LEGO needs to stop essentially shilling for Shell

Birdday!

Birdday!

LEGO building blocks remain my all-time favorite toy. Even more favorite than bourbon or my dive kit.

As a child, I spent hours hidden away in my room, imagination running wild, building, deconstructing and rebuilding parts of the LEGO city pictured in the fuzzy image below. I could never get enough and they were a prominent part of every birthday, Christmas or other gift-receiving occasion.

I vividly remember my giant airport, my train set, my pirate’s island and more. As an 11-year-old, I spent my savings on spare LEGO building blocks so I could build mass housing for my city from scratch.

This is a version when I was 8. By age 12 it was more than double this size.

This is a version when I was 8. By age 12 it was more than double this size.

And I even had a Shell-branded gas station. Today, I shiver at the thought.

Of course, it was a different time. Few openly resisted such things as surreptitious marketing or product placement in child’s toys. Hell, I didn’t really think about this particular horror until a few years ago.

But given the state of our world, our politics and our understanding of climate science, it’s time that LEGO cut ties with a corporation whose business model depends on destroying the environment. Every day that LEGO continues to shill for Royal Dutch Shell, it otherwise lends the company a false, friendly and benign air.

I hear some folks: “Come, on, it’s just a little bit of product placement and branding.” They’re two Dutch companies, after all. And how many kids at some point have toys — think model cars and trucks covered in ExxonMobil stickers — labeled with the name of this or that company?

This is more than just banal advertising. Through LEGO sets in the hands of children, Shell markets a subtle-but-dangerous message that it’s institutional, that it belongs, that it’s noncontroversial, that it’s fundamental and that it should be accepted. That the Big Oil economy — which includes Shell’s continued attempts to drill in the arctic — is as “harmless” as apple pie (or maybe stroopwafels).

If LEGO started making new sets called Oil Rig Spill Disaster or Warming, Rising Seas, then I wouldn’t complain. That’d be honesty in advertising.

Want a visual appeal that will punch much harder? Watch this brilliant Greenpeace video and sign.

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Environmental appeals should be tagged: “Time done already run out”

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A good, smart friend recently pointed out that while the science really does argue that there is no going back to a time before climate change or Arctic ice melt or dying polar bears or ecosystem disruption, Greenpeace, an environmental NGO that I support with heart, hand and wallet, continues a campaign that suggests it’s not too late to fix things.

Note: I don’t believe we’re really taking issue with Greenpeace’s campaign to fight uber-consumptive capitalism and industrial destruction of remaining Arctic resources. Rather, it’s the message which obfuscates and confounds a deeper truth: Time really has run out. We’re past a point of no return.

My friend Michael:

Is this a good appeal, still? Time is not running out, it has already run out. Already released GHGs are forcing the warming that will within a few years likely make the Arctic ice free during the summers. We cannot save the polar bear, or rather, we cannot save the polar bear’s habitat. I think Greenpeace knows that.

Better that we be honest about this and understand the implications, and how serious of spot we are in. To keep using this as a tool to get people on board can have the effect of giving people a sense that a) look people are doing something about this and since the polar bear is “being saved” its working, and that b) things are not all that serious if we can still do things like “save the polar bear.”

I think its better to start being clear about what we have messed up and cannot fix. If I’m not wrong, the Arctic is one of those things.

His point — one that many people have certainly discussed — has been kicking around my brain for the better part of a day.

I do absolutely agree that we need to come to serious terms with reality. Full stop. There is so much that we’ve already broken and we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can fix it. Again, full stop. A realistic picture would be a drowned polar bear washed up on a flooded city waterfront.

But for the sake of discussion… There are two concerns here. The content of the message (bears can be saved) and the goal/strategy of the message (enlist people/donors/members/activists).

The content is wrong. Polar Bears 1.0 cannot be saved. Whatever survives will be a different kind of polar bear (Not-Quite-Polar Bear V2.7.1) in a different place.

It’s the strategy that I’m wrestling with. And I admit that I’ve more often advocated going radical/brutal first. Soft touch isn’t my strong suit.

But I find myself asking, what would a picture of a drowned bear washed up in Sandy-induced flooding with a tag line of “You broke it, you bought it” or “Time done run out already” achieve? Does it move us to the goal of getting people off the bench and into the game?

Source: The Guardian and Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

Source: The Guardian and Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

It would be the brutal and honest truth, and I hope, would shake some people awake to reality. But would it also risk encouraging others to throw up their hands? Maybe such a message would just convince people to say, “Well, screw it. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. Let’s drive Hummers.” After all, humans are much at denial than acceptance.

This is a question we’ve gone round on before, but I’m asking it again. How do we communicate the truth of it?

The truth, at least to me, would seem to sound something like,

“We have screwed the pooch; a lot of people are going to suffer; a lot of natural systems — including humanity — will be irrevocably changed. Things are going to be different, which is our fault, but we have to move forward and work toward adapting to a new normal. This “normal” will ultimately be unstable and not feel very normal. But we must do [insert painful, landscape-changing, status quo-disrupting policies here] until we can achieve some sort of balance in our socio-economic-political relations with our environment. Don’t get your hopes up that we’re going to “fix” much of anything. Remember, we effed things up a lot. The future is going to hurt, but we have to at least try to make it hurt a little less.”

So how does one communicate that and get people involved, when we’re essentially saying that the best we can do is really not much? It seems like an appeal that is tagged “We’re mostly munted” isn’t much of an appeal.

Note: I think that the new distant future, if we succeed, will be pretty nice. Social capital, growing our own food, loving our neighbors, loving strangers, putting down roots, more biking and bowling and sweating, less plastic wrap and fake nacho cheese.

But that’s my version of success, which may not get a lot of people into the game.

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Cod-forsaken fish sticks

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Writing about fisheries, hankering for veggie fish and chips

Interesting story yesterday from Maine. And I’ll get to how it relates to my culinary experiment (pictured above) earlier this year.

The lobster population has been exploding in the Gulf of Maine, which is a productive, protected and generally successful fishery. A problem: A high lobster population means lower prices. Sure, that’s good news for consumers who like everything to be cheap. But it’s bad news for local fishermen charged with protecting and husbanding the fishery while simultaneously paying bills.

The twist: This fishery dilemma dates to an earlier one, the overfishing of cod in New England. Cod eat everything off the ocean floor. Predation of lobster by cod was, according to scientists, an ecological check-and-balance.

What caused overfishing of cod? Among other phenomena, the fish stick. Yes, I’m suggesting that fish sticks constitute a phenomenon. So powerful was the mass-consumptive call for frozen, reheated, generic, white fish that the irrepressibly abundant cod are all but gone from the great George’s Bank. (Climate change may also have something to do with it.)

From Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, A 1950s advertisement from the Glouchester seafood company Gorton’s claimed that fish sticks were the

“latest, greatest achievement of the seafood industry of today… Thanks to fish sticks, the average American homemaker no longer considers serving fish a drudgery. Instead she regards it as a pleasure, just as her family have come to consider fish one of their favorite foods. Easy to prepare, thrifty to serve and delicious to eat, fish sticks, it can be truthfully said, have greatly increased the demand for fish, while revolutionizing the fishing industry.”

And this is how we get the picture above, my tofu-batter-vinegar-shallow-fry earlier this year. The social construct of the fish stick is powerful, indeed.

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Dear State Department: #NOKXL

There are only a few more days to submit comments to the State Department regarding its draft environmental impact statement on the latest version of the Keystone XL nightmare pipeline. Following the closure of the comment period, the state department may make revisions to its currently flawed assessment of the pipeline, which will ultimately be used to make a recommendation to the president.

[For those folks who are not deeply mired/versed in this debate already, this article, this archive and this video are some places to start. Bonus: If you pause the video at 2:29, you can see me in my white linen protest suit and Panama hat getting arrested in front of the White House.]

The pipeline is a focal point for environmental protest because its construction would be devastating to any attempt to stave off extreme climate change. As NASA climatologist James Hansen has said, the pipeline would essentially be “game over.” I won’t belabor the well established point that tar sands oil is particularly noxious. Suffice to say: We need to stop the pipeline.

Anyone concerned can submit comments on the impact statement to keystonecomments@state.gov. You can also send letters with suggested text via 350.org’s Stop KXL campaign or through other outlets, such as The Nation.

My own comment (which anyone can use):

I oppose Keystone XL because it serves neither our national interest nor the planet’s. The pipeline only returns profits to TransCanada (which has lied about facts and spun the story to suit its ends) while bolstering the incredibly destructive tar sands industry. This extraction is particularly bad for our planet (and hence our nation) and will only deepen our path dependency on an economic mode that cannot and will not survive in the long-run. If we are to transition to a post-carbon economy — which is the only option if we value the future and don’t simply discount all coming generations — we must take concrete steps to move beyond oil. Any economist worth her salt can explain that concept; adjust the discount rate, extend the time horizon a generation or two and there’s no way this pipeline is “in our national interest.”

More importantly, this is no longer just an economic calculus. The president’s “all of the above” energy strategy may be politically expedient and may (but still probably doesn’t) make sense in the very short-run. But expediency doesn’t equal morality, and this is not only an economic decicision. It is also a moral one. Some forms of energy — in this case, tar sands crude — are simply incompatible with a just and right future.

As such, blocking this pipeline is the only moral course of action.

— Adam Jadhav, April 14, 2013

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Lousy Smarch weather…

Winter wonderland? Meet Monday morning ride

While the Midwest received a blizzard Monday, DC got its only real dose of winter weather, after the official arrival of spring.

Perhaps we had a calendar misprint? Or just a fluke snow+sleet storm?

Either way, the larger pattern of weather extremes, instabilities and oddities (hots, colds, hurricanes, super storms, etc.) might indeed be part of that nasty phenomenon called climate change. Scientists say the unseasonal cold this spring on both sides of the North Atlantic is likely the result of the loss of Arctic sea ice. Climatology is complicated, but here’s the gist: The loss of ice cover warms the polar ocean which shifts the jet stream in a manner that allows colder Arctic air to reach mid-range latitudes, precipitating snowfall when we’d expect warmer weather.

The heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures which have marked March 2013 across the northern hemisphere are in stark contrast to March 2012 when many countries experienced their warmest-ever springs. The hypothesis that wind patterns are being changed because melting Arctic sea ice has exposed huge swaths of normally frozen ocean to the atmosphere would explain both the extremes of heat and cold, say the scientists.

Specific implications if cooler-than-normal temperatures last (delayed planting for farmers already suffering from lingering drought?) are mixed or unclear. But, generally speaking, we’re headed for a new normal of weather, which may be anything but normal, even year to year.

This is me trying to restart the blog by not focusing on writing my damned thesis.

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Open letter to [school of your choice] president

I wrote and sent roughly this same letter to the president of American University this week. Fill in the blanks and send one on yourself.

President [so-and-so]:

The campus has been crawling with prospective students this fall. Many a day, I watch tour guides roving from building to building with hordes of high schoolers and parents in tow. I overhear all the usual chatter about history, scholarship and community — in short why they ought to attend [school of your choice].

As well we should tout what we have to offer. I just hope that maybe, when the conversation turns to our school’s principles, values and efforts toward justice and sustainability, the university might consider a new talking point. It would be great if we could tell prospects, “And because we value everyone on this planet — including all those unable to access the privileges of [relevant institution], we divested our financial portfolio from fossil fuels.”

I’m guessing this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of this concept — fossil fuel divestment — and if you’re well versed, then you can feel free to

Continue reading this entry » » »

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Dear Mr. President…

The President is now apparently waffling on the latest attempts to lay a new pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The administration last month announced it would review the pipeline again for additional social and environmental concerns. Those of us opposed were thrilled; the delay of more than a year would likely kill the pipe. If approved, the pipeline very well could be game over for the battle to stem climate change.

Then the John Boehner-led U.S. House decided to tack a pipeline rider to a tax cut extension. This has become a political wedge and word has it that Obama may now try to use pipeline approval to win other short-term economic aid.

Cough*bullshit*cought

I recognize that while writing a letter feels incredibly empowering it’s still almost entirely symbolic. But I write to the president nonetheless. I’d encourage anyone else who cares about this to do the same.

Mr. President:

I was the 1,253rd person arrested protesting outside your house late this summer. That made me the final person to be cited for civil disobedience — officially failure to obey a lawful order — as we called on you to stem our planet’s addiction to dangerous oil and, in particular, dirty crude from the Athabasca tar sands. Our nation’s foremost climatologist James Hansen has called the Keystone XL pipeline “game over” for the battle to slow the tide of climate change.

Note: I’m not just a fringe tree-hugging hippy. I was a legal and political reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, raised in small-town middle America (central Illinois). I covered your campaign in 2008 as well as your efforts on behalf of others in 2006. I voted for you in your presidential run and your senate bid. I’ve followed you since Springfield and the state senate. I pay my taxes.

And I ride just left of center, politically.

Or at least I did. But the condition of our planet has convinced me to shed my neutral observer hat and don the fighting gloves an activist. That’s why I’m in grad school at American University, researching global environmental policy and issues. That’s why I was happily arrested in September for this cause. That’s why I was shouting “Show me what democracy looks like!” outside your house again in November. And that’s why I expect you to keep the promises you made when you were elected.

Sir, we need a fighter today; yes, the country is in dire straits economically, but you know as well as I do that short, myopic time horizons — the ones that set up the false environment-jobs dichotomy — only cause more problems in the future. Compromise is laudable to be sure, but how far will you bend?

You are a man of faith and morals; you and I pray our creator for the safety of those we love. Well, I believe that if we’re truly made in God’s image then we have a duty to look after our brothers and sisters and the lilies of the field as well. I heard you tell the world that we are our brothers’ keepers. Well, sir, addressing the environmental destruction of our planet is part of fulfilling that responsibility. By helping to look after the planet, you help to look after all its inhabitants.

Please, stop thinking about what Boehner or Fox News pundits will say about you tomorrow or next month. Please, stop worrying about a future date with Mitt or Newt or Rick. Please, instead start thinking about what kind of a world Malia and Sasha and (some day) my children will need.

Respectfully but urgently,

Adam Jadhav

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Let’s work in concert

I’m a sucker for well-produced, moving video.

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People against pipelines… for the win!

Yes we can!

Activists and ordinary people across the country claimed a victory yesterday as the Obama administration has postponed a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, pending further reassessment of the economic benefits and untold environmental consequences.

In case, you’re wondering, this is kind of a big deal.

I’ll try to keep it short: Oil industry folks — and some construction companies looking for temporary jobs — were very excited about laying a long pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, to make extraction of crude oil found in Alberta tar sands easier. Their argument: This brings more oil from a friendly source to the U.S. and would create jobs in the United States.

Those claims are at best specious and they ignore the serious harm the world would get in the bargain.

Let’s start with the “friendly energy” concept. Oil is a global commodity; prices are determined largely by world demand. Lower prices in the U.S. are not due to some charity or good will from our suppliers.

And this wouldn’t somehow supply the U.S. better. Some have actually argued the opposite, that the pipeline would make the export of the oil to the world market even easier. Plus, independent resource economists who have looked seriously at the “dependence on foreign oil” argument generally agree that price shocks from unfriendly sources are almost always smoothed by increased supply from other sources. If a country that doesn’t like us withholds, the price might rise briefly and another country will invariably give in and fill supply.

(In case you’re wondering, Cananda at present is the biggest supplier of the U.S., but that doesn’t mean we get drastically lower prices because Canucks like us so. Our discounts at the pump are largely thanks to the awesome [sarcasm] subsidies our government offers oil companies.)

Then there’s the jobs question. The U.S. economy is hurting, certainly, and proponents say the pipeline would create somewhere around 20,000 jobs. Not 20,000 permanent jobs, mind you. About 13,000 of those are job-years in construction. So maybe 6,500 one year, 6,500 another. The remainder of 7,000 is an equally dubious proposition, as it refers to secondary supply chain effects, some of which are unlikely as materials are already purchased or sourced.

So, in reality, we get just a temporary bump and then it’s back to unemployment. I’m oversimplifying, but that’s not structural economic change that leads to lasting work or better standards of living. We need a true green employment revolution, in public transport, eco-friendly energy, clean (slow) food, retooling our infrastructure across the country.

And we need an ethical change that decouples happiness and standards of living from over-consumptive growth dependent on materials (in this case, carbon).

In short, more love and bikes.

Meanwhile, the tar sands crude extraction process rips holes in the earth that are visible from space. This is the less-than-easily accessible oil; extraction is itself more energy and input intense, creating vast lakes of toxic water and vast swaths of razed forest. Due to the nature of this oil, using tar sands crude releases drastically more carbon dioxide, our not-so-friendly climate change gas. This quote has been over used, but it is worth repeating: NASA’s top climatologist, a guy who isn’t exactly political while he studies the atmosphere and space and the like, called the pipeline and full exploitation of these tar sands “game over.”

Speaking of climate change, this pipeline would have the added benefit of committing the U.S. and the world that much more to a carbon economy. It would only strengthen our “path dependency,” making structural change more difficult. Make no mistake, climate change is real and we will have to adapt to it. Despite the tirades of deniers in the U.S., we will be weaned of carbon one day; the question is whether that transition is orderly and comfortable sooner or chaotic and painful later.

That’s why 1,253 people were arrested, myself included, outside the White House gates this summer in protest. That’s why thousands of people across the country raised a ruckus. That’s why Obama was birddogged by reporters protesters on various circuits this autumn. That’s why Canadian embassies across the world were the targets of demonstrations. That’s why 10,000 or so folks literally joined arms last weekend in a human chain around the White House (I lost my voice shouting).

And let’s be clear, this was not a coalition of fringe hippies. I met students, retirees, labor, hunters, farmers, preachers, professors, lawyers, truckers and everyone in between. I was arrested with people from Vermont, Nebraska, Illinois, Puerto Rico and Canada.

To reiterate, this decision to reevaluate the pipeline is certainly a big win. Cynics will say it only punts the question until after the 2012 election, but it also likely dooms the project.

And, more importantly, it doesn’t send us careening us down the path to ever more environmental harm.

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Glorious, even on the verge of death

This reef won't last long

The reefs around South Button continue to bleach, thanks at least in part to human impacts such as acidification and climate change. It’s sad to think: If degraded reefs can support this much life, how much more are we missing by not taking care of these rain forests of the sea.

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