Saturday, October 31, 2009
Bernie Sanders is the Independent Senator from Vermont, and the only declared socialist in the US Senate.
This presentation by him sums up a lot of issues well. Though I've also noticed how, in the United States, "energy independence" is a real buzzword in the drive to alternative energy sources - ie. America should not be beholden to dictators from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia (rather only be beholden to creditors in China, okay I added that one, but it is the truth).
Energy independence in principle is a good thing to strive for, but we also live in a globalized inter-dependent World.
Sociology, following Durkheim and his 'social facts can only be explained through reference to other social facts' dictum, traditionally favored organicism. One of the more interesting places to explore these ideas is by looking at emergence. How, for example, do we understand the flocking of birds or the existence of segregated neighborhoods in cities?
Craig Reynolds has a mesmerizing page where you can watch an individual based model of boids that mimic the flocking behaviour of birds. In philosophical terms, Reynolds is trying to explain the emergent phenomena of flocking behaviour through a set of individual-level instructions to his computerized agents (the boids). The page does an excellent job of explaining both the assumptions that are programed into the agents and providing links to a wide variety of relevant literature.
This is similar to the famous explanation for segregation provided by Nobel prize winning economist Thomas Schelling in his book Micromotives and Macrobehavior. By positing the existence of individuals (agents in the jargon) with slight-but-not-malicious preference to have neighbors of the same race, Schelling developed an agent based model showing that, over time, the result of people acting to meet these preference leads not to a mixed neighborhood but, rather, to completely segregated populations. There are a number of different simulations of this on the web, for example, here, here and here. A simpler and less interesting version is here.
But, as Russ Abbott has noted, while boids do a good job of modeling flocking behavior, they ignore energy issues. Thus, as currently conceived, most agent based representations of ecosystem phenomena are seriously deficient.
Friday, October 30, 2009
This study reveals the key technological approaches needed to achieve major reductions in Canada’s GHG emissions.
The most important of these are
• capture and storage of carbon dioxide from the oil and gas industry and power plants
• reduction of “fugitive” emissions from the oil and gas industry and from landfills
• increased energy efficiency throughout the economy (e.g., in vehicles and buildings)
• increased production of renewable energy (e.g., wind power accounts for 18 per cent
of electricity generated in 2020 when meeting either of the two targets, compared to
less than two per cent now)
• replacement of fossil fuels by cleaner electricity (e.g., for heating buildings).
The accompanying technical reports shows that switching from burning of fossil fuels to electricity generation from clean sources (such as electrifying home heating and transport) reduces emissions by 33 megatons of C02e. However, switching from fossil fuels to nuclear power in electricity generation yields the smallest reduction in emissions from that sector, a nearly negligible 0 to 1 megaton of C02e by 2020.
It's a little unclear what "Reduced fossil fuel output" refers to, but it appears to mean a reduction in the production of oil and natural gas, located primarily in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and yields a drop of 43 to 64 megatons of C02e by 2020. Carbon capture and storage yields a reduction of 30 to 76 megatons of C02e.
However, it should be noted that another report issued in September by Greenpeace CA estimated the cost of using carbon capture and storage at the tar sands projects would cost Canadians 2 to 3 billion dollars per year for the next 20 years.
Came across this story on the CBC:
NB Power sale gets environmentalists' support
Environmentalists are applauding the potential closure of the Coleson Cove Generating Station as a likely outcome of the proposed sale of NB Power to Hydro-Québec.
Under the proposed agreement, Hydro-Québec would purchase a majority of NB Power's assets for $4.8 billion, which would erase the public utility's debt.
Click here to read more.
Irvings favour the sale of NB Power because of lower industrial power rates, but interesting to see environmentalists onside as well. Closing Coleson Cove will be good for the environment... but a lot of people will be out of work and overall New Brunswick will lose its energy sovereignty.
It's also not often that environmentalists agree with Shawn Graham on something...
P.S. Danny Williams is not too happy about the sale, as Hydro Quebec is likely to block and/or obstruct Newfoundland power sales to the United States via New Brunswick; below, Premiers Shawn Graham and Danny Williams engage in a staring contest, who will win?
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Regardless, core principles of the progressive movement are non-negotiable. In advance of Copenhagen Bella Center protests, here are demands articulated by Climate Justice Action:
* leaving fossil fuels in the ground;
* reasserting peoples' and community control over production;
* relocalizing food production;
* massively reducing overconsumption, particularly in the North;
* respecting indigenous and forest peoples' rights; and
* recognizing the ecological and climate debt owed to the peoples of the South and making reparations.
If the center is not holding, that's fine: the wave of courageous direct-action protests against climate criminals in recent weeks -- and the prospect of seattling Copenhagen at the big protest on December 16 -- offer an inspiring reflection of left pressure that will soon counteract that from the right. It's our only hope, isn't it?"
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The Eleventh Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association
Media Ecology and Natural Environments
University of Maine
Media Ecology and Natural Environments
The subject of media ecology was formed with two biological methaphors in mind, Neil Postman wrote in “The Humanism of Media Ecology” (2000). In biology, a medium is a substance within which a culture grows. Change “substance” to “technology,” and media ecology defines a medium as a technology within which a culture grows, forming its politics, social organization, and ways of thinking. In biology, ecology is the study of what constitutes a balanced and healthy natural environment. Media ecology refers to ways that cultures maintain a healthy symbolic balance to help keep our natural world in order. Media ecology seeks to make us more aware that we live in two different environments. We live in both the natural environment of air, water, animals, and plants, and the media environment of language, images, symbols, and technologies that shape us.
The 11th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association invites papers, panels, creative projects, and other proposals exploring the connections between these two ecologies, one of culture and communication, the other of nature and the physical sciences. Convention submissions are welcome that draw on a wide variety of perspectives in environmental studies in the sciences and communication, from issues such as climate change, biodiversity, acid rain, and wildlife ecology. How do media ecology and natural ecology intersect? How do ecologists in humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences create dialogue with each other? Can scholarship bring artists, communication researchers, and scientists together? What is the relationship between primary natural and virtual media realities? What is the history of environmental thought?
Electronic submissions of papers and session proposals are preferred and should be sent by January 15, 2010 to Paul Grosswiler, Chair, Department of Communication and Journalism, 420 Dunn Hall, University of Maine, Orono ME 04460, paulg at maine.edu.
All submissions will be acknowledged. The convention will be sponsored by the Vice President for Research, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine. Campus housing will be available. Tours of Maine’s natural environments will be offered.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
"The financial crisis and subsequent global recession have led to much soul-searching among economists, the vast majority of whom never saw it coming. But were their assumptions and models wrong only because of minor errors or because today's dominant economic thinking violates the laws of physics?
Friday, October 23, 2009
Thursday, October 22, 2009
"Social resilience has economic, spatial and social dimensions and hence its observation and appraisal require interdisciplinary understanding and analysis at various scales. But it is important to note that, because of its institutional context, social resilience is defined at the community level rather than being a phenomenon pertaining to individuals. Hence it is related to the social capital of societies and communities." (Adger 2000)
The empirical portion of this study focuses on the resilience of coastal communities related to changed in coastal resources, e.g. mangrove ecology in coastal Viet Nam.
An analysis of the effectiveness of the Kyoto and Montreal protocols:
"So far, emission cuts under Kyoto have been well short of the target. Some climate change experts and thinkers, say Kyoto is clearly a failure. ... The Kyoto Protocol covers a basket of 12 gases, and only deals with emissions of the total basket, not individual substances. It also does not deal with reducing consumption. ... The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, has specific control measures for phasing out the use of specific ozone depleting gases. ... The Montreal Protocol is the only international environmental treaty to which every single country on the planet has signed up. It is also arguably the most successful international environment treaty ever"
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Alberta Oil Sands #6, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, 2007.
Noted Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has an acute awareness of the scale of our impact on the earth and an uncanny ability to capture it in photos. Click on the image a couple of times to get the full effect. Like seeing his work in person (they are HUGE), the bigger the image is, the more impact it has. Photos from his new work, Oil, can be seen here. His photo of NB's own Saint John refinery is among those decorating the right hand column of the blog.
Burtynsky's TED talk about his work can be seen here.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Second, I'm curious about embedding a pdf in a blog. So I thought I'd see if it would work. Here goes ....
From Environmental to Ecological Sociology
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Ellul's book, The Technological Society, is a classic. You may also be interested in Living in the Labyrinth of Technology written by Ellul student and associate Willem Vanderburg. I wrote a book review of it for the Canadian Journal of Sociology. Interestingly, Vanderburg was the supervisor of our own Luc Theriault!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The price of unchecked greed
Published Monday April 6th, 2009
Sometimes one comes across a news story which forces us to think, why isn't this making more news? It is such a dramatic and pressing issue, yet hardly anyone has heard about it.
For me, mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia is one such story.
The state of West Virginia is, in some respects, like New Brunswick. It is geographically small and characterized by dense forests, small communities and cities and rural areas. Socially, West Virginia is much more conservative, as the state shares cultural characteristics with the Deep South. Economically, it is poorer than our "have not" province, but the similarities make West Virginia a state that we can empathize with.
The Appalachian mountain range contains much natural beauty, with majestic mountains and dense forests. These mountains form an important part of the identity and culture of West Virginians. Their influence is pervasive. West Virginia's nickname is "The Mountain State", the state motto is "Mountaineers are always free," and one of the state songs is "The West Virginia Hills."
This is also something we can relate to. Our province is characterized by forests, rivers and coastlines that form an important part of its identity. The loss or destruction of these natural characteristics would represent a grave loss to us personally as New Brunswickers.
In West Virginia, the natural heritage is being destroyed through mountain top removal. Mountain tops (and even entire mountains, in some cases) are literally being removed by coal companies. Traditional underground coal mining requires more labour, and hence more wages, while blasting the mountains allows the mining companies to send in trucks and equipment to retrieve the coal with fewer costs. This leads to more profits for the coal companies and job losses in the coal mining industry.
That this destruction is not making more headlines is astounding. A whole state is literally being blown up and the heritage of a region ruthlessly destroyed in the interests of greed.
Through mountain top removal, pristine and forested mountains are reduced to barren moonscape-like terrains. Airborne debris from the blasting is harming the health of West Virginia residents. "Overburden," which is the remainder from the blasts and coal mining operations, is trucked into valleys where it is deposited, a practice known as "valley-filling." This practice additionally erodes the natural beauty of Appalachia and leads to the pollution of nearby rivers and streams, thus further harming the health of West Virginians.
The practices of mountain top removal and valley filling are destroying local ecosystems and harming biodiversity, as forests are destroyed and streams and rivers contaminated.
Furthermore, the processing of mined coal creates a waste product known as coal sludge which is stored in "sludge pond" impoundments that are contained by dams. These act as the only barriers between the impoundments and further ecological catastrophe. One particularly controversial sludge impoundment in West Virginia is located near an elementary school. In neighbouring Kentucky, the breach of a sludge impoundment caused a catastrophic spill that polluted waterways, killed aquatic life, and contaminated the water supply of 27,000 people.
Because of the crushing poverty of Appalachia, many of people do not feel they have the voice to fight back, and thus they are taken advantage of as their surroundings are blasted.
This destruction of West Virginia's landscape prevents other economic opportunities, such as eco-tourism, which would provide jobs and revenues. If energy and economic alternatives such as wind power were explored, West Virginians could find a viable substitute to the destructive effects of mountaintop blasting.
The Bush administration pushed forward measures to relax restrictions on both mountain top removal and valley filling. West Virginia shows the impact of unchecked corporate abuse, where little regard is given to the ecological and social consequences for local residents.
When assessing new economic projects in our own province, we should be keenly aware of the ecological and social impacts, and be careful to avoid ending up in a situation akin to West Virginia where a natural heritage is being destroyed, and the local people disregarded, in the interests of greed.
You can click here to read the original article.
Human organizations have complicated network structures25−27. Evolutionary graph theory offers an appropriate tool to study selection on such networks. We can ask, for example, which networks are well suited to ensure the spread of favorable concepts. If a company is strictly one-rooted, then only those ideas will prevail that originate from the root (the CEO). A selection amplifier, like a star structure or a scalefree network, will enhance the spread of favorable ideas arising from any one individual. Notably, scientific collaboration graphs tend to be scalefree28.
Evolutionary dynamics act on populations. Neither genes, nor cells, nor individu- als but populations evolve.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I just picked up a copy of John Bellamy Foster’s Ecological Revolution. (This is not a review of the book, not yet anyway.) In the preface, Foster thanks his former graduate student, Brett Clark, who studied environmental sociology with him at the University of Oregon. Brett went on to become a professor of sociology at North Carolina State, and he wrote four of the chapters in Foster’s book.
That really struck me: the idea that a grad student was a continuing source of inspiration to an experienced professor, that a grad student could write four chapters of a widely read book under the auspices of one of the best and brightest in the field. That grad student is now a professor, but obviously a vital link in this very thin chain of ecological wisdom across North America. There are very few us out there, so few that each one of us is critically important to the whole effort, including, and perhaps even especially, grad students.
John Bellamy Foster was recently interviewed on Democracy Now along with Grace Lee Boggs, on September 17, 2009. Boggs and Foster commented on the ongoing financial crisis in the US.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
The figure compares the income distribution within France, Brazil, Sri Lanka, and Rural Indonesia. The graph shows that the poorest 5% of France (the left hand end of the France line) are richer than the top 5% of rural Indonesians (the right hand end of the Indonesia line). Focusing on the left hand side of the figure, we see the poorest 5% of rural Indonesian are richer than the poorest 5% of Brazil. But, focusing on the right hand side, we see that the richest 5% of Brazil are as rich as the top 5% of France. While people frequently note that income inequality has increased within rich countries over the past 30 years, the same trend has occurred to an even greater extent in the BRIC countries.
Turning to urbanization, David Owen's new book Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability argues that Manhattan, Hong Kong and large, old European cities are inherently greener than less densely populated places because a higher percentage of their inhabitants walk, bike and use mass transit than drive; they share infrastructure and civic services more efficiently; they live in smaller spaces and use less energy to heat their homes (because those homes tend to share walls); and they’re less likely to accumulate a lot of large, energy-sucking appliances. People in cities use about half as much electricity as people who don’t, Owen reports, and the average New Yorker generates fewer greenhouse gases annually than “residents of any other American city, and less than 30 percent of the national average.”
A complete review of the book is available here.