Canary Island, El Hierro, Goes Totally Renewable

I’m in the mood for good news only today. From a blog called Development Crossing:

Madrid’s government announced Tuesday that El Hierro, one of the smallest of Spain’s Canary Islands, is to receive 100 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy sources.

El Hierro will rely on a combination of hydroelectricity and wind power to generate its electricity. “El Hierro will be the first island in the world totally supplied by renewable energy,” the ministry said. The technology associated with this task includes a system involving two reservoirs to power hydroelectric stations, a wind farm and a pumping system.

I wondered about El Hierro, so I did some searching and found the video below. It’s an aerial tour of the island. You don’t learn much about the renewable energy projects (although the tour does pass by some windmills) but you do get a sense of some of the exquisite landscape and architecture of the island.

Hat tip to Bullnotbull.com for the link.

The Uncalculated Costs of War

The costs of war that are often least calculated and appreciated are the ones that are less immediate and obvious. Somewhere down the rutted road of tomorrow, when American troops are safely home and the nation struggles to move on, the epidemic that is already in our midst will continue to exact a high cost. Those who have already sacrificed so much will sacrifice still more. As will their families. As will we all, ultimately. Now and for many years to come, the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will do battle with the demons that they have brought home from these faraway lands. These demons will spawn post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide, substance abuse, relational difficulties, domestic violence, antisocial behavior, homelessness, and a host of other ills. The costs of treating such—or, as is often the case, of neglecting such—will leave future generations of Americans with the debt of their prodigal forebears. All the while, the casualties will accrue.

From Reuters:

Worries grow over mental health of U.S. soldiers

Retired U.S. Navy medic Charlie Anderson twice thought about committing suicide: once when he feared he would be sent back to Iraq in 2004 and again last year when a friend and fellow veteran killed himself.

“I can’t say that I can’t go because we don’t do that, I also can’t go because I’m putting people in danger if I do,” he said of his first brush with suicidal thoughts, which came while he was awaiting his second deployment.

In the end, Anderson was not deployed but it sparked a two-year effort to get help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one of thousands of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan facing a battle to re-enter everyday life.

While much of the attention has been on physical wounds like traumatic brain injuries, as well as squalid living conditions for recovering soldiers, doctors, families and lawmakers are expressing growing concerns that veterans are not be getting the right mental health help.

Those worries come as President George W. Bush has ordered almost 30,000 more troops to Iraq. Already 1.5 million soldiers have been deployed in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, with one-third serving at least two combat tours, which increases the chances of PTSD.

Despite finally receiving treatment, Anderson finds himself in the middle of a divorce and still constantly on edge — jumpy at loud noises and always eyeing the exits of rooms.

“I have triggers every day, but I’m learning how to deal with them,” he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 12 percent to 20 percent of those who served in Iraq suffer from PTSD. A 2004 Army study found 16.6 percent of those returning from combat tested positive for the disorder. [full text]

From the San José Mercury News:

Soldiers’ crimes signal need

One night last July, Iraq war veteran Nicholas Rusanoff followed his neighbor, Peter Losher, into the parking garage of their Redwood Shores apartment complex.

Rusanoff was breathing heavily. His eyes were wide open, and his hands were clasped behind his back. He demanded the keys to Losher’s Volkswagen Jetta, and Losher quickly complied.

“As I was getting out of the vehicle, he looked at me and said, `You’re not Iraqi, you’re not Iraqi,'” Losher later testified at a court hearing. “I said, `No, I am not.'”

Losher said he could hear Rusanoff screaming in pain as he drove away.

Rusanoff, 25, is one of a growing number of soldiers who have returned from the war in Iraq only to become entangled in the criminal justice system at home.

Some have committed minor offenses; others are facing serious charges of domestic violence and even homicide. Many are struggling with psychological issues as they try to adjust to civilian life.

No one tallies the number of soldiers and veterans in the criminal justice system, so it’s impossible to know how many criminal cases involving Iraq war veterans are pending nationwide. But as the war enters its fifth year this month, the conflict is coming home in yet another painful way. [full text]

The Means to the Mean Streets

When Al-Qaeda terrorists commandeered aircraft and flew them into buildings, they employed violence as a means to an end. When President Bush authorized the invasion and occupation of Iraq, he employed violence as a means to an end. When gang members engage in drive-by shootings and turf wars, they employ violence as a means to an end. When the state straps prisoners down and executes them, it employs violence as a means to an end. While the ends may vary in these examples—along with the perceived morality of the conduct—the means remain inescapably brutal. And the message is brutally inescapable: violence provides a way to resolve problems or conflict.

It is one thing when those who are utterly deranged or enraged employ violence. It is quite another when those who are ostensibly levelheaded and thoughtful employ such means. In the latter case, violence is imbued with a certain legitimacy born of implied rationality—which lends it a more powerful appeal and, therefore, makes it much more dangerous. When seemingly reasonable individuals, particularly those in a position of leadership and authority, permit themselves to utilize violence (almost always by proxy), they permit others to follow their lead. In short, they model a way of thinking and acting that encourages the use of violence. And innocents pay the price.

From the New York Times:

Trying to Disarm the Dangerous World That Students Live In

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—During the spring of his sophomore year in high school here, Jeffrey Johnson took the standardized tests that Florida requires for promotion and graduation. He scored in the 93rd percentile in reading and the 95th in math. That same semester, he earned straight A’s.

Two years later, in May 2006, Jeffrey was about to graduate summa cum laude, having received a full college scholarship. Days before commencement, at the age of 17, he was shot to death at a party during an argument about his car. His graduation mortarboard was found near his body.

For Paul Moore, who had taught Jeffrey in an advanced social studies class at Miami Carol City Senior High School, a terrible question began to emerge. It all turned on the concept on accountability. Jeffrey had proved accountable to the state by passing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. But what about the accountability the state had to keep Jeffrey alive?

Jeffrey was the third Carol City student shot to death during the 2005-6 academic year. By the first semester of this year, two more had been killed in gun violence. It was then that Mr. Moore decided to do something more than deliver eulogies, visit weeping parents and initiate class discussions about all the senseless death.

He drafted a petition, expressing his righteous anger. (“Anger� indeed was the word, for it derives from the Norse “angr,� which means grief at the wrongness in the world.) The petition appealed to the newly elected governor, Charlie Crist, to “make Florida’s schools and the communities around them ‘measurably’ safer� and it concluded, “You are accountable to us for it!�

In the past month, several thousand people have signed the petition. It is not being forwarded, in the modern way, on the Internet. Instead, volunteers take paper versions into classes, churches, offices; a copy even turned up among some teachers in Chicago. Mr. Moore’s words have reached to the heart of something.

“I see these kids as the canary in the coal mine,� said Mr. Moore, 53. “They’re the first to go. But ultimately all our lives are in danger. I know there are personal failures here, but you have to give children a chance to live long enough to make moral choices. The Preamble of the Constitution says the government must guarantee the general welfare. They’ve failed. They’ve failed. These children shouldn’t be dying.� [full text]

Indeed, they should not be dying. But when the so-called leaders of this nation devote greater attention and resources to stemming the violence on the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah than on the streets of Miami and Washington, DC, and when they continue to recklessly employ violence as a means to an end and model unhealthy ways of resolving problems and conflict, then for all intents and purposes they are loading the guns that kill our children. Shouldn’t they be more accountable?

Burger King Goes Animal-Friendly

Burger King is agreeing to change its policies on the treatment of animals used in its products. The New York Times has the story:

In what animal welfare advocates are describing as a ‘historic advance’, Burger King, the world’s second-largest hamburger chain, said yesterday that it would begin buying eggs and pork from suppliers that did not confine their animals in cages and crates.

The company said that it would also favor suppliers of chickens that use gas, or ‘controlled-atmospheric stunning’, rather than electric shocks to knock birds unconscious before slaughter. It is considered a more humane method, though only a handful of slaughterhouses use it.

The goal for the next few months, Burger King said is for 2 percent of its eggs to be ‘cage free’, and for 10 percent of its pork to come from farms that allow sows to move around inside pens, rather than being confined to crates. The company said those percentages would rise as more farmers shift to these methods and more competitively priced supplies become available.

The cage-free eggs and crate-free pork will cost more, although it is not clear how much because Burger King is still negotiating prices, Steven Grover, vice president for food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance, said. Prices of food at the chain’s restaurants will not be increased as a result.

While Burger King’s initial goals may be modest, food marketing experts and animal welfare advocates said yesterday that the shift would put pressure on other restaurant and food companies to adopt similar practices.

‘I think the whole area of social responsibility, social consciousness, is becoming much more important to the consumer’, said Bob Goldin, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm. ‘I think that the industry is going to see that it’s an increasing imperative to get on that bandwagon.’

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, said Burger King’s initiatives put it ahead of its competitors in terms of animal welfare.

‘That’s an important trigger for reform throughout the entire industry’,Mr. Pacelle said.

Burger King’s announcement is the latest success for animal welfare advocates, who were once dismissed as fringe groups, but are increasingly gaining mainstream victories.

Last week, the celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck announced that the meat and eggs he used would come from animals raised under strict animal welfare codes.

And in January, the world’s largest pork processor, Smithfield Foods, said it would phase out confinement of pigs in metal crates over the next decade.

Some city and state governments have banned restaurants from serving foie gras and have prohibited farmers from confining veal calves and pigs in crates.

Temple Grandin, an animal science professor at Colorado State University, said Smithfield’s decision to abandon crates for pregnant sows had roiled the pork industry. That decision was brought about in part by questions from big customers like McDonald’s, the world’s largest hamburger chain, about its confinement practices.

‘When the big boys move, it makes the entire industry move’, said Ms. Grandin, who serves on the animal welfare task forces for several food companies, including McDonald’s and Burger King.

Burger King’s decision is somewhat at odds with the rebellious, politically incorrect image it has cultivated in recent years.

Its commercials deride ‘chick food’ and encourage a more-is-more approach to eating with its turbo-strength coffee, its enormous omelet sandwich, and a triple Whopper with cheese.

Burger King executives said the move was driven by their desire to stay ahead of consumer trends and to encourage farmers to move into more humane egg and meat production.

‘We want to be doing things long before they become a concern for consumers’, Mr. Grover said. ‘Like a hockey player, we want to be there before the puck gets there.’

He said the company would not use the animal welfare initiatives in its marketing. ‘I don’t think it’s something that goes to our core business,’ Mr. Grover said.

Beef cows were not included in the new animal welfare guidelines because, unlike most laying hens and pigs, they continue to be raised outdoors. Burger King already has animal welfare standards for cow slaughter, he said.

The changes were made after discussions with the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, known as PETA. [full text]

Open Letter to Cranston City Council

I was not able to attend last night’s City Council meeting (a cold, and a baby with a cold being factors). This is the letter from Cranston Citizens for Responsible Zoning and Development to the City Council, addressing the events that took place:

Dear Cranston City Council Members:

We filled the Council chamber on Monday, March 26, to show support for your ordinance to expand the Zone Board membership and for your resolution to reaffirm commitment to the people of Ward 2. We brought statements of encouragement for your efforts to stand up to John Mancini and the concrete plant, and we were prepared to read them and tell you how much we appreciated your decision to take matters in hand and act decisively. What we witnessed once again was a “back room” decision to avoid confrontation with the Cullion legal team, the latest in a series of “agreements” and “postponements” and “tabled” motions which has strengthened the opposition and enabled their efforts to prolong a legal battle over a permit that should have been revoked months ago.

And when residents expressed their displeasure at the Council’s decision and their disappointment at being denied an opportunity to comment, your reaction was to call in the police. Since most of the audience consisted of elderly residents, what was the need for police officers? Was it “crowd control”, or was it an attempt to silence dissent and intimidate those who came to ask for your continued support?

Your actions on Monday were shameful, and many who have trusted you are now beginning to doubt that you have the will or the ability to prevail over Cullion Concrete and their legal team. The promises made last fall have been replaced with excuses; the problem remains unsolved. The concrete tower is still there, the Cranston building permit is still in place, and the City of Cranston is still opposing residents who are trying to protect their homes. We expected more from you.

Sincerely,

Frank Mattiucci, President

Things are starting to look much worse for the residents of Ward 2, particularly those who live in close proximity to the Cullion Concrete Plant that is being built. We can only hope that the DEM acts properly under the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency, in terms of protecting wetlands and preventing the building of this concrete plant in an area that floods easily.

Asian Rivers Face Rising Pollution

If you’re burned out on reading about global warming, perhaps this environmental story will lift your spirits (NOT!). This article from the Asia Times tells of how China’s rivers are being depleted and polluted by the do-or-die race to industrialize:

Water in the Indus River is so clouded that the native dolphin has in effect lost its eyesight and has to detect prey and other objects through sound waves.

More than half of all the industrial waste and sewage in China flows into a single waterway, the Yangtze. And tributaries of the Ganges, one of Asia’s greatest cultural and religious treasures, are running dry because of the crippling burden of irrigation.

Such has been the legacy of the frantic Third World rush to industrialize at any cost, according to a landmark study by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) that was released as part of World Water Day on Thursday.

It found that 21 of the world’s greatest rivers, including the Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Ganges, Indus and Tigris-Euphrates in Asia, were struggling to survive against the tide of man-made pollution and the diversion of water through dams, pipes and irrigation.

“We’re talking about a complete collapse of the system – they’re so polluted, so over-extracted or so cut up by dams that it’s really not functioning as a river anymore,” said Tom Le Quesne, freshwater-policy officer at WWF. “It’s a challenge that humanity faces not far off the scale of climate change.”

So many lives depend on these river systems that the economies of emerging Asia could be ravaged and there could be immense social upheaval, including the loss of food security and employment. About 450 million people draw water, food and electricity supplies from the Yangtze alone, while many more use it for transportation. [full text]

Endangering the Endangered Species Act

If you care about this planet and the diversity of species that inhabit and enrich it, then the following exposé by Rebecca Clarren at Salon.com should set your teeth entirely on edge:

Inside the secretive plan to gut the Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is maneuvering to fundamentally weaken the Endangered Species Act, its strategy laid out in an internal 117-page draft proposal obtained by Salon. The proposed changes limit the number of species that can be protected and curtail the acres of wildlife habitat to be preserved. It shifts authority to enforce the act from the federal government to the states, and it dilutes legal barriers that protect habitat from sprawl, logging or mining.

“The proposed changes fundamentally gut the intent of the Endangered Species Act,” says Jan Hasselman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, who helped Salon interpret the proposal. “This is a no-holds-barred end run around one of America’s most popular environmental protections. If these regulations stand up, the act will no longer provide a safety net for animals and plants on the brink of extinction.”….

In some ways, the proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act should come as no surprise. President Bush has hardly been one of its fans. Under his reign, the administration has granted 57 species endangered status, the action in each case being prompted by a lawsuit. That’s fewer than in any other administration in history — and far fewer than were listed during the administrations of Reagan (253), Clinton (521) or Bush I (234). Furthermore, during this administration, nearly half of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who work with endangered species reported that they had been directed by their superiors to ignore scientific evidence that would result in recommendations for the protection of species, according to a 2005 survey of more than 1,400 service biologists, ecologists and botanists conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit organization.

“We are not allowed to be honest and forthright, we are expected to rubber stamp everything,” wrote a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist as part of the survey. “I have 20 years of federal service in this and this is the worst it has ever been.”….

Written in terse, dry legal language, the proposed draft doesn’t make for easy reading. However, the changes, often seemingly subtle, generally serve to strip the Fish and Wildlife Service of the power to do its stated job: to protect wildlife. Some verge on the biologically ridiculous, say critics, while others are a clear concession to industry and conservative Western governors who have long complained that the act degrades the economies of their states by preventing natural-resource extraction.

One change would significantly limit the number of species eligible for endangered status. Currently, if a species is likely to become extinct in “the foreseeable future” — a species-specific timeframe that can stretch up to 300 years — it’s a candidate for act protections. However, the new rules scale back that timeline to mean either 20 years or 10 generations (the agency can choose which timeline). For certain species with long life spans, such as killer whales, grizzly bears or wolves, two decades isn’t even one generation. So even if they might be in danger of extinction, they would not make the endangered species list because they’d be unlikely to die out in two decades.

“It makes absolutely no sense biologically,” wrote Hasselman in an e-mail. “One of the Act’s weaknesses is that species aren’t protected until they’re already in trouble and this proposal puts that flaw on steroids.” [full text]