Plastic II: LOL

July 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Well, when I wrote my blog on Friday, they were predicting a high of 100, but actually it went to 103. My brother said that while driving on the Long Island Expressway, his car registered 123 outside.

One response to extreme heat like this, of course, is to buy bottles of cold water. But, as you perhaps know, buying bottles of water, unless (and even if) you assiduously recycle the bottles, only adds to the problem. In the first place, producers use millions of gallons of fuel to make plastic bottles and transport them, after draining already declining aquifers to fill them.  Then 75% of all plastic bottles go  straight into landfills, thus increasing the methane in the atmosphere, which traps more heat, which causes even more global warming.

I have to confess, however, that yesterday when my husband and I drove in the hundred degree heat down to the Jersey shore so he could officiate at an (outdoor!) wedding, I forgot to bring my metal water bottle with me . So I bought some bottled water,

But I’m  almost glad I did, because if I hadn’t I would have missed  the opportunity to explode with the biggest guffaw of my recent life. The 16.9 fluid ounce bottle was produced by “Poland Spring,” that is to say, Nestle, one of the most massive, richest producers of bottled water on earth. I brought the bottle home to recycle so I have it right here. It’s 8 inches tall and two inches in diameter, with a plastic cap that measures 1 by 1/4 inches. And on the back of the label there’s a green leaf and the following bit of information:

SMALLER CAP=LESS PLASTIC. Did you notice this bottle has an Eco-Slim cap? This is part of our ongoing effort to reduce our impact on the environment. This bottle and cap contain an average of 20% less plastic than our original 500 mL Eco-Shape bottle and cap. Be Green.

Of course, the bottled water industry spews forth ideological crap like this all the time. On World Water Day they advertise their contributions to countries whose droughts are driven by climate change. And now Nestle invites us to congratulate them because they are in effect, nuking the  environment with only four thousand warheads, or smoking four packs of cigarettes a day instead of five. I mean, seriously.

Carrying Plastic to Philadelphia

July 22, 2011 at 11:09 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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To begin with, just so you know, they’re saying it’s going to be 100 degrees here today, and will feel like 110. It was 99 yesterday. But there’s no global warming, or climate change or anything. It’s normal for it to be this hot in NYC.

Meanwhile, we New Yorkers are getting on with our lives. One aspect of my life is a long-term effort not to put plastic in the landfills. Of course, here in the Big Apple, we are allowed to put “plastic bottles and  jugs” into the recycling, but  all other plastics are verboten. The Department of Sanitation makes it sound as if there really aren’t so many other kinds of plastics: “deli and yoghurt containers, styrofoam, plastic toys and furniture.” They fail to mention clear plastic food containers, containers for baby and moist wipes, frozen entrée trays, the plastic that toys and electronics come wrapped in, endless McDonald’s and Dunkin Donut containers, and on and on. Multiply these by seven million people and you’ve got some serious non-biodegradable land-fill.

I have found a solution, however. Some dear friends with whom I’ve been working on the Catholic women’s ordination issue for twenty years live a couple of hours south of here, in Philadelphia, and it just so happens that the City of Sisterly Love recycles all kinds of plastic. They even give residents reward points for recycling.So when I go down to Philly on the train to visit my friends, I take a bag or two of plastic with me, and Regina Bannan, with whom I stay, puts them in her recycling.  I had to stop doing this for a while when I broke my wrists, but now I’m accumulating quart yoghurt containers and frozen entrée trays again big time. I store them in the trunk of our beat up old Corolla between trips. My husband loves it. ( :

Now you may think that Philly can afford to do this is because it’s a much richer city that New York, but you would be mistaken. Fact is, Philly recycles because the Mayor, Michael Nutter, is committed to doing so. And Mayor Bloomberg has other concerns. Of course, if Bloomberg were in on this conversation, he might remind us that only 20% of New Yorkers bother to recycle what they are allowed to recycle, so why spend money saving the likes of me the trouble of hauling bags of plastic to Philadelphia? NYC did recently award a $45,000 grant so a group can continue to collect compost at a handful of greenmarkets across the city. That would be about .0001 % of the city budget, I reckon.

But why, when it is so hot, would anybody be concerned that we are dumping vast quantities of plastic into landfills which will then spew out more methane and make global warming even worse?

Melting Away

July 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’ve been kind of zonked lately and so haven’t written a lot. Much of what goes on in our country is so hard to take in. Seriously, is there anybody in charge out there, anybody with even a few cells in his or her skull?

Part of the problem is that I’ve been studying climate change. First I went to see those photographs at the Asia Society that show the Himalayan glaciers three hundred vertical feet shorter than they were in the early 20th century. Then I went to hear a talk by Gwynne Dyer about his new book, Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats in which he projects, among other horrors, a nuclear war between India and Pakistan over the droughts that will be caused by the melting of those very Himalayan glaciers.  This might seem like irresponsible speculation written for profit except that  a few days later, the New York Times reported a dispute over India’s proposed construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Kishenganga River on the India-Pakistani border, one of the rivers sourced by–you guessed it–the Himalayan glaciers. The conflict between Pakistan’s desperate need for water and India’s desire for more hydroelectric power is, we learn, increasing tensions between these two nuclear powers who have already fought three previous wars.  The same day that article was published the Senate Democrats announced that they were abandoning the effort to pass an energy and climate bill that would, it had been hoped, begin to reduce or at least level off greenhouse gas emissions.

And, of course, you’ve probably heard that we here on the East Coast are experiencing what looks to be the hottest July on record. I ought to be ashamed to complain about this. A film I saw recently about the world water crisis included shots of the region on the Gulf Coast in Mexico that used to be irrigated by the Colorado River but has become a desert. Why? Because the (US) Hoover Dam has siphoned off so much of the Colorado’s water to irrigate California’s Imperial Valley that the river no longer reaches the Gulf. That’s the same Imperial Valley that grows a huge percentage of the food we eat. 

So I shouldn’t be complaining. There is, however, something about having one’s underwear dripping with sweat day in and day out that takes the starch out of a person, so to speak. The temptation to turn on the air conditioning, thus emitting even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is very strong.  We’re really in a mess.

But the US Senate isn’t going to do anything about this. Fact is, the minority party wouldn’t vote for such a bill if their lives depended on it (which they very well may, though people in power tend to expect they’ll avoid such things).  In part, this is because there’s an election coming, and the electorate includes a lot of climate change skeptics. A Gallup poll in March showed that 48% of Americans now believe threats of global warming to be exaggerated, up from 30% in 2006. Belief in climate change is also dropping in Europe, but not the way it is here. In Britain, the decrease was  to 78%, from 91% five years ago; fewer Brits than Americans have lost their minds.  But ninety-seven per cent of climate change scientists are convinced that climate change poses a serious threat.

For an illustration of  why so few climate scientists are among the skeptics, take a look at the  drawing of a projected 1.4 meter sea level rise on the California coast–the rise expected under a medium-to-medium-high greenhouse-gas emissions scenario–as determined in a 2009 study conducted by Peter Gleick’s Pacific Institute. The study shows that such a sea-level rise will put  “480,000 people at risk of a 100-year flood event… if no adaptation actions are taken. A wide range of critical infrastructure and nearly $100 billion (in year 2000 dollars) worth of existing property, measured as the current replacement value of buildings and contents, are also at risk.” And, of course, people of color and the poor are those who will be at the greatest risk.  But seriously, why would the United States invest money in preventing this kind of thing if  the risk is not absolutely certain? We have our priorities, after all.

On Vacation: Kids, Pollen, Books!

June 1, 2010 at 11:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Last week Keith and I drove up to western Massachusetts to spend the week in a cottage on Lake George near our grandkids, Nora, age 3, and Wylliam, age 5. We spent a lot of time chasing them around, pushing them on swings, resolving altercations, serving popsicles and juice boxes, etc., etc. The kids especially liked the paddle boat on the lake from which they could fish, wearing their dear little life jackets. They each caught little fish which we  threw back after cheering them for being such brilliant fisherpeople. 

I’m m not actually much of a country girl; not for nothing do we live in the bowels of Brooklyn. But beyond my basic preference for cities, the pollen in western Mass was really dreadful last week; you could actually see it flying toward you in the wind, great masses of it. I suffered most of the time we were there from an overweening desire to sleep, even as I lived on Sudafed. Doesn’t make for great grandma-ing I’m afraid, but the kids were fairly patient. I read somewhere that the huge increase in pollen in recent years is a result of global warming–longer warmer seasons grow more plants that produce more pollen–so I have got me an appointment with an allergist. Weekly shots are better than sleeping all the time, doncha think?

A favorite part of the vacation, for me, were my two trips to the Book Bear, an amazing second-hand book store on Route 9 up above the grandkids’ house in Warren, Mass. Even grannies deserve the occasional escape!The Book Bear’s  religion collection, in particular, was terrific, and I bought twelve books for fifty dollars. Among them was a study of the Presentation BVM Sisters of South Dakota, Women with Vision, written by two women’s historians who tie the nuns into the history of the American west in ways  that really stick in your mind. At one point, for example, the original sisters, who came from Ireland to work with the Native Americans, lived in a sod hut as the pioneers did, but had to give up when they couldn’t support themselves from the tiny group of students they managed to recruit (and then the tribe moved on). Another group of them developed techniques for begging when they ran out of food–among them, hanging a flag out the window so the Catholics in the town would come to their rescue. I’d have been tempted to go back to Dublin.

I also found a life of Mother Cabrini by an Indian (subcontinental) Catholic and a biography of Mother Seton which, when I got it home, I discovered had been written by Leonard Feeney, the infamous “Father Feeney” whose interpretation of “outside the Church there is no salvation” got him excommunicated in 1953. It wasn’t easy being to the right of the Holy Office before Vatican II, but Feeney managed to do it. I’m perishing to hear his take on Elizabeth Bayley Seton,

Well, there are nine more books to tell you about, but I think I’ll save that for another post. Also, you simply must hear about my trip to St. Christopher’s Church, near Sturbridge, on Pentecost Sunday, where I listened to a sermon that could have been preached, word for word, in my childhood parish in Philly circa 1959. Stay tuned.

The Haiti Spectacle

January 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Well, the amazing outpouring of concern and money for Haiti continues. As economists Paul Collier and Jean-Louis Warnholtz reported in the New York Times a few days ago, nearly half of American households have contributed money to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that hit it almost three weeks ago. My own parish here in Flatbush, Our Lady of Refuge, is hosting a fundraiser next Saturday night, an orchestra and chorus performing Brahms’s  Requiem. Fifteen dollars at the door. Maybe you’d like to join us?

Yet I have to confess that there’s something about all this outpouring of support that I find deeply disturbing. What is it with us that we need a catastrophe–a spectacle–to motivate us to act? In his 1997 book The Bottom Billion,  Paul Collier, the same economist whose recent op-ed piece explains what’s needed to rebuild Haiti, reported that approximately fifty failing states around the world, totalling a billion people, were sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and what was needed to reverse it. Seventy percent of this “bottom billion,” according to Collier, were in sub-Saharan Africa. Another chunk of them, I’m willing to bet, were at the time in Haiti, though now their share of that “bollom billion” has been reduced by 200,000 or so.

I mention this because, as that radical socialist David Brooks noted on the PBS News Hour not long after the earthquake, the devastation in Haiti was the  result of poverty, plain and simple. A similar magnitude earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 resulted in about 60 deaths. But Haiti, a nation within spitting distance of the richest country in the history of the world, was permitted to construct its capital city out of such inadequate  materials that 200,000 human beings, more or less, were crushed to death when a similar earthquake hit them. 

Meanwhile, the US Congress seems on the verge of cutting back substantially on global warming legislation. No cap and trade. Too difficult in a recession, when the American people are so angry at government. Maybe a little money for green jobs. Of course, if the United States doesn’t provide substantial leadership on global warming, entire communities in the South Pacific and elsewhere will be wiped out in the  not too distant future by rising seas. After which perhaps we generous US citizens will pledge ten bucks apiece on our cellphones or have a benefit concert to raise money for those who managed to escape the flood in rowboats.

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