Saturday, September 21, 2013

Forget Alien Invaders, we need to save the earth from ourselves.

'Alien Invaders' photo (c) 2008, Shawn Rossi - license: weekend I watched a sci-fi alien invasion movie. I won’t tell which one so as not to spoil it for anyone who still wants to see it. In this movie, like so many other movies, the aliens were sucking down earth’s resources. Aliens had invaded the planet earth and nearly destroyed humankind in order to harvest earth’s natural resources. Though I’m not a huge fan of the sci-fi alien invasion movie genre, it seems nearly every movie involves aliens invading earth to mine earth’s resources (Independence Day, Battle: Los Angeles, Oblivion, etc…). Funny thing; in reality, I would say the real threat to earth isn’t from some alien invasion but rather from humans ourselves.

 Recently the Kansas City Star reported that the Ogallala Aquifer, “A vast underground lake beneath western Kansas and parts of seven other states could be mostly depleted by 2060, turning productive farmland back to semi-arid ground.” Citing the same study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Washington Post reports that drought conditions and thirsty crops have been causing farmers to pump ever-more water from the aquifer at a rate which will not be able to be replenished for perhaps thousands of years. If farmers in the Midwest don’t begin taking drastic measures, their grandchildren might be living in a true “Great American Desert.”

The problems of water over-usage are not limited to the Midwest either. The Colorado River, the most endangered waterway in America and the most litigated river on the planet, will most likely face water shortages in the near future. It was recently reported that the water delivery from the Colorado River will most likely have to be cut by 2016, and with the Colorado River Basin serving roughly 40 million people, a number expected to double by 2060, the future looks very dry. Not only is providing water for households and farmers an issue, but lower levels on the river will cause problems for southwest cities which survive off the hydro-electric power produced by massive dams on the river.

I could go on, citing other stories about over-mining the earth, over-taxing its limited resources, over-harvesting the planet we call home, but I think this makes the point. If the only reasons aliens would invade planet earth is to exploit its natural resources, then I think we’ve got nothing to worry about, because we humans are doing a good enough job of that ourselves.  As an Op-Ed columnist wrote, we’ve got to save (the earth) from us. Sustainability and thinking green have become buzz words over the last decade, and for good reason.  Humanity cannot continue to live at its present rate of consumption indefinitely into the future. The earth cannot sustain it. 

'Earth - Global Elevation Model with Satellite Imagery' photo (c) 2012, Kevin Gill - license: back our consumption is particularly unpopular in America amongst the big-business capitalists, who have thrived off of humans consuming as much as possible, while also getting to those raw materials to create such as goods as cheaply and irresponsibly as possible.  America basically lives with the idea that there will always be “more,” which  I think this has been part of the national psyche since the early settlers, when the rationale was of “Manifest Destiny” and a wide open wild west, ready to be conquered. I find it particularly troublesome when politicians speak of leaving our children and grandchildren with massive debt yet show no concern regarding the earth with which we will leave them to live on.
Whether the earth runs out of resources first or rather our reckless pursuit of resources ruins vast sections of earth to the point of it being uninhabitable, the future looks very bleak if we as humans do not change our level of consumption. Sustainability is not a dirty word, it’s just about living within our means, being reasonable, and trying to leave our children and grandchildren a safe, healthy world to live

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The truth always hurts – Especially when it comes from Vladimir Putin

It never feels good to hear a negative critique of yourself—especially when the criticism rings true.  While its often said, and often the case, that those closest to us can hurt us the most, it seems that the voices that often stick in the back of our head the longest are the disparaging words of our enemies.   I think it’s because not only are the words hard to hear, but they’re coming from a person we loathe. Perhaps this is why politicians from both sides of the aisle spoke out so strongly against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Op-Ed in the New York Times.  In a piece published September 11 (the timing seeming all too planned), Putin made his case why the United States should not be pursing violent military intervention in Syria.

'Vladimir_Putin' photo (c) 2005, inkjetprinter - license:’s letter is hardly explosive.  He begins by being honest about the sometimes rocky political relationship between the U.S. and Russia since they were allies during WWII.  He explains that the organization started to prevent another world war, the United Nations, should be taking the lead in matters of international conflict.  Making an argument from history, Putin argues that America acting unilaterally on the international stage undermines the UN, and “no one wants to see the United Nations suffer the fate of the League of Nations.”  For the non-historians among us, the League of Nations was the forerunner to the UN, spearheaded by then US President Woodrow Wilson after WWI in the hopes of preventing another world war. Well, sure enough another world war did occur, and the League of Nation was basically impotent in part because of the refused participation by the United States. 

Putin doesn’t deviate much from the facts beyond, highlighting that the conflict in Syria is not “a struggle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi religious country.” He also twists the knife a bit painfully for any American politician reading this piece when he points out that Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly good examples of American interventionism, which leads him to make the point that

“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.” Can anyone really disagree?  In my own lifetime, I can think of the first Gulf War, Somolia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq again.  Putin does assert that the poisonous gas used in Syria was done by the opposition forces—NOT the Syrian regime—in order to gain international support.  While this seems a bit convenient for Putin, since Russia is an ally of Syria, the United States doesn’t have a good track record on weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Remember how the Bush administration had “no doubt” that Iraq possessed WMD’s? And historically, there is precedence that a leader might allow harm to their people in order to possibly swing the balance of power (Churchill, Lusitania).
'Putin's Arms Sales to Assad - BUSINESS is BUSINESS' photo (c) 2012, Freedom House - license:
Putin does get a bit over the top when he asserts that Russia has been advocating peaceful dialogue “from the outset,” and when he claims that Russia is not protecting the Syrian government, but rather “international law.”  Please. While Putin is hardly the “white knight” he tries to portray himself and Russia as in this piece, he does make  a fair point—why should America keep acting unilaterally, doing whatever it wants, whenever it feels like it? Basically he’s saying, what’s the point of international law if the US isn’t going to follow it? And since America is basically THE financier of the UN, why should we keep funneling US taxpayer money into it if we’re going to ignore it? (Republicans, I already know where you want to go on that...)

It’s however Putin’s last paragraph which proves to be his strongest—and that which stings the most.  Putin writes in direct response to President Obama’s claims that America is exceptional that “it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”  Try to disassociate for a second the fact that Putin made his comments in regards to America. On a personal level, I think we can all understand the problems when people walk around thinking their better than everyone else. Simply put, in the eyes of the rest of the world, America is like that good looking, rich kid, high school football star who thinks he’s better than the rest of the school. He’s not wise to the fact that the whole school hates him. (Besides, we all know that that same kid just ends up being a college-drop out living in his parent’s basement while still trying to ride out the glory days of high school ten years later). Take a deep breath, like it or not, Putin is right.

While Putin may not be the best person to deliver these critiques, we should take them to heart.  It’s telling that most critiques of Putin’s Op-Ed have been regarding Putin the person, not what he actually wrote. It’s always easier to discredit a source rather than analyze the content of their message. Like I said earlier, the truth hurts, especially when it comes from someone we don’t like. So, rather than owning up to the reality that a lot of the world doesn’t like us, America has chosen to “shoot the messenger” rather than actually analyze the message itself. Seems like the perfectly American thing to do.