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Wednesday, September 30, 2009


In this interview with Christopher Steiner, author of the new book $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better, find out how rising gas prices may actually change the world for the better.

Click here to read the full interview from Time Magazine.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Some Buildings Not Living Up To The Green Label

From the August 30, 2009 edition of the New York Times:

"The council’s own research suggests that a quarter of the new buildings that have been certified do not save as much energy as their designs predicted and that most do not track energy consumption once in use. And the program has been under attack from architects, engineers and energy experts who argue that because building performance is not tracked, the certification may be falling short in reducing emissions tied to global warming.

Some experts have contended that the seal should be withheld until a building proves itself energy efficient, which is the cornerstone of what makes a building green, and that energy-use data from every rated building should be made public.

“The plaque should be installed with removable screws,” said Henry Gifford, an energy consultant in New York City. “Once the plaque is glued on, there’s no incentive to do better.”

Click here to read the full article.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Our Plastic Legacy Afloat

An editorial from the August Twenty-Sixth Edition of the New York Times:

Until recently, the earth had seven continents. To that number, humans have added an eighth — an amorphous, floating mass of waste plastic trapped in a gyre of currents in the north Pacific, between Hawaii and Japan. Researchers have estimated that this garbage patch may contain as much as 100 million tons of plastic debris and is perhaps twice the size of Texas, if not larger.

Across the world’s oceans there are still many more millions of tons of floating plastic, most of it originating from land, not ships. All of this solid waste is bad news. It traps as many as a million seabirds every year, as well as some 100,000 marine mammals.

Now comes what could be more bad news. A new study, announced at a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, suggests that plastics in seawater break down faster than expected. As they do, they apparently release contaminants, including potentially harmful styrene compounds not normally found in nature. This was not merely a laboratory finding. The author of the study, Katsuhiko Saido, a scientist at Nihon University in Japan, found the same chemical compounds in seawater samples collected near Malaysia, the Pacific Northwest, and in the northern Pacific.

The effects of these broken-down plastics on marine organisms is as yet unknown, and they will be harder to measure than the damage that plastic refuse does to sea-life. But adding to the contaminant load of the oceans cannot be a good thing.

What we are seeing here is yet another of the large-scale, potentially tragic, uncontrolled experiments that humans have conducted on their environment without intending to. And though we cannot do much about the millions of tons that have already been sent to sea, we can at least begin to ask ourselves, when we get ready to pitch a plastic container, where is this likely to end up?

Sunday, September 20, 2009


From the August 28, 2009 edition the New York Times

"Dag Falck, a project board member who is the organic program manager of Nature’s Path, said testing and labeling were needed to protect the industry from the steady spread of biotech ingredients. His company has been testing for such ingredients for several years and is strengthening those measures.

“The thing is, if we have a contamination problem that’s growing in organics, what will happen one day when someone tests something and finds out that organics is contaminated beyond a reasonable amount, say 5 or 10 percent?” he said. “Consumers would lose all faith in organics.”

While a consensus has developed among scientists that the genetically modified crops now in cultivation are safe, many biotech opponents say that questions remain over whether such foods pose health risks and whether the crops, and agricultural practices associated with them, could damage the environment.

The genetic modifications used in major crops in the United States largely involve traits beneficial to farmers. Some make the plants resistant to insects while others allow them to tolerate sprayings of a common herbicide used to combat weeds.

Plantings of crops with genetic modifications have risen sharply over the last decade, to the point that about 85 percent of corn and canola and 91 percent of soybean acreage this year was sown with biotech seed. Few food products in the supermarket lack at least some element derived from these crops, including oils, corn syrup, corn starch and soy lecithin."

Click here to read the full article.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

spray-on solar cells



August 25, 2009

Spray-On Solar Cells Energize Almost Any Surface

by Yuka Yoneda

Bulky and expensive photovoltaic panels are so 2008. What does the future look like? Entire buildings, rooftops and even windows spray-painted with revolutionary nanoparticle inks that channel solar power into a thin, semi-transparent and relatively inexpensive medium. Sound crazy? Not at all, according to one group of chemical engineers.

Spray-on solar cells may sound like a high-end development, but the technology actually stands to be cheaper than traditional solar panels. “The sun provides a nearly unlimited energy resource, but existing solar energy harvesting technologies are prohibitively expensive and cannot compete with fossil fuels,” says chemical engineer Brian Korgel of the University of Texas at Austin whose team is developing the graffiti-capable solar cells.

Most photovoltaics are currently made of silicon, but the inks developed by Korgel’s team are made up of copper indium gallium selenide (or CIGS) — sunlight-absorbing nanoparticles that are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of hair according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. These nanocrystals are made into a solution and then spraypainted onto a substrate. If the crystals can do what Korgel says they can do, this new method has the potential to boost the applications of solar power exponentially.

The process is still in the works - thus far, the prototypes that have been developed can only convert 1% of the sunlight that hits the cell into electricity. The goal conversion is 10%, so there is still quite a way to go. “If it works, I think you could see it being used in three to five years,” explains Korgel.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Global warming vs Dharma cooling

Global warming vs dharma cooling

It's getting hotter outside. Inside, we need to chill out, one monk says

From The Bangkok Post

The natural environment around us has plunged into a catastrophic state. But have we ever noticed that the natural environment inside our body, which includes our peace of mind, is also entering the same situation, due to our boundless greed and over consumption?

Phra Paisal Visalo : ‘‘Dharma is indispensable during this time. Nature and dharma are inseparable. Before restoring nature, we should restore dharma in our mind first.’’

As the world's temperature steadily soars, the temperature inside our mind is also heating up rapidly.

Consequently, global and mental warming situations are not so different, since both phenomena are equally crucial. And they need to be cured simultaneously, since internal heat can affect the external environment. We all should bear in mind that we can survive only if nature survives.

Virulent threats

According to the revered monk Phra Paisal Visalo, the abbot of Wat Pa Sukhato in Chaiyaphum province, the major cause of global warming and other environmental problems stems from humans' detrimental attitudes towards nature.

''Humans fail to realise that they're part of nature. They can survive and maintain their race throughout the passage of time, simply because of nature's mercy and hospitality. Humans should be grateful to nature,'' suggested the monk who has devoted his life to protecting the forest in Chaiyaphum.

''Humans think that they're the master. What we commonly see in this technological-driven era is humans trying to control nature and overly, irresponsibly, and unmindfully exploit it,'' Phra Paisal added.

According to the monk, the incessant exploitation of nature happens because humans think that real happiness comes from the ability to possess a large number of material things, but they are still not gratified.

''They think that the more they have, the happier they are.

Their success in life can be measured from the number and kind of cars they own and the price of the house, land, and other possessions they have, including money in their bank account.

"With this attitude, people highly compete to consume and possess more, with consumerism as the stimulator and the capitalism as the supporter," he said.

Is our greed unquenchable?

Human greed has never been fulfilled because people still want more and more, resulting in the ceaseless destruction of nature in order to pamper their luxurious and wasteful life.

Yet, their happiness has never increased in line with their material wealth, which can be seen in the high rate of suicides and patients with mental disorders and neurosis.

"Such attitudes and consequent behaviours make people ignore and estrange themselves from nature. They are even estranged from themselves. They immerse themselves in many unnecessary activities like talking on the phone almost all the time, shopping, and surfing the net. Everything they do contributes to the ruin of nature," said the monk.

It's no exaggeration to say that our natural environment is in crisis because our interior nature is out of balance. Deep down inside people feel alone, depressed and hopeless. That is why they are trying to indulge themselves with material things.

"No matter how they succeed in transforming nature into a wide variety of consumer goods, assets, and money, humans can't be full and their soul is still empty," stressed the monk.

A cure for our mental imbalance

The monk pointed out that the natural environment can't be restored to its healthy state as long as humans' internal nature is still unstable. The elixir that can bring a balanced mind back to all souls during this crisis is "dharma medicine", specially concocted by Lord Buddha. "Dharma is indispensable during this time. In fact, nature and dharma are inseparable. Before restoring nature, we should restore dharma back to our mind first. People must be aware of the fact that we're a part of nature. Our survival totally depends on the survival of nature," Phra Paisal said.

Apart from curing our soul's sickness, dharma also provides us with many precious lessons on sustainability, self-sufficiency, loving compassion and spiritual happiness, he added.

"Nature teaches humans to enjoy a simple life and encourages them to embrace happiness, which derives from peace of mind, making merit, helping others, and being at one with nature."

The monk went on to say that any souls that seek mental tranquility and adopt dharma as their guide will be lighter, calmer, freer and happier.

"This type of mind will be ready to wholeheartedly protect and save nature. It's a mind that won't take advantage of nature, people, community and society. It's a mind that can return serenity and peace to the world," said the abbot.

A simple yet noble happiness

In this era of consumerism, humans greedily hunt for material happiness and along the way they fail to expose themselves to a more noble happiness. When people start controlling and reducing their desires, material happiness becomes less attractive.

"Happiness occurs easily when humans feel enough. And when that happens it's no longer necessary to exploit nature."

Everything in nature teaches lessons about dharma and the truth of life, but only if we open our eyes and attentively listen to it.

According to Phra Paisal, those with an agitated mind will be calmer when surrounded by nature. Their heart will easily fill with goodwill and when they look deeply into their mind, they can cultivate mindfulness, concentration and spiritual wisdom.

The open-minded can learn several chapters of dharma from nature, whether it be the impermanence of life or the well-knitted connection of all lives. Nature also teaches us the lessons of morality and dedication, from the generous trees that provide shade and shelter to animals, the ants that are diligent and persevere to build their kingdom, and the birds that fly happily with no material burdens.

"Nature is the greatest while we're just a tiny life form. Nature teaches us to be humble and understand our real status. We're just a small part of it. When we feel humble, we will not be arrogant and we will get closer to nature."

How grass and a rock teach dharma

All life is inseparable and nature always can teach us several lessons of dharma if only we open our eyes, pay attention and listen.

Phra Paisal recalled that someone once asked Luang Pu Mun (one of the most venerable monks) how he learned so much about dharma, since he didn't study much. The senior monk answered that "for those who have wisdom, dharma can be found in every nook and cranny". Meanwhile, a reformist monk named Bhuddhadasa Bhikkhu always suggested that visitors to his forest hermitage Suan Mokka (Garden of Release) learn how to listen to the trees and rocks that teach dharma all the time.

"Those who hope for mental prosperity should set aside time to be in nature. With our humble mind, we will see both dharma and our inner nature which lead to the understanding of the truth of life.

"Several revered monks became enlightened because of nature. When they see a falling leaf or a wrinkled lotus, they realise that their time in this world is limited. This is a wisdom derived from exposure to nature."

Nature has been giving for so long, while humans have been taking. It is now time for all of us to take care of our generous provider.

"As nature is in great peril, we should not take advantage of her ... humans should be generous and grateful to nature by fully safeguarding it, whether through reforestation, recycling, protecting wildlife, and raising awareness of environmental problems," Phra Paisal said.

Global warming vs dharma cooling

Natural conservation work is somewhat time-consuming and it is an uphill battle as long as there are selfish people who show no respect for nature. The monk encouraged everyone, nature lovers in particular, to be patient.

"We should not be disheartened or feel uncomfortable. If we understand that protecting nature is like practicing dharma, we will feel more peaceful.

"While the world's temperature is soaring, we should not be frustrated. If we protect nature with our suffering, everything will turn out to be harmful to ourselves. We should not be hotter like our world. With a calm and cool mind, we can create good things for the Earth," the monk emphasized.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Farm On Every Floor

Srila Prabhupada always strongly preached that the problem of overpopulation was a misconception-really it is about a misallocation of resources, and a lack of innovation and imagination.

"Simple Living, High Thinking" is the backbone of making sure all living entities get their physical and spiritual sustenance. This vision is not just a rural vision. It must also be applied to our urban centers, where it may even make more impact and have more visibility.

For an interesting secular vision, and an example of the some of the dynamic growth we should pursue as devotees in conjunction with our eco-friends, check out this article from the August 23, 2009 of the New York Times titled "A Farm On Every Floor", which details the innovative plans to bring vertical farming, or functional, self-sufficient ecosystems/gardens to our urban centers.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Food For The Soul

by Nicklas D. Kristof from the 8-22-09 edition of the New York Times

"One of my childhood memories is of placing a chicken egg in a goose nest when I was about 10 (my young scientist phase). That mother goose was thrilled when her eggs hatched, and maternal love is such that she never seemed to notice that one of her babies was a neckless midget.

As for the chick, she never doubted her goosiness. At night, our chickens would roost high up in the barn, while the geese would sleep on the floor, with their heads tucked under their wings. This chick slept with the goslings, and she tried mightily to stretch her neck under her wing. No doubt she had a permanent crick in her neck.

Then the fateful day came when the mother goose took her brood to the water for the first time. She jumped in, and the goslings leaped in after her. The chick stood on the bank, aghast.

For the next few days, mother and daughter tried to reason it out, each deeply upset by the other’s intransigence. After several days of barnyard trauma, the chick underwent an identity crisis, nature triumphed over nurture, and she redefined herself as a hen.

She moved across the barn to hang out with the chickens. At first she still slept goose-like, and visited her “mother” and fellow goslings each day, but within two months she no longer even acknowledged her stepmother and stepsiblings and behaved just like other chickens.

Recollections like that make me wistful for a healthy rural America composed of diverse family farms, which also offer decent and varied lives for the animals themselves (at least when farm boys aren’t conducting “scientific” experiments). In contrast, a modern industrialized operation is a different world: more than 100,000 hens in cages, their beaks removed, without a rooster, without geese or other animals, spewing out pollution and ending up as so-called food — a calorie factory, without any soul."

Click here to read the full column

Monday, September 7, 2009

Connecting Nature's Dots

From the 8-22-09 edition of the New York Times:

“We need to stop thinking about these issues in isolation — each with its own champion, constituency and agenda — and deal with them in an integrated way, the way they actually occur on the ground,” argued Glenn Prickett, senior vice president with Conservation International. “We tend to think about climate change as just an energy issue, but it’s also about land use: one-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation and agriculture. So we need to preserve forests and other ecosystems to solve climate change, not only to save species.”

But we also need to double food production to feed a growing population. “So we’ll need to do that without clearing more forests and draining more wetlands, which means farmers will need new technologies and practices to grow more food on the same land they use today — with less water,” he added. “Healthy forests, wetlands and grasslands not only preserve biodiversity and store carbon, they also help buffer the impacts of climate change. So our success in tackling climate change, poverty, food security and biodiversity loss will depend on finding integrated solutions from the land.”

In short — and as any reader of the Okavango daily papers will tell you — we need to make sure that our policy solutions are as integrated as nature itself. Today, they are not. "

Click here to read the full article.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It is in front of our eyes… Why delay?

A call to arms from HG Hari Kirtan Dasa:

Srila Prabhupada said that cities will one day crumble down. And it did not take long for his words to prove prophetic. We can see with our own eyes that everything from the lowness of basic requirements to keep body and soul together to the height of meeting the spiritual requirements of the soul have become difficult.

Food that sustains our life breath has slowly become so dear that it has slipped from the hands of a common man. Inflation is peaking, so much so that in a small country like Zimbabwe the rate of inflation is 2000%! Fresh air is polluted. Water is a scarcity and is sold. Clear water from flowing stream or river is only a pipe dream. Somehow if one manages to get water in the city is the recycled water from waste. City’s population is bursting at its seams, leaving no decent place for a common family to live. One does not live on land, but hangs in the air, in the so called storeyed apartments. Modern education despite custom designed to give jobs has failed in that itself. A person’s old age is no longer vision reading scriptures and telling stories to grandchildren, but cursing the family in an old age home.

Unaware, a city dweller begins his day with the usage of products that use animal products, including cow by-products. Amid the air of material pursuit, all the finer spiritual concerns have been buried in the backyard and forgotten. But the material acquisition for which we really sacrificed everything, where has it brought us? No wonder, it did not take many years for the truth to come out. American economy collapsed, making many many more to follow- the bane of so called global economy. Many big companies have fallen apart. Thousands of people have been laid jobless. Lakhs of working class people have been disillusioned with the cities. This is the price that we have paid from moving self sufficient units of village to a modern city. Where do we go from here?

Farmers have moved to the cities or worse villages have modernized themselves to turn to cities, but do they know where they are headed to? From self-sufficiency to dependency and starvation! Srila Prabhupada and other acharayas they could foresee these problems and have offered a very easy solution to this dangerous debacle:

When everyone is working in the city to produce nuts and bolts, who will produce food grains? Simple living and high thinking is the solution to economic problems. Therefore the Krishna consciousness movement in engaging devotees in producing their own food and living selfsufficiently so that rascals may see how one can live very peacefully, eat the food grains one has grown oneself, drink milk, and chant Hare Krishna.

Vaishnavas or devotees are expected to be intelligent- Jei jan Krishna Bhaje se bada chatur – simply because they are inspired by Krishna. We have a problem, we have a simple solution, and we also have been gifted with the intelligence to know the solution. What more are we waiting for? What is it which is stopping us from taking to Varnasrama? Why delay? Why stay in a building whose bricks have already started falling apart and no center holds? Let us move out of the decaying structure, save ourselves and also try to save others by presenting a role model to them.

Hari Kirtan Das

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Paying The Farmers To Let The Trees Stand

From the 8-21-09 edition of the New York Times

"Mato Grosso means thick forests, and the name was once apt. But today, this Brazilian state is a global epicenter of deforestation. Driven by profits derived from fertile soil, the region’s dense forests have been aggressively cleared over the past decade, and Mato Grasso is now Brazil’s leading producer of soy, corn and cattle, exported across the globe by multinational companies.

Deforestation, a critical contributor to climate change, effectively accounts for 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and 70 percent of the emissions in Brazil. Halting new deforestation, experts say, is as powerful a way to combat warming as closing the world’s coal plants.

But until now, there has been no financial reward for keeping forest standing. Which is why a growing number of scientists, politicians and environmentalists argue that cash payments — like that offered to Mr. Marcolini — are the only way to end tropical forest destruction and provide a game-changing strategy in efforts to limit global warming.

Unlike high-tech solutions like capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide or making “green” fuel from algae, preserving a forest yields a strikingly simple environmental payback: a landowner reduces his property’s emissions to zero."
Click here to read the full article.