Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why We're Doomed

I just saw a news report from the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The reporter was hyping a new battery operated bicycle. He referred to this as "cutting edge" technology and trumpeted all that is technology. This upbeat report left me with the distinct feeling that we are doomed.

No, I do not mean that a bicycle is going to destroy the world. Nor do I think that the story was necessarily representative of the products on display. What made me feel we are doomed was the obvious and oblivious excitement the reporter expressed concerning a bicycle he did not need to peddle. It is our endless fascination with gadgets that make me feel that all is lost. No matter how inane, no matter how useless, or no matter, as in this case, how redundant the invention as long as it is dressed up as new technology we line up like lemmings.

Technology comes at a price. That cost, unfortunately, is borne by the natural world. In the present example, even if the battery is solar charged, it still has to be produced and eventually it will require disposal. This adds two environmental costs to the manufacture of the bicycle. It also removes the secondary effect of exercise that this mode of transportation will incur.

Granted, one could argue that riding one of these bikes is better than driving a car, but you can ride a bike with or without a battery. The point is that fascination with technology has led to a denial of the effects of the costs of production of most of the tools of the technological and information age. For example, by all calculations electronic readers have a greater environmental impact than traditional books. Paper, produced in the proper manner with the rights sources (i.e. hemp, not trees), can be a sustainable, renewable crop. The mined material in an e-reader will never be replaced.

The fascination with new technology is akin to a child's desire for a new toy. The fact that it is shiny and new are more important than whether it is necessary or even wanted. A battery operated bicycle and the electric book are not the only examples of this mindset. One of the worst examples of this effort to bring technology where it is not needed has to be the electric trashcans in the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. Ironically, the writing on the cans boast of the airports efforts at recycling.

This fascination assists in the continual introduction of products to replace and upgrade what is basically the same product. HDTV, flat screen technology, even the advent of color broadcasts have essentially served the primary purpose of getting the consumer to continually buy the same product. The transition from LP's to 8-tracks to cassettes to CD's did little for music but caused the consumer, no matter their preferences, to have to purchase different devices. Now, turntables are making a comeback and LP's have been the rage for years. The iPod is just a Walkman with more bells and whistles. The Walkman in turn was just a glorified transistor radio.

Somehow, all of these things are seen as advances. The slow introduction of one generation of technology after another is causing an acceleration in consumption that is unwarranted by need. Technology may have benefits but it also has costs. These costs are at times significant, as when there are industrial accidents, or the more likely everyday environmental impacts. The more we produce useless products, ignore the costs of technology, accept planned obsolescence and the commodification of information, the closer we come to jumping over the cliffs.

The planet has great problems. One of the major problems that we rarely discuss is the fact that we have a world population approaching 7 billion and growing exponentially but that we have finite resources. Either something has to give or something has to change. Otherwise, there will be conflict. We must change the mindset that views technology as the solution to our problems. Technology is only a tool. If technology was the solution your pencil could do math.

The choice is not between technology or a pre-industrial existence. The choice is between our present system of consumerism and that of sustainability. We can either use it all up or we can make it last. We will not make it last by putting batteries on a bicycle.

A note about lemmings. Contrary to popular belief they do not line up and jump off the cliffs into the sea. This misconception was created by film footage in which they were herded over the cliffs for cinematic effect. Consumerism is based on the herd instinct while advertising is kind of like a sheep dog.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer