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The Middle East: Liberation or Fundamentalism?

Daniel Wilson: How to Survive a Robot Army, Doubleday 2011

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is an appropriate quote for what is happening in the Middle East right now. With many years of being ruled by dictators, whether benevolent or not (Singapore is described as a benevolent dictatorship) the people of these countries have had the same leader for decades.

First Tunisia, then Egypt, now Libya. We didn’t hear much about Tunisia because the media doesn’t consider them important on the world stage, but Egypt, land of the pyramids, sheiks and oil is important and we heard about that. But more importantly, social media and the internet means everyone is hearing about the protests and uprisings, including those people living under such regimes. Egypt tried to shut them up, seizing cell phone companies and shutting them down and to no avail. Al-Gadaffi has tried to shut up the media by banning them from the country but pictures taken on cell phones and other devices have been uploaded to the internet. Whereas we live in an age when Big Brother seems to watch our every move and keep us under constant surveillance (not that far a step from a dictatorship) we also have the freedom of getting information out no matter how hard tyrants and dictators try to tamp it down.

It’s interesting that even the poorest people, living in cardboard or corrugated metal shacks, will have a TV or a cellphone. Suppression of the news is getting harder and harder to do for your local despot. However, suppression of the masses still continues, often with a heavy hand, cased in metal and wielding a big metal stick, which holds ammo. It is one reason the Egyptian revolt was successful, Mubarak refrained from plowing down his citizens. That and the army didn’t stick behind him. I can’t say how Tunisia played out because we didn’t hear much about that. Al-Gaddafi on the other hand, is clearly mad and willing to go down, taking as many people with him as possible. Hooray for maniacs.

But perhaps these dynastic rulers (such as Gaddafi’s over-forty years and the possible succession by a son) have striven in some way to keep their countries from falling into religious fervor and fundamentalism as bad and as crazed as other dictators. There are many who would argue for al-Gaddafi, as those against him but the problem with one permanent ruler is that people never get to voice their opinions or see their votes really matter. And yeah, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Gaddafi may suppress his people until they are nothing but corpses and that will not liberate Libya. It all depends on who controls the army in the end. I sometimes wonder what would happen here if we had a similar dictator, and Harper has been accused of a heavy hand here, and what our forces would do. Just as the Tienanmen Square uprising in China did not succeed because the government rolled tanks over the protesters and shot them dead. Perhaps these protests will only bring about change if the governments don’t massacre their people. Perhaps those who revolt will have to gain their own weapons.

So which will it be, as rebellions, their like not seen in centuries, sweeps through the Middle East? Will the people be liberated, have safer lives and see democracy (not by any means a perfect system) in their governments? Or will the despots of decades be replaced by religious fundamentalism that will have people cower in their homes and subjugate some groups? You can bet the first group to be subjugated will be women, if that happens. And if Gaddafi stays in power, well, he hates the West, Berbers and who knows what else. But he certainly loves virginal women as that is what his bodyguards are purported to be. Supposedly martyrs to the faith in Islam will be greeted by a host of virgins in heaven (What do the women get and who wants a virgin anyways?). It looks like Gaddafi’s getting his now.

We are living through a crux of change, but then there is usually change. How the protests in the Middle East play out remains to be seen, but I’m not yet sure we’ll see a society more balanced in some of the countries. And in others the bloodshed will be high and the dictatorships will continue.

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Sustainability and A Planet Out of Whack

We are talking more and more about sustainability, as an end to our oil resources is something almost calculable by now. As our living space will decrease with population growth and demands on usable water will increase. As our landfills overflow and seep toxic gunk into the groundwater.  As our land turns to dustbowls or swamps and arable land becomes scarce, as millions of cars belch fumes into the sky.

Right now fires are sweeping across BC, again, threatening people living in cities. In Westbank/Kelowna 11,000 people have been evacuated with another 6,000 on alert. This echoes the terrible, devastatingly traumatic fires that swept through parts of Australia earlier this year. Fires so intense and vicious that they caught people as they tried to get into their cars, that burned land to a cinder killing all living things, whether plant or animal, that stood upon the land. Australia faces the collapse of its wine industry, vines grown for years either burned to a crisp or without water to keep the crops going. Their cattle industry is also in danger. A whole country and continent without enough water.

This is not a new thing. Disasters and climatic devastation have happened throughout history but the ferocity and frequency are increasing as the planet warms and suffers under the onslaught of chemicals and fumes not meant to play with nature. The change in the planet probably began with the industrial revolution, once machines were chugging blue smoke into the sky and sluicing runoff into the streams. It began with the first car. And if we think about it, that was only about a hundred years ago. A tenth of a millennium and civilization has existed for at least twenty thousand years.

Think about it. We are exponentially increasing the danger to the planet and to ourselves, and sticking our heads in the sand won’t make it go away. So just what is sustainability? Let’s look at defining it first, from Merriam Webster: 1: capable of being sustained 2 a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society> 

So that a resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Wow. Perhaps it’s easier to look at what is not sustainable than what is. What’s left over is what we have to work with. Let’s start with the biggest resource. Our planet. It is of a finite circumference with finite water and land. The world population is at 6.7 billion. It is expected to increase to 9 billion in 2040. That’s within a lot of our lifetimes. There will be less land to live on and the more building that happens takes away from land to grow upon. Water is already an issue in many places. What will it be like in thirty years?

This means no matter how much you love children, think they’re cute, want to be surrounded by bundles of joy or your religion has said, go forth and multiply, it is just not sustainable. Everyone can take personal responsibility and for every couple have one child. That will bring our population down. It will make the planet breathe a sigh of relief and continue a bit longer. Plagues, diseases and flus won’t spread like wildfire. And yes, businesses will have to restructure from the grow grow grow buy more mentality. But we’ll survive.

What is not sustainable is manufacturing more and cheaper cars, SUVs, Hummers and every gas guzzling monster. For sustainability they should be outlawed. And we see right now the glacial progress of moving to electric cars. Governments need to move faster on this and provide incentives to get people to change. More cars plug city thoroughfares and raise costs in maintenance, accident prevention and care. Fewer cars and bigger carpool systems will lessen the strain and road rage. Electric cars, bicycles, viable and cheap public transit will help alleviate both pollution and the sucking of the world’s limited oil and metal resources. Another unsustainable depleting resource.

Manufacturing that uses water needs to be looked at, if our water is becoming limited. Healthy, interactive systems of filtration need to be used to keep our water pure and reusable. We could end up like the people in the novel Dune, having to wear suits that recycle and sweat and urine into drinkable fluids over and over because the planet is desert. Water saving devices for taps, toilets and showers must be used. Education will help stem the tide there.

Building homes and offices, making paper all work on depleting trees. The forestry industry has been made responsible for replanting for quite a few years. But you can chop down more trees in a day than will grow in  a year. it takes years to get a big tree, centuries. Ripping out too many tress not only affects flora and fauna of an ecosystem but also affects the topsoil, the nutrients and the infrastructure of the land for both stability and water.

I could go on but every person as well as every company and government must take responsibility and look at what they use and how it’s reused or discarded. Everything from food to clothing. If we don’t start now, we should have started fifty years ago. And if you truly love children, start now and look at what you can do for sustainability because there could be no tomorrow.

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Environmentalism & Politics

I actually wrote this last year on my other blog but I think it’s still pertinent. What often happens with government is that they focus on whatever the media starts paying attention to. And the moment the public looks away, they go off in another direction. Although the economy is of great concern, so is the environment still and always important. Moreso now when recycling companies are not making as much a profit and therefore it isn’t “economical” for them to recycle or for other places to buy the products.
There has been quite the hullabaloo in the media lately as politicians have woken up from a twenty-plus year hibernation to look around in sudden alarm and go “Oh my, we have an environmental problem.” Hello?

When I was a teenager I wouldn’t litter and a friend asked, oh why bother? I said, well it may only be me today but then tomorrow it might be me and someone else, because they saw me not littering. And the next day there could be three or four, etc. I feel vindicated that at least recycling has become more of a norm (at least in some provinces) than it was in my teens.

And at least by the time I was in my twenties I was reading about the Gaia Hypothesis (how the world is one symbiotic living organism and what you do to it in one place affects the whole) and how our pollutants were wreaking havoc with the world and if we stopped all smog causing agents, then it would take at least fifty years to see any positive results.

In 1998 I wrote for a now defunct e-magazine (victim of the dot com downfall) called technocopia.com. It looked at how new technology was changing one’s life and lifestyle, from cell phones in third world countries to robotic heart surgery. I was researching fuel cells and hybrid cars and came across the Kyoto Protocol. Governments had already signed up for it. So how is it in 2007 various governments have dropped out of fulfilling the requirements and now cry it will break the bank because there’s not enough time? That was ten years of time.

I hear Stephan Dion say on CBC that pollution has just become a problem? What!! Just? Puhleese. I’m not sure what the benefit was to Tony Blair to stand up and start waving the big green flag but it suddenly looked like the cool thing to do and Canada jumped up beside him. George Bush of course is still in right wing crusader war mode. Environmentalism might mean putting collars on his pals, the oil and car companies.

But I’m cynical enough and eyes open enough to wonder why politicians would suddenly go on about this when a lot of us have known there’s been a problem for over twenty years. Well, hmm, minority government. Who wouldn’t want to keep our country green and with air we can breathe? For Harper it’s a surefire way to garner a shiny star on his report card. But it would be much more believable if saving our resources wasn’t done because of political maneuvering and was just done because it’s the right thing to do.

And yet, the Conservatives whine and shuffle their feet and say oh we can’t meet the Kyoto Protocol. Or, maybe we could but it would cost gadzillions and all you poor Canadians that we normally only care about when you’re voting will pay the price. A few weeks ago on CBC, The Current had business leaders from various sectors and they were saying that they were on board with changing and implementing environmentally safe processes and procedures. The interesting thing here was that all of them said that it would be more cost effective and they would probably actually make more profit by switching over. So how is it that the Baird Report says we’re going to have to pay with our first born?

Perhaps I’d almost believe that maybe, just maybe, our lovely government was actually concerned with the environment and not with losing power if it wasn’t that I see this as a big smokescreen. What have polls of recent years shown is the number one priority for Canadians: universal medicare. So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Because it needs a massive overhaul. And we’ve all turned to look at the shiny new green flag being waved so that we won’t notice the huge cutbacks, the ever longer waiting lists, the rampant deadly infections running amok in hospitals and killing people. Because the government can win votes easier with this lovely green beast than with the monster of medical coverage.

I was willing to let go some of my frustration, anger and disgust with the head-in-the-sand attitude various Canadian governments have had if it meant at least something was being done. But then we get the Baird Report; more stalling about actually really doing something.

I’m trying to do my part and have for years. I could do more. We all could. I’d get a hybrid car if I could afford one. What part is the government really doing? Will they put teeth into their policies or leave them to gum the ankles of corporations and groups that continue to pollute? I’ll wait and see.

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