Monthly Archives: September 2006

The problem with trying to reduce greenhouse gases

You know the problem with greenhouse gas emissions and laws like the one passed by Governor Schwarzenegger is not that there aren’t people like him willing to do it but rather the process to see it through is a difficult one if not down right impossible. The BBC article raised two really good points about why it may not work.

Firstly, the rest of the US states and the federal bureaucrats must follow suit in order to have any effect. This is a big “if” which seems unlikely. The self-interest of America will always come first. And when George W Bush says it will hurt the economy the American public will believe him.

The second problem is that – according to the BBC again – is that those businesses which will be hurt by the law will simply pack up and go somewhere friendlier to their philosophy. That is why I do not see it making a big difference to the cause.

I may sound pessimistic but that has happened all too often before. And there is nothing different to this law being passed and other attempts like it.

So what is the solution? I do not know. But I know this much – our political practices must change. I do not know exactly what kind of political system needs to replace it (if it exists at all) but I know only it isn’t the one we have now. In short I am saying we need a new political paradigm.

California to cut greenhouse gas emission

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governor of California, has signed a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the first US state to do so. This is in direct conflict with current White House policy which sees any reduction being detrimental to its economy. Governor Schwarzenegger who like President Bush is a Republican. The law aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% before 2020.

British prime minister Tony Blair has praised the law saying “[it] will echo right around the rest of the world”.

And that is exactly what we will have to wait for. California alone cannot fix the problem but if other US states follow suit then we may see realistic reductions. America is still one of the highest in output greenhouse gases. So any kind of lead by them will truly echo around the world.

Safe searching with SiteAdvisor

Here is a great Firefox Extension that will keep you informed about suspicious sites by McAfee called SiteAdvisor. It works with both Google and Yahoo!’s search engines. If don’t know what Extensions are take a look at Wikipedia‘s entry.

There are many suspicious sites out there pretending to be legitimate ones through copied content but contain dubious links and other . By analysizing its pop-up, link information and emailing policy SiteAdvisor shows you if the site is safe (a green tick), questionable (a question mark) or unsafe (an exclamation mark or red cross) so you can decide whether you want to visit the site or not.

I also recommend Mozilla’s Firefox browser (over Internet Explorer) for better internet security and experience.

Books

Infrastructure – A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape, by Brian Hayes. W. W. Norton, 512pp.
This 500-plus page book entitled Infrastructure documents and explains everything manmade from oil refineries to manhole covers. It will even explain things like why US telephone exchanges are windowless (because the were thought during the cold war to better withstand a nuclear attack). Sounds like more of a homage to human ingenuity than postmodern critique. gleamed from the 16 September 2006 print edition of the Daily Yomiuri

A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, The Power of a Peacemaker, and North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions by Marion Creekmore Jr. PublicAffairs, 406pp.
A look at how Jimmy Carter’s diplomacy saved the day in 1994. Only available in hardcover. gleamed from the 16 September 2006 print edition of the Daily Yomiuri

Scientific American Special Issue: Energy’s Future Beyond Carbon, September 2006.
An excellent special issue on “how to power the economy and still fight global warming”.

How to host a world religion congress and become known to the world

I really love the BBC. They may have their scandals and problems but they are still world leaders in news reportage.

So Kazakhstan hosted a conference for world religions this week. Religious leaders from around the world gathered in this small former-Soviet country to talk about harmony and tolerance. Yet the BBC is nice enough to remind us that the host country has neither.

Undemocratic elections, strictly controlled state media and religious intolerance are some of the problems the host country is currently facing. Yet it chooses to host an event like this in the face of criticism. This is nothing new of course. Countries around the world play host these kinds of events all the time in the hope that their country will come out in the better light.

That is why we have postmodern theory – to expose these fraudsters. And I really do not know how these people face themselves in the mirror everyday. Just what do they see in themselves? Perhaps a nice clean “well-suited” image of themselves but not the ugly heart beneath the sleep’s clothes.

In the end it was nice to have the conferences of this type but sometimes I just wish we do them in places with more integrity. Or may be this was a message for revolution in a small country with its own problems? The door swings both ways I guess.

bttb

I haven’t gotten personal on my blog in a while. I had kind of lost my way in the wilderness so to speak.

For sometime now I have been fretting over the name and the purpose of the blog. I was trying to create a website instead of a blog. While content is important I had forgotten about how to live with the medium. So let’s get back to the basics.

This blog started with my interest in the environment and its problems and so I will return to them. It’s a blog so let’s get personal again. I have an interest in postmodern theory and the Buddha so don’t hide it but don’t let it obsess me.

A name change, a new header image, a clean up of the design and we’re back on track.

And one more thing: this blogger is going back to university to get more educated about sustainability so he can write a better blog about it (I lied. I am going back to school but it isn’t about the blog).

New magazine on sustainability – “Sasutena”

Japan – On the local scene a new magazine on sustainability is being published and will be available for free at university coop bookstores from October. The magazine Sasutena, short for sustainbility in Japanese, will be a quarterly publication.

According to the Daily Yomiuri newspaper the magazine is edited by Prof. Akimasa Sumi, 57, director of the Climate Research Center at Tokyo University and is published by Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science a group formed in April this year by nine universities and organizations which includes Tokyo University, Osaka University and National Institute for Environmental Studies.

Its purpose is to expand the awareness of the general public of this field of growing importance.

Honda to mass-produce bioethanol vehicles

Honda has announced it will begin mass-producing compact cars which will run off bioethanol. Bioethanol is a type of alcohol which is produced from sugar cane and corn and is considered an environmentally friendly solution that meets the the Kyoto Protocol requirements of zero emission because the carbon dioxide emitted from bioethanol vehicles and absorption rates by plants comes to zero.

According to Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper Honda will convert its Brazilian factories to produce about 30,000 vehicles annually because Brazil is the world’s leading nation in utilizing bioethanol in transportation.

Together with the Japan’s Research Institute of Innovative Technology, Honda has been able to produce ethanol efficiently from biomass (a renewable resource from plants). This means that the traditional resource of sugar cane and corn – a food source – will not be stretched or impinged upon.

This is a step in the right direction for the environment and for the Kyoto Protocol since nothing significant has come from car industry in a long while.

Interconnectness and Differance

In my last post I wrote about the Derridean concept of differance. The idea is meaning is made through the system of difference and that there is no self-contained inherent meaning in words.

Yet this formulation is neither new nor unique. Environmental philosophy’s concern for interconnected is one such instance.

In plain terms interconnectedness is about how all things in the ecosystem is connected, that nothing is an isolated entity without affecting other parts in the web of life. Just like meaning the words as system of difference interconnectedness suggests that everything is part of the system and cannot be separated from it. The loss of a species (or of even a single life) affects the balance and has consequences that simply cannot be observed or be known. Every “happening” in the system changes the the system.

Put in other words everything is absolutely relative and that a change in status of one thing changes the relation within the system. To think that each item within the system is isolated from each other is an ideal and not a reality for nothing exists in isolation except in the mind. It is a trick of the mind and a good one, one that has deluded us for a long time.

To me interconnectedness is a positive way of saying differance. The latter term is colder more scientific in its formulation. We only need to look at nature, the animals – the food chain – and the mountains and trees to see how everthing has a role in the web of life and that something cannot be seen as having no role in the system even if it seems it does not affect the system. We must respect and see the importance of everything. In short sustainability is about giving up our complacency going beyond our self-importance. And if we can do this then we will have advanced as a species.

Difference and Differance

I didn’t know it back then but I had been a structuralist in high school.

It was during my mid-teens that I had stumbled upon a truth: that good meant nothing except when seen against evil. Put another way good can only exist if evil existed. By being brought up in a Catholic school meant I had to think about these things. Sad but true.

So if we look at the Christian God his whole existence really depends on the existence of the devil. Even though this doesn’t make sense because God is suppose be the first, even preceeding time. But really God and the devil could be said to have come into existence simultaneously. This of course is looking at God and the devil as logos, symbols or words which represent an idea and not really at God from the Christian believer point of view (I do not believe in God or gods). And that these logos have only meaning in relation to each other without internally stable meanings.

So the view I had back then was really a Saussurean structuralist outlook but did not know until much much later (like until a couple of days ago). Saussure saw words or signifiers as a system of difference. Signifiers as one half of the sign (the other half being the signified) were in Saussure’s words arbitrary. This means any combination of letters chosen to be put together in a way to represent something only had significance when it was contrasted to (every) other combinations of letters within the system. So ‘bat’ and ‘bet’ by its difference of one letter represents two entities. But it needn’t be a difference of one letter. ‘Bat’ and ‘esophagus’ are different not only in the number of letters they have but also by the distance of how completely different these two signifiers are.

Later Jacques Derrida, the French theorist, chose to use the word differance instead of difference to further develop on Saussure’s discovery. While Saussure had already stated that signifiers are both arbitrary and without meaning (or “meaning” is only made through differences to all other signifiers) he failed to see the radicalness of it and follow through on its implications. By choosing to use a different signifier ‘differance’ instead of the normal ‘difference’ Derrida wanted first to highlight a nuance. Differance served as the ground for play of pronunication (difference and differance do not differ in their pronunciation, thus highlighting their sameness) as well as serving as the ground for play of similarity between ‘differ’ (as in difference) and ‘defer’ (that meaning is always delayed, never fully being there because signifiers are always empty in meaning).

Critics have accused Derrida of being clever without real substance. Yet there is nothing wrong with being clever while still having something significant to say. Some thinkers miss the point and attempt to play in the Derridean manner but lack his substance, and therefore give Postmodernism a bad name. While others forego the cleverness all together and get to the point but perhaps boring their readers somewhat.

In the best tradition of the sutras of the Buddha I will give you the four possible combinations, from worst to best. You can lack cleverness and have no substance. You can be clever but have no substance. You can lack cleverness but have substance, or you can be clever and also have substance.

Derrida was definitely the last. Most good theorist are probably second from last. Bad postmodernists who hide behind their cleverness fit in the second category. And we won’t even bother to mention who goes into the first category.