Archive for the ‘Environment’ category

Water Water Not Everywhere Nor Any Drop To Drink

March 22, 2010

Masterful Water Drinker

Today, March 22nd, is “World Water Day”.   The New York Times “Lens” blog posts a couple of photographs showing a very polluted-looking Yamuna River passing by New Delhi, and  a drought-stricken area of Orissa, in Eastern India, where the surface of the earth looks as cracked as an unrestored Old Master.

A U.N. report published today says that more people are killed by dirty water each year than violence.

It seems apt (to me at least) that photographs illustrating water issues are taken from India.   Everyone loves water, but I remember being struck on my first trip to India, almost (gulp!) thirty years ago, how particularly involved Indians were with it.  I was amazed, first, by how masterful they were at its consumption:  just about everyone I saw could hold a metal cup  of “panni” appreciable inches from their faces and still manage to pour every single drop inside their mouths in a seamless, non-choking arc.

Then, there was all the bathing.  Real or ritual baths seemed a major part of daily life.   Even very poor people, people who lived in the street, would sit down with a jug or tap, carefully working their portion of whatever water they happen to get over arms and limbs.  (Baths taken while semi-clothed are no less baths.)

Cans of water were kept ready by fruit and vegetable sellers to douse cucumbers or fruit salads, heightening their appeal with regular applications of glisten and dewdrop.

Sacred rivers were jammed, but even less important pools were active.  Boys cooled off, water buffalos watered, jugs filled, clothes, endless clothes, were scrubbed and twisted and thwacked.

I particularly remember Udaipur (Rajasthan), a city famous for its beautiful lake and, especially its lake palace (which is a famous hotel now, also the site of the James Bond movie, Octopussy).  I was touring something, a fort turned into museum, and heard through the thick walls the thump thump thump of what sounded like an immense heart.  (Dobis, washer women, pounding clothes by the shore line.)

I have been told recently that the lake in Udaipur is almost completely dried up (at least during major portions of the year.)   On a recent trip, I saw the Yamuna River (shown frothy with chemicals outside of New Delhi in today’s Times) shrunk to about half its former size as it passes the back of the Taj Mahal in Agra.   And some of those smaller bodies of water, pools outside towns and villages were scummy with a toxic bright green, edges clogged with polyurethane.   Do people still use this water?  What other do some of them have?

Shrunken Yamuna River behind the Taj Mahal

How To Be Cool. For Those Whose Slang (Like Their Mahtabili) Is A Little Bit Rusty.

January 24, 2010


I am currently lying under a fleece blanket and two down comforters.    The heating unit at my side is turned off.  I could jump quickly into the cold, twist it on, then slip back into my lair, but, for some reason, I just don’t.

I’m not quite sure what this reason is.  I pay for heat in my apartment, so there’s an element of miserliness.  It’s blown hot air  (dry and noisy),  so there’s simple distaste.  There’s also, of course, my  heightened, if terribly inconsistent, environmental consciousness.  Then too, there’s the memory of my last apartment where Super-controlled heat blasts made for January sweats.

All of these combine into a perverse, hardier-than-thou, pride that keeps the heating units switched off.

I have recently found that this pride makes me part of  “Cool Crowd,” a class of people depicted in the New York Times the other day who eschew indoor heat in cold climates.

Being part of this cool crowd feels really great (despite the weight of the blankets).  I always was embarrassingly unhip as a child.  Actually, I’ve felt unhip my entire life.  I’ve rarely known the names or music of hot bands, TV shoes, movies, films.  My slang, like Alec Guiness’s “Mahtabili” in the film classic Kind Hearts and Coronets, has always been “a little bit rusty.”

Given the fact that the temperature in my apartment probably rarely dips below 50/45  (I don’t have a thermostat), I’m guessing that I’m only on the “luke” edge of the “cool crowd”.    Even so, no less than three members of my family separately asked me if I had seen the NY Times article.

These family members are extremely patient.   They don’t openly groan during my monologues about the merits of long silk underwear,  the importance of wool,  the risks of sock-removal.  They joke about the fact that I constantly tell them that they can turn on the heat, if they want, then proceed to turn it off again (if they’ve dared) after only a few minutes.

I warn them against wimpiness.  I regale them with tales about the time the water in my toilet bowl froze.   I protest that this is not about me disliking warmth, reminding them that I don’t turn on the AC in summer either.    They don’t actually need reminders of that.

Ah, Summer.  That’s when we get to be part of “who’s hot.”

P.S. – sorry for any misspelling of Mahtabili.  Please feel free to correct.

Old/New Source of Alternative Energy (Heat) – The Hot Water Bottle

January 4, 2010

Hot Water Bottle (Remembered)

I’m all for solar power, wind power, and other renewable alternatives to fossil fuels.  But during last night’s bitter cold, which was especially frigid in Battery Park City (where I live), the prow of the stationary ship which is Manhattan, I discovered an eminently traditional, and yet not fully tapped, form of alternative energy (i.e. heat).  The hot water bottle.

Seriously.  It was terrific. Better than wool socks.  (Maybe not as good as a nearby warm body, but warm bodies don’t necessarily put up with cold feet other than their own.)

As a caveat, I should say that I keep my apartment relatively (my kids say, ‘extremely’) cool (my kids say, ‘freezing’) in winter.  Besides trying to keep my carbon footprint to a toeprint, I find hot air heat too dry.   This means that I basically turn all the heat off at night.  (Okay, so maybe my kids are right.)

But last night called for measures beyond wool socks, a down comforter, and even a nearby warm body.

I have to confess to a past prejudice against hot water bottles, their rubbery exteriors so (potentially, at least) slimy and nubbly.  Besides my innate repugnance, my only personal experience with hot water bottles was in Mussoorie, India, a town in the foothills of the Himalayas, bordering Rishikesh (the hang-out of Maharaji Mahesh Yogi the Beatles’ guru)  and Dehra Dun (a favorite locale of Rudyard Kipling).

Mussoorie, though a very nice town, probably sounds more romantic than it is, at least when you are there alone, as I was.   It was green, hilly, and, on the small main road had a small boy who ran alongside a single thin wheel which he propelled with a stick.   On a clear day, there was a tower you could climb where you could supposedly see Tibet.  (I was not there on any clear days.)

Other than that, all I remember about Mussoorie is that it was very cold at night and that in my guest house, a remnant of the Raj, guests were distributed hot water bottles after dinner.  These, a sickly blue green, were covered in a worn crochet of thick bright red and purple yarn;  up by the corked top was a dog-eared yarn flower.

My memory of these hot water bottles is somewhat muddled by the baths in that same hotel.  The tubs were portable, small and tin, just about big enough for a squat.  When I came back to the hotel in the late afternoons, there was, next to the little tin tub, a very large aluminum tea kettle coated in an even larger quilted tea cozy.  Though the water in this kettle was close to boiling (depending upon when one came back to the room), there was only enough to fill the very cold noisy tub to the depth of an inch or two.  I remember taking all baths in at least one wool sweater.

Unfortunately, the crochet-covered hot water bottle and the tea-cozy-covered bath water became inextricably linked in my mind.  As a result, I always thought of hot water bottles with a shiver from the waist down.

Until last night, that is, when my husband, in response to the buzzing cold of my feet,  found a dark red hot water bottle in the back of a bathroom cabinet, and filled it up to the brim.

What a revelation!  My own little heat pillow.  My own little adjustable portable hearth.   At virtually no cost!  Using minimal fossil fuel!

Okay, so, it sounds silly.  But it also seems a useful paradigm for reducing U.S. energy consumption.    Heating one small actually used space, as needed, instead of the nonstop heating of a whole apartment, or house.  A helpful idea even when oil has not yet gotten back up to $100 a barrel.  (News alert—it went over $81 today.)

No crochet required.

ps- if you prefer paintings of elephants to hot water bottles, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson.

More Palin On Climate Change–Emit, baby, emit

December 22, 2009

Yesterday, I wrote about Palin’s tweets on climate change.   (Twitter–such an intelligent way to discuss complex scientific and political issues.)

Palin’s complete-sentence comments on climate change, posted on Facebook (another high level political forum) and in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, are a little less fragmented than her tweets.  But they illustrate a similar disjointed logic that is geared towards “catchy” reductiveness, self-promotion, and a refusal to face true choices (a “have your cake and eat it too” mentality.)

Catchiness comes in “word bites:”   for example, she accuses California Governer Schwarzenegger of harboring a vain “greener than thou” attitude.  (This put-down does not make a huge amount of sense since she also accuses him of being too green.)   She  accuses Gore and other environmentalists of promoting “Doomsday scenarios.”  (This last is also strange coming from someone who, seemingly, believes in the Book of Revelation.)

Any science that finds a connection between man’s activities and climate change is “agenda-driven,” even “fraudulent”.  (Another odd comment given the known efforts of the Bush administration to politically manipulate scientific data.)  Nonetheless, Palin promotes the idea that there has been a huge conspiracy of scientists for the last twenty years falsifying scientific records related to climate change:  “Vice President Gore,” she writes, “the Climategate scandal exists. You might even say that it’s sort of like gravity: you simply can’t deny it.”

The purpose of this vast scientific conspiracy is never specifically stated by Palin; the scientists seem somehow motivated by a vaguely elistist wish simply to make the American people suffer.

Palin, eager to seem pleasing and maverick at once, typically attempts to pay lip service to both sides of the debate.  She proclaims herself a believer in climate change, and to have initiated “common-sense” efforts in Alaska to deal with its effects.  (Presumably, these efforts did not involve any limitations on snowmobiling, drilling, or safeguarding of polar bear habitats.)   Her bottom line, however, is that she refuses to believe, no matter what,  in any connection between man’s activities and climate change, while she is completely certain that there will be an irremediable economic cost in reducing emissions.  Ergo, emit, baby, emit.

A “real world”, as she calls it, analysis.

Palin andClimat Chng: Happn’g 4 Ions

December 21, 2009

As my family, with some embarrassment, will attest, I am not someone who feels a knee-jerk hatred of Sarah Palin.  I don’t agree with her on virtually any issue, but I think she is smarter, or at least, shrewder, than many people from my neck of the non-woods (New York City) admit.  I also have a soft spot for Palin simply based on the memory of her youngest daughter (Piper?), seen at the Republican convention, earnestly pressing down Palin’s baby’s wayward bangs with a saliva-moistened palm.  (It’s hard not to like Piper.)

But Palin’s blindness to reason and fact really get to me; Palin is especially upsetting because she’s so glib, so willing to cast aside the complications of truth to get to the beguilingly simplistic.  She’s a bit like a cheerleader: as long as something is catchy, short, and supports her team, she will (smilingly) say it, whether or not it makes sense, or is even consistent with her other positions.

The most recent example of Palin’s reductiveness can be seen in her remarks on climate change.  Palin’s comments were made in the form of “tweets,”  a good method of communication for Palin since fractured thinking is not only allowed, it’s practically mandatory:

“Copenhgen=arrogance of man2think we can change nature’s ways.MUST b good stewards of God’s earth,but arrogant&naive2say man overpwers nature.   (Palin Tweet, 11:44 PM Dec 18th from TwitterBerry ).

Earth saw clmate chnge4 ions;will cont 2 c chnges.R duty2responsbly devlop resorces4humankind/not pollute&destroy;but cant alter naturl chng.” (11:57 PM Dec 18th from TwitterBerry)

There’s no room for the complications of science and fact here; no space for actual data.

There’s not even room for eons of change, but only “ions,” those teeny little charged particles that (according to some bogus scientists) make up various atoms and molecules.

I understand that Palin’s position is based, in part, on her Christian faith; but her faith seems terribly reductive here.   Although Palin pays lip service to a broader view of the environmental equation ( “humankind/not pollute and destroy”), this statement seems just a spoonful of sugar (to help the development go down).   It’s worth noting that one of Palin’s earlier tweets that day congratulates the Alaskan legislature on fighting the Endangered Species Act, a fight in which Alaska is working to delist the polar bear and to avoid a listing of the ribbon seal, two species that have been harmed by a severe decline in habitat due to climate change.

Apparently Palin believes that the polar bear and seal can live 4 ions, even without a habitat.

Who Needs Water? Drilling the Marcellus Shale

October 17, 2009

Ten Reasons (That Anyone Can Understand) Why New York Should Say No to Upstate Natural Gas Drilling.

1.  You need water to make beer.

2.  Even a cold bath is better than one that leaves you with boils.

3.  Casino-Resorts without (a) hot tubs (that don’t leave you with boils), or (b) good beer (I’ve heard Adirondack is infinitely superior to Coors) tend to go bust.

4.   Milk is good for your teeth.

5.  Mountains are good for your soul.

6.   When the animals go, we’re next.

7.   It’s hard to create jobs in a place where you can’t drink, bathe, feed animals, or wash clothes in the water.

8.  It’s hard to keep jobs downstream of a place where you can’t—oops! Correction.  It’s hard to keep jobs in a place whose reservoirs hold water that can’t be drunk, bathed in, or used for any human or animal purpose.

9.  Wyoming was once a beautiful state.

10.  And I haven’t heard that it’s become the jobs capital of the country.

Six Reasons Why New York Should Say Yes to Natural Gas Drilling

1.  I can take my one-time drilling lease payment and rent a trailer (maybe) somewhere a whole lot warmer than Upstate New York.

2.  Those stupid dairy cows really build up a stench.

3.   Coors is okay by me.   (Better not drill in Colorado.)

4.  Mountains make me carsick.

5.  Those stupid, rich, New Yorkers—don’t they just buy bottled water?

6.  They don’t use water to make diet soda, do they?  Regular?