Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Haitian earthquake deathtoll may be revised sharply downward

June 1, 2011

It would be nice to know that less than 316,000 people died in the January 2010 Haitian earthquake. News reports from the AP and the NY Times are suggesting that a new US government-sponsored report will show many fewer Haitian deaths.

A US-Commissioned report has said that far fewer than 316,000 people died in the massive earthquake in Haiti on January 12 last year.

The Associated Press said that the report projects that the death toll was between 46,000 and 85,000, far below the Haitian government’s official figure of 316,000. The report was prepared for the U.S. Agency for International Development but has not yet been publicly released, AP said.

Early reports from the leaked document suggest that numbers of homeless may also have been overreported. But all this may come down to differing methodologies for measuring such things. One hopes that the flow of aid to Haiti will not be threatened if the numbers are challenged. It was still a disaster of mind-blowing proportions.

The Emerging Environmental Majority

February 17, 2011

Christina Larson at the Washington Monthly has an article that contains one of the best potted histories of American environmental movements (yes, plural) that I’ve seen lately. (She also explains why some of us reject the label environmentalist.) She traces the contribution of hunters, anglers, and foresters on the first wave of American environmental policies, and of farmers, hydrologists, and soil conservation scientists on the second wave. She describes well the third wave, as 1970s urban and suburban pollution fighters as counterparts to the conservationists already on the scene (and usefully explicates the professionalization of the environmental movement into a DC-based watchdog mode after the bipartisan passage of landmark environmental legislation in the Nixon era).

When it comes to describing the present, however, she seems to engage in a little wishful thinking. She quotes a leading environmental group’s CEO as claiming that global warming will almost certainly “be the glue that brings everyone together.”

I’m not so sure. There has been an intentional strategy for the last five years to connect all other environmental concerns to global warming–to create an umbrella issue under which all other concerns find their place. In the process, all sorts of useful collaborations and conversations about other environmental issues have significantly slowed. It has led to more polarization, not less, and the complicity of the mass media in the strategy has led many Americans to believe that the dangers of global warming have been exaggerated.

Climate change is a threat to our economy and the economies of other nations, whether or not people are causing it. We can certainly find common ground on strategies and investments to protect the poor from natural disasters, even if anthropogenic global warming has been exaggerated. Investments in energy efficiency save money, reduce pollution, and create healthier cities–but enforcing a “this-is-really-about-global-warming” orthodoxy repulses many willing partners in that enterprise. Clean energy technologies (including nuclear energy done right) are something that global warming advocates and skeptics might agree on, if the conversation were about something other than reducing greenhouse gases (like public health, or national security). Liveable, walkable neighborhoods make the lives of all kids, all elders, and all disabled people healthier, regardless of their beliefs about the climate system. Addressing biodiversity loss and the decline in ecosystem services required for flourishing economies is necessary whatever our stance on climate science and policy.

Unfortunately, most of the possibilities for common ground get lumped by greens into the category of “co-benefits”: a strange label which makes it sound as if these benefits are really side-effects of trying to fix global warming. That means potential partners are still asked to see themselves supporting an agenda they may not support. That’s asking a lot.

In the process of finding other things to work on, global warming advocates, skeptics, and the ambivalent will find that they have a lot in common (love of family, concern for the poor, care for future generations, sense of place). It may feel like changing the subject instead of winning a argument, but we’ve gone about as far as we can go in the public debate over global warming, thanks to the politics which have infected our public square and even our scientific establishment.  Nature is slowly providing the data we need to reach stronger conclusions about climate change, but we dare not let our paralysis about climate keep us from the rest of the task of stewarding natural resources for the common good.

Larson’s “environmental majority” is already here, and has been for sometime. Americans are already agreed that we cherish clean water, clean air, healthy food, a rich natural heritage, and vibrant natural resource-based economies. We can’t wait for the emergence of a “climate majority” to rededicate ourselves to the task of caring for these essentials.

Haiti post-election update

December 8, 2010

They announced the Haiti election results, and it appears that vote-rigging and fraud landed the establishment candidate a second-place finish, less than 1% over the favored candidate of the Haitian street (carnival singer Michel “Sweet Mickey” Martelly). That means Martelly is out of the runoff, unless something changes. The US Embassy immediately released a press release challenging the credibility of the announced results, which are at odds with what poll observers predicted (they predicted the establishment candidate, Jude Celestin, would be out in the first round). Top vote getter was the wife of a former Haitian President, Manigat. The combination of Martelly being out and Celestin being in has enraged many people.

Lots of protests, rock throwing, tire burning, sporadic shooting, last night. Sounds calm where I am this morning, but the air outside is pretty thick with smoke from tires. My friend and I have been told not to show up to work–it would have been about a half-hour drive, and there are already lots of barricade throughout the city, and people toss a random rock at passing cars, so no point risking a broken window.

I’m in a safe place in the city of Port-au-Prince, where I can work here today and probably get more done than if I was down at the UN base anyway. But all the messiness does hamper my work plan for the rest of my stay–we’ll see if it is possible to travel tomorrow or Friday.

The election mess comes on top of the release of a report by a French epidemiologist yesterday that attributes the cholera outbreak to UN peacekeeping troops from Nepal. That doesn’t endear people the to international presence here.

And I’m sure that all this disruption will make it nearly impossible for people deathly ill with cholera to make their way to the already-difficult-to-reach cholera treatment centers.

Long hiatus nearly over

September 15, 2010

As some of you know, I spent the summer with my family in earthquake-stricken Haiti working for a large intergovernmental organization. I’ll reflect some on what I did in the coming days. Sorry it’s been so long.

Toyotas (and Fords) 600 times more dangerous than media reports

February 9, 2010
Car crash

Why do Americans have so many car crashes? It's the amount of time we spend in cars

An estimated 19 people have died in crashes related to unexpected acceleration in Toyota-made vehicles over the last decade. This has led to a national uproar, dominating the news cycle and flooding dealers with recalled autos to repair.

I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to put the problem in perspective. In a year, Toyota drivers, if they are like other drivers, put about 11,400 miles on their vehicle.
Ten years of driving (114,000 miles, give or take), times
the number of vehicles involved in the recall (8 million),
the total miles driven by recalled vehicles over 10 years (912 billion miles; that’s 9.12 x 10^11 for you exponentially-minded people)

So dividing the number of deaths (19) by the total miles driven gives an estimated risk of death from sudden acceleration:
2 deaths per 100 bn vehicle miles traveled

To put that in perspective, in 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calculates your risk of dying from an automobile accident at 1270 deaths per 100 bn vehicle miles traveled.

Hmmm. That means that you are over 600 times more likely to die in an automobile fatality in ANY make of car than you are to die from Toyota’s flawed acceleration system. Statistically speaking, stuck accelerators and faulty floor mats just don’t matter.

Getting in a car is inherently dangerous.

But it is worse than that. By building our cities the way we have since World War II, we in the United States are virtually forcing our citizens to make very dangerous choices, if they want to work, go to school, go to the doctor, or shop. Relatively few Americans live in neighborhoods where they can choose not to have a car, largely because we’ve built our cities on the cheap, failing to provide public transportation alternatives, outlawing mixed-use developments through perverse zoning policies, and subsidizing development on the margins of our cities with public money. In the case of land-use and transportation, we get exactly the system our policies promote.

Getting in a car is dangerous, and it’s hard to avoid getting in a car. It’s even dangerous for people who aren’t in the cars.

While we’ve abandoned the American landscape to the automobile, the death rate from traffic fatalities in the US, for passengers, drivers, and pedestrians, has leapfrogged past every other cause of death for children over the age of one, and it remains the leading cause of death even for young adults.

Citizens in the U.S. are twice as likely to die from automobiles as citizens in the United Kingdom, to take another developed world example; and we have the highest risk of any developed country, not because our roads are more dangerous, or our cars more deadly. Our death rate is sky-high because we expect people to drive everywhere, and therefore we spend much more time in cars than folks in other countries. We’ve built a landscape in which no one is seriously expected to walk or bike to any destination. This has an effect on our obesity rate, and on all the diseases driven by being overweight (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, stress, cancer). But the main health effect is on the number of Americans who die in the traffic epidemic.

But we take this deadly epidemic (and the corresponding injury rates) without blinking, having become convinced that it is somehow natural to have 35,000 Americans die each year on the road.

There are alternatives: it is possible to design healthy places that are not only safe but which cultivate community, flourishing economies, and happy families. For ideas, check out the Healthy Places section of the CDC website, or these other resources on healthy places for community developers at Flourish’s website.

Related resources:
How your church can do a walkability audit
“Walking to Justice (Walkability, Justice, and Healthy Cities)” by Rusty Pritchard, from current PRISM magazine (Jan/Feb 2010)
Flourish resource list on Walkability, Liveability, and Justice (for the CCDA conference)
Congress for New Urbanism
CDC Healthy Places

Chicken stock for the soul

December 8, 2009

Ok, never mind chicken SOUP, even metaphorical soup. I’m talking stock, that liquid essence now reduced to something from a can or a bouillon cube, but which is the stuff of cooks’ dreams. Here’s what the Rombauers say about stock in The Joy of Cooking (my second favorite food book, after Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen):

Antique dealers may respond hopefully to dusty bits in attics, but true cooks palpitate over even more curious oddments: mushroom and tomato skins, fowl carcasses, tender celery leaves, fish heads, knucklebones, and chicken feet. These are just a few of the treasures for the stockpot–that magic source from which comes the telling character of the cuisine. (more…)

Friday is Buy Nothing Day

November 25, 2009

Buy Nothing Day is coming up, in case you forgot: the annual 24-hour moratorium on consumer spending, celebrated by people in over 65 countries, when more and more folks are saving money and avoiding the Christmas shopping crowds. Oh, and it’s the Day after Thanksgiving.

American Buy Nothing Day is Nov 27 this year, but overseas it is Nov 28.

Here’s how Adbusters recommends to take the plunge in buying nothing:

You know what they say: a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. You feel that things are falling apart – the temperature rising, the oceans churning, the global economy heaving – why not do something? Take just one small step toward a more just and sustainable future. Make a pact with yourself: go on a consumer fast. Lock up your credit cards, put away your cash and opt out of the capitalist spectacle. You may find that it’s harder than you think, that the impulse to buy is more ingrained in you than you ever realized. But you will persist and you will transcend – perhaps reaching the kind of epiphany that can change the world.

Of course, just expelling the demons of consumerism without filling the shell with abundant living is dangerous (as Jesus said). So Kendra Juskus, of Flourish, has posted some great ideas for what to do on and after the day the world calls Black Friday (so named because marks the transition of retailers balance sheets from being “in the red” to being “in the black”). In “Curing the Black Friday Blues,” she writes:

A coalition of Black Friday resisters is emerging, and its efforts are galvanizing folks to savor the un-buyable joys of the holiday season by creating gifts, purchasing gifts that support good work and ministry throughout the world, buying fairly made products, or buying nothing at all.

And also on the Flourish website is a fun, FREE, creative, nature activity for your beautiful Friday walk, when everyone else is in the shopping mall fighting for bargains. Send us a photo of your land art and we’ll post it on the web for others to see.

So take Friday off, not just from work, but from the treadmill of consumption that threatens to undermine the economy, our families, and the very planet itself.

Give thanks to the Lord this Thanksgiving (the real Earth Day).

This post will appear this week as part of ESA’s ePistle newsletter.

News story on Southeastern Baptist Creation Care Conference

November 18, 2009

Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote a synopsis of the conference I spoke at October 31 and November 1. The conference was called Creation Care: A Theology of Creation Stewardship.

…Saturday morning of the conference, Rusty Pritchard, a resource economist and the president and co-founder of Flourish, an environmental stewardship organization that equips churches to care for creation in ways that love God and help people, closed the conference by offering suggestions as to how Christians ought to respond to the creation care issues.

“I have become convinced more and more that the way we live is not just unsustainable, or bad for the planet, but it’s less than human,” Pritchard said. “God delights in his creatures. How can we delight in creation if we pay them no mind? Creation stewardship functions best when it arises organically from a love and respect for creation, but this passion is not self-generating. Somehow, in our fallen state, we don’t automatically love the things that God created good. This is a judgment on us, and not on God.

“We have to cultivate a love for the creatures God created,” Pritchard said. “Do we look at creation? Do we examine it? Do we live in it? Most of us don’t . We need to move – not from respect to reverence (for creation) – but to start with a different “r” which is regard.”

That last observation was inspired by Robert Kingsolver, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. He got me thinking about our lack of regard for creation over a year ago with a remark he made at Maryville College, and it has come to frame my own diagnosis of why we fail at creation care. We’re not even looking at creation, most of the time. Many of us recognize only a tiny fraction of the birds and trees in our own gardens. How can we love and care for what we only rarely encounter?

Waterproof Bible arrived

October 20, 2009
NIV Waterproof Bible

NIV Waterproof Bible

Hot (well, at least still-warm) off the press, my NIV Waterproof Bible was opened today. Flourish friend Bobby Bardin at Bardin & Marsee Publishing sent it a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve been on the road nearly non-stop. I’m glad to have it now and start using it. They’ve got a range of waterproof bible products–check out their catalog.

Is it really waterproof? I saw Bobby’s exhibit at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta last week, (more…)

Social justice and reduced calcification in planktonic foraminifera

April 1, 2009

So, you may be asking yourself, what does reduced calcification in modern Southern Ocean planktonic foraminifera have to with social justice? You can either read the study yourself (entitled "Reduced Calcification in Modern Southern Ocean Planktonic Foraminifera"), or read on in this post!

Excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doesn't stay put, thankfully. Various processes in the earth's systems remove carbon from the atmosphere, and these mechanisms have kept atmospheric carbon dioxide levels pretty stable for a long period of time. Everyone knows by now that plants take up carbon dioxide. But oceans absorb a lot more, and there is new evidence that one of the biological pumps removing CO2 from the atmosphere is giving out.