Posts Tagged ‘Money’

Water: A picture is worth a thousand words

The recent detection of minuscule levels of radiation in Tokyo water has caused all sorts of insanity here.

A run on bottled water, which, by the way, is usually not subject to even half the tests for chemicals and pollutants that normal tap water is subjected to, has transformed the population into a selfish group of water fiends.  If this is how the Japanese behave with safe levels of radiation in the water, I don’t want to see what could happen in other parts of the world.

I must admit the paranoia is contagious; even though I’m fully aware the levels are safe, I still have a mild urge to buy bottled water.  I haven’t had the chance yet to see what I’ll do if confronted with that situation, as I haven’t seen any bottled water anywhere for at least 3 days now… which causes the paranoia.  The vicious circle begins!

All the talk of water reminded me of a picture I found on Michael Tomasky’s blog at the Guardian a while ago.  He’d come across a picture comparing the relative sizes of the Earth, all the water on Earth, and all the fresh water on Earth.  Frustratingly, I couldn’t find the picture on his blog, but I did find it here.  Brace yourself, you WILL be surprised.

As the author (Marianne) notes below the photo: “Of that small dot of fresh water—which constitutes about 2% of the world’s surface water—75% of it is frozen in ice sheets and glaciers (many of which are melting into salt water).”

So cut that tiny sphere into 4 and what we actually have access to is just one of those parts.  Sorry – you’re math is probably better than mine, I just had to say it.  In fact, I was tempted to Photoshop and shrink that last dot down to 25% just to see what it would look like, but I think the point is clear enough.

Besides the stunning tininess of that speck of fresh water, what amazes me most of all is the fact that we’ve managed to harness it and distribute it widely within so many countries.  A very close number two is the fact that we’ve allowed so many people to dump garbage, toxic sludge, oil and pretty much everything and anything really, into it.

Perhaps the most current example of this is the horrifying case between Chevron and the people of Equador.  While it’s heartening to know that on February 14th, 2011 the courts found Chevron guilty, I cannot believe the degree of moral corruption that could have allowed so many people working at Chevron in Equador to let it happen.  If you didn’t read it already somewhere else, I want to make sure you understand that Chevron knew they were doing this.  It was no accident.  They ORDERED it done to save millions, perhaps billions of dollars.

And they’re appealing it!

Seriously, where do these people come from?  What do they drink when they’re thirsty?  I just imagine some workers dumping sludge into the Amazon on a hot day, they reach for a bottle of water to quench their thirst and… Can’t they connect the dots?  Are they even human?  Do they have a brain?

Thinking back to Zeitgeist: Moving Forward, the documentary I watched on the weekend, it seems that the problem is not lack of a brain, but rather a lack of empathy.  Just like the Wall Steet traders.  Just like the Corporate CEO’s.  If you don’t want to watch the movie, just Google “psychopath ceo” to see what I’m talking about.

The pattern that emerges is familiar to all of us even if we haven’t read the headlines.  The greed for money compromises people’s ability to make rational decisions beyond their individual self-interest; and in a society where the individual is king and money his power, we had best watch the wealthy much more closely.

So yes, it’s another terrible thing happening in our world, no big surprise.  And yet there’s cause for some hope:  The courts fined Chevron $9 billion which should make others of their ilk take notice.  And on the other hand, showing that all business people aren’t evil, a Canadian company has been making waves by inventing a cheaper, and more importantly a less energy-intensive way to desalinate water.  They’re called Saltworks.

Check’em out!

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The earthquake’s over. Now what?

Freshly back in Tokyo from my brief escape to Osaka, I’ve been disheartened by the way life has so quickly returned to normal.

I know, I know – just a few days ago I was talking about how stressed out and tired I was by the abnormal routine, but after a major life disruption you kind of hope, illogically I suppose, that somehow you’ll return to a life or world changed for the better in some way.  Where’s the balance?  What did we learn?  How can we use this to make progress for the future?

In one of the videos I took after exiting the train station on quake day, I was looking at the thousands of people quietly milling around Shinjuku and surprised myself by saying, “What a chance”.  What a chance for what, though?  What am I expecting myself, or someone else, to do with all these people standing around?  What exactly is it that needs that chance to happen?

Perhaps it was no coincidence that I ended up watching “Zeitgeist: Moving Forward” (free download) on Sunday night.  It’s a feature length documentary talking about the world we live in and what’s wrong with it, how we got this way, and where we’re going.  Unsurprisingly, the picture they paint is pretty dark.  Nevertheless, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in societal change.   No, strike that.  I recommend it to everyone.

In their interviews with experts in the fields of engineering, investigative journalism, moral philosophy, social epidemiology, medicine, biology, neurology, and petroleum geology, to name a few, they illuminate the shameful reality of our grim situation.

The short story: We have been transformed by the oil-and-money addiction of corporations and the greedy few into consumers that are bringing the marvelous diversity of nature, along with our own future, to an ignominious end.

One notable quote from the film, among many, was from John McMurtry of the University of Guelph, Canada:

“Absence of waste, that’s what efficiency is.  This system is more wasteful than all the other existing systems in the history of the planet.  Every level of  life organization and life system is in a state of crisis and challenge and decay or collapse.  No peer reviewed journal in the last 30 years will tell you anything different – and that is that every life system is in decline.  As well as social programs, as well as our water access.  Try to name any means of life that isn’t threatened and endangered.  You can’t.  There isn’t – there really isn’t one and that’s very, very despairing.  But we haven’t even figured out the causal mechanism, we don’t want to face the causal mechanism, we just want to go on.. you know that’s what insanity is when you just keep on doing the same thing over and over again even though it clearly doesn’t work.  So you’re really dealing with not an economic system, but I would go so far as to say an anti-economic system”.

I don’t know about you but that terrifies me.  Far, far more so than the earthquake last week, that scares me to my core.

So what’s wrong?  What’s not wrong might be an easier answer.  Just a few they touch on in the movie:  The insanely unequal distribution of money, the wasteful ubiquity of plastic/oil, scarcity of resources including fresh water, the twisted psychology of market capitalism and how it’s advertising is further twisting our psychology, the use of GDP and other economic measures to gauge the “progress” of our society.

Pay for a car?  Money.  Drive around?  Money.  Crash the car and spend a year in the hospital?  Money.  Clean up the BP oil spill?  Great!  Tack it onto the GDP!  Fix my cheaply built television?  Money.  Treat me for cancer because my sociological status makes me more likely to smoke and drink?  Money!  I can’t believe it, money is everywhere!!!  Maybe I should start breaking stuff JUST TO MAKE MONEY!!

Hold on, they’ve already thought of that – it’s called “planned obsolescence”.  That means they build stuff so that it breaks or can’t be updated past this product generation.  Shouldn’t this be illegal?  We’re living on a planet with finite resources and our corporations are making replacement parts incompatible.  Didn’t we hire politicians to make logical rules about how our resources can be used?  In fact we did, but the corporations, quite simply, can pay more.

Another, more efficient way of breaking stuff for money?  WAR.  That’s right.  Bomb a country and destroy half their buildings and then get super-corporations, think Haliburton and the like, to go in for the courageous “rebuilding effort”.  What a boon!  Why not call it freedom fighting at the same time just to make it sound nicer?  Oh, right – they DID call it freedom fighting at the same time.  Where were those weapons of mass destruction?  Probably hiding in the billions of barrels of oil under Iraq, I suspect.  And what have they done with those billions of barrels of oil?  They’re making more stuff that breaks and becomes obsolete at a faster pace than ever.

So what change is it that we’re looking for?  As McMurtry suggests, maybe it’s a re-evaluation of what is valuable, from the “Money sequence of value”, to the “Life sequence of value”.

Which one sounds more like progress to you?