Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Canada Far Away From Becoming the World Police?

Recently, Canada's Defense Minister, Peter MacKay, announced that peace in Libya won't come while Qaddafi is in power. Then  NDP's Foreign Affairs critic clarified the UN's position by emphasizing that it is not looking for a regime change but rather they hope that Mo mar Qaddafi will just stop trying to subdue Libyan dissidents through force and do it through negotiations. Anybody who has seen Qaddafi at work over the past 20 years or so knows that won't happen. The UN can try this diplomatically, but in the end nothing short of complete regime change and military vanquishment is the only way to help Libyans.

This is a new role for Canada. Never in her history has she been involved in regime change while her closest ally, the US,  stays out of it. The US did not fair well with it's last effort in Iraq, not quite getting the results everyone had hoped for. In all likelihood,  Canada and it's UN partners in this will not do any better. Libya has links with terrorist groups that will, no doubt, come out of hiding if they think they can capitalize on the situation. In any case, Qaddafi's army probably won't have trouble procuring arms and munitions. Canada has committed to 3 more months of military support to help protect Libyan civilians from Qaddafi's forces. 200 more rockets have been ordered at $100,000 a pop to support the airstrikes. This is starting to look like a slippery slope. While most reasonable people would support ousting this madman, you can't ignore history. Without exception, every foreign invasion going back to the Romans , while starting out hopeful, eventually fails miserably. The initial goals are never reached, and the people who the invaders are supposed to be helping eventually get tired of being occupied and turn against them; once the old regime is eliminated, the power vacuum is quickly filled by a group that wants the occupying force to leave.

So, the question is will Canada learn from others' past mistakes and not overstay her welcome. Let us hope so. Though I am sympathetic to the Libyan's cause, I feel the only true freedom is gained from an internal struggle. This means more casualties, but it also means that once the revolution is won the people will be in control of their country, not a foreign power.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Disaster Or Opportunity?

Article first published as Disaster Or Opportunity? on Technorati.

When a violent oceanic earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami hit the north-east coast of Japan
earlier this year it was no doubt a reminder to the Japanese people of just how vulnerable they are. While earthquakes aren't new there, this one seemed to do more damage than most of the previous quakes in recent history. But the Japanese people are resilient and adaptable. It's not the first time they've had to deal with a devastating natural disaster and perhaps no event compares to the devastation of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II. Just like then, now the Japanese people will work together to help in the recovery process. Some estimate the recovery time may be a decade.

It has been speculated that Japan will be the first nation, either alone or jointly with the European Space Agency(ESA), to establish a mining colony on the moon. This latest disaster may be just the impetus for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA to start pouring more money into such programs as moon colonization. Currently funded at just under $2.5 billion annually, this amount may grow considerably over the next several years.

Ever since WW2 Japan has become a major manufacturing force in the world. It is ranked third in the world, but the two things that it lacks are space(no pun intended) and raw materials. So Japan had been expanding it's manufacturing capability by setting up factories throughout Asia, and South America. But it still relies on raw materials from other countries; and while relations between Japan and the rest of Asia and America are civil at the moment, that may change.
Mining the moon potentially provides all the materials needed to manufacture space technology in space. Recently JAXA has taken part in experiments on the International Space Station(ISS), and are testing their own launch vehicles. They are also developing transfer vehicles with the ambition to become a key transporter of supplies to the ISS. To continue to be a major economy in the world it has to expand, and space is the next logical step. However, there is another reason why Japan needs to look heavenward. Keeping some of her assets off-world is good insurance in case Japan's homeland is struck by disaster..again.

While the recent economic recession had hit the US and Europe the hardest, Japan's economy, the March disaster aside, has been relatively stable. Perhaps this may be a good time to seize the opportunity their economic lead has provided and start looking toward the skies while recovery continues.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Aliens vs Humans

I was watching a show on TV about UFOs and whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. And the big question was if intelligent life does exist how would we be received by alien civilizations? Most of the speakers on the program felt that their intentions would likely be hostile. I don't feel that way at all. And not for idealistic reasons either.

If one were to think logically about civilizations that could travel the required vast distances to reach Earth, the intellectual capacity of such beings would have to be far greater than ours. One could argue that only the scientists of such a civilization would have to be so intellectually well-endowed. I believe, and so do many others, that in order for any civilization to evolve to a higher state that it has to occur en masse. Like the bumper sticker I once read " We all do better when we all do better."

One of the experts tried to downplay the level of aggression likely to be demonstrated by a highly advanced civilization by relating the analogy of one of us merely observing the panic caused by stomping on an anthill and nothing more. I don't even think aliens would do that because that kind of behaviour is clearly the action of a primitive being. Akin to the WW2 Nazis torturing humans to see how much pain they could endure.

The other argument is that for any civilization to survive they must be aggressive. True. But for a civilization to be able to develop scientifically and intellectually to the point where they can travel at near light-speed or faster, and possibly even travel through time they have to do more than merely survive. They must prosper and be able to focus all of their resources on those pursuits. Here on Earth, the wealthiest, and even the poorest and most corrupt nations put most of their resources into the military-industrial complex. At what point do we put more money into helping those in need and placing more importance on developing intellectually, scientifically, and artistically? For all of these factors are crucial to how a society evolves.

Looking around at what's happening in different parts of the world one can see that we obviously have a long way to go as a species. While humanitarian efforts have grown greatly in the past several years, it just doesn't seem to be enough. There is something missing in our approach to life and its problems. We don't deal with problems directly. We get distracted by the convolution of our processes. We focus on symptoms and not the cause. Just look at all the drugs on the market as evidence of that. Neurological studies have managed to give concrete scientific evidence to support what we already know intuitively about the human brain. As an organ it hasn't evolved. But the firmware that operates it can evolve. In short we have to, as a species, be able to reason more efficiently to resolve our problems. The firmware has to be updated. But until each and every one of us evolves to a higher level of mental capacity, we as a species, will not evolve.

Which brings us back to how we would be viewed by aliens visiting our planet. They would most likely observe us, make a few notes, and come to the conclusion that we are too violent a species for them to have anything to do with us. They wouldn't be abducting us, experimenting on us, or torturing us. Anything they need to know about us could be ascertained by observation, modelling, and sampling our waste. Just because the so-called top minds on Earth are unable to do these things with lab rats doesn't mean people on other planets can't do it, unless they are just like us. And therefore, also tethered to their home planets.

Not all aliens are friendly, I'm guessing. But any alien that can come to earth I'm sure would be, if not indifferent.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Get Ourselves Back To The Garden

I've noticed a few universities and colleges are going green. I mean in big way. They are offering full programs to learn how to go green and horticultural classes that focus on sustainable farming and forestry.

It makes a lot of sense. Our future here on earth depends on it. But why wait for someone else to grow our food? If you stop and think about it we as urban dwellers have absolutely no control over our food source. We blissfully go to the grocery store and pick up what we need. But what if there wasn't anything there? We take for granted that the farmers are growing our food, the truckers are hauling it to the stores, and the stores are monitoring its quality. There are a number of scenarios that could prevent any one of these things from happening.

Water. Fresh water sources are gradually, and in some cases rapidly, drying up. The underground water aquifers across the mid western United States are dropping in volume and not being replenished(apparently there is no mechanism for this to happen). The mighty Colorado river that feeds the south western states is in danger of becoming a mere trickle because of the mountain glaciers that feed it are shrinking.

In China, the Yangtze river in some years doesn't make it the sea. Vast agricultural areas around the world that rely on glacial melt or underground aquifers are in real danger of drying up. The reason for all of this is complex. It involves several factors such as atmospheric warm- ing, farming mechanization, and just plain waste. When was the last time you hosed off your driveway?

Fresh water doesn't just come from rain. Though it supplies our vegetation with immediate moisture, there has to be a source to get it through the dry periods. This means reservoirs, streams, rivers, and lakes. The primary volume of water for rivers comes from ice melt, not rain. The Red river in Manitoba, North Dakota floods each year due to river ice melting suddenly in the spring. The ice acts as a storage medium for water(just like icebergs in the arctic) during the winter and becomes a huge volume of water when it quickly melts and usually floods the land on either side as it flows south.
If only there was a way to redirect that excess volume of water into the underground aquifers or reservoirs?

So on the flip side of the coin for farmers dealing with a lack of water, sometimes there is too much.

Fuel. What if, and this is not so much if but when, there is a fuel shortage unlike anything we have ever seen before? Would there still be trucks hauling food to market? At what cost?

Power. California is currently experiencing a power shortage. It has to import power from other states and Canada. This could happen anywhere as the debate over how to best generate power goes on. Alternative sources aren't able to produce enough to relieve the hydro dams, nuclear plants, or coal plants of their duties just yet. As we become more technologically advanced our power consumption goes up. Grocery stores require a lot of power to store, display, and restock the shelves. Air conditioning may be the first thing to go if power becomes too expensive. Think about that in August in Austin.I think the alternative sources of power will eventually come along, but there will be a long period of adjustment as the global crisis sorts itself out.

In the meantime, we should be thinking about sourcing our own food. Many people have a few square feet of ground in which to grow some vegetables. Inner city dwellers turn to communal gardens where they share a plot of land. In the city of Vancouver(Canada) developers of new apartment high rises are encouraged by city council to include rooftop gardens. This not only helps provide oxygen but in some buildings is part of the heating and cooling system. Heavy rain fall is absorbed and released slowly. The city is also considering allowing vancouverites to raise chickens. Why not? It's been done elsewhere for as long as cities have existed.

I live in a townhouse with a few square feet of ground that we(mainly my wife) grows herbs and vegetables. I used to enjoy gardening when I was a kid. We lived in the country and I was closer to nature. But as a fully cityized person I've lost the nurturing instinct. I've gotten lazy because it's so easy to hop in my car and go the store for food. Damn me! But I'm telling you, me and you, that we need to get back to the garden....before it's too late.

Worry? What's to worry about?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The World needs more than an environmental overhaul

I recently saw 'Slumdog Millionaire'. I was shocked at the sheer scale of the ecological mess in the slums of India. Clearly the population expansion was too fast for planners to keep up, and of course the corruption that keeps so many living in the slums. It only outlined for me the problems we in the rest of the world may face as the world population grows over the next fifteen years. Our cities will get denser and denser as people from the troubled parts of the world migrate elsewhere. We can see the problems that face our large cities currently - crime, homelessness, pollution, traffic.

As water becomes more scarce in the southern hemisphere wars will no doubt break out as people fight over the little available. As temperatures rise, those that make their living in colder latitudes may also find it very difficult and will probably want to migrate to cities to find work. And, as you can see already, as cities increase in population so does the need for housing and usually valuable farm land is ploughed under for it.

So what can we do? Limit population? Sure, but can you imagine a world where having children is governed by, well, the government? China tried it. Now they have too few women, and too many single men(and single men get into a lot of trouble). Besides, just lowering population growth doesn't solve the problem. The population seems to grow over time anyway. What we need to change are the conditions under which people live. This will eventually allow population growth to reach an equilibrium state where families reach a sustainable size by choice. Prosperity will allow people to put their efforts toward making daily decisions that have a positive impact on the environment.

How can we achieve this? Well, that's the tough question. Not that the answer is out of reach, but that the answer is going to be hard for everyone to swallow. Our nature seems to get in way of the good that we try to do. When the massive tsunami occurred in Thailand in 2004, the wealthiest nations reached deep into their pockets to lend a hand. Unfortunately, many victims didn't get the help they needed due to mismanagement and corruption. The problem is greed.

Greed prevents us from truly helping those in need, in fact, there wouldn't even be needy people if greed was not part of our nature. Greed is behind the concept of financial and material growth. They will tell you that if your company is not growing, it's dying. That's clearly a load of horse-hockey. It just means your company is sustainable. So what we have to overcome is greedy behaviour. People will automatically take more than they need because they fear doing without. But greedy behaviour is like a virus. If others see you taking more than you need, they will do the same and then it snowballs. Next thing you know you have CEO's getting paid 10 million dollars a year while the people who actually do the work get less than half a percent of that. In many cases far, far less.

Now, I'm not saying that all the greedy people live in developed nations or are CEO's, but we in the developed nations can afford to do with less excess. We can also leverage the collective power in the developed nations to force corrupt leaders in poor nations to take care of their people. Bill Gates has given millions of dollars to pay for medicines that are needed in impoverished countries. Too bad the greedy behaviour in those countries prevents much of it from getting where it needs to go. It is said that roughly a billion people on earth are under nourished or starving and a billion are over nourished.

In the end, the answer to our environmental problems lay in a solution to our humanitarian problems. It starts with us as individuals, finding a peaceful and generous relationship with every other individual we contact. From this we can find satisfaction in human interaction and problem solving. We will need less stimulus from material wealth and finally put the myth of financial growth to rest and overcome our greedy behaviour. Sounds like Utopia doesn't it?

Remember, good actions have just as much chance of spreading around the world as bad actions do.