Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day musings and the new normal.

It is one of those days. Move the chair to get closer to the keyboard to type, knock something over. It is Earth Day. The early warmth we had made all the trees on my block leaf out very quickly, and much earlier than normal. Today, though, is cool and gray.

Spring on the Brattleboro Common - about a half a block from my apartment. I took this photo yesterday!

The lilac on the Common (not far from the crab apples in the picture above) as well as one growing in a 2 foot space between two older buildings on the edge of our business district, are both starting to open their blooms a month early. This is the new normal - there isn't any normal. Well, there is, but I find it depressing and try not to let much of it slip into my consciousness. Which is pretty hard to do when it is the major part of one's everyday existence. (And I'm thinking of the "new normal" in politics and economics as well as in the environmental sense.)

How to explain this feeling? Well, let's take Earth Day. Although there were a couple of similar ideas already out there, Earth Day as we know it was founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 as a reaction to the disastrous 1969 oil spill in southern California and the lack of a decent response by the US Government. He based his idea on the anti Vietnam War movement's "teach ins", hoping that education would help raise enough public outcry that something would be done to stem what he saw as an approaching environmental crisis. How have things changed since then? In 2010, this day was celebrated by the sinking to the ocean floor of the drilling platform of the Deepwater Horizon BP Macondo blowout (after an explosion two days previous); an incident otherwise known as the Gulf Oil Spill. Haven't head much about that lately have you? Have you seen or heard of any legislation or regulations passed to protect against shoddy cheap bottom dollar is king construction work to try to help prevent this kind of thing from happening again? Have you heard about the continuing "persistent oil seep" in the Gulf whose chemical analysis identifies it as consistent with the make up of oil from the Macondo 252 well? The phrase in quotes is from an investigative piece published in March 2012. You haven't heard of it because the reporting was done by Al Jazeera. Three days ago, the New York Times reported that BP has, so far, paid out about $ 8 billion to individuals and businesses affected by the spill. (That's out of the $20 billion fund they were forced to set up, which the Times failed to mention.) BP claims to have spent an additional $14 billion in cleanup costs. BP's books show a $37.2 billion charge for their expenses. In case you're curious, the lawyers have so far collected about $600 million. One other thing, aside from the continued deaths of Gulf waters dolphins and whales at twice the normal rate, tar balls still continue to wash up on Gulf shores. According to the National Geographic Society and Ecowatch, the tar balls contain the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, which can cause fatal blood poisoning and is the causative agent of cholera.

One of these days I'll get around to writing about what I see as the "new normal". In the meantime, I'd explain the phrase by mentioning Monsanto, the giant multinational conglomerate which manufactures rGBH (the bovine growth hormone which leaches into the cows milk and has been identified as an "accelerator" of prostrate, lung and colon cancers), and the toxic weed killer Round Up and much of the genetically modified Round Up resistant seeds (corn, soybeans, etc.) sold in the US. They dealt with the fact that their products are getting the major blame for the destruction of pollinating insects (think bees, among others) by buying the company that does much of the research into bee colony collapse. They made the purchase last September, but the news of it only came to light two days ago. I wonder whatever happened to their anti-trust investigation the US Government started in 2009? I wonder if that was affected by the 2009 appointment of their chief lobbyist ($8.8+ million in 2008) (and a former Deputy Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration) to the position of senior adviser to the FDA by President Obama? You know, the FDA. As in Monsanto's should be famous comment, "Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA's job." Oh, by the way,  they are also a former employer of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (who wrote the Court's majority 2001 opinion that genetically modified seeds were patentable). I won't go into their history of manufacturing DDT, Agent Orange or their worldwide toxic dumping and use of child labor. Happy Earth Day, Monsanto.

Earth Day is also the birthday of J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. His studies of a range of subjects led directly to Nobel prizes for others. He was nominated three times, but was never given the award. In the early 1940's, he was called upon by the United States government to work on a specific task. He completed his mission, and is now known as the father of the Atomic Bomb. Horrified by the death and destruction his work unleashed, he agitated for organizations to oversee atomic development and for the then new United Nations to oversee and control atomic weapons. For that work, various interests in the US pushed him out of the way of the business of atomic money, and used the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950's to publicly embarrass and destroy him as they revoked his security clearances. It just wasn't any fun starting a profitably expensive arms race with a Communist liberal loving peacenick running around gumming up the works. Oh, by the way, the atomic arms race isn't over you know. But then again, no arms races are ever over, are they?

Shall we now discuss the new figures on poverty in the United States? Let's not. But if you live in this country, have you noticed a large upswing in crimes such as holdups of convenience stores and banks? We're having quite a few here in Brattleboro these days. Cause and effect and all that.

And as for our hopes for the future being based on education engendered by days like Earth Day, here are a few responses from an article on Facebook this morning about a bank robbery in town yesterday:

Person 1 ...can't see it taken very long to find him one dum ass bank robber

Person 2 - Well lets rember they never caut the guy that robbed to banks on a bike ane one day. So will see how long it takes this time

After a report of an arrest in the case:

Person 3 - Wow they did there job this time.

Person 4 - People really should judge the police when your not the ones putting your life on the line everyday in these situations every day

So much for education. And hope. It is one of those days.

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