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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Archive for May 2007

Babysteps vs. Global Warming, Part III

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It is 100 degrees and sunny in Taipei today. I rode my scooter six times to and from work, a typical commute. Believe me, I am not one of those vegetarians who tells people who eat meat they are evil. I am a work in progress. It so happens that most people I call my friends see themselves the same way, are cognizant of this fundamental building block of hope. I expect it of them. Speaking with them builds my hope.

My friend Kizha told me it helps her to actualize things by writing them down. Since then, I have written down more personal goals. It reminds me of something you read in those “7 Highly Effective Habits” books. I agree with Kizha. Writing something down leaves a physical trace of its existence. Failing to live up to this pencil scratch links directly back to you. There is no escaping your own actions, no justification. It puts the pressure on, and I dig that.

I believe in the hope of works in progress. Even in babysteps, I am trying to live up to the progressions I demand of myself. It starts, for me, with the simple things and builds on that success. It is mental. I believe that. Confidence develops in one’s ability to accomplish tasks when tasks are accomplished. It is subconscious. The results are unseen. They manifest in future action.

So what can be done about global warming? Even in my best moments, the weight of my realist cynicism shackles my reasoning for hope. Most people are not doing a damn thing. People still do not believe it is happening. Some do not believe the United States, the world’s largest promoter and polluter, should take action. We need action movies where explosions happen on a larger scale to re-sensitize us.

But, I can do something. My actions speak for themselves, but I am their spin doctor. So what are my next steps, and what can be done? Here are some ideas, starting with the super simple.


1.      The same answer to every problem:  Become involved, participate in democracy.  Vote, obviously.  This should be mandatory.  Get a grip, literally.  Besides voting, join organizations, support NGOs and NPOs, sign petitions, join mailing lists of activities you can support in your neighborhood, write a congressman (websites will mail you pre-written messages you only need to sign).  There are so many ways.  At the core, become educated and force the issues.  Let me be very clear, global warming cannot be combated by a massive grassroots movement.  We need governmental leadership!  We need effective, responsible, accountable leadership.  There needs to be someone with the moral authority and the prescient vision to say, “Hey, time’s up.  We are making serious changes.  They will require great sacrifice, but we will be stronger and better for it.  It starts now.”  The international community asked the United States to reduce green house emissions to below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.  That was 1997.  We did not sign that protocol.  The European Union is currently below 1990 levels, while we have increased our emissions by 16%.  The G8 will meet this year to discuss the next steps post-Kyoto.  The United States needs to be active and sign-on to this from the onset.  Politicians need to know this.  If you believe in any issue, it needs to be on the tip of your tongue.  Speak up.  Here are just a few of the many websites with ideas:

2.      Even simpler: Turn off the lights.  Lighting accounts for 17% of global energy consumption.  Change those old bulbs.  I remember my parents always hampering me about turning off lights.  Whatever, I thought, it costs pennies per day.  I was mistaken. 

3.      Grow a plant!  It is the idea of it, the nurturing, the creation of oxygen.  We should all have plants in our home.  Show nature you have a crush on her. 

4.      Leave the paper trail in the 20th century.  Get online with your banking, your newspapers or magazines, and any other viable means to reduce your mailbox and your trashcan. 

5.      Create the demand. Politically and commercially.  An article in today’s New York Times reports gas prices at the pump are going to continue to rise.  Oil companies are hesitant to invest in refineries and infrastructure that could help the US filter more gas for itself because of rising demand for alternatives.  YES!!!  Read that again!  Success, man, babysteps!  Take it further.  Get ready for solar and wind power.  I just read about young entrepreneurs developing kite-like windmills launched into the upper atmosphere to utilize increased wind speeds.  Learn about cap-and-trade carbon policy, it is going to be the next big thing.

6.      Buyer beware!  Bush was right, we are addicted to oil.  Transport is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions amounting to 20% of global energy use and over 50% of worldwide oil consumption.  We are stuck in what economists call “path dependence,” where previous choices determine future economic outcomes regardless of more rational decisions.  We keep manufacturing archaic automobiles because people keep buying them.  More cars means more government spending on auto infrastructure.  More roads means less traffic, means less incentive for alternative transportation ideas, means more cars are purchased.  It is a self-sustaining cycle.  There seems to be no incentive for an automaker to radically alter his business plan, which I believe is incredibly short-sighted, yet reasonable to understand.

7.      Don’t be protectionist.  American companies are reluctant to take the reigns in the new market of alternative energy because the transition could be costly, though the rewards immeasurable.  We should not isolate our markets to protect these guppies, but rather throw them overboard and let them compete in the water like everyone else—the ol’ fashioned American capitalist way.  Capitalism will save our ass if we let it.  In Brazil, ethanol now accounts for 40% of fuel usage.  More than 80% of newly manufactured vehicles are capable of running on gasoline, ethanol, or a mixture of both.  The United States has asked Brazil to drastically increase its production of ethanol, so that we may buy it in our pursuit of reducing our gasoline (not GHG) consumption by 20% by 2012.  There are many problems within this.  The most troubling is the fact that the US actually dissuades Brazil from producing more ethanol with protectionist tax tariffs.  We tax Brazil $0.54 per gallon of ethanol imported to US, measures the Congress (including B. Obama) and US corn producers say are necessary “because Brazil has an ‘unfair’ advantage of 30 years of ethanol-technology development.”

8.      Research and Develop, baby.  It is just unacceptable that Brazil is more advanced in ethanol technology, China is building more advanced cars, and Europe is below its 1990 emissions levels while US corporations whine and beg for protection from an emerging inevitability.  The invisible hand is about to bitch slap American industry if it don’t wise up.  I have zero pity for foolish enterprise, and I think my buddy Bianj is very plugged into this.  The Wall Street Journal just ran a special report on the market realities of a geo-green market versus global warming.  Let us create.  We have done this before.  We drastically increased funding in military R&D after WWII.  Semi-clandestine government agencies like DARPA inadvertently brought us the internet and GPS communication.  Not to mention some killer other advancements.  We achieved.  I am confident we can do it again.  As Thomas Friedman wrote, “It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet.”

9.      Dream without destroying the planet.




Written by Miles

May 25, 2007 at 12:50 pm

2 Things 2 Check Out

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Where is Professor Adrian Gaskins?!?! I have been trying to hunt down my old friend and professor after his CU email started bouncing back my messages. As I was searching for him, I came across his department page and found the profile of another of my former professors: William King.

I do not consider Professor King one of the best professors I have had. I do, however, respect the man. When I took his class, for whatever reasons, he happened to be going through a period in his life in which he was losing hope in education, I believe particularly in our institution. He responded by abandoning our class, rarely attending lecture, and tarnishing the idea of tenure. Class attendance plummeted.

Those of us with the inclination to keep coming back in hope of this acclaimed scholar’s appearance were rewarded with the presence of a very intelligent, articulate teaching assistant by the name of Flavian Prince. He saved the class (shout out to Flav!). He made us aware of the fact that our recurrent attendance was proof we wanted to gain knowledge of this issue, and that we must at all times take education upon ourselves— again, returning to the value of responsibility and accountability.

Please check out what Professor King has to say about the theory of education. As a teacher, I relate to a lot of what he is saying here:

ALSO, my roommate asked me yesterday if I could recognize the flag of the Solomon Islands. The answer is no. It sparked a debate on how many flags each of us actually can recognize. Fifteen years ago we would have popped on some Right Said Fred and walked down to the library. Instead, we Goggled it.

Note: Email me and tell me you nailed a perfect 3500 score in fifteen minutes and I will tell you who shot JFK!

Written by Miles

May 22, 2007 at 9:31 am

An Informed Youth vs. Global Warming, Part II

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    So, I have spent days and days delaying Part II of this global warming rant. The surge in interest, the side discussions, all of it was enough to put me off track and realize some of the difficulties in discussing what seems easy to see. Everything is political, but let us not deceive ourselves.

    Some people believe the Earth was made in seven days and that man is divinely superior to all other species. Some people say HIV/AIDs is a myth. Others think the Holocaust is a conspiracy.

    There are always two sides to a story, sure. I spent four years of college studying how to find and judge their value. I graduated with the “ethics” of journalism firmly embedded. But I was lucky. I had the privilege of having some fantastic professors—cynical, disenfranchised optimists like myself—who forced me to challenge complacent systems of thought.

    A constant theme of classroom discussions hinged on the awareness of the limitations of a media industry dominated by business interests. News corporations are as likely to hire a new employee with a business administration degree as they are to hire a journalism graduate. Corporate survival is at stake. Shareholders and higher-ups are more interested in an audience that stays sitting in front of the screen than one that gets up and screams.

    The media is a business. Difficult ideas are difficult to sell. When an issue can no longer be forced to the fringe, the media must confront its audience with what is unavoidable. Yet, unavoidable does not equate unarguable. Thus, the creation of shadow conspiracies not only entertains but also appeases the uneasiness of new awareness. This other side says, “Hey, uninformed, gluttonous Americans, everything is okay! Keep doing what you are doing!” And we sigh a breath of relief.

    I am American. I am part of a whole, no better than the collective body. I know I need to change myself and my country. I am doing my best to validate a personal vision of an America remembered more for its ideals than its happy-meals.


    Responsibility and accountability are two virtues on the verge of disappearing from the American moral make-up. This must change, before 2008. Woefully malnourished is our diet for the fiber of our actions. We eat the lion’s share in this world. Then, we trash it. We consume the most; we pollute the most. We swallow 9 million barrels of gasoline per day, 44% of worldwide consumption.

    It is no surprise that two-thirds of the world blames the United States for the current global warming crisis, according to a recent worldwide BBC/Synovate poll. Nearly 80% of Americans, however, do not think one country is to blame. Rather, a quarter of Americans “either do not believe climate change is man-made or are unconcerned about it.”

    That was February. Now, after the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change, comprised of over 2,000 of the world’s best scientists from over 100 different countries, released its report the tides are changing. A New York Times poll last month showed that 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 60% of Republicans now see global warming as an issue that must be dealt with immediately.

    Okay, good, we see it. The climate crisis cannot be cordoned off anymore. Now, let us be accountable and act responsibly. We, the citizenry, must not only become more aware and more informed, but also strengthen ourselves for the upcoming debate. It is not if, but when we fight.






I have a few more thoughts and solutions that I will present on Tuesday in Part 3.

Written by Miles

May 20, 2007 at 1:31 pm

Global Warming is not a Conspiracy

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For those of you with your doubts, please use the incredible abundance of research and information at your fingertips to educate yourself.  The internet is our best tool for an informed post-consumer society.  It amazes me that some of my most intelligent and articulate friends somehow pick up conspiracy cracks and cannot get past them.  Look it up!

Here is an awesome site for those of you who think that… hmmm… what are some of the most ludicrous… (a) volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans per year, (b) it is all due to solar sun spots and cycles, (c) or that all scientists do not agree…

Written by Miles

May 20, 2007 at 12:04 pm

Lord, bless thy internet!

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I guess, if you couldn’t tell, I am saying I am as full of shit as the next guy when I analyze myself. But it’s baby steps, just like my man Bill Murray. I come off my high horse to roll in the glorious mud of pop culture… unbeatable!

Written by Miles

May 19, 2007 at 6:14 am

Re: View from Above

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“Above.” This is not the symbolic soapbox upon which I want to stand. To cast categories is a fool’s task. We all face this together, each our own worst enemy. I answer to myself, or try to, in the measure of which my mold and my morality direct me. In doing so, I gravitate towards conversations.

I wear a pair of “Save Darfur” t-shirts that I bought online in support of the cause. A few months ago, I wore them down to a music festival on the beaches of Kenting. Flipflops, aviators, ice cold Corona, I was the polaroid of privilege. And I rocked that shirt. People commented, scoffed, challenged me to what I knew or asked me how I justified wearing it while bending myself in the burn of the sun. This was a small measure of success. I made people think, even if for a split second.

I am no savior, no visionary. But I have a vote, and a wallet, and an idea of the shadow I want to leave in this Earthly experiment. You are no enemy to me, friend. You are a member of our intelligentsia, one of many keys to the many doors of our shared future. The responsibility of self-awareness is a luxury and a journey. Questions are the tour guides.

“Men have called me mad, but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence–whether much that is glorious–whether all that is profound–does not spring from disease of thought–from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”– Edgar Allen Poe

Written by Miles

May 18, 2007 at 3:08 pm

View from Above

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So, I am the enemy.  I am white, I am priveleged, and I actively participate in the motor of the capitalist machine.  My business is buying and selling stocks.  I profit from the labor of the proletariat.  When there’s a strike because workers feel that they are not being compensated appropriately for their efforts, my capital encourages the management of a business to snub it out.  The end result is just as Marx explained.  The strike generally fails to yield the desired results, and I profit at the expense of those who were desparate enough to leave their jobs, forfeit their pay, and risk starvation in the hope of gaining more hourly pay and more healthcare benefits. 

Of course, this is not all that I do.  I also infuse start-up biotech companies with capital so that they can find cures for terminal diseases.  I give money to alternative energy companies so they can reduce the use of coal, oil, and gasoline. 

My business is completely amoral.  Sometimes I make money at the expense of other people’s suffering, sometimes I make it and benefit others in the process.  Regardless, I make money. 

I’m sure that makes some of you reading this angry.  To tell you the truth it makes me angry with myself.  I am in the midst of an ongoing battle within myself.  On the one side I have a philosophical voice that says “you are not using your intelligence to benefit those around you and that is not acceptable.  You are simultaneously reducing your own contentment with life because you enjoy helping those in need and that is not where your focus lies.”  On the other side, I have a practical voice that says “you are currently becoming educated on the way the economics of the world work, and you are creating wealth for yourself in the process.  You can subsequently use the knowledge and wealth you create to help those in need in a more meaningful way down the road.”  I don’t know which path is the right path.  I don’t know if there  is a right path, but I do believe that I have gained an insight into privelege and why the wealth gap continues to grow instead of shrink.  Given that seems to be the topic of conversation of late on this blog I will participate from my vantage point.

The problem, as I’m sure you are all aware, is that the people with wealth do not come into contact with those without it, and even when they do, rarely is there a meeting of the minds.  When a company is going to fire a bunch of people they say “we’re restructuring.”  Rarely does anyone talk about what that really means, all investors want to know is how much cost will be taken out of the business.  So, would the wealth base change drastically if investors were forced to witness the squalor that a group of laid of mining workers live in.  Unfortunately, I doubt it.  I think investors would say I’m sorry, maybe make a donation to a charitable organization to make themselves feel better, and then encourage the company to continue so that the managers and the investors could both increase their wealth.  So what would reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots? 

You educate the have nots and provide them the skills to advance.  I should clarify, obviously this will not work in countries where power creates wealth and not vice versa.  I am talking about capitalist societies only.  I know what you anti-capitalists, you idealists, and you revolutionaries are thinking.  “Education is not enough, education is inherently unequal anyway.”  If that is your answer, I challenge you to create a revolutionary idea that is practical enough to significantly change the world for the better.  In all seriousness, I will take up your cause should you find an idea so special.  Until then, please indulge me.  What has happened is that the masses feel so outside of the culture that the elite has created, they have created their own culture.  It is a culture like that of the elite in many ways.  The most enterprising people have created wealth for themselves.  They have generated wealth through illegal means, like drug sales and pimping because they are not afforded an opportunity to particpate in the elitist forms of wealth creation.  They must defend their wealth with their own power which means with their own guns and gangs because the government is not going to help them defend it as they do for the elite.  I propose that the government legalizes drugs and prostitution.  They can use the billions employeed in the fruitless hunt of slangers and pimps to subsidize healthcare, build houses, control rent, etc.  Then they can tax the drug and prositution trades that they now control and the revenue dollars can go to a new type of education.  It can go to the education of making money.  The enterprising youths of the sub-culture who now can no longer sell drugs and pimp whores can be taught to make money like their hawkish, elitist counterparts in the worlds of finance and big business.  Wealth creation within the underpriveleged has the potential to create a mouthpiece for the impoverished and neglected.  Wealth, as we all know, creates power. 

Obviously, this exasperates another problem, namely the imperialistic nature of capitalistic countries who exploit low cost countries for their labor, but I will leave that for another day.

Written by bianj

May 17, 2007 at 9:57 pm