Friday, December 19, 2008

Bringing the well to the thirsty

Wired Online has a story up called Study Says Cars Make Us Fat.

"Countries with the highest levels of active transportation generally had the lowest obesity rates," Bassett and Pucher conclude in the study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. "Walking and bicycling are far more common in European countries than in the United States, Australia and Canada. Active transportation is inversely related to obesity in these countries."

Nowhere is this more obvious than the United States, where 12 percent of the population walks, rides a bike or takes mass transit, and as many as one in three people are obese.

Ever think that sometime in the 22nd or 23rd century (if we last that long) a primary school history teacher is going to tell their class about the 20th century and sprawlurbia and building cities that necessitated traveling in pollution emitting / natural resource consuming automobiles, and some cute kid is going to put up his or her hand and say "What did they do that for?" and there simply won't be a good answer?

P.S. Get a kick out of wacky philosophy books? Take a look at this series from Open Court Publishing in Chicago.
James Bond and Philosophy, Johnny Cash and Philosophy, the Undead and Philosophy... they're even doing one in 2009 called Jimmy Buffett and Philosophy.

So a quick look tells me that Buffett has songs with titles like:
* The Missionary
* Captain America
* Truckstop Salvation
* God Don't Own a Car
* My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Don't Love Jesus

Perhaps a Buffet / Philosophy book isn't as crazy as I thought!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Land Ethic (or, are we screwed?)

I've been reading about Aldo Leopold, a conservationist, amateur philosopher, and one of the earliest of the modern day eco-warriors. In 1949 he wrote the first edition of the Sand County Almanac, and most notably within this book, his piece The Land Ethic, which was very much of a throwing-down of the environmental gauntlet.

What Leopold did was assert that the long held assumption that humans only had moral obligations towards other humans was wrong - that it didn't go far enough. There was no real thought within philosophy that along with humans, maybe plants, animals and ecosystems had rights as well. In the Land Ethic, Leopold says that humans, plants, animals, the entire ecosystem, should be considered one thing - a "biotic community". In considering what a moral action is, he wrote A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

I basically agree with this, but nothing is easy. If we are to state (what I consider a defensible argument) that the earth doesn't really have the carrying capacity to support 6 billion people (much less the 9 billion the U.N. expects by 2050) - does this mean that too many humans = a fractured biotic community, and that getting rid of some of these humans is morally correct? Leopold's position has been attacked in just this way before. Later philosophers, like J. Baird Callicot have tried to refine Leopold's argument so that it doesn't seem to legitimize setting limits on world population.

A lot of the climate change literature makes you scratch your head though and wonder what the hell it will take to get humanity to live sustainably on this pale blue dot of ours.
My library has a number of the climate change books that have been coming out the last couple years. This topic is actually so hot that the literature defending the climate change deniers has even become respectable... for example this one and this one.

Anyway, I was leafing through Humanity's Footprint, which is a very academic book put out by Columbia University Press, and love this chapter title:
Seven - Searching for Answers: Can we achieve sustainability, or are we Screwed?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Plus ca change

I just read this story about the nearly finished bailout of the Detroit Three automakers.

I love these points:
- A breakthrough came when Democrats agreed to scrap language — which the White House had called a poison pill — that would have forced the carmakers to drop lawsuits challenging tough emissions limits in California and other states, said congressional aides.

- Environmentalists already were livid that the measure draws the emergency loans from an existing loan program to help carmakers retool their factories to make greener cars.

So are North American governments REALLY going to take this opportunity to force the big three to turn green? They haven't pulled enough crap over the last 80 some years, so we're just going to shrug and say "Hey - keep up your lawsuits against cleaner air measures?"

Once we got the tobacco companies in a headlock we kept the pressure on them, are we not going to do that with the car companies?

plus ca change, plus c'est la meme

Friday, December 05, 2008

Turn it into a sexy dance

More so than hell, I think the road to winter fitness is paved with good intentions. Though it has since fallen apart, I had a good start to my quest to get into shape this winter - allowing me to be a hill-climbing machine right out of the gate this spring.
I set my Trek up on my trainer, down in my basement, and with IPOD in my ears I felt fairly energized, and seemed, for about two weeks, not to be succumbing to that "holy crap, training in the basement is damned boring and depressing" bug that is associated with this type of training.

At the same time, and this is a project I'll be working on all winter, as money is saved to buy new parts, I've been working on my brother's old beater mountain bike.
When I picked it up, the chain and gears were rusted enough that they weren't even moving anymore. A firm believer in the theory that everyone needs a bare-bones, maintenance free, single-speed commuter, I'm turning the bike into a single-speed, as I've done with a few bikes before. I'm going to be a complete idiot actually, and put some very good (entry level race for example) wheels onto the bike. I can't wait to give it back to my brother and let him feel what a difference it makes to strip crap parts off of a frame, and replace them with good parts.

Anyway, the single-speed project will keep going on, but I don't see how I'm going to get the training in. My town of Orillia has already had several snowstorms, and (see picture below) I have the longest driveway in the world, plus a few other walkways to shovel. I have never been able to train in the evening, but every morning these days my training time is over-ruled by having to get out and get shovelling.

It's kind of ironic, because my wife and I rarely drive. I'm a bit too green to give up and buy a snowblower, so it's a shovelling life for me. Come summer, rather than great legs and great cardio ability, I'll have a bad back, good abs, and strong shovelling arms.

I really wanted to, but I don't really "get" HBO's Flight of the Conchords. I do however really like this song and performance. That's why they call it business socks!