27 March 2014

Blinded by the New

I clearly recall a conversation I had during my freshman year in college. I happened to join in with a group of students going somewhere and the conversation turned to cars. At one point I said, "I would love to own a 1929 Duesenberg." A girl I was next to said "Ooooh, that's and old car. I only like new ones."

Over time I found her attitude to be symptomatic of our culture. We are dazzled and fascinated by all the new consumer items, presented to us as technological progress certain to make us happy and more productive. This girl could see cars only as something to amaze her by unsuspected features and as a status symbol. It never occurred to her that an automobile can be an art object, that it can be appreciated for its beauty, that some cars are artistically superior to others.

Now, I quite agree that the autos coming out now days are far superior in durability and safety, among other characteristics, to cars from the early 20th century. I am also aware that there are plenty of people who, like me, appreciate art over industry, relationships over gadgets. What I am saying is that as a culture, we ignore the past to such an extent that we no longer understand where we come from and therefore do not understand who we really are or how we got here.

It is also clear that marketing depends on this blindness to the past for its very existence. If we were content with what we have, we would not buy nearly so much. Therefore practically nothing in the media sets out to have us value the past or see it as relevant. Our acquiescence in this situation makes us easy prey for those who wish to take our money and for politicians. The latter depend on our ignorance of history to feed us their version of who we are and then convince us it is our interest to vote for them.

We need to study our natural and our written history. Without it we cannot understand who we are. If we don't know where we came from, we cannot see where we are headed. We also need to study geography. If we don't know where the rest of the world is, we don't know where we are.

My character Angela Fournier craves this kind of historical and geopolitical context because she's driven to understand herself and the people around her. We would all be better off if we followed her example.

Find her at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid

17 March 2014

The Sixth Extinction

In The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert makes the case that the appearance of humans coincides with, and is the cause of, the sixth large-scale extinction of species. Everywhere prehistoric humans went, all the animals larger than today's elephants disappeared. These animals continued to survive only up until humans arrived in the area they inhabited. The pattern is unmistakable and unbroken, repeated in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas. Humans arrived at very different times, and the extinction of all the megafauna ensued rapidly thereafter. We hunted them and ate them until not a single species of megafauna was left.

The situation in our present day has only become exponentially worse. Rising global atmospheric temperatures, combined with ocean acidification, are making the formation of the hard tissues of foramniferans, corals, and starfish, among other species, impossible. Thus coral reefs are beginning to break up and sea stars are dying off by the uncounted millions on both coasts of the US. Carbon that had been absorbed in the ocean no longer is. Both global warming and ocean acidification are caused by the sharp increase in carbon dioxide spewed by our automobiles, our heating and cooling systems, industrial farming methods, energy generation, and industrial production.

Fungi which ride on ships and in airplanes are responsible for the white nose disease which is killing off bats in New England and is spreading in a growing circle, threatening all bat populations in North America. Another species of fungus has wiped out frogs starting in Central America and moving up in our direction. All amphibians appear to be at risk.

Deforestation and other changes to the landscape caused by farming and the expansion of cities, airports, highways and the like have cut up habitats to the point where species die off because the remaining patches of forest cannot sustain them. The list goes on and on. As Pogo had it, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Kolbert also writes about heroic efforts to save the Panamanian golden tree frog and bats and many other species. She says she would like to end the book on a positive note and not project gloom only. However, she has effectively made a devastating case that humans have carried out the most thorough and rapid mass extinction of plant and animal species in all of earth history already.

Can we do something about it? Maybe, but it is a tall order. The steps we can take are to

1) Eat only organically produced natural food and reduce meat consumption drastically.
2) Trade your car asap for an electric car.
3) Switch to an electricity provider that uses only renewable and non-carbon based power generation.
4) Use an alternative to airplane travel whenever possible.
5) Support electricity-powered public transportation in your city.
6) Pressure oil companies to abandon their business in favor of developing hydrogen fuel cell technology. That is the power of the future and those who are first to provide affordable fuel cell power will win big. Those who continue to pump oil will be left in the dust.
7) Make your next house an all-brick and cement structure.
8) Tell your congressional representatives in Washington and in your state what you are doing. Ask them to withdraw all subsidies from petroleum production and to tax it heavily instead, then to apply subsidies for improving electrical vehicles and for development of fuel cell technology for the home and for transportation.
9) Demand sterilization of all ships and airplanes arriving in and leaving the country.

If everyone goes out and votes in November, we can break the hold of the 1% who not only suck up everyone else's money, but foul the earth with their investments, but who buy our elections. If everyone does all nine suggestions above, we can stop pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the earth may begin to heal.

I strongly recommend reading The Sixth Extinction. It is written in the beautiful, agile, and fast-moving style characteristic of Kolbert. It will move you to action.

The second book in my Angela series focuses on environmental concerns facing up to the oil interests. You can buy it at www.amazon.com/author/bedforddavid