Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Spiritual Feelings” Aren’t Worth A Million Dollars, Sorry

San Francisco Peaks

What the hell?  This is a case that highlights the inherent problems in basing a socioeconomic system primarily on increasing market access and unceasing capitalist growth.

Take this case: the Snowbowl Ski Resort in Arizona wants to expand the size of its ski resort.  It has a $12 million dollar plan to create fake snow in the San Francisco Peaks – north of Flagstaff – using recycled sewage and waste water.  However, the Peaks are also sacred land for (among others) the Hopi, Navajo, and Havasupai Nations.  In a suit brought by various Native American Nations against the Snowbowl, a 3-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explicitly recognized that the Peaks “are sacred to at least thirteen formally recognized Indian tribes, and that this religious significance is of centuries’ duration” (pdf). 

To be sure, there are environmental implications in using wastewater as snow.  Chemicals from pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, and pesticides can be persistent organic pollutants (POPs).  They tend to be long-lived, accumulate in living organisms, and some – such as atrazine – are endocrine disruptors.  But the panel specifically mentioned the religious implications of using poop water on the sacred ground of all these Nations, noting that this would violate their religious freedom.

However, in an appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court re-heard the case en banc, and in an 8-3 decision, reversed this claim.  This time, they found that the proposed development would do little more than damage “spiritual feelings,” and “give one religious sect a veto” over public lands.  Good news for the developer, who noted that “A healthy business economy is good for everybody. That’s just an economic reality.”

So there you have it.  Economic development and “progress” trump the religious freedom and rights of Nations.  Maybe it’s their own bad luck to have a religion based around the adoration of nature and the outdoors, considering that these are prime spots for real estate.  Even though balancing developmental needs and environmental claims can be really difficult, I’m not sure we’re served by having a system that posits recreation is more important, and has more legal standing than centuries old beliefs.  Well, it seems that the Native American Nations have an ancient and marvelous culture.

For me to poop on.

(Sign this petition, and take it to the White House).

The Sputnik Moment and Environmentalism

There is some interesting language around the fact that, last year, China invested $120 billion in green energy, while the US invested only $20 billion (this, despite the fact that China has less than 1/2 the GDP of the US).  Secretary Chu of the Department of Energy described the situation as the US’ “Sputnik Moment,” indicating that the US was in danger of being left behind in what – as indicated by the language – is going to be an ‘arms race’ in green tech.  Senior officials in the Obama administration are described as “worried” about this development, and concerned about the loss of US dominance in this sector.

Now, it is true that the specter of an ‘arms race’ in green tech seems like a good thing.  Certainly, the cost of solar panels has dropped by 30%, in large part due to China’s investment.  Moreover, the idea that the US will start spending in R&D in this area is – given the fact that the US is one of the top per-capita emitter of GHGs (pdf) – an attractive one.

However, I can’t help but feel dismayed at the idea that something as vital to global security, combating climate change, has become a source of conflict and tension, and one described by language invoking the Cold War and domination.  The Cold War was characterized by a winner-take-all, zero-sum attitude, with minimal scope for cooperation.  The idea that international relations should be driven primarily by this mindset, in large part, is why the environment is in its current state.  Development at all costs, the quest for natural resources, the dependence on oil for military readiness.  Sure, the framework of international conflict may have some environmental benefits, but it doesn’t strike me as an especially sustainable one.

Middlebury College Solar Decathlon

This is a really fantastic project here.  Very briefly, students at Middlebury College designed and (with the help of contractors) built a farmhouse that is entirely solar-powered, and made with local and/or sustainably produced materials.  See more information here:  Solar Decathlon

The team has taken the farmhouse to DC to compete in an international faceoff of sustainability.  Vote for them in the People’s Choice Awards by going here:  People’s Choice Awards.  Middlebury, represent.

The Dangers of Mainstream Environmentalism

We can all agree that as a society, each step we take towards greater sustainability is a good thing.  Slow our consumption of resources.  Recycle, when possible.  And support “green” behavior.  However, we should be very cautious about promoting green consumerism when it leads to outcomes like this: a corporation whose raison d’etre is based around extracting cheap oil for mass commodification and profit cannot meaningfully be said to be acting “sustainably” because they have acquired LEED certification for – of all things – a gas station.

If you look closely at the billboard in the photo of this article, you can see the slogan “A little better.”  I imagine it’s a “little better” for the Earth in much the same way being impaled by a spear with a diameter of 2″ is “a little better” than being impaled by one with a diameter of 2 1/2″

BP LEED certified gas station