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Natural Gas and Horizontal Shale Drilling April 27, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in fracking, natural gas, Precautionary Principle, shale.
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Here’s a link to a short video from the American Petroleum Institute about hydrofracking of ‘tight’ shales in order to release and collect natural gas. I have not as much time as I would like to write about this video and I hope to do so in the future. The small point I would like to make is that though this video is designed to reassure the viewer that the technology is safe, I do not react to it that way. I watch this video and feel sad.

I think we must pay attention to lingo used by engineers when it comes to these so-called advanced technologies. Engineers and the public relations people who work with them come up with terms that attempt to make something terribly complex and uncertain seem simple and sure. Perforating rock by using explosive materials inserted deep into the earth is called “perfing”; Fracturing fine-grained rock that has lithified over millions of years is called “fracking’. The gas that is released is collected by a permanent well-head device called a “Christmas tree.” They make it sound not only simple but benign but to me this seems a good moment to practice the precautionary principle.

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This Month in the Earth Year: April April 26, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in cyanobacteria, earth community, earth system science, geologic time, geology, science, stromatolites.
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The last bits of snow have disappeared from the piles we plowed this winter and the daffodils have poked up through the defrosting topsoil, so it’s relatively easy to get a sense of time passing in our day-to-day lives. And at this time of year, when some readers may think that, as is often said, the only things certain in life are death and taxes, I’d like to add to that expression the existence of an ever-evolving Earth. For if we take the calendar year as a metaphor for the age of this planet, using January 1 as the date of its formation, by the end of April only 1.5 billion years of Earth history will have transpired. That may seem like quite a bit of time but if we gauge the passing of geologic time by looking for milestones in Earth history, it’s easy to see that Earth time is deep.

April is an auspicious period in the planet’s metaphorical history. The Archean. If you time-traveled to April of the Earth year it’s likely you wouldn’t recognize the Earth as the same planet we inhabit today. The Earth’s crust would have cooled enough so that continents had begun to form, but the similarities to today’s Earth would have ended there. To sustain a visit to the Archean, you’d need to have brought with you a supply of oxygen, for the atmosphere would have been unbreathable. Consisting of methane and ammonia, among other gases, the Archean atmosphere would have been toxic to most of the life that exists on our planet today.

Nonetheless, the first life that appeared on Earth—cyanobacteria— lived in the Archean. In fact, the oldest known fossils date to this slice of time.  The bacteria that grew in the Archean seas left behind large layered mounds called stromatolites that formed as the colonies trapped sediment and secreted calcium carbonate. Though stromatolites don’t commonly develop in today’s seas–because too many other organisms are around to eat them–those simple bacteria are still here, like death and taxes.

White Flags for Earth Day April 22, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in 'Eaarth' Day, earth community, earth cycles, earth system science, environmentalism, geologic time, Vassar College, White Flags.
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As I’ve said before, I am somewhat cynical about Earth Day because it seems to me a travesty to focus on the Earth’s well-being just one day out of every year. It makes it seem as if Earth is some kind of static entity that we must pay tribute to whereas we know it to be a system of overlapping spheres (hydrosphere, atmosphere, rock sphere, and biosphere) whose interactions over extended time have made possible life on this planet. This is a fact that, in my opinion, we all should pause to appreciate every day.

So this Earth Day I’d like to call attention to “White Flags”–a project of Vassar’s 2010/2011 artist in residence, Aaron Fein. “White Flags”–all 192 flags of United Nations member states hand-made in white and installed on the College’s Chapel lawn–showcases the power of a physical environment that changes over time to illumine the transcendent connectedness of all living beings on this planet.

I’ve seen the flags and have been privileged to participate a bit in the project which is at the confluence of art and science. If you’re in the area, come see it between April 24 and April 29 at the College.  It should be a magnificent sight.

About a Poem: Jill S. Schneiderman on Donald Rothberg’s “Tomato” April 5, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in contemplative practice, environmental justice, environmentalism, food justice, mindfulness practice.
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From Shambhala Sun | May 2011
You’ll find this article on page 96 of the magazine.

TOMATO

Tomato in my salad bowl
Is all there is.
Big as a watermelon,
big as the earth,
big as my mind.
Glistening, shining, with
time’s still rush,
We’re locked together
for this part of eternity,
Tomato and me.

I feel taken into
the cherry tomato roundness,
orange redness,
its fact of existing.
I’ve never known
a tomato
quite like this.

This could go on a long time,
It’s so compelling.
I’m becoming tomato,
Tomato me.
Who’ll blink first, me or tomato?

It is said that
“Freedom is not needing to know what comes next.”

I eat it.

Then,
I notice a leaf of lettuce.

———————————————————-
Slowly consuming a raisin often serves as an introductory exercise in the practice of mindful eating. But for me, there’s nothing like paying attention to a homegrown tomato. So when tomato season came to a close and I resumed my teaching on environmentalism and social justice, I delighted in this poem by Donald Rothberg, a teacher of socially engaged Buddhism. I thought, “Tomato” could be an anthem for twenty-first-century environmentalists because, as my friend John Elder, a teacher of American nature writing, says, the Slow Food movement will be to twenty-first century environmentalism what wilderness preservation was to its twentieth-century precursor—the nexus of progressive action.

As the Western frontier of the United States disappeared in the late-nineteenth century, naturalists like John Muir worked to preserve areas they deemed “wilderness;” consequently, national parks exist today. But elitism tainted that movement, and women and people of color avoided it. Later, in the twentieth century, a new environmentalism prioritized concern for social justice. In the seventies, feminists revealed connections between the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women and other groups who were considered secondary in society. Building on those ideas, contemporary environmental justice activists have exposed how communities of color and low-income urban dwellers are the primary bearers of environmental ills. Unnatural disasters following Hurricane Katrina and the Port-au-Prince earthquake, for example, have highlighted this.

Today the Slow Food movement excites populations of racially and economically diverse young people largely unencumbered by traditional gender roles. Heightening awareness of the connection between food and environment, the movement has the potential to galvanize others because it unites pleasure with responsibility. “Kill me along with this tree I occupy” or “Taste this tomato!” Which rallying cry do you think will encourage others to embrace environmental awareness? My students are choosing the latter.

What we eat and how we come by it matters to every living being and therefore constitutes a unifying theme for a lasting and socially just environmentalism. With its emphasis on stillness and sufficiency, Buddhism has much to offer this new environmentalism. Slow Food is about paying attention to what we eat and how we produce it—in other words, being mindful about consumption. In my opinion, whether we’re consuming raisins or tomatoes, socially engaged Buddhists can share with others the powerful practice of mindful eating.

Jill Schneiderman is professor of earth science at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and editor of The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet.


As seen in the May 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.