Friday, November 25, 2005

Water Privatization in South Africa

In the grand global corporatist goal of private profiteering from all of the Earth's resources, the privatization of water is only slightly less appalling than the privatization of air would be. In this new article about water privatization in South Africa, the effects are clear and they are terrible.

In black townships outside Johannesburg, many residents are forced to choose between buying enough food to eat and buying water for basic hygiene and sanitation. Now that they are forced to pre-pay for any water beyond a basic minimal level, many families worry about how to care for sick relatives or what they would do in the event of a fire.

The unequal access to water had previously caused a cholera outbreak as those who could not afford clean water got it from polluted sources (meanwhile the wealthier elite have swimming pools and lawn sprinklers).

For more information, listen to CBC's series on the global water business, or read anything by Vandana Shiva. She's well-documented the results of this money grab. It is happening all over the place in Iraq, Argentina, Detroit, among others. And let's not forget all that happened in Bolivia

More blog entries related to: Africa | Poverty & Class Issues | Health

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Carfree Cities (Book Review)

Carfree Cities by Joel Crawford is an excellent book imagining the city without the automobile.

He starts out by expounding on the problem: why cars in cities are bad. He covers environmental, social, and aesthetic problems, as well as an analysis of the danger of cars. He contrasts automobile-dependent cities such as Los Angeles with pedestrian cities such as Venice. The sprawling automotive cities offer a lack of safety (large number of traffic deaths & injury), incredible levels of environmental pollution, a weak social community, and an ugly landscape.

Then he offers a theoretical solution with a reference design for a carfree city. His suggested topology incorporates a large amount of public space and green space with moderately dense development.

The city is based around small, pedestrian districts connected to each other by a rail-based metro (subway) or tram (streetcar) system. His public transportation system is cheaper and faster than car transportation, and at least as convenient and comfortable (even suggesting first class luxury train cars). He also offers a detailed solution to freight transportation, using standardized shipping containers.

The last portion of the book offers some more practical suggestions for transforming existing cities, creating new ones, and variations, such as a bicycle-based city.

You can order the book, join the discussion on Yahoo Groups, and get more information at

Topic: Environment - Urban Issues, Book Reviews

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cindy Sheehan's Open Letter to Barbara Bush

You said this in 2003, a little over a year before my dear, sweet Casey was killed by your son's policies:

'Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?' (Good Morning America, March 18, 2003)

Now I have something to tell you, Barbara. I didn't want to hear about deaths or body bags either. On April 04, 2004, three Army officers came to my house to tell me that Casey was killed in Iraq. I fell on the floor screaming and begging the cruel Angel of Death to take me too. But the Angel of Death that took my son is your son.

Read the rest
Thanks to The Rational Radical for this.

More on the Iraq Invasion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Latest Funnies

Matt Bors, Idiot Box: I like Shows that Didn't Make the Cut. One is "Extreme Makeover, 9th ward Edition", featuring Haliburton.

How about a little Republican Paradise, by Andy Singer.

But of course, Repubs have nothing to do with any suffering, it is all the fault of those durn gays, according to Hank's Faith-Based Forecast, by Big Fat Whale

On a related topic, Faith Based Health Care
Thanks for this one to Angry Girl.

More Comics

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Even if you eat organic your blood is probably a toxic soup

In last week's Globe, there was an article about the results of a test done on several Canadians for hormone disrupting and carcinogenic chemicals. On average, the volunteers had a cocktail of 44 in their bodies, and their lifestyle choices did not significantly affect the results.
"The message to Canadians is -- it doesn't matter where you live, how old you are, it doesn't matter how clean living you are or if you eat organic food, or if you get a lot of exercise. We all carry inside of us hundreds of different pollutants and these things are accumulating inside our bodies every day."

Even the clean living Robert Bateman (yes, the artist) had remarkable levels of things like heavy metals; PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls used in electrical transformers and now banned); PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers used as fire retardants); PFOs (perfluorinated chemicals used in stain repellants, non-stick cookware and food packaging), pesticides and insecticides.

There is more background about how chemicals get into our bodies, and why there is so little regulation in this piece by Marco Visscher. Unfortunately the one thing largely missed in his article is pointed out clearly in the Globe article; we have little to no control over our exposure: "We don't have the choice to avoid things coming of smokestacks and getting into our food and water and things in consumer products we don't know about."

The environmental movement has been largely coopted by a very elitist consumerism in which our personal purchasing decisions are our only possible form of protest. This leaves out those without the means to buy those $3/lb organic imported apples. Not only is the rush to organics unfortunately ineffective in a world in which the very air is poisoned, but it is also unfair. Why should only individuals with a large discretionary income be able to vote (with their dollars)? And, with a lack of information, how can a consumer make wise choices anyways. Without total transparency and regulation of all companies, the power is not in the hands of consumers. That organic spaghetti I enjoyed tonight may have been created from ingredients grown on an earth-friendly farm, but it was processed in a factory and transported thousands of kilometers to get to my table. I have no idea if it was farmed by low-wage migrant workers, or if the cardboard glue contains harmful chemicals. The cooking pot might be leaking more poison into my food. Did I make a positive consumer decision or a negative one?

Whatever solutions we come up with, we need to act fast. The youngest and most helpless among us are being affected. They are finding high degrees of pollution in newborn babies.

More on Environmental Issues and Health.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


I hear a lot of people talk about alternative energy as the great saviour of our way of life. Of course, some are speaking about coal and nuclear power. But more environmentally-minded folk include wind and solar power, and biofuels like biodiesel and ethanol.

I think conservation is the #1 priority. I don't think that we can continue to use the amount of energy. Even if we could produce an equal amount of alternative fuels and electricity, that would really only be enough for the current developed world, and it still leaves most people SOL.

I don't think we can produce the same amounts of energy alternatively to match our current usage. Take biofuels. I vaguely remember reading that, because of the petroleum-dependent food production system on which we currently rely, biofuels actually result in a net energy loss. For each calorie of food we consume it requires at least 10 calories of petroleum energy to farm, transport, and process. So why turn fuel-sucking food into fuel?

I decided to investigate a bit more.

This study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel is not worth the energy, "you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products."

Not only inefficient, but "a humanitarian and environmental disaster", says George Monbiot, presenting a chilling vision, in which "most of the arable surface of the planet will be deployed to produce food for cars, not people." He reminds us that markets respond to profit, not hunger. Those who need food the most are exactly the ones with the least amount of money to buy it, and so the monied person's car will always win out. He reminds us that even today, those who buy meat products have more purchasing power, so grain is fed to animals instead of to starving kids.

Instead of burning soy oil in our SUV's then, what is needed is to drive less and create sustainable production and consumption practices. For example, local organic farming, moderately dense city infrastructure, and significant green belts would not only be much more ecologically sound, but would also result in a higher quality of life than sitting for 2 hours a day in a freeway traffic jam eating a flavour-injected McDonald's burger, even if your car smelled like french fries.

So I say yes to re-envisioning our economy and no to biofuels (except for the few that are using up all that nasty leftover french fry grease: more power to 'em).

Topic: Environment, Food Politics

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Why fuel prices must keep going up

Why fuel prices must keep going up until we hit $2+/litre

Mother nature was ever so kind to leave the products of millions of years of processing biomass sequestered in vast oil reserves all over the world. Pity that we realize too late that this gift is a limited resource that should have been sparingly allocated to be enjoyed over several generations rather than squandered in one. We have now reached that point in the supply and demand curve when, for the first time, oil supply is falling short of demand.. ..and we need to face the fact that we've been wasting a valuable resource that will never ever be cheap again.. ..and never should have been priced so low to begin with.

Oil is and has been the cheapest and most convenient source of fuel for decades. ..concentrated energy just sitting there.. ..add a pump.. ..and a bit of refining capacity and you have low cost fuel able to keep hundreds of millions of us awash in cheap energy.. ..ridiculously cheap energy in fact.. ..and we've had it for so long that we have taken it for granted. Now we are in trouble. The extraordinarily low cost of fuel has spawned all kinds of addictions and habits that will be hard to give up.. ..big cars and SUVs, thousands of Kg each that we drive nonchalantly to the grocery store to pick up milk.. ..or fire up to take us tens of thousands of miles annually back and forth in pursuit of a mobile lifestyle. Aircraft that whisk us off from one place to another. Goods and services from food to VCRs that are cheaply transported from one place in the world to another.. ..all enabled by mother nature's gift of cheap fuel ready to be pumped.

But who ever gave us permission to use all this fuel at our whim? Does it really all belong to us?.. ..a single generation of humans? ..Oh sorry.. ..more precisely, the privileged top 10% of the wealthiest humans of a single generation.. Who ever said that all this oil was ours? ..and who decided to let the price be driven by market forces at a time when supply far outstripped demand? ..and the price reflected the cost of pumping, refining and distributing with virtually no consideration for its intrinsic value.

Did you know that the two jets that plowed into the world trade centre each carried more than 1 ton of fuel/passenger for their aborted transcontinental journeys? Who said that it was okay for a handful of passengers to consume over 1 ton of high grade aviation fuel each for a single trip in less than 1 day? ..more fuel than our ancestors consumed each in a whole year..!

Did you know that the average Canadian consumes over 250 times more fuel per annum than the average 3rd world peasant? Who gave us permission to do that? Incidentally we also consume several hundred times more water and other resources than a third world peasant.. ..and generate several hundred times more waste as well. We may have the dubious distinction of being the biggest pigs in history.

And now what? With our heads deep up our asses, all we can come up with is indignant outrage that the orgy is coming to an end.. ..we will wage war on those that threaten to withhold our next energy fix.. ..and demand of our politicians to keep the party going.. any cost as long as it is not our own.

Alas, not even the cumulative outrage of all of humanity spawned by self righteous indignation and entitlement, and armed with deadly weapons of mass destruction can change the indifferent reality that we are consuming energy beyond the earth's capability to deliver it cheaply. The supply has finally peaked and now the sobering increases in prices will force us to do what we should have been doing all along.. ..treating it with reverence as a precious resource to be used sparingly.

The price of fuel will top $2/litre and stay there. Why? ..because that's what it costs to produce energy in alternative ways.. ..wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels, geothermal.. ..and we need those prices to make it cost effective to generate these alternative forms of energy in large quantities. Had we had greater foresight and wisdom, we may have demanded higher prices sooner so that the adjustment would have been more gradual and more easily accepted.. ..rather than wait for the supply/demand curve to reverse on us suddenly as it has. With even a modicum of common sense, we'll realize that we've been living far beyond our energy means and paying far less than its cost of replacement. The free ride is over and it is time to start taking the necessary measures to reduce our consumption.

John Saringer
Reprinted by Permission

Reminds me of some lines from a song that truly resonates with me (Bright White Light by Adrian Borland)

The sun doesn't shine here
It just signifies the day
We take this life for granted
And we throw this world away
Using up the good things
Until we wonder where they went

Topic: Environment

Monday, November 07, 2005

Why is France Burning?

I'm so tired of hearing simplistic ignorant comments like: "the North Africans are just rejecting the culture of the country they chose to live in", "the French are giving too many social programs to the ungrateful", "obviously high taxation is bad, just look at what is happening in France".

Here's an excellent analysis of the French riots, including some history.

Another Good Article examining the frustration these "second class citizens" experience.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Interview with Dahr Jamail

The argument that the US has to stay in Iraq in order to prevent civil war is racist and imperialist and is made by people who don’t understand what is going on on the ground in Iraq. The US is using tactics that heighten the probability of civil war by rushing through this Washington DC- imposed timeline for the political process.

From an interview with Dahr Jamail, a most amazing unembedded reporter in Iraq.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Science Shmience - If you don't agree with our politics, your science is wrong

The most lovely Union of Concerned Scientists has documented the Bush administration favouring candidates for advisory committees based on their political views. This is apparently because "public policy decisions must, in most cases, incorporate considerations other than science". In other words, oil companies need to continue posting record profits, so we need some "science" showing that global warming is nothing to worry about. Whew! There really is a Republican War On Science.

This is approximately as fun as reading Pat Robertson Quotes.