Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reading as a Revolutionary Act

Taksim Square Book Club, reading as revolution, great environmental books

Just over a month ago we all watched as Turks in Istanbul and elsewhere protested the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park and the increasing authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. The protest has evolved from sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations, some of which were harshly squashed by the Turkish authorities, to silent vigils and book-reading.

According to Aljezeera, a new form of resistance is emerging, known as the "Standing Man". Initiated by performance artist Erdem Gunduz, who stood with his hands in his pockets facing the Ataturk Cultural Center in Taksim Square for eight hours, the Standing Man has now merged with public reading and education to become the Taksim Square Book Club. Now we have individuals standing in the square and simply being a presence or reading a book. Those reading books chose some of the 20th Century's classics, including Orwell's 1984 and Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus, along with modern works of Turkish and world literature. View a terrific slideshow of this revolutionary act here.

This summer we could all take page from the actions of Taksimites and gather to read Thoreau's Walden, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, or any other number of environmental classics to protest climate inaction, fracking on public lands, overuse of pesticides and lack of leadership on biodiversity loss. We could gather and read, and educate ourselves and each other. The revolution is ready and waiting -- all it needs is us.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Obama and Climate Change -- What about Conservation?

President Obama, climate change, biodiversity crisis
Obama's Climate Speech (Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama finally addressed the problem of climate change in a 45-minute speech at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He began with an impressive summary of the facts of climate change, calling carbon “pollution”, stating that twelve of the last fifteen years have been the warmest on record, that arctic ice has diminished to its smallest size on record and that the ocean temperatures have reached record highs. He also mentioned last week’s heat wave in Alaska and the drought and heavy rains of the Midwest.
            From there, he discussed how these effects have costs for all of us and said that, because the science was sound, we had to act. He wondered if we had the courage to act before it’s too late.
            To his credit, he proposed limits on pollution from power plants and mentioned ending fossil fuel subsidies. However, though he still did not come out against the Keystone Pipeline and instead left himself some wiggle room, saying that it would only be approved if it was in the nation’s best interests.
            It was a speech that was heavy on new technologies, as if renewable energies can solve our problems. Unfortunately, though he talked about using energy more efficiently and wasting less energy, he made no mention of actually using less energy, which also needs to be part of the solution. If we’re to transition off fossil fuels to 100% renewables, we simply can’t keep consuming energy the way we have been. Either that, or we’ll have to give up pristine wilderness and public lands for wind farms. I’m all for wind power, but not at any cost.
            Factoring consumption into the equation is also important to bring home the message that we are over-consuming the environment. One of the main causes of species loss is habitat destruction, usually from land converted to agriculture (typically cattle). In fact, if we developed a silver bullet and solved our energy problems tomorrow, we would still have the biodiversity crisis to solve.
            Obama said, “We all share a responsibility for keeping the planet habitable,” and this means we’re going to need to do more than transfer to renewable energies. We have to examine our entire environmental footprint and reduce it.

See the complete transcript of Obama's speech here, and a discussion of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity here