Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Big-Box Swindle

Before I write anything else, let me plug a book well worth reading: Stacy Mitchell's Big-Box Swindle. The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses, available at independent local bookstores such as Odyssey Books, South Hadley, and Food for Thought Books, Amherst.

In my last post I railed against our government subsidizing road-building, because the subsidies constitute a huge donation of our money to the fossil-fuel and auto industries and to the other corporations that benefit from sprawl. Big Box Swindle takes a hard look at the many ways policy-makers have served as the little helpers for the mega-retailers, diverting public resources to the private sector, in particular those parts of the private sector that do the most to impoverish our sense of community and humanity.

On the subject of Big Box Swindle, and picking up where my last post left off, let's remember that when politicians talk about "investing in roads and bridges" they are talking about laying down more bitumen, or asphalt. Bitumen is a form of petroleum composed of ancient algae and other living things. Millions of years ago, while alive, these plants and creatures absorbed sunlight. Unleashing the energy from that ancient sunlight releases CO2 that has been stored underground since the days long before our early shrew-like ancestors were dodging the dinosaurs.

Refining, or cracking, the bitumen requires heat from other fossil fuels and releases more ancient CO2 into the twenty-first century atmosphere, thereby exacerbating global warming. If mining and refining bitumen is damaging the climate, why do it? Because bitumen is so profitable. In addition to blacktop, the fossil-fuel industry can use bitumen to produce gasoline and a culture based on car-worship needs both; gas to put in the cars, and asphalt to drive them on.

One simple sentence from an article in, the site for Construction Industry News, explains why the price of bitumen is volatile and why it accounts for about a quarter of new road costs:
As oil prices have gone up refineries have found it more economical to crack bitumen for further oil, meaning there is less of the material available.
So whether it's turning the bitumen into gas or into asphalt, the industry makes a profit. For so long as we keep buying its products, it simply can't lose. The only people who lose out are those of us who need a liveable climate for ourselves and our children. While that would seem to include the people who run the fossil-fuel industry and their enablers in the world of policy-making, there's no getting around those short-term profits.

By the way, the nearest source of bitumen is the Alberta oil sands, where the fossil-fuel industry is committing what some environmentalists have called the biggest environmental crime in history. I don't have the stomach to dwell on the enormity of the crime, so please click the link in the preceding sentence if you're curious as to where the blacktop on your street comes from.

To summarize, investing in new roads and bridges means extracting more bitumen, enriching the fossil-fuel industry, perpetuating a car-centric culture, releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere, cooking the climate, and leaving our kids a planet unfit for human habitation. Which is one way to spend our money, I guess. But I believe there's a better way, one that allows us to look our kids in the eye.

Instead of subsidizing the corporations that got us into this mess, we can invest in cooperative independent businesses and local organic farms. We can oppose the land-use laws that encourage sprawl and, instead, enact better bylaws. We can stop building new roads and start reviving the old natural trade arteries, our waterways. We can stop buying power from the polluters and start generating our own power locally through wind, solar, and micro-hydro. We can relocalize and turn our communities into resilient, self-reliant transition towns, ready for a post-carbon era.

That's better than another WalMart, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stimulating Global Warming

With the economy and climate in crisis, how could burning more coal and building more nuclear weapons possibly help? That's a good question to ask Congress.

Physicians for Social Responsibility(PSR) points out that the Senate version of the so-called stimulus package includes $50 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear power and coal liquification. That's in addition to $2 billion for "near-zero emissions" coal-fired power plants and $1 billion for the Department of Energy's oxymoronic "Clean Coal Power Initiative." The Senate also wants to give $1 billion to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

PSR is asking citizens to call 202-225-3121 and tell their Representatives in Congress to get these gifts to the nuclear and coal giants out of the package.

Other big beneficiaries of the public-spending splurge are the auto-and-road lobby and the big-box stores that depend on auto-centric policies. As Greens, we know that our country's car culture is unsustainable.
In the words of James Howard Kunsler, discussing what he calls "the fiasco of suburbia", we have made urban sprawl the basis of our economy.

So how could spending billions on roads possibly steer us toward re-localization? That's a good question to ask our state legislators.

Today's Boston Globe looks at the scramble for federal cash going on at the state level. There are about 4,500 "infrastructure projects" -- primarily roads -- on our elected officials' collective wish list.
Great news for the oil companies and Wal Mart, but not so great for our friends and neighbors trying to run farms and small businesses. What we should be doing is re-localizing our economy by investing in local agriculture -- the center of a sustainable infrastructure -- not bailing out the big-box retailers.

Call the State House (617-722-2000) today and tell your state representative and senator to use public money to tackle the climate crisis instead of making it worse by building more roads.

Monday, February 9, 2009

N.I. Greens Call on Minister to Quit

Northern Ireland's environment minister is trying to stop the UK government from running advertisements that urge people to reduce CO2. The mister, Sammy Wilson, said that he does not believe that human-made GHG emissions are the main source of climate change.

The Green Party's Brian Wilson (who shares the minister's last name but not his views) has called on the him to step down. Brian Wilson, who represents the Green Party in Northern Ireland's legislative assembly, called the comments "grossly irresponsible" and is sponsoring a motion for the mister's removal.
“While the minister is entitled to his own views, he is not entitled to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence that man made climate change exists," said Brian Wilson in a press release.
The Greens won their first seat in the assembly in 2007.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Australian Greens Connect the Dots

Wildfires tearing across Australia have claimed more than 1oo lives. Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, told the BBC: "It's a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change."

Senator Brown said he joined 21 million other Australians "in putting an arm around those people who have survived this fire".

The fires come as South Australia experiences its worst heatwave since 1908 with temperatures in excess of 100F. Extreme weather conditions are one of the manifestations of the global climate crisis, as Australia's climate change minister explained recently.

"All of this is consistent with climate change, and with what scientists told us would happen," said Senator Penny Wong. Eleven of the hottest years in recorded history have been in the last twelve, Senator Wong told reporters.


This is the blog for Greens in Massachusetts. If you're registered G for Green Party, J for Green Rainbow, U for Unenrolled -- or even if you're a Green trapped inside the body of a Democrat -- this is your forum.

There is an opposition-shaped gap in Massachusetts politics, and it's a gap that Greens need to fill. With 100% of the statewide offices and 90% of the Legislature in Democratic control, democracy is in trouble in Massachusetts. For those of us who have a vision of a more democratic, pluralistic, sustainable society, this entrenched one-partyism is a problem. Mass Greens is part of the solution.

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