Greening Middle

Bettina Boxall writes in the Los Angeles Times:

If ever there was a Congress in which Republicans were positioned to remake the nation’s environmental laws, it was the 109th. But by the time the session ended last week, the GOP’s environmental agenda had been largely thwarted…

“It was the best chance for Republican-shaped initiatives for as long we can remember,” said Daniel Kemmis, senior fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana…

That they went home empty-handed, Kemmis and others say, is testament to a changing, greening West; the pitfalls of overreaching; and an emerging alliance between environmentalists and a traditional GOP base, hunters and anglers…

“The so-called hook-and-bullet constituency has become more concerned about protecting public lands, protecting open space in general. I don’t think that’s going to change,” he said…

Wilderness Society Executive Vice President Don Barry, an Interior Department official under the Clinton administration, said the GOP had its own boldness to blame for the string of defeats…

He cited the Bush administration’s proposal to auction national forest parcels. The idea inflamed sportsmen groups concerned about losing access to public land and was eventually disowned by even conservative Republican senators in the West…

Later in the article, Richard M. Frank, executive director of the California Center for Environmental Law & Policy at UC Berkeley, says that in over-reaching, the Republicans proved, “it is the middle on which either end of the political spectrum has to focus in actually getting any legislation of this type done.”

I think the middle is moving, becoming more green. The middle has accepted that global warming is real, and something must be done about it. As with sportsmen, ranchers today are more likely to join than fight environmentalists in their efforts to keep open space open, to keep access to public lands open to the ordinary citizen, and to oppose irresponsible exploitation by mining, lumber and energy companies. People of all political stripes are dismayed at falling water tables, annual summer holocausts of forest and range fires, forests decimated by drought and disease, the increasing frquency of catastrophic weather, and the apparent unconcern to all this of Congress and this administration.

ICE is Swift-boated

Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t it seem that the national broadcast media is treating the Swift Meatpacking Co. with incredible delicacy?? With kid gloves? Over the last couple of days much has been said about the difficulty of screening out illegals with fake i.d’s when doing hiring checks, but Swift hired at least 1282 illegals, and tipped off possibly thousands of others to the coming ICE raid. One thousand two hundred and eighty-two separate instances of breaking the law, and this slaughterhouse gets sympathy from big media??? Flagrant obstruction of a law enforcement action, and they deserve our charitable understanding of their sensitive predicament?

Swift is a corporation and has all the presumptive rights of any other citizen of this country, including a presumption of innocence. But imagine if a single mother of three, say, has been audited by the I.R.S. and determined to have committed 1282 separate instances of tax fraud. Would the media treat her with the deference they are showing Swift? Will the media accord the accused Swift workers, many of whom are the sole support of their families, as much deference as they have the company that profited by their labor?

Maybe I am making too much of this. But let me put it graphically, and let an asterisk represent each of the 1282 workers arrested at Swift:

************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ ************************************************************************************ *******

Each asterisk is a working adult, most likely the primary or sole support of a family. Should Swift be ordered to pay reparations to the families each deported worker leaves behind? Or should taxpayers be on the hook for the social services these families will now need?

First extinction

of a cetacean in modern times. Dolphins and humans have shared the Yangtze for maybe 30,000 years — how many people, over how many generations, have knownbaiji-dolphin.jpg these creatures? How many with wonder, how many with awe, how many in delight?

From the New York Times:

The baiji, a rare, nearly blind white dolphin that survived for 20 million years, is effectively extinct, an international expedition declared after ending a fruitless six-week search of its Yangtze River habitat. The baiji would be the first large aquatic mammal driven to extinction since hunting and overfishing killed off the Caribbean monk seal in the 1950s. For the baiji, the culprit was a degraded habitat — busy ship traffic, which confounds the sonar the dolphin uses to find food, and overfishing and pollution in the Yangtze waters of eastern China, the expedition said. “The baiji is functionally extinct,” said August Pfluger, who helped put together the expedition. “We might have missed one or two animals, but it won’t survive in the wild.” Around 400 baiji were believed to be living in the Yangtze in the early 1980s. The last full-fledged search, in 1997, yielded 13 confirmed sightings.

The search team has a website — some dolphins survive in marine zoos, and the first successful breeding in captivity occurred in 2005.

Barack Obama and hope

Senator Barack Obama, in New Hampshire this week to test his mettle on the hustings, spoke of Americans’ desire for hope. He believes that was the message sent on election day.

Senator Obama has undoubtedly looked at all the polls, all the after-election analyses — and he was amazingly prescient on the perils and outcomes of the Iraq invasion — so he is probably right on the “desire for hope” thing as well.

But I think America needs a Big Idea candidate, a leader who compels by force of reason and inspiration the avid collaboration of citizen with government. A latter day John Kennedy with Peace Corps caliber proposals, a new mission-to-the-moon appeal to the nation’s imagination. A leader who offers more than hope, who calls for participation, even sacrifice, to achieve goals that are fast becoming imperatives.

Goals such as: Universal Health Care; a radically different relationship with energy; a humble recognition that there are no technological substitutions for ecosystem services; trade and finance controls that acknowledge that economies and markets exist to serve the needs of people and society — and that people are not mere servants of the economy, nor are they market commodities.

I’m hoping for more than hope, aren’t you?

Critter Crossings and Corridors

 You may think the sunstroked Arizona deserts are sparse, open, nakedly exposed, but the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona is the most densely vegetated desert in the world — it is positively verdant. Desert animals are dependent on this cover, and many will not cross denuded open ground, so roads are de facto biological borders for these species, fragmenting their populations and separating them from needed shelter, water, food, mates.  The mere presence of a road can, in itself, make an area uninhabitable.

For larger wide-ranging species like deer, bear, mountain lions, coyotes and antelope, critter/car collisions are of concern to the authorities, and are probably the main reason that the state of Arizona is now constructing wildlife tunnels and overpasses to provide safe passage across roads.

But much study has been done in southern Arizona on wildlife corridors that link the region’s Sky Island mountain ranges. These corridors save mountain species from isolation on these aptly named desert ranges, allowing genetic diversity to be maintained.  Pima County, which includes the city of Tucson, is buying up land in these corridors to keep them functional, and save them from the (now busted) development frenzy that, in just the last few years, has gobbled up hundreds of thousands of acres. This is in accord with Pima County’s truly visionary Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, which is specifically aimed at preserving biodiversity within the county.

So in Pima County, because of the studies and the saved land, the new wildlife tunnels and overpasses are being built in the corridors where they are most effective.

What the folks in Arizona are doing can be replicated and writ large over the whole of the American landscape. That is the vision of the Rewilding Institute, some of whose principals advised Pima County on their conservation plan.  The Rewilding Institute envisions big, deep wilderness areas with connecting corridors across the whole of the Americas — a heart-stoppingly romantic and, it seems to me, doable project.  Stop by their site or any of their affiliates and allies and marvel at the beauty of their dream. Better yet, help them achieve it.

No time to waste

“Frustrated with the federal response to global warming, hundreds of cities, suburbs and rural communities across the nation have taken bold steps to slash their energy consumption and reduce emissions of the pollutants that cause climate change.” Los Angeles Times

Switching city vehicles to biofuels, exacting a “climate tax” on electricity use, planting trees along streets, capturing methane from landfills — some of the ways locals are doing their part. The federal government can do a lot toward cutting carbon loads, like a 55 mph speed limit, letting regulatory agencies like the EPA perform their compliance duties without political interference, make the tax codes reward climate friendly behavior — but there is way too much expectation of what Washington will actually do.

Climate saving prescriptions from Washington, lately, always push industrial-style solutions, like huge solar and wind farms, or wholesale conversion of the nation’s entire fleet of vehicles to biofuels or hydrogen, which are good goals, but they all implicitly require the buy-in and leadership of the Exxons and PG&E’s of the world to pull off. It’s almost as if Washington’s real goal is to make sure that the present titans of energy remain titans forever, and intends to manage our energy future solely to maintain the status quo for a few corporate giants. But maybe that is too cynical of me.

In any case, relying purely on new technology means that precious little is done today to either conserve energy or reduce climate heating emissions. Deployment must wait until it is cost efficient (always begging the question, cost efficient for whom?), when it is plain that any delay exacerbates an already worsening situation.

So it makes sense that responsibility has devolved to state and local government, and it’s possible that they may come up with more immediate, realistic on-the-ground measures than seems forthcoming from Washington. One hopes.

Nobel Peace winner promotes heirloom corporate charters

The economist and Grameen bank founder Dr. Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize today. He won because he rejected accepted business practice and made entrepreneurs of the poorest people in the most impoverished of countries. In his acceptance speech he criticized the corporate-centric path to globalization.

He warned that the globalized economy was becoming a dangerous ‘free-for-all highway’… ‘Its lanes will be taken over by the giant trucks from powerful economies,’ Dr. Yunus said… He called for legal recognition of a new category of corporation that would be neither profit-maximizing nor nonprofit. It would be a ‘social business,’ like Grameen Bank, the Dhaka-based microcredit institution he started 30 years ago.” (New York Times)

In other words, corporations chartered to engage in business for the public good. For the first hundred or so years of the U.S., corporations were commonly chartered for very specific purposes, building a bridge for example, and dechartered when the bridge was completed. There are a lot of people who would like to bring that type of corporation back into being, Dr. Yunus among them. A lot of people would also like to recharter existing corporations to emphasize their responsibility to conduct their business in such a way that it is, in fact, a “public good.”

A radical concept, conceivably capable of making free market capitalism compatible with democratic, egalitarian governance. More on this later.