Monday, March 20, 2006

Crisis Culture Killed my Cogs

We live in a crisis culture. Everyone knew there was abject poverty before Katrina, but we couldn't get the activation energy going to make any significant progress towards solving the problem. Now that New Orleans isn't a constant worry, once again we don't fret or even think about poverty, nor the fact that we haven't made any progress towards solving it.

We knew about terrorists and terrorism before 9/11. But no one thought about it. Not until tragedy struck.

So too with mad cow. The truth is that Mad Cow disease is in our food supply, and that the FDA's current regs designed to solve the problem don't go very far in the direction of protecting us. Now, don't get me wrong. Mad Cow is not the reason to avoid meat - it's not one of the top ten most serious disease risks from meat consumption. (That would be Heart Disease, various Cancers, Diabetes, etc.) Yet, in response to an obvious and real hazard, the American response has been to do as little as possible. Britain has a major crisis? The U.S. responds with a reluctant ban of brain and spine meats from cattle feed. A cow tests positive for Mad Cow Disease in the U.S.? First, blame Canada; Second, ban ranchers and other private interests from testing their own animals. A third cow tests positive - this one with no link whatsoever to Canada. Well, let's make some other minor adjustments.

Let's keep things painfully simple. It's time to stop feeding cows to cows! Heck, it's past time to stop feeding meat to herbivores. This ain't rocket science. Let's not wait for the devastating, yet predictable, crisis to come before we take action.

As for me, I'll continue to live crisis and meat free. It's the least I can do.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Through the lens of history, most crises lose their luster. Believe it or not, many of the hot button issues we work ourselves into a lather over today will not fundamentally affect the reality our descendents experience one hundred or two hundred years in the future. What is wrought in one political cycle is as likely to be undone as extended in the next. The consequences in years intervening may well be unconscionable, but ultimately our nation will come to its senses, and even get a bit better, more humane, more just. At least, so it has always been before. (Such thoughts occur upon reading Harry Turtledove’s alternative history of the Civil War.)

The environment is an exception, with a bullet. For one, the trend since the start of the industrial revolution has been one of increasing degradation. (It’s worse even than that: current theory holds that the extinction of most giant land mammals over the past hundred thousand years can be traced to human hunting.) In many ways the Earth’s balance is far more fragile than that of humanity. Our ecosystem will support life in the future, almost no matter what we do to it. Just not human life.

According to a recent article in the New Scientist , a planet-wide temperature rise of only 2.6 degrees Celsius will be enough to melt the Greenland ice cap, irreversibly. We’ve already caused a .6 degree rise through our own very industriousness. Our pace yet hastens.

If we were to use all available fossil fuels on Earth – and who honestly thinks we won’t? – Earth will gain 11 degrees Celsius from here, and water levels will rise about 40 feet.

Thought about in the transient terms of today, red-staters may rejoice: significant chunks of the blue states will go the way of Atlantis. One could say the red candidates would win in a landslide. Yet, those chunks contain a disproportionate amount of our industry and commerce, not to mention tens of millions of people in the United States alone. Resources and wealth created in the affected areas literally subsidize the activities of all the rest.

If we care about our future, we need to act now. Otherwise, one hundred years from now, Bush's 8 years won't be remembered for deceptions into war, crippling tax cuts, or any of his many violations of civil rights. Our descendents will remember this period as the loss of the last, best chance to stop runaway global warming before it was too late.

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