Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Doomsday Preppers: ‘Dr. Dave’

This not-terrible episode wraps up with a look at Dr. Dave Jensen of Colorado, who has supposed fears of an EMP.
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
‘Dr. Dave’ (as the show insists on calling him) is a big proponent of holistic medicine, which really is only logical for a survival-minded person, because as he explains, our modern (read: unsustainable, Petrol Age) approach to dealing with sickness is “based on technology and prescription drugs”.
And so, the good doctor runs a clinic founded on ‘natural and alternative healthcare’ practices…or as it was known in the pre-petrol world, healthcare. Think acupuncture, herbal remedies, ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ and—because this is Colorado!—prescription cannabis.

Of those, the only one I have a problem with is the Chinese junk, mostly because of its obsession with body parts of critically-endangered animal species, but also because I think it’s a whole lotta placebo-effect bullshit. For example, if I was feeling crummy and someone reputable gave me an exotic-sounding tea made from fire-berries that are only found in the mountains of the Sun (or albino rhinoceros pancreas, or something), then I’d think it must be really special stuff!, and I’ll probably start to feel better.
Seriously, when one or two hundred species a day are going extinct, there’s really no good reason why this junk medicine should still be perpetuated—well, except for the one billion Chinamen claiming “it’s tradition!” Yeah, so is patriarchy; doesn’t make it worthwhile.

Because there’s not really too much else to discuss in this segment, here are some thoughts on medicine in a post-collapse/disaster world.
Let’s say hypothetically—even though I don’t believe in isolated scenarios, they make for good thought-experiments—some out-of-the-blue, Hollywood-style disaster (planetwide solar flare or something) goes down offscreen, knocking the civilized world down the ladder of technological progress a few rungs. With electronics now shiny doorstops, things are looking very similar to the early 19th century (instead of consuming Apple products, people are consuming actual apples again!)
Now, assuming that 1) pre-disaster, a sufficient number of people were well-versed in pre-modern medicine (I’m thinking plants with proven medicinal qualities—pennyroyal and willow, likesay, not Chinese powdered lily stamens or whatever), and 2) people remember how to pass on information without electronic intermediaries, what’s to say a happy balance couldn’t be struck between the advances of our current model and the healthcare approach of the recent past?
You know, when something is broken, it is acceptable to pick out and save the things that work and dispose of the rest. What’s worth saving in modern medicine? Antibiotics and sterile theory. What was good about medicine a few hundred years ago? How to heal folks with what Nature provides, without reliance on petroleum or complex technology.
Think of that wistful “I wish I knew then what I know now” sentiment, but applied to medicine.
Penicillin is easy to culture. At the minimum, how difficult is it to throw your medical instruments into boiling water? Ethanol is ridiculously easy to make. Honey is antibacterial…
Meh, as usual, I’m sick of the prevailing, Progress-based belief that if the Grid goes down, folks will immediately revert to trepanning each other with stone tools (which, of course, would require a functioning means of passing on information about both lithic industries and brain surgery!).
But, I digress.

This segment following Dr. Dave really felt more like the pre-Season Three iterations of DP, because there isn’t really a Big Dramatic Build-Project with him. He already has a greenhouse (thumbs-up!), a ’69 Airstream trailer (extra points for retro style!), and a pre-’78 truck and motorbike (no computers=EMP-proof, in theory).
We do see him add a solar panel to the top of his Airstream, to power his growlights and hydroponics setup.

And just for fun—because he’s all about pre-modern medicine—he takes the nuclear family foraging for leeches! Not to nitpick, Mr. Narrator, but is it foraging if the leeches aren’t going to be eaten? Whatever; semantics aside, you can’t go wrong with Mother Nature’s all-natural bloodsuckers. They’re certainly better than going all medieval and just sticking somebody with a sharp piece of iron to bleed them.
And old-time style points if you keep them in one of these jars:

The experts tell Dave he’s done a good job and his trailer project is commendable. Dave accepts graciously and says he’s happy with their assessment, because “it boils down to being sustainable”. Damn right, doc. Are you taking notes, would-be capital-p Preppers?


On ‘Children of Men’

I often describe this film to the unfortunate folks who haven’t heard of or seen it as “2007 turned up to 11” (actually, I think I did read an interview with the art director (or someone?) who explained that the future of the film had to be “like the present, but more so”). In that way, it’s like the cinematic equivalent of James McMurtry’s 2005 We Can’t Make It Here Anymore, a song that similarly captures the turned-up-to-11 bleakness of the Bush years:

Basically, it’s all the worst parts of the Oughts, where if you watched the news it looked like a possible war with Iran, climate change data was coming in and being disregarded, bird flu was on the horizon, Somalia was imploding (again), and it was gray and rainy for like, a month straight. Well, add a pandemic of infertility and throw it all into a blender with some beautiful cinematography and a very interesting soundtrack and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is what you get. In other words, because its roots are solidly in the actual present, it’s an entirely plausible (and thereby cautionary) future.

Together, this film and Max Brooks’ World War Z have probably had the biggest impact on my outlook of a postapocalyptic world; since both futures draw inspiration from histories past and present, both reinforce the fact that almost nothing happens in a vacuum: waves of refugees can result from distant wars (“Africa devastated by nuclear fallout” a background newspaper reads), rising sea levels (Maldives, anyone?), crop failures (don’t even get me started on totalitarian monocrop agriculture), &c.  It’s a good exercise—I can look at a scenario in one of these works and see how it might have come to be, and then pull back farther to see how it relates to what’s happening now.
By extension, these two properties have also played a huge role in influencing my philosophy on our idea of ‘survival’ in its current form, doomsday-ism, &c. As both are essentially topical, applicable, and political (as opposed to the apolitical, purely-entertainment ‘Zombie 2.0’ media wave), I don’t worry about The End of the World; I’ve always found it more important to focus on The End Of The World As We Know It (aka The End of Our Culture’s Unsustainable Way of Life), I educate myself on the key shatterpoints in play (and their root causes), and then imagine (or find in history) sustainable alternatives to embrace.

On a superficial level, this is also one of the few films where I see or pick up on something new each time I watch it (ditto for reading WWZ). I would love to see an annotated version of the film that takes time to point out all the little shout-outs (everything from Banksy’s art, Pink Floyd, and T.S. Elliot to next-gen military hardware and the use of oranges as foreshadowing a la The Godfather, &c.).
Actually, that might be a fun future post

Finally—and people always look at me like I’m batshit insane when I say this—this is my Christmas movie. Why? Best let me deconstruct it:

Our story takes place in December.
A man and an expecting woman travel together, going through many obstacles.
The woman is with child, but not by the man.
The woman’s child is the result of a miraculous conception.
The child will apparently redeem humanity.
The protagonist goes through his journey wearing sandals.

Now, did I just outline Cuaron’s Children of Men, or the story of the Nativity?

shanti shanti shanti!

Blue is the new Green.

I found this on the website of a Texs news station, trying to pick this year’s Academy Award winners: “Best Picture – “The Hurt Locker” – It should be very close between “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” but I think the social relevance of “The Hurt Locker” should sway more voters.

Erm, wait a second.  Did this guy get lost in the theater and wind up seeing “Tooth Fairy” or something?  Did he see the same AVATAR that I did?  Because the one I saw was like, one of the most important films ever (after Star Wars and The Matrix—both of which simply repackaged the same deep-rooted “hero’s journey” archetype that people have been telling since before Gilgamesh, except that Lucas based his on swashbuckling serials and Vietnam-era politics, and the Wachowskis drew upon postmodern anti-civilization philosophy and cyberpunk).
It’s funny, because The Hurt Locker and AVATAR are both ‘socially relevant’, except Bigelow’s film is specifically about the Iraq War, while Cameron’s is big-picture and about the Iraq War only to the extent that that conflict is simply the most current and visible example of Our Culture’s insatiable need to expand and devour natural resources.

Yes, AVATAR is Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, The New World, Zulu, Fern Gully, 1492, or any other story where advanced imperialists have a run-in with the indigs.  And this is exactly the point; this is what Cameron wanted.    It seems that his plan with AVATAR was to repackage the same old story that we’ve seen countless times before, dress it up in his “gimmicky” 3D technology to get people into the theaters (because “You couldn’t get them to come… and watch a film about the conquest of New Spain…”), and show them how Our Culture has been exploiting the planet for transient, monetary gain—and otherwise generally fucking things up—for untold generations.

But apparently, it didn’t seem too terribly effective, because all people could see was a “groundbreaking film with dazzling 3d effects and breathtaking landscapes.”  Ugh.

In the 11 Dec 2009 issue of Vanity Fair, James Cameron explicitly states:

“What I was doing with Avatar…was more in response to the history of the human race (that) has been written in blood by technically or militarily superior people taking from those who are less capable.
I think it’s important for people to see the patterns in history…I think science fiction is a way of making history exciting by putting it in the future and taking you to a new planet and showing you exactly the same shit that’s been happening for the last 2,000 years…”

“Science fiction is excellent for that because if you make a comment about the Iraq war and American imperialism in the Middle East, you’re going to get a lot of people pissed off at you in this country, but if you do it in a science-fiction context, where you do it at a metaphorical level, people get swept in by the story and they get to the end of the movie before they realize they’ve been rooting for the Iraqis.”

After the film was over, I left the theater in high spirits: it wasn’t just me—finally, somebody who seemed to abhor “civilization” as much as I.  On the interweb, I hoped to see if there were others who thought the same.  But if you go to the IMDB’s AVATAR message board, you won’t find people debating the merits of industrial sabotage, or the ethics of armed vs. nonviolent resistance; no, you’ll find arguments over whether or not AVATAR is an animated film, or how much the final budget was, or yet another 15-page thread repeating the same petty comments we’ve been hearing since before the film came out: “It’s just Dances With Wolves in space!”  No shit, Sherlock.  Grow up, get over it.  Look past the 3D, look past the surface story—see AVATAR for what it is: a metaphor, a message—and wake up.

ecodefense, Na’vi-style.

The Green Man Says: If it’s not far, don’t take the car!

part of an ongoing series of columns I’ve written, reprinted from the TU Rambler.

October, 2009.
Just because the weather is getting chilly doesn’t mean that we should stop thinking about efficient, eco-friendly ways to get from A to B, and this week I’d like to talk about the perfect zero-emission form of transportation that every college student should be using: bicycling!

Cycling is great because it packs a double whammy: good for the planet also means good for us too—a bicycle uses no gas and burns only calories. It’s also helpful for the community, lessening traffic congestion, as well as improving public health. Not convinced yet? A few years ago, UK did a study on cycling: for students who lived less than five miles away from campus, door-to-door travel time from dorm to classroom was significantly shorter for those who biked, compared to those who had to drive the same distance.

The amount of energy saved by cycling instead of driving is also impressive. Consider this: if each of the 250,000 people in Lexington biked (instead of drove) just a single two-mile round trip per week, we would collectively save 3000 dollars worth of gasoline, and prevent 460 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the atmosphere.

So with all these advantages in mind, there’s really no reason to not be cycling as much as possible. Transy’s central location in Lexington means that nearly everything you could ever want is no more than twenty-five minutes away by bike. For example: if you need groceries, look at all the possibilities: Dollar Tree (.9 mi); Sav-a-lot (1.1); Wal-Mart (1.7); “Ghetto Kroger”(Old Paris Rd—1.9); UK Kroger (Euclid—2.2); “Nice Kroger” (Bryant Station—2.5). Lexington currently boasts 22 miles of bike lanes and 27 miles of roads with paved shoulders, plus an additional 16 miles of bike lanes are in the works.

You might think that starting cycling would be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure, you can go out and buy a brand-new, top-of-the-line machine for many hundreds of dollars, but craigslist is a great resource for second-hand things: my friend found an old road bike for less than fifty bucks a few weeks ago. And if you plan on riding regularly, it’s a good idea to get some good accessories (lights, rack, panniers, fenders, etc) for your bike; luckily, Lexington has a number of locally-owned bike shops (Pedal Power on Maxwell is great) within walking distance.

As for designing bike routes to use, I’ll just say that Google is your friend.

part of an ongoing series of columns I’ve written, reprinted from the TU Rambler.

April, 2009.
Because this Saturday (April 11) marks the seasonal return of the Lexington Farmer’s Market (downtown in the park at Cheapside), this week I’m going to talk about food.
You might think that this really only applies to folks who aren’t on the meal-plan, but it’s still good advice for the rest of you to keep in mind.

Some of you might be not even be aware that your food choices have a huge effect on the planet, but believe me, they do.  Right now, our food choices rival transportation as the human activity with the greatest impact on the environment.

So, you ask, what’s causing all the problems?  The short answer is: industrial farming practices…this means meat and pesticides.

Much of the meat we buy at the supermarket is grown in ‘factory farms’, where animals are pumped full of drugs and hormones (cows, pigs, and chickens get 70% of all antimicrobial drugs in the US) and fattened up on an almost-all-corn-or-soybean diet (consider that 95% of the world’s soybean harvest is eaten by animals, not people!).  Animal rights aside (I’ll let the Bambi-lovers at PETA deal with that) this system of farming is very inefficient: it takes about 33% more fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of beef than would a calorie of a potato.  Eating lower on the food chain is much more energy-efficient…that’s what The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is all about.

Growing plants isn’t much better; farmers spray their crops with nasty herbicides (to kill weeds) and pesticides (to kill bugs) that get washed off into the groundwater; it doesn’t help that some of these chemicals are known carcinogens—anyone remember DDT?

Besides the chemicals used, there’s an even bigger side effect of large-scale farming: international food trade and the glut of heavily-processed and packaged foods has distanced most people from what they eat, both geographically and psychologically.  People think that food just magically appears on the supermarket shelf, instead of being driven or flown thousands of miles to get there.

So as an eater, what can you do?  The three biggest changes you can make:

1) Re-evaluate your consumption of meat.

2) Select food produced without agrochemicals.

3) Buy locally grown food.

The latter two can easily be accomplished by walking down to the Farmer’s Market.  You’ll help support the local economy, burn some calories (instead of gasoline), eat healthier, and help farmers get a fair price for their products.

As for myself, I don’t eat meat because I’m a poor college student.  But the next time I get a hankerin’ for some animal protein, I’m going after one of these tame city squirrels.