Tag: WikiPedia

Pebble Bay in Alaska

The challenge of what to ‘farm’ from our planet.

Last Sunday, after the mid-morning service, one of the congregation passed me a letter she had received from the Natural Resources Defense Council.  It was all about the proposed mine in Alaska known as the Pebble Mine.  She asked if I might write about it on Learning from Dogs.  WikiPedia introduces the project thus,

Pebble Mine is the common name of an advanced mineral exploration project investigating a very large porphyry copper, gold, and molybdenum mineral deposit in the Bristol Bay region of Southwest Alaska, near Lake Iliamna and Lake Clark. The proposal to mine the ore deposit, using large-scale operations and infrastructure, is controversial. Proponents argue that the mine will create jobs, provide tax revenue to the state of Alaska, and reduce American dependence on foreign sources of raw materials. Opponents argue that the mine would adversely affect the entire Bristol Bay watershed; and that the possible consequences to fish populations, when mining effluents escape planned containments, are simply too great to risk. Much of this debate concerns the tentative plan to impound large amounts of water, waste rock, and mine tailings behind several earthen dams at the mine site.

Proposed mine location

My instinct is to join the side of those protesting because, once again, it seems like another example of mankind working hard to exhaust every natural jewel in the planet’s crown.

Yet, I was also conscious that I’m sitting in front of a computer that will have it’s fair share of copper inside it and that we, as in Jean and me, use a whole range of sophisticated materials in our daily lives, ergo leading a life that genuinely reduces our footprint on Planet Earth is easier said than done.

Here’s one ‘protest’ website that sets out the reasons for not proceeding with this mine,

1. Bristol Bay is home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.
2. Pebble mine would generate toxic waste in a seismically active region.
3. A majority of the people of Bristol Bay do not want the mine.
4. Native people live in Bristol Bay, and they subsist off the land.
5. Bristol Bay is home to an abundance of animals that need pristine habitat.
6. Bristol Bay has thousands of rivers and streams that would be degraded.
7. Commercial and sport fishing jobs would be jeopardized.
8. Wild salmon provide us with omega-3 fatty acids.
9. The Pebble Limited Partnership is untrustworthy.
10. Future generations depend on us to protect their most important and lasting legacy–the land.

There is a website that supports the project, where you will read their ‘core value’ expressed as, “Responsible mining technologies that actively support a healthy, respectful and sustainable co-existence with the environment and Southwest Alaska culture.

Ultimately, it all comes down to there being too many people competing for too few resources.  Nay, worse than that.  It comes down to too many people living on this small planet, over-consuming what the planet can deliver and running out of time.  There are millions who instinctively feel very uncomfortable about the future but, as yet, no global movement with real political power to make a difference.

That, I regret, is the core issue for humanity.

Spare a drink for the dogs!

A delightful trip down memory lane.

That’s Life was a very long-running programme on BBC TV in the UK.  As Wikipedia writes, “That’s Life! was a magazine-style television series on BBC1 between 26 May 1973 and 19 June 1994, presented by Esther Rantzen throughout the entire run, with various changes of co-presenters.”

I had just about forgotten this silly item presented on That’s Life back in 1986 but thanks to fellow Brit, Dusty M. living here in Payson, it has re-surfaced.

Still fun to watch some 25 years later. (Can’t explain why this YouTube video has Dutch subtitling!)

And for those that enjoy sentimental recollections, the video below is the last few minutes from the very last programme on the 19th June, 1994.

Ah, nostalgia!

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace

Three very thought-provoking films

Over the last week we have watched all three 0ne-hour films made by the BBC, aired in 2011,  under the title of the heading of this post, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.  The films are available on the website Top Documentary Films, the direct link is here.  As that website explains,

A series of films about how humans have been colonized by the machines they have built. Although we don’t realize it, the way we see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. It claims that computers have failed to liberate us and instead have distorted and simplified our view of the world around us.

1. Love and Power. This is the story of the dream that rose up in the 1990s that computers could create a new kind of stable world. They would bring about a new kind global capitalism free of all risk and without the boom and bust of the past. They would also abolish political power and create a new kind of democracy through the Internet where millions of individuals would be connected as nodes in cybernetic systems – without hierarchy.

2. The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts. This is the story of how our modern scientific idea of nature, the self-regulating ecosystem, is actually a machine fantasy. It has little to do with the real complexity of nature. It is based on cybernetic ideas that were projected on to nature in the 1950s by ambitious scientists. A static machine theory of order that sees humans, and everything else on the planet, as components – cogs – in a system.

3. The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. This episode looks at why we humans find this machine vision so beguiling. The film argues it is because all political dreams of changing the world for the better seem to have failed – so we have retreated into machine-fantasies that say we have no control over our actions because they excuse our failure.

Adam Curtis is a documentary film maker, whose work includes The Power of Nightmares,The Century of the SelfThe Mayfair SetPandora’s BoxThe Trap and The Living Dead.

As was eluded, the three films are deeply thought-provoking.  There is a ‘taster’ to the first film on YouTube, as below,

Adam Curtis, the film maker, has a blog site under the BBC Blogs umbrella.  The entry on that blog-site by Adam in connection with these films is here, and makes interesting reading.  It also includes a longer trailer than the one from YouTube, above.

Finally, there are comprehensive writings on all three films on the WikiPedia website here.  To give you a taste, here’s what was written about the third film,

The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey

This programme looked into the selfish gene theory which holds that humans are machines controlled by genes which was invented by William Hamilton. Adam Curtis also covered the source of ethnic conflict that was created by Belgian colonialism’s artificial creation of a racial divide and the ensuing slaughter that occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is a source of raw materialfor computers and cell phones.

William Hamilton went to Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while the Second Congo War was raging. He went there to collect Chimpanzee faeces to test his theory that HIV was due to a medical mistake. Unfortunately he caught malaria, for which he took aspirin, which caused a haemorrhage and he died. However his selfish gene theory lived on.

In 1960 Congo had become independent from Belgium, but governance promptly collapsed, and towns became battle grounds as soldiers fought for control of the mines. America and the Belgians organised a coup and the elected leader was assassinated, creating chaos. The Western mining operations were largely unaffected however.

Bill Hamilton was a solitary man, and he saw everything through the lens of Darwin’s theory of evolution. When he wanted to know why some ants and humans gave up their life for others, he went to Waterloo station and stared at humans for hours, and looked for patterns. In 1963 he realised that most of the behaviours of humans was due to genes, and looking at the humans from the genes’ point of view. Humans were machines that were only important for carrying genes, and that it made sense for a gene to sacrifice a human if it meant that another copy of the gene elsewhere would prosper.

In the 1930s Armand Denis made films that told the world about Africa. However, his documentary gave fanciful stories about Rwanda’s Tutsis being a noble ruling elite originally from Egypt, whereas the Hutus were a peasant race. In reality they were racially the same and the Belgian rulers had ruthlessly exploited the myth. But when it came to create independence, liberal Belgians felt guilty, and decided that the Hutus should overthrow the Tutsi rule. This led to a blood bath, as the Tutsis were then seen as aliens and were slaughtered.

So, all in all, this is a great personal recommendation and, it goes without saying, those of you that do watch the films and want to comment, would love to hear from you.

Where are we off to?

More musings on how this present civilisation is going to change, as change it must.

I have a sense that this article is going to spread across a number of posts.  Regular readers of Learning from Dogs will be aware that I am summarising Lester Brown’s excellent book, World on the Edge.  If you have missed those summaries, the last one, Part 4, was here. (Part 3 here, Part 2 here, Part 1 here.)

Details of this excellent book are on the Earth Policy Institute website including the opportunity to download the book for free.

OK, back to the theme of this article, very much connected with the mission of the EPI.

Jean and I watched a video last night from the website Top Documentary Films; great site by the way.  It was called 2210: The Collapse.  This was how the film was described on that website.

Imagine if hundreds of years from now, scientists excavated the abandoned ruins of some of our largest cities, what conclusions would they come to?

It happened to the Romans, the Anasazi, and the Mayans and, inevitably, one day our own modern civilization will also fall. In this two hour special discover how a future civilization might be baffled as to why the population of these once-great cities would suddenly abandon their technology and architecture, and turn their homes into ghost towns.

Some experts believe that there is a very real risk this could happen, and the collapse of the world as we know it is closer than we think.

Examining the parallels between cultures separated by hundreds of years, explore whether the key to preventing such a global collapse today could lie in finding renewable alternatives to our dwindling energy supplies and sustainable resources. Can we learn from the mistakes of the past before it’s too late?

Jared Diamond

In some ways the film didn’t cover any new ground despite it being an interesting way of approaching the subject of the future of our present civilisation.  But what was really worthwhile were the clips from three experts in their various fields.  They were the author Jared Diamond, Daniel Gilbert who is Professor of Psychology at Havard, and Joseph Tainter also an author.  There is much material around from these three gentlemen.

So I am going to start with Jared Diamond.  WikiPedia has Jared’s details.  The following is a video going back to 2003 which is no less relevant in terms of where we are in 2011.  (If you want more of Jared’s ideas, just let me know and they will be included in a future Post.)

“I’ve set myself the modest task of trying to explain the broad pattern of human history, on all the continents, for the last 13,000 years. Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents? This problem has fascinated me for a long time, but it’s now ripe for a new synthesis because of recent advances in many fields seemingly remote from history, including molecular biology, plant and animal genetics and biogeography, archaeology, and linguistics.”

JARED DIAMOND is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Until recently he was Professor of Physiology at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is the author of the recently published Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the widely acclaimed Guns, Germs, and Steel: the Fates of Human Societies, which also is the winner of Britain’s 1998 Rhone-Poulenc Science Book Prize.  (From here)