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Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

The Far North of Experience by Rebecca Solnit

In books, environment, literature, nature, writers on August 19, 2014 at 03:14

From: The Far North of Experience: In Praise of Darkness (and Light) by Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch, http://www.tomdispatch.com

The far north is an unearthly earth, where much of what those of us in temperate zones were told is universal is not true. Everyone walks on water, which is a solid. In winter, you can build palaces out of it, or houses out of snow. Ice is blue. Snow insulates. Water crystallizes into floating mountains that destroy whatever collides with them. Many other things turn hard as rock in the cold. Nothing decays, and so time stops for the dead, if not the living. Cold is stability and warmth can be treacherous.

Their opposite is the equator, where every day and every night of the year is exactly twelve hours long. The further north or south you go, the longer summer days and winter nights get. In Iceland, each day of spring was several minutes longer than the one before, so that in May the days went from nearly 17 to 20 hours long, and by June there is no true darkness, no night. The sun dipped low around midnight or after and there were spectacular sunsets that melted into sunrises, because the sun never went entirely away.

The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. In darkness dreams awaken and dreamers merge, which might be how passion becomes love and how making love begets progeny of all natures and forms. Merging is dangerous, at least to the boundaries and definition of the self. Darkness is generative, and generation, biological and artistic both, requires this amorous engagement with the unknown, this entry into the realm where you do not quite know what you are doing and what will happen next.

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Reposted with permission from: TomDispatch

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Pandora’s Boxes by Heather Millar

In biology, chemistry, ecology, environment, nature, physics, science on April 3, 2014 at 23:49

From: Pandora’s Boxes by Heather Millar, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

Wiesner and his colleagues spent several months designing the experiments that will help them outline some general ecological principles of the unique nanoverse. He knew they wanted to test the particles in a system, but a full-scale ecosystem would be too big, too unmanageable, so they had to find a way to container-ize nature. They considered all sorts of receptacles: kiddie pools (too flimsy), simple holes in the ground (too dirty, too difficult to harvest for analysis), concrete boxes (crack in winter). Finally, they settled upon wooden boxes lined with nonreactive, industrial rubber: cheap to build, easy to reuse, and convenient to harvest.

Some published research has shown that inhaled nanoparticles actually become more toxic as they get smaller. Nano–titanium dioxide, one of the most commonly used nanoparticles (Pop-Tarts, sunblock), has been shown to damage DNA in animals and prematurely corrode metals. Carbon nanotubes seem to penetrate lungs even more deeply than asbestos.

What little we know about the environmental effects of nanoparticles—and it isn’t very much—also raises some red flags. Nanoparticles from consumer products have been found in sewage wastewater, where they can inhibit bacteria that help break down the waste. They’ve been found to accumulate in plants and stunt their growth. Another study has shown that gold nanoparticles become more concentrated as they move up the food chain from plants to herbivores.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Non-Indigenous Culture by Derek Rasmussen

In civilisation, community, economy, environment, nature, North America, society on July 18, 2013 at 17:21

From: “Non-Indigenous Culture”: Implications of a Historical Anomaly by Derek Rasmussen, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

When Canadian government surveyors first ran across Gitskan people in their traditional territory, the Gitskan asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Surveying our land,” answered the surveyors.

Incredulous, the Gitksan responded: “If this is your land, where are your stories?”

We non-indigenous are the weird and exotic ones. It’s shocking to realize that although we study indigenous societies to death—”you’re always putting us under the microscope” says my Inuk friend Tommy Akulukjuk—we don’t have a single university department or textbook looking into this weird new invention: non-indigenous societies.

Thanks to fossil fuels and our ideology of possessive individualism (en masse you might call it “capitalism”), we are the first civilization not enmeshed within networks of communities and relations with the land. The West’s 200 year-old industrial civilization is the first to try to split itself off. This is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom,” according to anthropologist Wade Davis. “Ours is a new and original culture that celebrates the individual at the expense of family and community.”

There has never been a non-indigenous civilization on planet Earth before. It’s even a bit of false flattery to call ourselves “settlers”—we don’t actually settle anywhere. The numbers may be slightly better in the United States, but the average Canadian moves once every six years—we have to in order to find work. As Jack Turner writes in The Abstract Wild:

We no longer have a home except in a brute commercial sense: home is where the bills come. To seriously help homeless humans and animals will require a sense of home that is not commercial. The Eskimo, the Aranda, the Sioux—all belonged to a place. Where is our habitat? Where do I belong?…We know that the historical move from community to society pro­ceeded by destroying unique local structures—religion, economy, food patterns, custom, possessions, families, traditions—and replac­ing these with national, or international, structures that created the modern “individual” and integrated him into society. Modern man lost his home; in the process everything else did too.

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Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine

Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson (a.k.a. RAX) by Philippe Theophanidis

In art, documentary, environment, Europe, photography on June 28, 2013 at 21:48

From: Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson (a.k.a. RAX) by Philippe Theophanidis, Aphelis, http://aphelis.net Ragnar Axelsson website: http://www.rax.is/

Last Days of the Arctic, Photos © Ragnar Axelsson, www.RAX.is 2010.

The (above) photo was shot in the small town of Ittoqortoormit (sometimes spelled Illoqqortoormiut), the only permanent settlement in the region of Scoresby Sund. This geographical region is a fjord system on the East coast of Greenland and is said to be the largest fjord system in the world (see Archaeology and Environment in the Scoresby Sund Fjord, p. 7). In 2012, the total population of Ittoqqortoormiit was 477 habitants (see Statistics Greenland: “Population in towns and settlements July 1.st”). The town is located on the 70th parallel north. As a mean of comparison, the Arctic Circle begins at the 66th parallel north (see Wikipedia). The farthest north I have ever lived was on the 55th parallel. Ragnar Axelsson has said of this dog: “He stood up, shook the snow off, then lay down and let the snow cover him again.” (LENS: “Showcase: Black and Very White” December 7, 2009; photo no. 9). In an email exchange with him, I asked about the context in which this photograph was taken. He provided the following, additional details (I added the link): The photograph was taken in a blizzard. The glacier storms in Greenland are called Piteraq and can be so strong that houses are sometimes blown away. It has not happened for many years. … Ragnar Axelsson, also known as RAX, is a renowned, award-winning freelance photographer born in Iceland in 1958. He has been documenting the vanishing lifestyles of various Arctic communities for the past 30 years. Here’s what he has to say about Greenland in particular: Greenland, the biggest Island in the world, is a pearl with harsh elements. Inuites have been there for more than 4.000 years living on the land. In the old days Inuites where living in igloos and small cabins made of stones. It was a struggle for food everyday; hunting birds, fish, whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Every single part of the hunted animal was being used. Skin for clothing, meat was eaten. The old hunting tradition is fading away as new posibilities in the modern world are taking over. (source: Fotopub.com) … Born and raised near a glacier in Iceland, he has seen the effects of global warming, both at home and in his trips. “One can definitely see it when travelling to the same places, 5 or 10 years later. The landscape is constantly changing. I did not realize the effects at first, I just wanted to go and shoot beautiful photos. I wanted to go where nobody had gone, challenging the cold, the distances and the weather. So many photographers just want to sit around in Africa, naked in the sun,” he joked. Read the post Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths

In community, ecology, economy, environment on June 17, 2013 at 19:34

From: Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

I asked one Inuit woman how she felt about the land. “I remember it was beautiful,” she said wistfully. The land was still there, a few yards from her door, thousands of miles of land as wide and beautiful as it ever had been but she was weirdly—artificially—alienated from it. Not so the elders, traveling by boat, Ski-doo, or dog-teams. They knew how to hunt, they knew the language of the land, those dozens of distinct words for snow and ice, on which your life may depend. They cherished the freedom of the land, that non-negotiable authenticity.

The elders are less confident of their knowledge now, because of climate change; I was told of an elder who went through the ice and drowned in a place where it never would have happened before. We’re north of everywhere, they say, and the first to feel these changes. “I’m the last man standing, so be careful with me,” says one, in elliptical vulnerability.

Climate collapse has weird echoes of the financial collapse of recent months, and at the core of both is what I’d call the Politics of Artifice. Perverse and cruel, it is an almost unexamined ideology, one which commits itself to the primacy of the fake and declares war on all that is natural.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun

In Asia, ecology, economy, environment, government, human rights, information, politics, science on June 3, 2013 at 21:19

From: Ma Jun: Information Empowers by John Haffner, Ma Jun, Policy Innovations, http://www.policyinnovations.org

Sitting with Ma in his office last year, I asked him to talk about the remarkable 20-year career that propelled him to the forefront of China’s environmental movement.

Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.”

He took me back to 1992, the year Deng Xiaoping made his famous tour to open southeastern cities to commerce. China remained closed in many ways but Ma was lucky enough to find a job with “the privilege of asking questions.” He was a fresh journalism graduate from the University of International Relations and had landed a position as a researcher and translator in the Beijing office of the South China Morning Post, later working his way up to office manager. At the paper he found himself immersed in every kind of issue and story.

While working as a journalist Ma came to realize that China was in an environmental crisis. He had grown up learning the poems of Li Bai and Du Fu, poets who spoke of China’s lakes, rivers, and land in lyrical, beautiful images. “I grew up reading these books, knowing this landscape through the words of ancient literary giants. I had an image in my mind, but when I traveled—it was just so different.”

In 1994, he found himself at the Three Gorges Dam site covering the story for his paper. Ma was saddened to find that the trees had been clear cut, the river muddied and polluted. “Li Bai and Du Fu had both been so inspired by the landscape, by the gorge, by the torrential flow. When I saw the river, I felt such a big loss.”

When he traveled to Dongting Lake in 1996, he expected to find a place he knew from ancient literature as “vast and extremely pretty.” But when he got there, he “found that the lake during the dry season had been reduced to a few rivers. The degradation was just so obvious.”

And when he went to the Fen River in Shanxi province, Ma saw “streams coming out of different villages with different colors, representing different industries: copper green and iron red and iron brownish, and yellowish and reddish. And they all came together to form a very highly polluting flow, eventually ending up in the Yellow River.”

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Reposted with permission from: Policy Innovations

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