s evil and malignant. The people that want to displace science from classrooms, give mythology equal footing with reality, who want to put theology into government and rewrite history to support that aim – these people are enemies of liberty, of freedom, of society, and I hold for them nothing but contempt.

Government “size”, taxation, etc.: I believe in relatively limited government. I don’t see any reason that government should grow infinitely, but at the same time I accept that it is vital. A basic course in economics reveals that free markets are prone to fail for a variety of reasons and that’s why we have governments. I believe in progressive taxation, keeping corporate taxes low so long as income flows into personal incomes and is taxed there, and in effective regulation of markets. Since externalities are not priced into markets effectively, the tax system and legal system must be employed to attempt to do so.

I do not accept the assertion that governments are necessarily inefficient or wasteful, or at least, that they are any more of these things than corporations can be. That being said, governments should only involved in sectors where there are market failures – healthcare being chief among them. If you’re reading this blog though, you’ve probably already figured that out – I’m a staunch supporter of universal healthcare because economically it makes sense. The evidence is pretty clear.

Climate change: See previous blog entry. Denying this is like supporting creationism. Just plain fucking stupid. We can debate to what extent it’s anthropogenic until we’re blue in the face, but the facts remain clear. There is piles of science that shows how severe the problem is – and there’s basically nothing credible opposing it. Ironically, I believe there’s a good “Pascal’s Wager” type argument to be made for doing something about it. We have basically nothing to lose by getting on the problem – and it gives North America the opportunity to reinvigorate our economy, because the old “manufacturing” economy is not coming back. Innovation is what will preserve us.

Marriage equality: gays have been able to marry in Canada for a few years now. What impact has that had on my life, or the general public? None. None whatsoever. Like most controversial issues where wingnut people expect doom, nothing happened. Pretty simple.

Gay Rights In General: I like Pierre Trudeau’s POV. “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” The ideas that right wing people have about homosexuality are so insane I can’t even really understand how they formed them. I love, in particular, the assertion that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice”. It makes perfect sense that someone would choose to live a life that invites persecution, social ostracism, etc. The idea that they can be “cured” is even more pathetically laughable, given that organizations dedicated to this sort of tomfoolery are constantly embarrassed by being “outed”. Similarly, I’m glad to see the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. This policy is just lunacy, and the arguments supporting continued discrimination are pathetic.

Abortion rights: I’m pro-choice. Like most issues, this is simply none of the government’s business. I find the anti-choicers’ ability to make up new and more ridiculous arguments in favour of their POV a little humourous, and a little sick. I particularly love ignorant Christians from the south now playing the “black genocide”. As if they really care about that. Brilliant. I’d suggest a read of Freakonomics if you want to see a more disturbing, if direct, explanation of impact of Roe Vs. Wade. In Canada, we just scrapped laws about the issue. Again, the sky didn’t fall on us.

Gun control: I don’t see anything wrong with law-abiding, decent citizens owning firearms. I enjoy shooting recreationally and own guns. I comply with the laws of the land, but in the case of Canada’s laws, I think they’re also stupid. The long gun registry in particular is probably the most ridiculous bureaucratic structure there is. It is of basically no value, and it stole $2 billion from Canadian taxpayers, money which could have been used for actually fighting crime in some manner.

That being said, the shit that goes on in the US is ridiculous. Open carrying as a form of protest just makes me shake my head. Handguns as an accessory is just fucking stupid, and that’s all there is to it. I don’t have as much a problem with concealed carry, but even that seems foolish. There’s something stupid and juvenile about needing to carry around a pistol.

Far worse than that is the shit with the teabaggers wanting to use their Second Amendment right to add some drama to their protests. It’s intimidation, really. Incidentally, though it doesn’t really matter to me, I don’t think their interpretation of the Second Amendment (especially since they omit the beginning part, the whole “well-regulated militia” piece) is exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind. That’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Anyhow, if you’ve got this far, I’m pretty impressed. It least gives you an idea of who I am and why I don’t think I’m too easy to label. It’s definitely a matter of being mostly in the centre of things, and able to think critically. That’s what really matters – pragmatism.

Climate Change Deniers – The New Truthers?

Nothing staggers and irritates me more than the ignorance of people who want to ignore climate change.  The folks who say “Hey, it’s snowing in Texas, global warming must be a big lie” stagger me because they’re just so stupid.  Never mind the fact that climate and weather aren’t the same thing, or the fact that bizarre weather patterns stem from unusual temperatures in parts of the oceans, it’s just ridiculous that these people have decided that massive heaps of peer-reviewed science are somehow “junk” because the contrived nonsense pumped out by deniers says so.

It’s funny, because one of the standard nonsense arguments that theists like to bring up when I get entangled with them is something called “Pascal’s Wager”.  The argument basically considered the possible outcomes of choosing to believe of not believe in god, against the possibility of god ecisting or not existing.  Pascal basically made the argument that if you believed in god and he didn’t exist, the consequence was basically nothing, but if you didn’t believe, and god did exist then the consequences were disastrous.

In a theological debate, the premise is a little ridiculous, it doesn’t hold any logical basis, though I’m sure for many people it’s reason enough to keep faith.

I saw a video a while ago which basically translated Pascal’s Wager to the climate change debate.  There’s four possible outcomes.  It’s either real or not real, and we either act or we don’t.  If it’s not real and we don’t act, that’s great.  If it’s not real and we act, well, we could still potentially benefit a great deal from developing new technologies and ideas that still conserve resources, make for cleaner air, etc.  If it’s real and we act, we could greatly improve our lives and possibly save ourselves as a species.  If it’s real and we don’t act – well, the results will be determined by just how severe the reality is.

The reality is that most of the changes we would need to make to address climate change would benefit us in the long run by conserving non-renewable resources like oil, natural gas, and coal.  The fact is that burning these fuels has a variety of negative environmental consquences besides CO2 production that we know to be altering the climate, as well as things likes the pH of seawater.  I say we know this because it is fact, supported with piles of research.  Burning oil releases sulphur and nitrogen oxides which create smog and acid rain.  Coal burning produces those, but also emits things like mercury into the air.

So what happens if we act to reduce those emissions?  Well, we have to come up with a way to do so – and cap & trade is one method suggested.  This sort of thing isn’t really new – I remember back in Costa Rica when I was there in 1998 that carbon offsetting and trading was being discussed then – primarily as a means to support ecologically-minded charities’ efforts to buy up rainforest tracts to preserve them.  There’s of course the argument that India & China won’t play along – but this to me is sort of a variation of the “tu quoque” fallacy.  They won’t play along, why then should we?

Ultimately, I don’t believe that not playing along gives a great competitive advantage.  Just because some other nations won’t play along right away doesn’t mean that there’s no point in trying to do so.  The fact is, as well, that the kind of advancements we can make to improve out ecological impact will likely lead to new job, new industries, to progress.  It is an inescapable fact that the “old” economy of much of North America, the manufacturing economy as we knew, is mostly done.  No longer can we expect to lead in manufacturing of simple goods – cheaper labour abroad in places like China have made that clear.  We can’t base an economy on selling hamburgers and haircuts to each other, either – so it’s clear at least to me that if we want to continue to enjoy prosperity we need to seek opportunities to strike out into new fields.

I’m looking forward to building a new home in the next few months, and putting much effort into using new technologies to make it more efficient.  As planned for now, we’ll be building an R2000+/LEED home, roughed for solar power/water heating (though I won’t be able to put it in right away), using a heat pump rather than conventional HVAC, etc.  My criteria is that the investments I make have to be ones that will actually provide a cost benefit – so no wind turbine as my research suggests that it’s not currently a benefit, but I think we’ll be able to do a lot of good.

I want this technology to be available – and I want to see my neighbours developing it and profiting from it.  That’s why we need to get to work on the problem, instead of trying to obfuscate and decate what is becoming more and more obviously fact.

Incidentally, if you’re a climate change skeptic, Canadian Senator Grant Mitchell, who’s an avid Twitter user, sent out this link from the Pembina Institute that inspired this whole post.  It’s well worth a read: http://climate.pembina.org/blog/71