What’s It to Ya, Doc?


“It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.”
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Anyone who has ever been a vegetarian or vegan even for a short time has probably at some point encountered hostility from a meat eater, perhaps on several occasions from many different people. The experience can be baffling, particularly if the vegetarian or vegan does not make a big show of their practices. Self-righteous and preachy behavior can be annoying, certainly, but even when a vegetarian or vegan abstains from being a smug boor, some meat eaters will attack them as if they had been. A couple of recent news items help illustrate the innate hostility some people harbor for those who don’t adhere to mainstream dietary practices, even though it’s no one’s business but their own and the majority of them do not go out of their way to bother anyone.

Arby’s, an American fast food chain specializing in roast beef sandwiches, has come out with turkey meat processed to look like a bloated carrot, and in London two men have been found guilty of disorderly behavior after they ate raw squirrels in front of a vegan food stand. The actions of both Arby’s and the London squirrel eaters are obvious attempts to troll vegetarians and vegans, and their reasons for doing so say more about their own stunted mentality than anything else. Arby’s has for some time used an advertising slogan which proudly declares their enthusiasm for meat, and plenty of it. It is a fair guess that even if the political culture of Arby’s management is not necessarily right wing, they do assess their customer base as right wing, and trolling the perceived political correctness of their fast food competitors who have lately been offering vegetarian menu options is a good way to appeal to them.

Marzipan carrots for carrot cake
Marzipan carrots for carrot cake. Marzipan consists primarily of almond paste and sugar or honey, and vegetarians would partake of it, though if honey were in it, vegans would not. Photo by SKopp.

Like everything else in our society, there is a political division in people’s dietary choices. Vegetarians and vegans are mostly liberals. Other liberals who are meat eaters are more likely to react to alternative diets with indifference or polite curiosity. At any rate, most of them do not perceive vegetarians and vegans as threats. Not so political conservatives, particularly those with authoritarian leanings. The difference is so striking that it can almost be used as a reliable indicator of political beliefs: hostility to diets at variance with the mainstream is a good clue that a person might be right wing. Often these people will appoint themselves to keep an eye on vegetarians and vegans for backsliding, no matter how innocuous their target is about minding their own business and not actively posing a threat to them. If threats are not real, they will be imagined! We have met the enemy, and it is Them, the Others!

Nothing delights these self-appointed guardians of imagined societal standards more than catching a vegetarian or worse, a vegan (and therefore probably a liberal!) in an act of perceived hypocrisy, because then they can denounce the entire belief system and not be bothered anymore by any of its implications, such as cruelty to animals or environmental degradation. A problem ignored is a problem solved! Meat eaters who worry about the perceived sanctimonious behavior of non-meat eaters occasionally like to bring up the supposed fact of Adolf Hitler’s vegetarianism, as if the actions and beliefs of one ogre tarnish all vegetarians. That is like suggesting the beliefs and actions of all Christians are suspect simply because some white evangelical Christian leaders are terrible human beings.

In this Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1947, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd are at odds with each other as always, and the cartoon finishes with action that for its time was considered normal.

It is interesting to note that in dealing with hostility from some meat eaters, non-meat eaters discover they can assuage the unease of their interrogators when they ask about the reasons for their choice by stressing the healthful benefits over the other issues. That approach is not entirely dishonest, since there are real benefits for human health in foregoing or at least restricting meat eating. The American diet of meat with nearly every meal is not the most healthful, nor is it the historical norm. Most Americans could stand to reduce their consumption of meat, and in doing so they would benefit their own health as well the health of the environment and the quality of life for billions of animals. It is interesting and sad to note that of the three primary benefits of an alternative diet, only the first sets well with right wing authoritarians, and only on account of selfish reasoning.
— Izzy



Meatless Mondays Are Painless


Vegetarian or vegan substitutes for meat are not necessarily aimed at people who don’t eat meat, but rather at those who do, because by getting those people to eat less meat the environment will benefit, the animals being raised for meat will certainly benefit, and the meat eaters themselves will be healthier. The problem has been in developing a suitable substitute for meat at a reasonable cost and without creating a Frankenmeat with all sorts of nightmarish unintended consequences. Reading the reviews coming from the latest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, it appears the company founded by Stanford University biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods Inc., has gotten the formula right with the latest iteration of their Impossible Burger.


Other meat substitutes, such as the Boca Burger, have been geared toward vegetarians who wanted to retain some of the meat eating experience, and they were and are pathetic imitations. Attending a backyard cookout where everyone else was eating real beef burgers and then making do oneself with a Boca Burger or equivalent was an experience similar to being relegated to the kids’ table, with miniature versions of the adults’ dinnerware. Why bother? There are a multitude of vegetarian and vegan recipes available for real dishes, making it unnecessary to have to settle for dry, grasping imitations of what the grown-ups are eating.

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The vegan Amy Burger at Amy’s Drive-Thru in Rohnert Park, California. Photo by Tony Webster. Amy’s Kitchen started in 1987 making organic and vegetarian frozen and convenience foods for sale in supermarkets around the country, and in 2105 opened the Rohnert Park restaurant, their first.

The point of the Impossible Burger is not to satisfy vegetarians or vegans who miss eating meat, but to replace meat in the much larger percentage of the population who are committed carnivores. Those people might have tried one of the previous meat substitutes out of curiosity, and they were right to scorn them as alternatives they could never embrace and still satisfy their nutritional and taste requirements for meat as well as a more nebulous, deep psychological need satisfied by eating meat. Professor Brown and his Impossible Foods colleagues intend their meat substitute to fulfill all those needs, and apparently they are well on their way to succeeding.

Replacing meat in the diet of the world’s people is enormously important, and probably the biggest single step toward ameliorating climate change other than reducing fossil fuel use, which would incidentally also be a byproduct of reducing livestock farming. Animal suffering would also be greatly relieved, because the situation now is horrific and getting worse as Americans and other Western peoples eat meat at least once a day, and in some places for every meal, and hundreds of millions people more in China and India aspire to the same relatively affluent lifestyles of Westerners. Factory farming of animals will become a larger industry still as the demand for meat goes up worldwide.

A scene from the 2002 film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, directed by Joel Zwick and written by Nia Vardalos, who also portrays the bride, with John Corbett as the groom. Eating meat is such an ingrained part of personal identity and social custom that most people give it little thought. Anyone who has ever been vegetarian or vegan, however, soon becomes aware of how others react to that news with bafflement or acceptance or, oddly, hostility, because refusal to eat meat is to such people a repudiation of their hospitality and identity, and possibly an indictment of their morality if the chief reason for not eating meat is because of animal suffering or the environment. It’s interesting that often the best way to smooth the ruffled feathers of meat eaters upset over learning of a vegetarian or vegan in their midst is to tout the health benefits of giving up meat, a reason that will usually gain their understanding and assent.

Consumers want more meat even though it’s not healthy for them. People will also eat more sugar than is good for them if they have the money and the opportunity. These are desires hard wired into human beings, and while some people can overcome them through will power however gained, most cannot, or even have a desire to try. For those people, the majority, give them a meat substitute at a comparable price to real meat, and satisfy their other needs for taste and nutrition and the most difficult need of all, but probably the most crucial, the carnivorous kernel in the brain that is the cause of all the social customs around eating meat or not eating meat, give those people that and the climate and the environment will be better for it, the animals all around the earth will be better for it, and those meat eaters themselves will be better for it, whether they understand and acknowledge it or not.
— Izzy



Saving Up for a Rainy Day


Battery storage has long presented a conundrum to renewable energy enthusiasts who tout the relatively benign environmental footprints of wind and solar power. The batteries can contain toxic metals and chemicals which cause environmental damage in mining and formulation, and then again when they have exhausted their usefulness and users need to somehow safely recycle or dispose of them.

Partial Eclipse of the Sun - Montericco, Albinea, Reggio Emilia, Italy - May 1994 03
Partial eclipse of the sun – Montericco, Albinea, Reggio Emilia, Italy – May 1994. Photo by Giorgio Galeotti.


For a time, it seemed the answer for homeowners using a solar array was to sell excess power produced during the day to the power company and then draw on grid power at night and on cloudy days. These grid-tied systems effectively used the power company as storage, mostly dispensing with the need for a bank of batteries at home. Unfortunately for homeowners with grid-tied systems, it appears power companies are backing away from those setups in order to protect their equipment and to maintain tighter control over power generation.

Power companies have been investing in their own renewable energy production as costs go down. Since there is no external backup for the electricity generated by the power company, the power companies need to employ huge amounts of batteries. Batteries have improved in the past generation both in toxicity and length of usable life from the days of lead acid batteries. Improvement does not mean they are exactly environmentally friendly. The problem comes down to relative harm, such as whether it is less harmful to the environment to drive an electric car when the source for its electricity is a coal burning power plant.

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An illustration of the relationship of renewable energy to energy storage from the German cartoonist Gerhard Mester (1956-). Panel 1: “More solar energy!!” Panel 2: “More wind energy!” And in the last panel: “More energy storage!” Incidentally, Germany is a world leader in solar energy production despite receiving less sunlight than many other industrialized nations.

Nothing people do technologically has zero impact on the environment, and arguments from the extremes of both sides of the tug of war between those in favor of continued use of fossil fuels and those who want greater reliance on renewable energy are neither accurate nor helpful. Continuing the status quo of burning fossil fuels for most energy production is clearly a path to environmental catastrophe, while renewable energy production does not have quite as low an impact on the environment as some enthusiasts suggest. It is in the batteries especially that renewable energy has an unfavorable impact.

Nevertheless, in countries with higher renewable energy production than the global average the air is cleaner and greenhouse gas emissions are lower. Because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, the key to minimizing reliance on batteries, the most toxic element in renewable energy use, is diversification of power sources supplying the grid, from geothermal to hydroelectric. None of these methods of supplying the power necessary for humanity’s modern lifestyle are perfect, but they are all better than the alternative of continuing down the path of polluting the air and warming the planet. The two biggest obstacles to switching the United States to 100 percent renewable energy are the fossil fuel industry interests entrenched in national politics, and battery technology. Of the two, the latter will be more easily overcome by a concerted effort, and with time the new technology will push out the former technology and its moneyed adherents as obsolete and destructive. But will it be soon enough?
— Techly



Change at the Grass Roots


It may seem like hyperbole to compare growing a lawn with smoking (not combining the two, as in smoking grass), but when weighing the environmental and health effects of both rather useless activities, they may not be all that dissimilar. A lawn is purely ornamental and serves no practical purpose when it is not used as pasture for grazing animals. Deer may come out of the woods to clip parts of a suburban lawn, but for the most part keeping a lawn within the height limits deemed proper by neighbors is left up to the homeowner. Anything higher than about six inches meets with disapproval from neighbors and, in the case of a homeowners association rules, may merit a written slap on the wrist.


There was a time not long ago when most people smoked, and smoked everywhere. Movies of contemporary stories from the 1940s and 1950s showed actors portraying their characters as human chimneys. Few people thought much of it up until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking. Even then, it took another generation for the momentum of social disapproval of smoking to build to a tipping point, largely because of the obstructive practices of the tobacco industry. In the matter of lawn growing, the balance is now tipped in favor of the people who dump fertilizers and broad leaf herbicides on their lawns to achieve an ideal of carpeted green perfection, and then burn up fossil fuels in order to keep that exuberant growth clipped to a manicured standard.

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Sheep, goats, and a shepherd near Lake Vistonida in Thrace, Greece. Photo by Ggia.

Grass, with buttercups. Photo by Steffen Flor.

Given the information available about the toxic effects of fertilizer and herbicide runoff, and the deleterious effects on the climate of continued burning of fossil fuels, it seems insane to idealize the perfect lawn and what it can take to achieve perfection. Yet as things stand now, the people with model lawns are the ones who look down on everyone else and appoint themselves as standard bearers. Perhaps if more people understood the destructive effects to their own health and to the environment of all their fussing over lawns, then the balance would start to tip the other way toward saner practices.

When homeowners apply fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, there is no obvious puff of smoke to notify everyone else of the activity. It is not as obvious then as smoking, and therefore general social disapproval will take a long time to build, and may never build to a tipping point the way it did with smoking. Education will probably be the main factor in changing people’s behavior. There are state laws which require commercial herbicide or pesticide applicators to post signs on lawns they have treated. Those are the 4 inch cards on sticks stuck into lawns, and to the extent that most passersby and neighbors give them any attention, they can easily mistake them as advertisements for the lawn care company.

The opening scene of Blue Velvet, a darkly satirical 1986 film directed by David Lynch. Besides demanding large amounts of fertilizers and herbicides to look their best, lawns gulp huge amounts of water in order to stay green throughout the warmest months.

Most people are away at work when lawn care companies do their treatments, and so they aren’t around to catch a whiff of the cabbage smell of the typical broad leaf herbicide as it drifts around the neighborhood. And of course, the homeowner who does his or her own applications, usually on the weekends when neighbors are also home, does not bother with any formal notifications at all. A neighbor might ask such a homeowner “What’s that smell?” To which the enterprising amateur lawn care enthusiast might reply, without apparent knowledge of or concern about the collateral damage of his or her efforts, “That’s the smell of the green, green grass of home!”
— Izzy



Want Is the Cause of All Suffering


“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

The title of this post is a paraphrase of the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, which states that desire and ignorance are the causes of suffering. The paraphrase states something similar in a different way because of the two meanings of “want” in English. “Want” can mean desire or greed, because it goes beyond “need” into territory destructive both to the wanter and to the ones from whom the wanter takes. “Want” can also mean a lack of things mental or physical to meet one’s needs. The haves and have nots, with the greed of the haves causing suffering for the have nots.

As the population of the world continues to grow past 7 billion toward an estimated 10 billion by mid-century, agronomists are hard at work figuring out how to feed all those people. One school of thought has it that the current agricultural system is no system, and therefore is inherently inefficient, requiring more central planning to efficiently allocate resources and achieve economies of scale for each crop throughout the world. Another school of thought has it that large scale agriculture is destructive of the environment and ultimately leads to worse yields as soil health declines, and forces farmers to become dependent on a capricious international financial cartel rather than building local networks they can rely on in bad times.

Both schools of thought seem to believe their system is the best way forward in order to feed a growing world population. Both are right and wrong, for different reasons. Without going into a specific comparison of the two agronomy models, the main point is that hunger has always been part of the human experience, and it will continue as long as there are greedy people who take more than they need, and in so doing deny to others what they need. The problem is not an agronomy problem, though since people are bound to increase their numbers for the foreseeable future it is good and necessary that well-meaning farmers and scientists continue working to increase agricultural yields, but the problem is one of human nature and an economic system that rewards the worst part of that nature.

Buddhism with Lord Buddha
A sculpture of Lord Buddha. Photo by Priyanka250696.

There is food enough already in the world to feed everyone adequately, yet more than a billion people go hungry every day. It is not a distribution problem, either, as some have suggested in the past, as though the food would be evenly distributed if only the logistical problems could be licked. No, it is a problem of poverty and income inequality, and therefore of the will of the haves to share with the have nots. The haves rationalize that if the have nots would only show the gumption to pull themselves out of poverty, they could partake in the bounty of the haves, never mind that the haves often stole the bounty from the have nots in the first place. The haves apply rationality to the problem when rationality is besides the point because they are standing with their boots on the necks of the poor, yelling at them to get up. That is the economic system and the crass part of human nature it enables and rewards.

A segment of the 1992 film Baraka, directed by Ron Fricke. Music for the film was composed by Michael Stearns, while this portion, a song called “The Host of Seraphim”, was written and performed by Dead Can Dance, an Australian duo comprising Brendan Perry and vocalist Lisa Gerrard.
The spiritual and ethical systems in place around the world help redress some evils, but they have not been enough. The more populous the world becomes, the greater the economic inequities, like a pyramid growing ever larger but retaining the geometric relationship of its parts. Any person who gets in at the top of a Ponzi scheme knows that the wider the base of the pyramid, the greater the wealth accruing to those at the top. Two thirds of the world’s adult population lives on less than $10,000 per year, which is poverty level in the United States, where the threshold for one adult is about $12,000. Economic standards differ throughout the world, of course, but it’s a good guess that getting by on less than $10,000 per year anywhere in the world does not leave room for addressing anything much beyond basic needs.

There’s food enough for everyone, though the poor can’t afford to buy their share. There’s food enough for everyone, though the wealthy have no interest in sharing what they don’t need. Growing more food won’t solve the problem, only maintain the status quo as population increases. In the current economic system, the haves will always have and will have even more as more people come into the world, while the have nots will have to make do with less no matter how much food is out there, always out of their reach. The problem is one of spiritual and ethical guidelines existing separately from and in parallel to a corrupt economic system that benefits only a privileged few, rather than informing and guiding that system for the benefit of all.
― Izzy



Once Upon a Time


“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
― 1 Corinthians 13:11; King James Version of The New Testament.

It’s fine to believe in fairy tales as a child, at least when the belief is harmless. Children learn about human behavior, often through the actions of animal characters, and they pick up some moral lessons. Fairy tales have their place in educating children, but that place is not in science textbooks. Recently the New Mexico Public Education Department injected a dose of the fanciful in editing science standards for the state’s schoolteachers to follow in their classrooms.

Mother Goose reading fairy tales in an illustration by Gustave Doré (1832-1883) for the frontispiece of an 1866 edition of Charles Perrault’s Stories or Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals, or Mother Goose Tales.

The questionable edits dealt with the age of the Earth, evolution, and human-caused global warming. All the usually controversial subjects in the battle over teaching the nation’s youth. The standards that New Mexico’s top public school bureaucrats were altering came from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which were formulated by national science and teaching associations. Editing science teaching standards appears to be another case of cherry picking facts and replacing them either with fancy or with the assertion of widespread doubt where there really is very little, along the lines of what has been happening with textbooks for years now.

Texas has long been in the news for leading the way for creationists and climate change deniers in pressuring textbook publishers to muddy the scientific waters on those two subjects, and perhaps has served as an unfortunate model in that respect for other states like New Mexico and California. The playbook borrows from the scientific method in that it adopts skepticism as a tool for doubt, ignoring the part about overwhelming evidence eventually tipping the scales to the point where continued skepticism is no longer productive without the presentation of convincing countervailing evidence. Persisting in error to that degree becomes obstructionism, and while some of it is ideologically driven, it can often serve the ends of greedy corporations, such as in the fossil fuel industry.

From the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a scene where logic serves absurdity.

Teaching children falsely, either by substituting fanciful notions for facts or by omitting facts altogether, results in ignorant adults who are poorly prepared to manage real problems. Insisting children believe in fairy tales to the exclusion of understanding how the world really works will only reinforce the continued destruction of the environment and the misunderstanding of our place in it. Instructing children in dominion instead of husbandry replaces a clear-eyed view of what is and has been with what never was nor will ever be.
― Izzy



Paper or Plastic?


When grocery stores were switching from paper bags to plastic bags for packing up customer purchases in the 1980s and 1990s, the clerks would ask the customers “Paper or plastic?”. At some point in the 2000s the question faded away and plastic bags became the default option. Some grocery chains no longer carry paper bags at all. Very few stores offer paper bags only, no plastic. The paper bag fell out of favor due to cost savings on material as well as on labor, as it requires less time and skill to pack a plastic bag than a paper grocery sack. Environmental costs for both are high, but people are discovering that costs for plastic bags after disposal are getting higher all the time since the plastic persists far longer than paper before breaking down into harmless components, if it ever does.


The humble paper sack that we take for granted today as just another everyday item began in 1871 with a patent taken out by Margaret Knight on a machine for folding and gluing paper sacks with flat bottoms. Her design was an improvement on an 1852 invention of another American, Francis Wolle, of a machine for making paper sacks shaped like large envelopes. The flat bottom that Ms. Knight added made the paper sack far more useful, and thereafter store clerks developed the skill of properly filling the sacks – heavy, durable items like canned goods on the bottom; light, fragile items like eggs and bread on top; double up the bags for weight or for items that might sweat moisture and compromise the integrity of a single bag.

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The Andy Monument at 17th Street and Broadway in New York City. The nearly ten foot tall chrome sculpture was created in 2012 by Rob Pruitt and is outside Warhol’s Factory building of the 1970s and early 1980s. Andy Warhol is depicted with his familiar Polaroid camera and a shopping bag, which would have been filled with copies of Interview magazine. Warhol used to stand in the street, signing autographs and giving away copies of his magazine. This shot, taken on May Day, shows Andy sporting a red May Day/General Strike sticker. Photo by Thomas Altfather Good.

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Paper straws like these were in general use until the late twentieth century, when plastic straws took over. Paper straws all but disappeared until recently, when a growing realization that plastic straws presented the same disposal problems as plastic bags prompted a comeback. Photo by Marco Verch.

Bagging up groceries in plastic sacks requires no such skills because only a handful of items will fit in each, and unlike paper, the plastic presents no difficulties handling moisture. The plastic bags we have gotten accustomed to using once and throwing away were invented by Sten Gustaf Thulin in the early 1960s for a Swedish packaging company. They came into widespread use in this country in the 1980s, and then store clerks had to start asking the paper or plastic question of every customer. Switching from paper to plastic seemed like a good idea at the time. Trees would be saved, and the high environmental cost of processing wood pulp into paper could be avoided. The plastic bags? They were each so thin and flimsy that surely the environmental costs of producing them had to be lower than cranking out paper sacks.

A disturbing scene from the 1931 film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, with Boris Karloff as The Monster and Marilyn Harris as Little Maria.

On the front end, yes, that turned out to be true. But those thin, flimsy plastic bags took awhile to accumulate in their billions and then trillions, in landfills and in the oceans, where, unlike paper bags, they stubbornly refuse to deteriorate for years, maybe generations. They just accumulate, posing a threat to wildlife on land and in the sea. In the United States, recycling plastic grocery bags has never topped 10 percent of the total used. They are thin, they are flimsy, and therefore as far as most people are concerned, to the extent that they think about it all, they are one time use items. Like Dr. Frankenstein with his creation, The Monster, we invest most of our intellectual energy and talents in the invention, and very little in contemplation of the long term consequences of our ingenuity, which, unintended though they may be, afflict us after our formulations have broken loose from us, as all creations eventually do, and roam the countryside causing havoc.
― Techly



Racing Ahead


In the 1965 comedy film The Great Race, loosely based on a 1908 race around the world, the lead characters drive racing versions of gasoline powered internal combustion engines. That the earliest cars used gasoline would seem to be without question considering how things developed through the rest of the twentieth century. It comes as something of a surprise then to learn that electric cars were quite popular in the early years of motor vehicle development, and it was an electric car that won the first closed circuit automobile race in the United States, in 1896.

Halfway in their race around the world, the characters portrayed by Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, Tony Curtis, and Natalie Wood are marooned on a melting ice floe in the Bering Strait. Though certainly unintentional in 1965 when the film was made, there is some irony to their situation given the perspective of today’s warming climate.

As anyone can tell, electric cars all but disappeared until recently, as infrastructure and cost improved for gasoline engines in the early twentieth century, overtaking the electric option by 1920. The price of oil went down, giving a boost to the market for gasoline engines, while the crude state of battery technology limited the appeal of electric cars. Environmental impacts were not even a factor in the equation for most consumers or manufacturers until late in the twentieth century. Even then, the initial assessments of the impact of vehicular pollution was limited to local problems such as smog. It wasn’t until the last decades of the twentieth century that at first scientists, and then the public, looked at the larger impact of tailpipe emissions on the global climate.

Now, in the early twenty-first century, after some halting steps by manufacturers to reintroduce electric cars, it appears they are gaining in popularity, particularly in places like China which face deadly levels of air pollution. Battery technology, the Achilles heel of electric cars, has made great strides lately. A question that doesn’t crop up often enough, however, is whether electric cars are as environmentally friendly as the manufacturers would have the public believe they are. In many cases, electric cars still run on power generated by burning fossil fuels, it’s just that they give an illusion of green running because they’re not emitting noxious fumes. The noxious fumes are instead displaced to a coal or natural gas fired power plant more or less many miles away. Out of sight, out of mind.

Kintigh Generating Station - Somerset, New York
The coal fired Kintigh Generating Station in Somerset, New York, in 2007; photo by Matthew D. Wilson.

The batteries in electric cars don’t present as big a problem from an environmental standpoint as they used to, now that up to 98 percent of the materials are recycled. To make an electric car run truly green, the power source used to charge its batteries needs to come from renewable generators like wind and solar. Since most air pollution comes from gasoline internal combustion engine exhausts, it stands to reason that a major switch over to electrically powered vehicles running on renewable energy will make the single greatest impact on reducing air pollution, and with it the particulates and gases that are contributing to global warming.

Organizations like NASCAR and Formula One racing could do their part in flipping the switch by turning all or part of their circuits over to electric cars. Besides being a spectator sport, car racing has always served as a proving ground for manufacturers. The big racing organizations are still clinging to the old technology, which may be popular with fans who enjoy the noise and familiar smells produced by internal combustion engines, characteristics evocative by long association with high horsepower. To continue glorifying this outmoded technology means that well-known racing organizations have abandoned any meaningful proving ground aspect of their sport for the sake of pleasing the crowd with loud noise, fumes, and ludicrously low miles per gallon of fuel efficiency. Never mind tomorrow, they’re living for today, come what may.

Younicos Solar Filling Station at Solon SE Headquarters in Berlin, Germany in 2009; photo by Busso V. Bismarck.

Newer racing organizations are stepping forward with their own electric car circuits. As drivers test and prove the newer technology on the race track, manufacturers should be able to improve efficiency of the batteries and perhaps drop the price of consumer models to be on a par with, or even cheaper than, comparably equipped gasoline powered cars. When that happens, electric cars will start to overtake the old technology, the same way they were overtaken in their earliest form by the internal combustion engine in the early twentieth century.

The crucial piece of the puzzle needed to solve pollution problems comes from the power generating source, not the cars. That may happen on a more individual level than on a corporate or government level, as people will find it convenient to do most of their car charging at home, where they can be assured of a cleaner source by installing their own solar panels or wind turbines. Waiting for government to promote the necessary infrastructure changes to ensure cleaner power generation will not push improvements in transportation, decrease pollution, and ultimately limit the effects of global warming, not with the government currently in power.
― Techly



The Pigeon and the Chestnut


Scientists are attempting to bring the Passenger Pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, back to life from preserved genetic material. The Passenger Pigeon once numbered up to 3 billion in North America, but by 1914 the last one had died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Scientists are also working on reviving the nearly extinct American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, which had once totaled over 3 billion trees in North America before a bark fungus accidentally imported from Asia with some Chinese Chestnuts, Castanea mollissima, destroyed almost all of the trees in the first half of the twentieth century.
Male Passenger Pigeon
Male Passenger Pigeon; digital painting by Tim Hough.
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American Chestnut tree in central Maryland in 1914; photo by United States Forest Service.
The loss or near loss of both these species greatly changed the ecosystem of eastern North America to the point that a visitor time traveling from the nineteenth century would be hard pressed to recognize it as the same place, never mind all the modern infrastructure of concrete, steel, and asphalt. Both species were casualties of the first stages of globalization. The Passenger Pigeons had co-existed with Native Americans for millennia, but it was the mass immigration of Europeans which eventually drove them to extinction through habitat loss and hunting on a massive scale. The American Chestnuts had no immunity to the fungus which arrived with the shipment of Chinese Chestnuts, which had developed some immunity due to having evolved with the fungus in their native habitat.


Now scientists are attempting to restore these two species once so numerous that they helped define the environment of eastern North America. Both restorations will require the expertise of geneticists, along with help from ornithologists and botanists, as appropriate. Ultimately the success of both projects will depend on the cooperation of the public by giving both species space and peace, two things that humans struggle to allow for the other beings sharing this planet. People were responsible for the demise of both the Passenger Pigeon and the American Chestnut, and with the ingenuity people are known for perhaps they can restore both species. Successful restoration will also require two things people have not often enough been known for, which are a generosity of spirit towards life and restraint of their violently destructive impulses.
― Vita