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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Protecting The Forest And Hoping For Payback

From The New York Times

Published: November 28, 2009

SISTERS, Ore. — A patch of ponderosa pines here in the Deschutes National Forest has been carefully pruned over the last few years to demonstrate the United States Forest Service’s priorities in the changing West: improving forest health and protecting against devastating wildfire while still supporting the timber economy.

Yet occasionally, when tour groups come through, someone will ask what role the trees might play as the nation addresses global warming. After all, forests soak up carbon dioxide as they grow.

“We’ve always said that’s outside the scope of this project,” said Michael Keown, the environmental coordinator for the Sisters Ranger District, which includes more than 300,000 acres in the Deschutes forest in central Oregon. “But those days have come and gone.”

The giant evergreens of the West have long been proclaimed essential, whether the cause was saving salmon and spotted owls or small towns and their sawmills. Now, with evidence showing that American forests store 15 percent or more of the carbon gases produced in the nation, expectations are growing for them to do even more.

Over the next 50 years or so, experts say, some forests could be cultivated to grow bigger, more resilient trees, potentially increasing their carbon storage by 50 percent and providing an important “bridge” to a time when the nation will theoretically have shifted away from greenhouse-gas producing fossil fuels.

But even as some private forests are already being marketed as “carbon sinks,” or storehouses, that could play a role in a future carbon cap-and-trade program, government agencies and academics are struggling to understand and measure how carbon is stored and released. After decades of controversy surrounding the management of forests, debate persists over how they can best be used to fight global warming while also being protected from their threats, including more and bigger wildfires.

“While healthy, functioning forests may serve as a means to sequester carbon, under current practices, many of our Western forests are at risk of turning from a carbon sink to a carbon source,” Tom Tidwell, the head of the Forest Service, told a Senate subcommittee on Nov. 18 in a hearing on forest management and climate change.

“Projections indicate that while these forests continue to sequester more carbon in the short-term,” Mr. Tidwell said, “in 30 to 50 years, disturbances such as fire and insects and disease could dramatically change the role of forests, thereby emitting more carbon than currently sequestering.”

The challenges and benefits range by region. Studies show that the potential carbon capacity of the predominantly fir forests on the wet west side of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest is at least three times as high as that of the drier regions over the mountains and to the southwest.

Many drier forests, including here east of the Cascades, have grown unnaturally dense after logging and efforts to save them from wildfires. Experts say measures taken to stop fires can end up causing more devastating ones by allowing the growth of small trees and underbrush, “ladder fuels” that ignite bigger trees.

On federal lands, the Forest Service has recently emphasized removing ladder fuels, including in the demonstration project here in the Metolius Basin.

“The suite of things we’re doing benefits the carbon sequestration,” said Brian Tandy, who helps oversee forest growth in the Deschutes. “We weren’t doing it to address some of that specifically, but the way we’re moving is sort of in line with that.”

Still, after years of fights over logging practices, including lawsuits to reduce clear cutting on federal land, distrust of the Forest Service’s motives remains. Mr. Tandy made a point of saying that one reason he does what he does is to help meet “society’s needs for wood products.”

Beverly Law, a professor of global change forest science at Oregon State University, pointed to the Deschutes project as an example of the Forest Service protecting against climate change while potentially improving carbon storage. Yet Ms. Law also said fire officials should not presume that what might keep a forest from burning will enhance it as a carbon asset.

“There’s this opinion out there that when people see smoke from fire, they think it’s all going up in smoke — well, no, it’s not,” Ms. Law said, referring to forests that experience relatively low-intensity fires, a common dynamic in dry areas like central and eastern Oregon and parts of California. “Only 5 percent of the total ecosystem carbon is going up in smoke. When you talk about trying to prevent that, it’s not as big a carbon pulse to the atmosphere as people think.”

Ms. Law, along with Mark E. Harmon, a professor of forest ecology at Oregon State, and others say that forest policy should be tailored to individual forests and that the risk of carbon released in a wildfire should be weighed against the carbon costs of trying to prevent fire.

“They say they have to do thinning all over the place because they say fire might happen here,” Ms. Law said, “but it might not happen for decades.”

The math only gets more complicated. Newer, ostensibly environmentally friendly efforts to use cleared brush and small trees as biofuel could potentially release more carbon through transportation and processing than if the material were simply burned in the woods. By the same token, removing a completely burned forest can end up releasing more carbon than if the dead trees are left alone.

Others counter that thinning and fire prevention efforts now under way will have long term benefits, even if they release some carbon initially.

“You can regain that emitted carbon and actually put on even more carbon by redirecting the growth in the forest to the large trees that you leave in the forest — and you avoid the substantial emission of carbon you’d have in a wildfire,” said Malcolm North, a research ecologist at the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station and an associate professor of forest ecology at the University of California, Davis.

In his comments to the Senate subcommittee, Mr. Tidwell pointed out that while the Forest Service manages vast tracts of the West, private landowners control the majority of forest land in the United States. Still, said Andrea Tuttle, the former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, the government has a different obligation than private owners.

“The Forest Service as a public agency should be managing the forest for the people,” Ms. Tuttle said. “Part of that is to make them resilient to climate change and at the same time find opportunities where appropriate to use the forest as a carbon sink.”

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At Odds Over Land, Money, And Gas

“When I heard about drilling, what came to mind was ‘Thank you,’ ” said Mrs. Lacey, 58, who has lived on her property here for 27 years with her husband, Robert, 68, a commercial insurance agent. “Finally our community can recover, and our children don’t have to leave the state to find jobs.”

In New York City, natural gas exploration is largely seen as a threat to the drinking water the city gets from watersheds to the north in the Catskills. But in the rural communities above the shale, the reaction has been far more mixed — and far more contentious.

Some residents welcome the drilling as a modern-day gold rush and salvation from the economic doldrums that they say have chased jobs and young people away from their area. Others express concerns about the environment and quality-of-life issues like noise and heavy-truck traffic.

In some cases, the issue has pitted neighbor against neighbor or spouse against spouse.

Exploring the shale involves a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing that requires pumping huge volumes of water laced with benzene and other chemicals into the rock to break it and extract gas. The process raises issues about the use and disposal of wastewater, and the danger of leaks, spills and other contamination. It has been linked to contamination of water wells in Pennsylvania and Wyoming and to the death of livestock in Louisiana.

Mark Dunau, an organic vegetable farmer with 50 acres in the town of Hancock in Delaware County, says he is passing up any potential rewards from drilling because of worries about the pollution of water and air and the cumulative impact of thousands of wells. “That water is my resource,” he said.

Mr. Dunau, 57, and his wife, Lisa Wujnovich, 55, said that they were holdouts not only among their neighbors but also among their friends, and that the character of their community was already changing. Mr. Dunau said he knew people who said they would take the money and move away, families who were fighting over whether to sign gas leases, and neighbors who regretted signing too early for too little money.

“It’s a nightmare,” he said."

For the full article from the New York Times, click here

Monday, December 28, 2009

India Tells West To Stop Eating Beef

From ISKCON News

By Dean Nelson for Telegraph on 20 Nov 2009
Image: Google Images
Facts: California officials identify agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater.

The environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said if the world abandoned beef consumption, emissions would be dramatically reduced and global warming would slow down.

"The solution to cut emissions is to stop eating beef. It leads to emission of methane which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide," he said.

"The best thing for us, India, is we are not a beef-eating nation.

The United States, the world's largest emitter along with China, is also the world's greatest beef-eating nation and consumes 25 per cent more than Europe.

His comments follow a call last month by Lord Stern, the author of a British Government study on climate change, for people to give up eating meay to reduce emissions. "Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases," said Lord Stern. "It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better."

Hindus are forbidden to eat beef and India has more vegetarians than any other country in the world. More than 30 per cent of its 1.1 billion people do not eat meat at all.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, livestock is responsible for 18 per cent of the the Earth's greenhouse gas emissions. Cows produce harmful methane gas and environmentalists argue beef production causes greater damage than any other farming because it requires far more land and water than for any other form of animal husbandry.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Is There Such A Thing As Agro-Imperialism?

From Andrew Rice at The New York Times (click here to read the full article)

“The rules of the game have changed,” says Saad Al Swatt, the chief executive of the Tabuk Agricultural Development Company, one of the kingdom’s largest farming concerns. Al Swatt’s company was one of those that met with Robert Zeigler about farming rice; he says that with government encouragement, he is looking at expanding into countries like Sudan, Ethiopia and Vietnam.

“They have the land, they have the water, but unfortunately, they don’t have the system or sometimes the finance to have these large-scale agricultural projects.” Al Swatt says. “We wanted to export our experience and really develop those areas, to help people.”

About 10 percent of the more than 80 million people who live in Ethiopia suffer from chronic food shortages. This year, because of poor rains, the U.N. World Food Program warns that much of East Africa faces the threat of a famine, potentially the worst in almost two decades. Traditionally, the model for feeding the hungry in Africa has involved shipping in surpluses from the rest of the world in times of emergency, but governments that are trying to attract investment say that the new farms could provide a lasting, noncharitable solution. (“It’s better than begging,” one Ethiopian official recently told the African publication Business Daily.)

Whatever the long-term justification, however, it looks bad politically for countries like Kenya and Ethiopia to be letting foreign investors use their land at a time when their people face the specter of mass starvation. And many experts wonder whether such governments will go through with the deals. Ethiopia, after all, was one of the countries that banned grain exports during the recent spike in world food prices. “The idea that one country would go to another country,” says Robert Zeigler, “and lease some land, and expect that the rice produced there would be made available to them if there’s a food crisis in that host country, is ludicrous.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Energy Saving: Much Cheaper Than Building Power Plants!

by Thomas R. Blakeslee, Clearlight Foundation

On an electrical grid, supply must always exactly equal demand or the voltage goes unstable. Our utility laws very effectively encourage building of power plants to meet an ever-growing demand. This seemed like wise policy in the days of almost free energy but today it encourages gross investment inefficiencies. Power utilities maximize profits by spending as much as possible on expansion of supply even though energy saving could much more efficiently accomplish the same result.

It costs about $2.50/watt to build a new coal power plant. But replacing light bulbs can decrease demand for only $.025/watt! (A 13-watt compact florescent bulb replacing a 60 watt incandescent bulb reduces demand by 47 watts for only $1.19. $1.19/47= $.025/watt) A properly motivated power utility can accomplish the equivalent of building an expansion power plant at much lower cost by just giving compact florescent lamps to their customers.

That's exactly what Southern California Edison did in 2007 by sending out sample CFLs to their customers with discount coupons that resulted in over a million lamp replacements. That's 47 megawatts demand reduction when they're all turned on! Another program paid $100 towards an efficient, Energy Star refrigerator and offered free pickup of the old refrigerator. Eight hundred thousand refrigerators were replaced on this program.

In most states this would be a suicidal move for a utility because selling less electricity means making less money. However, California made it good business by rewriting the utility laws to decouple earnings from sales. Utilities are rewarded per customer, based on meeting goals rather than the amount of power sold. . They established a loading order that makes energy saving a top priority. Everybody wins because less fuel is burned so there is less pollution and less global warming.

In the 1970s refrigerators used an average of 1800 kwh per year. In 1975 the US tightened efficiency standards for refrigerators. The manufacturers complained loudly that costs would skyrocket. They were wrong. Today, refrigerators cost half as much and consume one fourth as much power.

This pattern is repeated again and again as people naturally defend the status quo when it is challenged. The EPA Energy Star program periodically raises the bar on energy standards. Reduced standby power consumption on TVs and computers is a recent campaign against waste. Back when power was almost free, these wasteful ways seemed to make sense.

We must continually reexamine traditional assumptions as history often takes us down a wrong path. The urinals found in men's public bathrooms are a perfect example. For a century urinals have had a flush handle on them. Then somebody invented the automatic flusher triggered by electronically sensing body heat. It seemed like a great invention till somebody realized that this complexity was totally unnecessary.

The waterless urinal needs no flusher, no power and no water because it has an ingenious plastic trap filled with a heavy blue liquid that keeps sewer smells in without flushing. Each flush urinal wastes 20,000-40,000 gallons of water a year. If all of the urinals in the US were waterless we would save 160 billion gallons of water per year! Sometimes it pays to stand back and rethink the assumptions of the past.

Early in this century we had a nice life based on very little energy consumption. Almost-free energy has led us to change our lifestyle in many ways that should probably be re-examined now. Modern lighting, heating and air conditioning went from uneven coverage to uniformity because cheap energy made that possible. It may be a good time to question whether uniform light and temperature is really better.

Modern lighting spotlights the beautiful or useful and leaves the rest in shadow. A family gathered in front of the fireplace accepts it as natural that the rest of the room is cooler. A fan, an open window or a front porch provides an enjoyable oasis from warm weather. Perhaps we could save a lot of energy by learning to accept uneven temperatures in parts of rooms that we only pass through briefly. A ceiling fan can cool sitting areas with much less energy than it takes to air condition every corner of the house.

Those old stone buildings never get very hot or cold because the massive stone walls cool them during the heat of the day and warm them at night with stored heat from the day. Modern lightweight construction has lost this thermal inertia and requires much more heating and cooling.

PCM wallboards (Phase Change Material) embed wax beads that melt at 78 degrees in the plaster. Just like melting ice, they they cool the wall when it tries to get hotter than 78. At night , when the wall gets cooler, the wax refreezes, giving back heat in the process. A 15 mm PCM wallboard is as effective for heat retention as a 90 mm of concrete or 150 mm of brick! Tiny acrylic microspheres filled with wax are embedded in wallboard allowing normal nailing and cutting without worry. The microspheres can also be mixed into concrete or plaster.

Ceiling fans make it possible to greatly reduce air conditioning use. On warm days you can just open the windows and you'll enjoy the coolness under the fan and enjoy the day. If it gets too hot, try setting the thermostat to eighty degrees and letting the fans cool just your sitting areas.

During cold weather you can keep the heat at sixty or so and enjoy sitting by a fire or pellet stove. Ceiling mounted radiant heating panels can make you feel very cozy even though the room is only sixty. NAHB research found they could save 52% compared to electric baseboard heaters. When you are walking around, sixty feels just fine. Sitting is what makes you cold and you usually do that in only a few places in the house.

Try to give your body a chance to adapt to heat or cold. Your comfort zone is partly a matter of conditioning. Push yourself a bit and you will find that you don't really need such a uniform temperature.

If you live in a very hot or very cold climate a ground source heat pump can save a lot of energy. Deep in the ground the temperature is mild and stable. Buried heat exchange tubing can be used to pump heat to or from the house to the ground. Efficiency can be as high as 500% compared to traditional heating. These systems are expensive to install but can greatly reduce high heating and air conditioning bills.

The seemingly-expensive upfront costs are cheap compared to the cost of building the additional power generating capacity to power a conventional air conditioner. Currently you can take a tax write-off if you install a heat pump system. In an ideal world a rational choice would be made between spending money on building more generating capacity or reducing demand by installing heat pumps. Currently, utility laws in most states make it inevitable that we will overspend on generating capacity and underspend on efficiency.

Insulation is one of the home upgrades with the fastest payoff. An attic fan can pay for itself in one year in some cases. Roof insulation is very cost effective too. Window replacements can pay for themselves in a few years, particularly if windows are leaky. New infrared cameras can spot heat leaks in a moment. They show as red, areas where repair work is needed (see images, below). Professional consultants can do an energy audit on your house that typically result in a 20-40% savings if indicated repair work is done.

Hot water is very inefficiently done in the US. In Europe most people have tankless water heaters that come on only when they use hot water. These are more efficient and they save water because you don't have to waste it waiting for the hot water to arrive from a distant tank. In China most new construction uses solar hot water from vacuum tubes on the roof. In Japan, Honda makes a combined heat and power (CHP) system that uses natural gas to generate electricity and uses the waste heat from the generator to make hot water. The overall efficiency is 85% and the electricity generated can run the meter backwards.

Volkswagen is introducing a similar unit in Germany and Australia has a new unit based on a solid oxide fuel cell. Several European power utilities are planning to these units to customers at discount as a more economical and efficient way to expand power generation.

Now that the almost-free energy is used up we must break our old wasteful habits and begin to respect efficiency. We are wasting so much now that it will be easy and fun to discover new and more efficient ways to live.

If we can improve our efficiency it will cost us less, not more. We just have to take the money we would have spent to build more and more power plants and spend it instead on efficiency improvements. The problem is in our legal structure that subsidizes the wrong things. If we can change our utility laws, the technical solutions are easy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Can Biotech Food Cure World Hunger?

From the Room For Debate series in the New York Times

With food prices remaining high in developing countries, the United Nations estimates that the number of hungry people around the world could increase by 100 million in 2009 and pass the one billion mark. A summit of world leaders in Rome scheduled for November will set an agenda for ways to reduce hunger and increase investment in agriculture development in poor countries.

What will drive the next Green Revolution? Is genetically modified food an answer to world hunger? Are there other factors that will make a difference in food production?

A debate featuring:

Click here to read more.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Conspiracy For Murder

From ISKCON News

By Sesa Dasa on 21 Nov 2009
Image: Google Images
The worldwide number of animals killed for food in 2008 was 45 billion, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“According to Manu, the great author of civic codes and religious principles, even the killer of an animal is to be considered a murderer because animal food is never meant for the civilized man, whose prime duty is to prepare himself for going back to Godhead. He says that in the act of killing an animal, there is a regular conspiracy by the party of sinners, and all of them are liable to be punished as murderers exactly like a party of conspirators who kill a human being combinedly. He who gives permission, he who kills the animal, he who sells the slaughtered animal, he who cooks the animal, he who administers distribution of the foodstuff, and at last he who eats such cooked animal food are all murderers, and all of them are liable to be punished by the laws of nature.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.7.37 Purport).

Ever since my first day of law school I’ve wanted to prove this statement of my spiritual master Srila Prabhupada. I’ve wanted to prove that, yes, all six parties are equally guilty of murder in the animal slaughter industry. They are guilty of in a vast conspiracy for murder. But, there has been a problem with the legal theory of conspiracy as it is applied under United States law.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, a conspiracy is “a combination or confederacy between two or more persons formed for the purpose of committing, by their joint efforts, some unlawful or criminal act, or some act which is lawful in itself, but becomes unlawful when done by the concerted action of the conspirators, or for the purpose of using criminal or unlawful means to the commission of an act not in itself unlawful.” My problem in proving a murder conspiracy to include all six persons named by Srila Prabhupada lies in a breakdown of the elements in this legal definition.

There are three core elements of a conspiracy found in this definition: 1. agreement to commit a crime; 2. plurality; and 3. knowledge of both the conspiracy and the scope of the agreement. To be guilty of conspiracy a defendant must be shown to have had knowledge of the conspiracy and the essential objective of the conspiracy. Working with these three elements it’s relatively easy to go after conspirators #1, he who gives permission, #2 he who kills the animal, and #3 he who sells the slaughtered. But its not so easy to go after conspirators #4, he who cooks the animal, #5 he who administers distribution of the foodstuff, and #6 he who eats the cooked animal food, because U.S. courts has held that in the proof of conspiracy it is not sufficient to show that a person did something to further the conspiracy, even through commission of unlawful acts, or that a person associated with other members of the conspiracy.

How to rope in these last three classes of conspirators is the problem. Obviously, they benefit in some way from the murder of animals. They may get paid for transporting the slaughtered animals, for cooking or working in restaurants, may simply be sustaining (if you can really claim that eating meat is true sustenance) their lives and the lives of their family members by purchasing, cooking, and eating meat. How much knowledge of the horrors of animal slaughter is legally sufficient to bind them in the conspiracy? Can they be said to have knowledge of the essential objective of the first three classes of conspirators? Or, are they innocent victims of the conspiracy?

We do get some help here from the United States Supreme Court. In Craig v. U.S. the court held that, “a conspiracy may be a continuing one; actors may drop out, and other drop in; the details of operation may change from time to time; the members need not know each other or the part played by others; a member need not know all the details of the plan or the operations; he must however, know the purpose of the conspiracy and agree to become a party to a plan to effectuate that purpose.”

These principles help by lowering the extent of knowledge which is required to implicate conspirators #4, #5, and #6. And, if we apply the broadly accepted economic notion of supply and demand, we can postulate that the scope and essential objectives of the conspiracy integrally link conspirators #4, #5, #6 to conspirators #1, #2, #3. What came first, the supply or the demand? Either way, all six are parties to effectuate the murder of animals.

Still, to convince a jury I needed a stronger link in a murder conspiracy between conspirators #1, #2, #3 and #4, #5, #6, an emotional link, a shared depravity. At last, I think I have found the lynchpin, it is suffering. Knowledge of, and explicit or implicit agreement to, the inexcusable extent of suffering inflicted upon factory farm animals implies an agreement to commit murder.

We also now have a very sympathetic witness, author Jonathan Safran Foer. He exposes the suffering factory farm animals in dramatic style in his latest book, Eating Animals, which was reviewed by Michael O’Donnell in the November 16, 2009 edition of The Christian Science Monitor. Of course, it is not that there have not previously been very credible witnesses in the case against animal slaughter. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and ethical philosopher Peter Singer have been speaking about and documenting animal suffering for years. Yet, Foer is a more sympathetic witness because he can’t be said to have a political agenda as does PETA, or the extreme philosophical conviction as does Singer. Foer is not even a vegetarian. He is your average American. But, in light of knowledge of the cruelty that is animal slaughter, he asks the right questions, and this makes his perspectives invaluable for my case.

O’Donnell writes, “The birth of his first child posed a painful quandary for novelist Jonathan Safran Foer: Would he serve turkey at his son’s first Thanksgiving? In Eating Animals, a work of nonfiction, Foer (author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) confesses to a lifelong ambivalence toward eating meat. Yet he cherishes memories of childhood meals at his grandmother’s house. At what point, he wonders, should ethical decision-making supplement, rather than supersede, rich and important traditions at table?”

Foer even does research for the case and then asks the essential question. O’Donnell continues, “Spurred by the arrival of his son, Foer set out to decide. He spoke with animal and agribusiness authorities; visited farms and slaughterhouses; and even donned his muckraking boots, breaking into a turkey warehouse along with an animal activist in the middle of the night. But what began as a silly adventure ended in heartbreak: Foer and his friend discovered a barn floor covered with tens of thousands of turkey chicks, many of them deformed, seriously injured, or expired, “as desiccated and loosely gathered as small piles of dead leaves.”

“The book’s tone evolves from twee precocity to stunned outrage to profound grief as Foer acquaints himself with the suffering endured by the tens of billions of animals bred for our food each year. Should he pass this system on to the next generation?”

O’Donnell concludes, “Eating Animals makes the plaintive case that if history and tradition are not exactly trumped by animal suffering, they certainly ought to be informed by it.”

The key here is “informed by.” Foer joins a long list of persons who have served as agents of knowledge in this crusade. Beginning as early as 1906 with the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and followed more contemporaneously by the Hare Krishna movement, PETA, Singer, and other vegetarian organizations, knowledge of animal suffering in factory farming is being made widely available in society. Perhaps we have not yet reached the tipping point where everyone can be assumed to be aware of this animal suffering, but I contend that we are close enough to that point to press the case for conspiracy.

Now when I make my final address to the jury in a trial of all six conspirators I can stress that once you are informed you become responsible for your choices, and such responsibility carries the possibility of guilt for murder through conspiracy if you choose to be involved in animal slaughter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Feast and Famine: Meat Production and World Hunger

By Mark Hawthorne (about the author)

For OpEdNews: Mark Hawthorne - Writer

Hanging in the Newseum in Washington, DC, is a photo that is about as heart-rending an image as you’re likely to find anywhere. Taken by Kevin Carter for The New York Times in 1993, the photo depicts a starving Sudanese toddler crumpled on the ground, as if her stick-like legs could no longer bear the weight of her large head and swollen stomach, bloated from the malnourishment disease called kwashiorkor. While that alone is disturbing, what makes the tableau truly haunting is the vulture patiently waiting just a few feet behind the emaciated child. This photograph earned Carter a Pulitzer Prize and epitomized the toll famine is taking on developing countries around the world.

Tragically, of course, hunger has only become an even graver issue in the last 15 years -- a point made clear in a report released July 29 from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Recommending urgent action for long-term relief, the CSIS report calls for “a strategic U.S. approach to the global food crisis.”

“Food crisis,” however, implies some recent, short-term cause and effect, when in fact the “perfect storm” of rising energy costs, grain hoarding, government subsidies, drought and the demand for biofuels diverts attention from an entrenched industry and a remedy neither the CSIS nor many social activists want to contemplate: eliminating meat production.

“Whoa!” you say. “Don’t take away my steaks and cheeseburgers.” Meat-eating is such an ingrained aspect of Western culture that proposing its demise, even to save the world, deserves some discussion. Fair enough.

The United Nations estimates that 854 million people -- nearly 13 percent of the world’s human population -- go hungry every day. And the problem is only getting worse. Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN’s World Food Program, says, “The world’s misery index is rising.”

So is our hunger for meat. As Gene Baur observes in Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food, in 1950, 50,000 farms produced 630 million “meat” chickens in the United States. By 2005, the U.S. had 20,000 fewer farms -- but they were producing 8.7 billion chickens for meat. That’s a lot of chicken feed. In fact, every year industrial animal factories in the U.S. feed 157 million metric tons of legumes, cereal and vegetable protein to livestock, resulting in 28 million metric tons of animal protein for human consumption. Nutritious plant-based food that could feed humans instead goes to feed animals in a very inefficient use of resources.

Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC, states it succinctly: “People go hungry because much of arable land is used to grow feed grain for animals rather than people.” He offers as one example the Ethiopian famine of 1984, which was fueled by the meat industry. “While people starved, Ethiopia was growing linseed cake, cottonseed cake and rapeseed meal for European livestock,” he says. “Millions of acres of land in the developing world are used for this purpose. Tragically, 80 percent of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses which are fed to animals for consumption by the affluent.”

The demand for meat has been especially dramatic in developing countries. “China’s meat consumption is increasing rapidly with income growth and urbanization, and it has more than doubled in the past generation,” says Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. As a result, land once used to provide grains for humans now provides feed for chickens and pigs.

The USDA and the United Nations state that using an acre of land to raise cattle yields 20 pounds of usable protein. If soybeans were grown instead, that same acre would yield 356 pounds of protein. Animal agriculture also wastes valuable water resources. Population biologists Paul and Anne Ehrlich note that a pound of wheat can be grown with 60 gallons of water, whereas a pound of meat requires 2,500 to 6,000 gallons.

Here’s another way to look at it. According to the aid group Vegfam, a ten-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, ten people growing corn and only two people producing cattle. Reducing meat production by just ten percent in the U.S. would free enough grain to feed 60 million people, estimates Harvard nutritionist Jean Mayer. Sixty million people -- that’s the population of Great Britain, which, by the way, could support 250 million people on an all-vegetable diet.

Not surprisingly, the meat industry has a beef with these statistics. They say, for example, that the grains and soybeans fed to farmed animals are not of the high quality that humans would expect to eat (tell that to a starving child). Yet it’s difficult to dispute the fact that animal agribusiness uses land and water that could be used to grow plant foods for human consumption.

As Rifkin observes, it is ironic that millions of consumers in developed countries are dying from diseases of affluence such as heart attacks, diabetes and cancer, brought on by eating animal products, while the poor in the Third World are dying of diseases of poverty caused by being denied access to land to grow food grain for their families.

“We are long overdue for a global discussion on how to promote a diversified, high-protein, vegetarian diet for the human race,” says Rifkin, whose book Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture addresses the moral paradoxes of eating meat.

Are those steaks and cheeseburgers really worth all the lives they take -- human and non-human? It would be na├»ve to think the world will go vegetarian overnight, or even in a few decades. But looking at Carter’s powerful photograph, I can’t help but believe we have been woefully mistaken in how we treat those with whom we share this planet. If we hope to bequeath a sustainable world to future generations, we’ll have to shake loose this meat-produced disaster and embrace a kinder way of living.

Mark Hawthorne is the author of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism (

Mark Hawthorne is the author of Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism (

Friday, December 18, 2009

Trusting Nature As The Climate Referee

Trusting Nature as the Climate Referee

Published: December 14, 2009 in the New York Times

Imagine there’s no Copenhagen.

Should climate policy be set by the climate? Join the discussion.

Imagine a planet in which global warming was averted without the periodic need for thousands of people to fly around the world to promise to stop burning fossil fuels. Imagine no international conferences wrangling over the details of climate policy. Imagine entrusting the tough questions to a referee: Mother Earth.

That is the intriguing suggestion of Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph in Ontario who, like me, is virtuously restricting his carbon footprint by staying away from Copenhagen this week. Dr. McKitrick expects this climate conference to yield the same results as previous ones: grand promises to cut carbon emissions that will be ignored once politicians return home to face voters who are skeptical that global warming is even a problem.

To end this political stalemate, Dr. McKitrick proposes calling each side’s bluff. He suggests imposing financial penalties on carbon emissions that would be set according to the temperature in the earth’s atmosphere. The penalties could start off small enough to be politically palatable to skeptical voters.

If the skeptics are right and the earth isn’t warming, then the penalties for burning carbon would stay small or maybe even disappear. But if the climate modelers and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are correct about the atmosphere heating up, then the penalties would quickly, and automatically, rise.

“Either way we get a sensible outcome,” Dr. McKitrick argues. “The only people who lose will be those whose positions were disingenuous, such as opponents of greenhouse policy who claim to be skeptical while privately believing greenhouse warming is a crisis, or proponents of greenhouse gas emission cuts who neither understand nor believe the I.P.C.C. projections, but invoke them as a convenient argument on behalf of policies they want on other grounds even if global warming turns out to be untrue.”

Dr. McKitrick is in the skeptical camp himself and has published critiques of the past warming trends reported at weather stations on the earth’s surface (like the data now being re-examined after the much-publicized hacking of e-mail messages and files of British climate scientists). But he says that temperature readings from satellites and weather balloons are trustworthy enough to use for monitoring future trends.

Specifically, he proposes tying carbon penalties to the temperature of the lowest layer of the atmosphere (called the troposphere, which extends from the surface of the earth to a height of about 10 miles). He suggests using the readings near the equator because climate models forecast pronounced warming there.

These temperature readings could be incorporated into the kind of cap-and-trade system being negotiated in Copenhagen, which is intended to impose limits on the amount of greenhouse emissions. If the atmosphere warmed, the cap would be tightened to lower greenhouse emissions; if it cooled, the cap would be loosened.

But it would be even better, Dr. McKitrick says, to use the temperature readings as the basis for a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade system. Like many economists and environmentalists, he argues that the carbon tax would be more effective at reducing emissions because it is simpler, more transparent, easier to enforce and less vulnerable to accounting tricks and political favoritism.

The carbon tax might start off at a rate that would raise the cost of a gallon of gasoline by a nickel — or, if there were political will, perhaps 10 or 15 cents. Those numbers are all too low to satisfy environmentalists worried about climate change.

But if the climate models are correct, Dr. McKitrick calculates, within a decade his formula would cause the tax to at least double and possibly sextuple — with further increases on the way if the atmosphere kept heating. The prospect would give immediate pause to any investors trying to decide today what kind of cars, power plants and other long-range energy projects to finance. To estimate future profits, they would need to study climate.

“The best results will accrue to firms incorporating the most accurate climate forecasts into their decision making, precisely the kind of forward-looking behavior environmentalists want to encourage,” Dr. McKitrick writes. “Consequently, it’s not the case that we have to wait until it is ‘too late’ to respond to global warming. The market will force investors to make the best possible use of information and to press for improvements in climate forecasting in the process.”

The revenues from a carbon tax might be refunded to the public, as Dr. McKitrick and others have suggested, or the money might be spent developing low-carbon energy sources, as recommended in the journal Nature by two economists from McGill University, Isabel Galiana and Christopher Green. After comparing different climate-change strategies for the Copenhagen Consensus Center, they recommend committing at least $100 billion per year to energy research and development by dedicating the revenues from a global carbon tax.

It would take some diplomacy to work out a formula for tying carbon penalties to temperatures — which temperatures to count, how much to weight trends. Some researchers question whether the tropical atmosphere is the best measure, and they fear that climate science could become even more politicized if it is directly tied to taxes. (For reactions to Dr. McKitrick’s proposal, go to

But negotiating a temperature tax wouldn’t necessarily be any more complicated or acrimonious than the emission cuts being debated in Copenhagen. Instead of arguing about the reliability of forecasts by computer modelers, instead of issuing competing prophecies, both sides would have to abide by what actually happens in the atmosphere.

By starting off with a small penalty for carbon emissions, politicians wouldn’t have to take the blame for imposing immediate pain on the public. The pain, if it came, wouldn’t be felt until later — and at that point they wouldn’t have to take direct responsibility anyway.

They wouldn’t have to vote for higher taxes and utility bills. They could blame it all on Mother Earth, and she never has to worry about being re-elected.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Vatican Looks To The Heavens

We suggest anyone interested in question of life in the universe, including the Vatican, investigate the Vedic models of the arrangement of life in the universe, models which are rigorous in their scientific and logical methodology

An excellent contemporary book in this regard is "Alien Identities: Ancient Insights Into Modern UFO Phenomenon" by renowned Vedic scholar Richard L. Thompson

From Google News

By ARIEL DAVID (AP) – Nov 10, 2009

VATICAN CITY — E.T. phone Rome. Four hundred years after it locked up Galileo for challenging the view that the Earth was the center of the universe, the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.

"The questions of life's origins and of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe are very suitable and deserve serious consideration," said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, an astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory.

Funes, a Jesuit priest, presented the results Tuesday of a five-day conference that gathered astronomers, physicists, biologists and other experts to discuss the budding field of astrobiology — the study of the origin of life and its existence elsewhere in the cosmos.

Funes said the possibility of alien life raises "many philosophical and theological implications" but added that the gathering was mainly focused on the scientific perspective and how different disciplines can be used to explore the issue.

Chris Impey, an astronomy professor at the University of Arizona, said it was appropriate that the Vatican would host such a meeting.

"Both science and religion posit life as a special outcome of a vast and mostly inhospitable universe," he told a news conference Tuesday. "There is a rich middle ground for dialogue between the practitioners of astrobiology and those who seek to understand the meaning of our existence in a biological universe."

Thirty scientists, including non-Catholics, from the U.S., France, Britain, Switzerland, Italy and Chile attended the conference, called to explore among other issues "whether sentient life forms exist on other worlds."

Funes set the stage for the conference a year ago when he discussed the possibility of alien life in an interview given prominence in the Vatican's daily newspaper.

The Church of Rome's views have shifted radically through the centuries since Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1600 for speculating, among other ideas, that other worlds could be inhabited.

Scientists have discovered hundreds of planets outside our solar system — including 32 new ones announced recently by the European Space Agency. Impey said the discovery of alien life may be only a few years away.

"If biology is not unique to the Earth, or life elsewhere differs bio-chemically from our version, or we ever make contact with an intelligent species in the vastness of space, the implications for our self-image will be profound," he said.

This is not the first time the Vatican has explored the issue of extraterrestrials: In 2005, its observatory brought together top researchers in the field for similar discussions.

In the interview last year, Funes told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano that believing the universe may host aliens, even intelligent ones, does not contradict a faith in God.

"How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Funes said in that interview.

"Just as there is a multitude of creatures on Earth, there could be other beings, even intelligent ones, created by God. This does not contradict our faith, because we cannot put limits on God's creative freedom."

Funes maintained that if intelligent beings were discovered, they would also be considered "part of creation."

The Roman Catholic Church's relationship with science has come a long way since Galileo was tried as a heretic in 1633 and forced to recant his finding that the Earth revolves around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.

Today top clergy, including Funes, openly endorse scientific ideas like the Big Bang theory as a reasonable explanation for the creation of the universe. The theory says the universe began billions of years ago in the explosion of a single, super-dense point that contained all matter.

Earlier this year, the Vatican also sponsored a conference on evolution to mark the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species."

The event snubbed proponents of alternative theories, like creationism and intelligent design, which see a higher being rather than the undirected process of natural selection behind the evolution of species.

Still, there are divisions on the issues within the Catholic Church and within other religions, with some favoring creationism or intelligent design that could make it difficult to accept the concept of alien life.

Working with scientists to explore fundamental questions that are of interest to religion is in line with the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made strengthening the relationship between faith and reason a key aspect of his papacy.

Recent popes have been working to overcome the accusation that the church was hostile to science — a reputation grounded in the Galileo affair.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II declared the ruling against the astronomer was an error resulting from "tragic mutual incomprehension."

The Vatican Museums opened an exhibit last month marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first celestial observations.

Tommaso Maccacaro, president of Italy's national institute of astrophysics, said at the exhibit's Oct. 13 opening that astronomy has had a major impact on the way we perceive ourselves.

"It was astronomical observations that let us understand that Earth (and man) don't have a privileged position or role in the universe," he said. "I ask myself what tools will we use in the next 400 years, and I ask what revolutions of understanding they'll bring about, like resolving the mystery of our apparent cosmic solitude."

The Vatican Observatory has also been at the forefront of efforts to bridge the gap between religion and science. Its scientist-clerics have generated top-notch research and its meteorite collection is considered one of the world's best.

The observatory, founded by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, is based in Castel Gandolfo, a lakeside town in the hills outside Rome where the pope has his summer residence. It also conducts research at an observatory at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Climate Debt, Climate Rage

From Naomi Klein at Rolling Stone (click here to read the whole article)

Justin Lin, chief economist at the World Bank, puts the equation bluntly: "About 75 to 80 percent" of the damages caused by global warming "will be suffered by developing countries, although they only contribute about one-third of greenhouse gases."

Climate debt is about who will pick up the bill. The grass-roots movement behind the proposal argues that all the costs associated with adapting to a more hostile ecology — everything from building stronger sea walls to switching to cleaner, more expensive technologies — are the responsibility of the countries that created the crisis. "What we need is not something we should be begging for but something that is owed to us, because we are dealing with a crisis not of our making," says Lidy Nacpil, one of the coordinators of Jubilee South, an international organization that has staged demonstrations to promote climate reparations. "Climate debt is not a matter of charity."

Monday, December 14, 2009

There's A Bone To Pick With Meat Eaters

There's a Bone to Pick With Meat Eaters
Growing grain for feed instead of food may be humanity's greatest evil yet.

Hundreds of millions of people are going hungry every day all over the world because much of the arable land now is being used to grow feed grain for animals rather than food grain for people. Grain-fed cattle, pigs, chickens and other livestock, in turn, are being consumed by the wealthiest people on the planet while the poor go hungry.

Unfortunately, when agricultural ministers from around the world gather at the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization's World Food Summit in Rome on June 10 to discuss how to feed a burgeoning human population, the issue of feed grain versus food grain will not be on the official agenda. It should be.

In the past half a century, we have erected an artificial, worldwide protein ladder, with grain-fed beef and other meats on the top rung. Affluent populations, especially in Europe, North America and Japan, devour the bounty of the planet. The transition of world agriculture from food grain to feed grain represents a new form of human evil, with consequences possibly far greater and longer lasting than any past wrongdoing inflicted by men against their fellow human beings. Today, more than 70% of the grain produced in the United States is fed to livestock, much of it to cattle. Unfortunately, cattle are energy guzzlers, considered by some to be the Cadillacs of farm animals. In the U.S., 157 million metric tons of cereal, legumes and vegetable protein suitable for human use are fed to livestock to produce 28 million metric tons of animal protein that humans consume annually.

Cattle and other livestock are devouring much of the grain produced on the planet. This is a new agricultural phenomenon, one that began in the U.S. at the start of the 20th century and spread to other countries after World War II. The transition from forage to feed has taken place with little debate despite the fact that it has had a more pronounced impact on the politics of land use and food distribution than any other single factor in modern times.

In the developing countries, land reform periodically has spawned populist political uprisings. Still, while ownership and control of land have been issues of great public debate, how the land is used has been of less interest. Yet the decision to use the land to create an artificial food chain has resulted in misery for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Bear in mind that an acre of cereal produces five times more protein than an acre devoted to meat production; legumes (beans, peas, lentils) can produce 10 times more protein; leafy vegetables 15 times more protein.

The global corporations that produce the seeds, farm chemicals and cattle and that control the slaughterhouses and the marketing and distribution channels for beef are eager to tout the advantage of grain-fed livestock.

In the 1970s, many nations followed the advice of the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, which suggested switching to coarse grains that could be more easily consumed by livestock. World meat production has risen fivefold.

The shift from food to feed continues apace despite the growing hunger of an increasingly desperate humanity. The human consequences of the transition from food to feed were dramatically illustrated in 1984 in Ethiopia, when thousands were dying each day from famine. The public was unaware that, at the same time, Ethiopia was using some of its agricultural land to produce linseed cake, cottonseed cake and rapeseed meal for export to Britain and other European nations to be used as feed for livestock.

Tragically, 80% of the world's hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, much of which is in the form of feed fed to animals that will be eaten by well-to-do consumers. Thirty-six percent of the world's grain is fed to livestock. In the developing world, the share of grain fed to livestock has tripled since 1950 and now exceeds 21% of the total grain produced. In China, the share of grain fed to livestock has gone from 8% to 26% since 1960. In Mexico, the share rose from 5% to 45%, in Egypt from 3% to 31% and in Thailand from 1% to 30% in the same period.

The irony of the food production system is that millions of wealthy consumers in developed countries increasingly are dying from diseases of affluence--heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and cancer--brought on by gorging on fatty grain-fed beef and other meats, while the poor in the Third World are dying of diseases of poverty brought on by being denied access to land to grow food grain for their families.

Consuming large quantities of grain-fed beef and other meats is viewed by many as a basic right and a way of life. The underside of the beef culture, in which displaced people search desperately for their next meal, is rarely considered. There is likely to be plenty of talk at the World Food Summit about how to increase food production. No doubt the biotech companies will be there, touting their genetically modified "wonder seeds." Developed countries and nongovernmental organizations will talk about extending food aid. Other countries will talk about more equitable global trade agreements and securing higher prices for their commodities. There may even be some discussion about the need for agricultural land reform in poor countries.

What is likely to be virtually absent from the debate is talk about the food preferences of the world's wealthier consumers, who favor eating at the highest point on the global food chain while their fellow human beings starve. We are long overdue for a global discussion on how best to promote a diversified, high-protein vegetarian diet for the human race.

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of "Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture" (Plume, 1992) and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Food For Life Global!

To learn more about Food For Life global, and to participate, click here for their website.

Food for Life projects span the globe and all have unique local aims and objectives. However, all Food for Life projects will have the following underlying aims and objectives as part of their overall strategy.

  • Welfare: To provide karma-free vegan or vegetarian meals to the disadvantaged, malnourished and victims of disaster (natural or manmade), wherever there is a need in the world.

  • Education: To establish Food for Life Education centers throughout the world. These centers will provide free or inexpensive karma-free vegetarian meals, counseling, yoga, and living skills training as taught in the Vedic tradition.

  • Youth Development: To establish Rural Academies for Youth (“Food for Life R.A.Y. of Hope"), whereby people from the ages of 16-25 are trained in bhakti yoga, cow protection, and sustainable agriculture, centered on spiritual values as taught in the Vedic tradition.

  • Non-Violence: To reduce the amount of animals slaughtered for food, by giving as many people as possible the higher taste of karma-free vegetarian food.

  • Hospitality: To revive the ancient Vedic culture of hospitality, and to teach people by example, that there is spiritual equality among all beings.

FOOD FOR LIFE Global is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization registered in the State of Maryland, USA. Food for Life Global is the international headquarters for Food for Life - the world´s largest vegan/vegetarian food relief. Food for Life Global is funded mainly by member donations and corporate grants.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Science and Religion

From Dandavats

(Dr. J. Chakrabarty, Florida State University)

At the outset, I would like to apologize to the discerning reader for using an absurd title, which implies that science and religion are mutually exclusive areas, while in actual fact they are two different aspects of one and the same reality. In modern times, there is a common tendency to regard physical science as constituting the entire field of scientific knowledge, and to dismiss anything that falls outside its limited domain as unscientific.

This deplorable tendency of identifying a part for the whole betrays a frame of mind that is contrary to what is considered as scientific The main purpose of writing this article is to point out the need to include spiritual science as an integral part of a much broader field of scientific knowledge, and to indicate an appropriate means of achieving possible reconciliation between the two conflicting schools of thought.

According to the spiritually rich Vedic tradition, which is also the oldest religious and cultural tradition of mankind, every aspect of the secular or spiritual knowledge is one
of numerous manifestations of an eternal and omnipotent reality which the ancient seers designated as Brahman, our aim of life being to realize our oneness with this reality. It is therefore essential for us to make use of our secular knowledge in a manner that will help us to move toward this goal without hindrances.

The spectacular advancement of physical science, which has helped us to understand the mode of working of Nature, offers us a unique opportunity to achieve this, provided we choose to utilize the results of physical science for the benefit of mankind. This is precisely where the spiritual science comes in to our rescue. The object of a genuine religion is therefore to complement the knowledge of physical science by providing it with a spiritual counterpart, to enable us to make the right decision and act accordingly.

Consequently, a true religion must be equipped with all the essential features of being thoroughly scientific on spiritual matters, and should not be based on a mere faith that cannot be justified by critical reasoning. Similarly, a worthy follower of physical science should have a frame of mind that is ready to accept the idea of spiritual science, which has been vindicated by the teachings of a number of spiritually enlightened beings who came to this world to show us the way to achieve spiritual perfection.

A religion that is opposed to the concept of critical thinking fails to serve any useful purpose, just as an indiscriminate use of the results of physical science with no regard for the moral consequences is always counterproductive;

The ancient religion of the Vedas is exceedingly rich in its philosophical content, and is at the same time completely scientific in its outlook. It is capable of providing a sound basis for a reconciliation between science and religion as perceived by the modern mind. Religion, according to the vedic principles, is essentially a device for making us decent human beings, not an organized institution founded on a set of dogmas that are not open to intellectual scrutiny.

Although the ultimate truth, according to the Vedas, cannot be arrived at with the help of reasoning alone, a spiritual truth is considered as one that does not contradict reasoning. There is a strong emphasis, therefore, on the need to purify our intellect with the help of a suitable spiritual discipline, so that we are able to make proper use of the faculty of reasoning. Incidentally, the Vedic religion describes the highest state of spiritual perfection as vijnana, which means supreme scientific achievement..

The remarkable achievements in the field of physical science have created a sense
of weakness among people for this important branch of human knowledge. Incidentally, they have also paved the way for a group of pseudo-scientists who are eager to exploit the common sentiment in trying to promote ideas, born of their fertile imagination, as pieces of scientific truth. They seem to succeed in getting what they want not only by using the weight of their authority to the fullest extent, but also by adopting deceptive methods of presenting their views in the garb of science.

This deplorable practice has created a mass of superstition, in the name of science, which is more dangerous than some of the known forms of religious superstition, since many of these spurious conclusions are becoming an integral part of the modern education system. The fact that these results fail to satisfy proper intellectual and scientific scrutiny seems to have escaped notice of the modern intelligentsia. One such absurd theory that has received a great deal of publicity in recent times will be briefly discussed in what follow.

The so-called big bang theory of creation imagines a vanishingly small particle with an infinitely large mass as the starting point of creation of the universe, the origin and location of this fantastic particle being considered as immaterial. All of a sudden, an equally fantastic explosion took place to disintegrate this particle, generating innumerable material entities with finite masses and densities, and marking the beginning of time and space.

This theory evidently gives rise to several pertinent questions which its proponents are unable to answer. Even if we accept, for the sake of argument, the existence of the extraordinary initial particle, the occurrence of a spontaneous event such as the big bang, which requires an infinitely large supply of external energy, is totally unacceptable to the genuinely scientific mind. In the first place, it is impossible to have an effect without an appropriate cause, thereby violating the well established casual law for the occurrence of natural phenomena.

Secondly, an event can be identified only within a pre-existent frame of time and space, and to suggest that it is the other way round is simply absurd. Thirdly, the occurrence of a random explosion can only result in a chaotic state with resonating disorder, and it is hard to imagine how an orderly steady state could emerge without the damping effect of an external agency. These remarks, which are by no means exhaustive, should be sufficient to indicate the pseudo-scientific nature of the theory.

The big bang theory is generally associated with another theory that is based on an extraordinary concept of the universe, which is imagined to have a finite radius, and to contain all the heavenly bodies within its boundary. The universe is also supposed to be radially expanding outward, presumably into another universe of no consequence. Thus, the universe is given a different connotation from its accepted linguistic meaning.

The available astronomical data on the motion of distant galaxies, based on the relativistic Doppler principle, seem to suggest that these galaxies are moving away from us with a speed which is comparable with the speed of light. Assuming these observations to have a scientific validity, they seem to suggest a curious fact which needs to be addressed. If the universe had been expanding continuously with such a high speed for a considerable length of time, it could not have remained finite enough for astronomical observations to be possible on certain distant galaxies, thereby rendering the initial assumption invalid.

This objection must be resolved in a satisfactory manner before the validity of the theory of expanding universe could be truly established.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Greenhouse Hamburger

From our friend Ananda's excellent blog "Servant of The Servants"

The Greenhouse Hamburger

Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. For potatoes, the multiplier is 57

Beef consumption is rising rapidly, both as population increases and as people eat more meat.

Producing the annual beef diet of the average American emits as much greenhouse gas as a car driven more than 1,800 miles.

Most of us are aware that our cars, our coal-generated electric power and even our cement factories adversely affect the environment. Until recently, however, the foods we eat had gotten a pass in the discussion. Yet according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry. (Greenhouse gases trap solar energy, thereby warming the earth's surface. Because gases vary in greenhouse potency, every greenhouse gas is usually expressed as an amount of CO2 with the same global-warming potential.)

The FAO report found that current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone's lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.

In truth, every food we consume, vegetables and fruits included, incurs hidden environmental costs: transportation, refrigeration and fuel for farming, as well as methane emissions from plants and animals, all lead to a buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Take asparagus: in a report prepared for the city of Seattle, Daniel J. Morgan of the University of Washington and his co-workers found that growing just half a pound of the vegetable in Peru emits greenhouse gases equivalent to 1.2 ounces of CO2 as a result of applying insecticide and fertilizer, pumping water and running heavy, gas-guzzling farm equipment. To refrigerate and transport the vegetable to an American dinner table generates another two ounces of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases, for a total CO2 equivalent of 3.2 ounces.

But that is nothing compared to beef. In 1999 Susan Subak, an ecological economist then at the University of East Anglia in England, found that, depending on the production method, cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce. Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.

Raising animals also requires a large amount of feed per unit of body weight. In 2003 Lucas Reijnders of the University of Amsterdam and Sam Soret of Loma Linda University estimated that producing a pound of beef protein for the table requires more than 10 pounds of plant protein with all the emissions of greenhouse gases that grain farming entails. Finally, farms for raising animals produce numerous wastes that give rise to greenhouse gases.

Taking such factors into account, Subak calculated that producing a pound of beef in a feedlot, or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) system, generates the equivalent of 14.8 pounds of CO2 pound for pound, more than 36 times the CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emitted by producing asparagus. Even other common meats cannot match the impact of beef; I estimate that producing a pound of pork generates the equivalent of 3.8 pounds of CO2; a pound of chicken generates 1.1 pounds of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases.

And the economically efficient CAFO system, though certainly not the cleanest production method in terms of CO2-equivalent greenhouse emissions, is far better than most: the FAO data I noted earlier imply that the world average emissions from producing a pound of beef are several times the CAFO amount.

Solutions?What can be done? Improving waste management and farming practices would certainly reduce the "carbon footprint" of beef production. Methane-capturing systems, for instance, can put cows' waste to use in generating electricity. But those systems remain too costly to be commercially viable.

source: Scientific American

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On The Theory Of Evolution

From Dandavats

By Dr. J. Chakrabarty, Florida State University

The concept of evolution of species, generally attributed to Charles Darwin, actually had its origin thousands of years ago in ancient India, and formed the basis of the illuminating philosophy of the Vedas. Since Darwin lived at a time when the profundity of the Indian wisdom already made an indelible impression on the minds of the western savants, it is hard to imagine how Darwin could possibly have escaped the compelling influence of the Indian thoughts while formulating his theory of evolution.

Darwin differed, however, from the Indian views on evolution in several respects, all of which made his theory an intellectually unacceptable proposition. Three of the most conspicuous lines of difference between the two theories will be discussed in what follows:

1. Evolution, according to the Vedas, presupposes involution. This means that distinct attributes which remain dormant within the evolving entity simply unfold when the conditions become favourable for their manifestation. Thus, life evolves in matter just because life is already involved in matter, even as the essence of a tree is involved in the seed that producers it under suitable external conditions Similarly, mind evolves in life because mind is already involved in life, and does not make its appearance from an external source.

The Vedic literature is quite emphatic about the facts that a nonexistent entity can never be made to exist in any form whatsoever, and an existing entity can never be put out of existence, though it can be transformed into a variety of other forms. The Vedic theory is therefore fully consistent with the laws of physical science, and the hypothesis of involution ensures compliance with the principles of conservation of mass and energy in the process of evolution;

Darwin’s theory, on the other hand, seems to suggest that the various attributes which characterize the process of evolution are superimposed on the evolving entity, presumably from an external source which the theory fails to identify. The Darwinian theory of evolution therefore suffers from the logical fallacy of certain things coming into existence virtually from nowhere, which is untenable from the scientific point of view.

Indeed, no physical event can ever take place as a natural phenomenon without some kind of scientific reason behind it, any more than an apple can fall from the tree without the existence of the gravitational forces. The Darwinian theory of evolution also violates the well established casual law for the occurrence of phenomena.

2, According to the Vedic theory, an orderly process such as the evolution can never take place on its own, but requires the presence of an intelligent principle which is denied in Darwin’s theory. The Vedic seers duly recognized the indispensability of an intelligent principle, designated as Brahman, which forms an immutable substratum of the ever-changing phenomenal existence.

The visible changes that take place in the universe could not have been perceived without the existence of an unchanging reality, even as the events that take place in a movie could not have been possible without the presence of a stationary screen. The denial of this dual purpose of the intelligent principle seems to be a bigotry that goes counter the advancement of science.

It is quite unreasonable to suppose, as Darwin’s theory seems to do, that the insentient
Nature that operates on a set of physical principles over which it has no control whatsoever is capable of making crucial decisions and also implementing them in minute details. The idea of natural selection, which is an essential feature of the Darwinian theory, therefore seems to be logically inadmissible.

Indeed, any selection that occurs has nothing to do with the insentient Nature, nor with the ill-equipped living entity, but has everything to do with the absolute Brahman, the intelligent Principle, which ensures the evolution to proceed in the appropriate manner. It should be noted that natural instinct and intuition seem to be meaningless expressions from the scientific point of view, since naming is not explaining.

3. The Vedic theory is also emphatic about the fact that the process of evolution applies to the individual living entity, not to the entire species to which it belongs. It is the evolution of the individuals that accounts for the collective process of the evolution.

Darwin’s idea of the physical transformation of a lower form of species into a higher form is absurd, not only because such a thing has never been observed in the recorded history of mankind, but also because of the logical impossibility of bringing about the intrinsic changes in living entities, necessary for the attainment of higher states of mind, by means of mere physical changes in them. The Darwinian theory is also incapable of explaining the observed differences between individuals within the same species, since they are simultaneously generated and ought to be identical in all respects.

The Vedic theory, on the other hand, explains the evolution of species with the help of its unique philosophy of rebirth. The overwhelming body of evidence put forward. by eminent psychologists of modern times lends support to the existence of rebirth, which cannot be brushed aside as being a piece of superstition.

The acceptance of rebirth is indispensable in a realistic theory of evolution, since it makes a number of issues fall into a consistent pattern. According to the principle of rebirth, a living entity can take birth in a higher form of life when the lower form ceases to be useful for its further evolution, no miraculous metamorphism being necessary for this purpose. According to the theory of rebirth, different living entities belonging to the same species but at different stages of their evolution can easily coexist with different mental levels.
. .
The admission of rebirth makes the Vedic theory of evolution a much broader one than that of Darwin, since the attainment of human birth need not be considered as the culmination of evolution, Indeed, a single span of life is never enough to get rid of the animal propensities inherited from our subhuman ancestors.

The process of evolution therefore continues according to the Vedic law of karma, which is simply the casual law applied to the actions of individual living entity, until the individual attains perfection as a human being and is able to realize the unity of existence. It is such individuals who make real contributions to the advancement of mankind. The Vedic theory is also capable of explaining the reason why certain individuals are found to be exceptionally gifted in certain areas of human accomplishment.

Indeed, it is not by a miracle, but with the help of sustained efforts made over the spans of several lives that one could acquire such exceptional qualities. The Darwinian theory is not concerned with such things at all.