Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What troubles you?

We all have worries. Facebook makes this clear. Some of us share our troubles more openly than others, but reading Facebook for a week shows that we all struggle with something. Maybe it is a family concern, losing a job, damage from a storm, or a sick pet; the list is endless. It is normal (and appropriate) to get caught up in these worries, and it is not unusual to be overwhelmed by them. We simply don't have the energy to focus on yet one more thing.

You all have great hearts. If I were to ask for help with a personal struggle, dozens of you would be right there offering to help. Yet if I were to ask you to think with me about a more global issue, most of you would scroll right on past. That is normal; I do it too. Today I am asking you to pause another minute or two and read what is on my mind and in my heart.

Many of you know that I support organizations that help feed the hungry and provide clean drinking water for those without. Because these issues have a personal face they appeal directly to my compassion. The topic I want to discuss with you today, however, often seems less personal. The topic is climate change and global warming. Climate change can appear impersonal because we make it into an economic or political issue; we talk about "carbon dioxide" and "green house gases" or about fuel efficiency and alternative forms of energy. How impersonal is that? But then one day I read about the thousands who will suffer as coastlands are flooded with the rising oceans. I see the destruction left in the path of killer tornadoes and once-in-a-century hurricanes. I watch the children starving from famine caused by the drought in Somalia. These tug at my compassion again.

If they tug at yours, you might still feel powerless. It is easy to be overwhelmed, both by the magnitude of the problem and by your own important concerns. Maybe your emotional energy is running on low right now. Fortunately, Facebook makes it easy to begin simply by raising awareness. You can do as little or as much as you are inclined to do.

  1. Click "Like" on the Facebook link to increase interest.
  2. Post a "comment" on that link to show your support.
  3. "Share" this link on your wall to spread the word.
  4. "Like" the following pages:
    Climate Reality |
    Stop Global Warming
  5. RSVP to 24 Hours of Reality event.
  6. Post a "link" to Climate Reality Project
  7. "Donate your Facebook" to 24 Hours of Reality

Now, I know that some of you are probably skeptical. You will claim we don't know for sure that the natural disasters I mentioned above are related to global warming. Some of you might even say we can't prove that global warming is due to human activity. All I am asking today is that you keep an open mind. In my studied opinion, the scientific evidence that climate change is real and that it is cause by human activity is undeniable. Are specific weather events the direct result of global warming? I grant that the evidence for this is not as incontrovertible, but it is quite solid nonetheless. For those who want to dig deeper, see: Science of Global Warming

Of course a few of you will remain unconvinced. You will claim this is nothing more than a big hoax, the result of political hype, or a grand conspiracy. Again I appeal to you to keep an open mind. These are the kind of accusations that were made against the science smoking and health while hundreds of thousands of Americans were losing their lives due to smoking. The tobacco industry set out to perpetrate a lie. Now everyone knows the truth about smoking.

Compassion means "to suffer or endure with." We all suffer troubles of one sort or another and these may overwhelm us. It is easy to become absorbed in our concerns. My purpose in this project is to raise awareness of ways we can take a step outside of our concerns and respond with compassion.

Science of Global Warming

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Concerned about mercury?

If you aren't, you should be. This topic came up a few weeks ago in a Facebook conversation about the government regulations requiring light bulbs to be more energy efficient. The argument was that the government should not take away our right to use inefficient bulbs if we so choose. The "market" should control usage. Maybe we just like incandescent bulbs better, or maybe we are worried about the fact that the new compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs contain mercury. It seems wrong that our government should force us to use products that create toxic waste. Should we be concerned about mercury? After digging deeper this is my answer:

  • Yes, we should be concerned about mercury, and
  • The mercury case against CFL bulbs is entirely bogus.

Mercury is a naturally occurring but rare element in the Earth's crust. The element and most of its compounds are extremely toxic causing harm to the brain (especially developing brain), heart, kidneys, and immune system at all ages. Fortunately the toxic effects are not caused by low levels of mercury, but unfortunately mercury is difficult to eliminate, so it tends to accumulate in the body over long periods. A highly toxic form, methylmercury, builds up in fish, shellfish and animals eat fish. About half of the mercury in the atmosphere comes from volcanos and other natural sources, but mercury is an often overlooked and serious component of man-made air pollution. The five biggest sources may surprise you.

  1. Coal-fueled power plants (40-65%)
  2. Gold mining (11%)
  3. Coal-fueled cement kilns (6%)
  4. Chlor-alkaline plants (3%)
  5. Trash incinerators (3%)

What about CFL bulbs? Even if disposed of improperly, fluorescent bulbs of all kinds would never represent more than a fraction of a percent of the total mercury pollution. If recycled properly, on the other hand, they are perfectly safe and cause no pollution whatsoever. Here are a few links about recycling bulbs.

If we are concerned about mercury pollution, which we should be, and if our concern is genuine rather than an excuse for complaining about energy regulations, we should look on CFL bulbs as one means of lowering mercury emissions by lowering consumption of electricity produced by coal. Those who use mercury content as a reason to repeal the energy regulations say almost nothing about long fluorescent bulbs found in their workplaces, businesses, and shops (even in their own homes). Most ingenuous, they are silent about coal-fired power plants. They claim to be worried about mercury, but obviously they are not.

The problem with digging deeper is knowing where to stop. Each of the above sources of mercury pollution deserves a discussion of its own.

  1. Proposed Turk Power Plant in Southwest Arkansas
    ("clean coal" controversy)
  2. Toxic jewelry and the new gold rush
  3. The Ash Grove Cement kiln in Forement, AR
    (pros and cons of tire-derived fuel)
  4. Ashton Chemical Chlor-alkaline plants in Ohio and El Dorado, AR
  5. ENSCO (El Dorado, AR) and Reynolds Metal (Arkadelphia)
    toxic waste disposal

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Experiment in Giving

It is with some trepidation that I write this entry about giving, my hesitation stemming from reading Matthew 6:3-4:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)

Nevertheless, I am writing anyway because: (1) I currently have almost no blog followers, and (2) I won't post a link on Facebook (which is how most readers find my posts) for a while, maybe a month or possibly up to a year. Besides, what I am doing is not exactly secret anyway. Here is the experiment.

For an unspecified period of time, I have decided to make a $5.00 donation to a worthy cause in the name of each of my Facebook friends on their birthdays. I will inform them of their gifts by posting on their Facebook walls. Why am I doing this? First, I hope each one will feel honored; that is my intent. Second, this is a more personal way of raising awareness for causes that are important to me. Third, mutual friends will be able to see the posts and others may be inclined to give too.

Here are my guidelines. (1) These donations are in addition to, and apart from, my family's main charitable giving, which is to our church (St. Margaret's Episcopal Church). (2) To make it easier to donate a number of small amounts to various causes, I have chosen to use (Facebook app). (3) These gifts are to be as non-controversial as possible. For example, one of the causes I would like to support (and raise awareness of) is reducing or eliminating climate change. I will, however, only donate to this cause in the name of those who (to my knowledge) support this cause too. (4) No gifts will be political. (5) Here is a partial list of the organizations I will start out supporting. I may or may not edit this list as time progresses.

  1. Oxfam America
  3. -
  4. Freedom from Hunger

Incidentally, I have never been a big financial supporter of political causes, but for the coming year I have decided to make no political contributions whatsoever. This is partly just a personal decision, and partly in support of Howard Schultz (Starbucks) in his effort to boycott political contributions.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Could I Ever Become a Republican?

The short answer is "Never!" The long answer is maybe I am one already. Is this craziness? Well, a few weeks ago I read a conservative pundit who drew a distinction between being a Republican and "republicanism." I decided to look up the latter term and here is what I found.

According to, republicanism stresses: "(1) the importance of civic virtue, (2) the benefits of universal political participation, (3) the dangers of corruption, (4) the need for separate powers, (5) a healthy reverence for the rule of law, and (6) the paramount value of political liberty." Hmm. What is there not to like about this definition?

  1. Take civic virtue. "Civic virtue helps people understand their ties to the community and their responsibilities within it." (Sarah Bosin) Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone) defines three civic virtues: active participation in public life, trustworthiness, and reciprocity. Yes! We could definitely use more of these. On one hand, there is a tendency in our country toward individualism and disconnection from community. On the other, we increasingly define "community" as those to who look and think and act just like us. In this narrow sense, "community" becomes a divisive concept, leading to suspicion, bigotry, and hatred. What we need is for our sense of community as a nation to be restored.
  2. This means that all must be actively invited to participate in public life. At a minimum this requires that all are encouraged to vote and that each vote count. More than this it means that all are encouraged to speak and that each voice is heard. It requires that the rights of the minority and the weak are protected, and that the disadvantaged are given an opportunity to rise above the confines of their dispossession. Admittedly I made this last leap rather quickly. The connection between universal participation in public life and the need for equal opportunity may be questioned by some. Furthermore, the means by which equal opportunity should be afforded is not entirely clear. In particular, the role of government in all of this is open to discussion (see below). Nevertheless, I assert here that the link between participation in public life and opportunity is real and it is important.
  3. The dangers of corruption are beyond controversy. No one would argue the fact that corruption in government, business, law, or religion is undesirable. The word corrupt comes from the same Latin root as rupture, and it literally means "intensely broken." It implies something good gone bad, something originally sound now broken. Corruption, it seems to me, is the exact opposite of civic virtue. It is putting individual desires ahead of the needs of the community. Closely related to corruption is the notion of waste. The causes of corruption are many, but among the most common are money and power (and often together). Another might be fear. If republicanism stands for preventing and rooting out corruption and waste, then I am all for it.
  4. One way to guard against corruption is separation of powers. This idea formally refers to the branches of government with their distinct roles, a cornerstone of our republican form of government. Yet the concept is even broader than this, from separation of church and state to an independent media, including unbiased regulation on many levels. The problem is that none of these protections is fool-proof. Each of the entities just named is subject to the forces for corruption. The principle, however, is sound: Power must be shared. A "republic" is not a monarchy, nor is a republic in my opinion an oligarchy or plutarchy. A republic is a form of government of the people for the people.
  5. The key that allows a republic and the sharing of power to be feasible is respect for the rule of law. No individual or group is above the law. All are equal under the law. No one will openly disagree with this premise, though many try to circumvent the law for their own purposes. And many want to argue about who should make the laws, who should get to interpret the laws, and how.
  6. "From these concepts, one paramount value stands apart -- political liberty. Political liberty entails not only freedom from government interference in private affairs; it also places great emphasis on self-discipline and self-reliance. Political liberty keeps government out of individuals' lives (unless to do this threatens the republic as a whole); it also prevents the government from becoming a guardian to its individuals. The role of government in a republic is to safeguard the collective republic." (

When I began this exercise my purpose was to dig a little deeper into the history and philosophy of republicanism. What I am posting here hardly scratches the surface. The Wikipedia article on republicanism discusses a number of other definitions in which a republic may be considered compatible with plutarchy, oligarchy, even a (constitutional) monarchy. Digging deeper, I also spent some time considering libertarianism in view of Point 6 above. My point is that I am having trouble deciding where to stop digging. Once one breaks the surface of political philosophy, there is so much to be excavated. This morning, for example, I read one of Federalist Papers comparing a republic with a democracy. Fascinating topic (not to mention James Madison's incredible writing style). Furthermore, once one "gets to the bottom of" political philosophy, the relationship to economic theory begins an even deeper excavation. It never stops.

So why bother? I do not have the resources (particularly the time) necessary to do justice to any of this. Moreover, political philosophy is not even my primary interest. I am much more interested in social issues, for example, or religion and spirituality, or health and fitness. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the politics. (1) most of the "non-political" topics in which I have an interest end up having political implications, and (2) in any case, my civic responsibility is to be as informed as possible and to be an active participant. So ...

Could I Ever Be a Republican? The longish answer is that I already am a small-'r' republican. I embrace all six of the basic tenets of republicanism listed above, particularly the first five. In principle I also agree with the sixth: political liberty. Where I have an issue, I suppose, is in: (a) what kinds of things threaten the republic as a whole, and (b) the difference between becoming a "guardian" of and promoting the welfare of its individuals. To quote James Madison (entirely out of context): "It must be confessed that in this, as in most other cases, there is a mean, on both sides of which inconveniences will be found to lie."

The short answer in the first sentence is that under any present circumstances, I could never be a capital-'R' Republican. In my humble opinion, the present Republican Party does not stand for the first five tenets above and has gone way overboard on the sixth. I know this is an unsupported blanket statement that requires digging deeper. For what it is worth, I am not exactly happy with the present Democratic Party. The only thing I can do to help fix our broken system of government is to inform myself and be willing to become more active.