Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Neanderthal Earth Day 2008


Today was Earth Day. It was a beautiful day throughout. Now it's a few hours after dusk. A few hours after dawn, with the sun still hanging low in the sky, we headed out and into the forest near the river, a mix of oak-palm hammocks and sandy pine flatwoods. Trails are maintained by a group of mountain, uh, swamp bikers. They're nice and don't mind barefoot optimodal runners. I'm happy that more and more people around here discover and enjoy the woods. I'm a bit weirded out, though, that these "greenest of the Green" around here tend to drive gigantic SUVs, GMCs, Tundras and the like. What's up with that? Eventually some foreign anthropologist is going to write a book on this: in the Southern US, driving a two ton elephant with studded tires and a bike rack on back signals local love of nature.

Later I bicycled to work. From home to campus there are no bike paths; the Tampa city government hasn't figured out how to build them yet. So I head out on a 50 mph four lane road, balancing at the paved edge while the snarling grilles, chrome bumpers, spinning hubcaps, and roaring engines zoom by, and try to stay on the lookout for inattentive drivers -- which requires to violate road regulations and to bike against the traffic flow. But then again, how else to be safe and to see the Americans? (A thought for comfort: only dead fish float with the current.)

Zipping across the Citgo 7-11 parking lot makes me marvel, like every day, about peak oil and rising gas prices. A speaker once came to a class I taught on sustainable community design, and he told us that the Tampa Bay area would build a light rail mass transit system only if it were profitable, but as long as the gallon of gas costed less than a buck, mass transit wouldn't pay for itself. Yet one cent higher than $ 1.00 per gallon, and all the numbers would start checking out. That was -- when? 10 years ago? Now it sells for $ 3.49/3.61/3.71, with diesel at the Shell Station at $ 4.15, and they still don't allow trains or trolleys around here. Buses are few and far in between; with bus stops without schedule or shelter, so you can't use them. Thus all Americans drive. And one Mad Hun is bicycling. I see one Chinese man who walks. How high do prices need to go before patterns will shift?

On campus, there is Earth Day celebration. The Anthropology club is there; the Philosophy organization shows up, and there are tables with stuff. I stop and chat with the good folks there. I see one (1) other professor. The University of South Florida has one thousand (1,000) faculty and staff. I see about twenty (20) students there. The University of South Florida has thirty-five thousand students. This is the Green Revolution 2008 at a Florida research university -- less than one tenth of one percent care. I smile and roll on.

This is the last week of classes. The Climate Seminar -- the last one the Honors College allows -- is coming to an end. The students give concluding presentations and are turning in their research papers. When I compare their performance to how we began in January, I'm happy to see how much they've learned. Spring term started a week after the year of records had ended. And what had happened since then? The world seems to be tumbling beyond last year's tipping point into the first phase of real instability. There are now food riots in the developing world; food shortages in the developed world; and the first signs of food rationing in the United States (see also here; for the blog reaction abroad see here).

The former chief economist at the World Bank, Lord Stern, told the Financial Times on April 17 that the Stern report on climate change underestimated the risks of global warming ... and should have presented a gloomier view of the future.

Well, that's nice to know, eh?

But at least the German government has finally grown itself a set of brass balls. What brought this on was that on April 16 the climate-changer-in-chief acknowledged that "here in Washington, the debate about climate change is intensifying." Ain't that great? The moron-at-the-helm, the US Petro-Nazi, now thinks that there is a debate!

So Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's Federal Minister of the Environment, put out the following press release (I translate):

The [U.S.] president gave a disappointing speech, which fails to do justice to this global challenge. His words fall behind [the 2007 Climate Summit at] Bali; indeed, they even fall behind [June 2007 G-8 Climate BS Summit at] Heiligendamm. In Paris, today and tomorrow, there is the third Meeting of Major Economies (MEM). Bush's speech carries the risk of undermining the MEM process, which had been initiated by the United States. Without binding emission caps and reduction goals for the industrialized countries it will be impossible to stop climate change. Europe and the US must lead if others are supposed to follow. But instead, the [American] president, with his proposals, is hopelessly lagging behind the problems. His speech could be summed up in the words: losership instead of leadership. We are glad that there are also other voices in the USA.
Neat about this German government declaration is the title of the official release: it says Gabriel criticizes Bush's Neanderthal speech.


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