Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Burning Weed

Today at breakfast I picked up a copy of the Little Nickel Classifieds, usually a good place to find jobs, cheap trucks, or adoption-for-hire schemes.

The first ad on the front page was for a tip-line that pays up to $5000 for turning in pot farmers.

Right next to it were a solid dozen ads for "Medical Marijuana" ranging from home-delivery to dubious "Doctors" prepared to write you out a script for $100 bucks a pop.

One of the biggest reasons there is next to no meaningful Left (the Liberal class, the Dems, most of the Progressives, and Greens in the US are "Leftist" in more or less the same way that McDonald's is "food") in the US is pot.

More specifically, the fetishization of pot by a large number of left-leaning people, the continued criminalization of pot by the establishment right, and the division within the would-be Left over pot.

So many of those who hold socialist, anarchist, co-operative, and communalist views are more interested in getting high, and the legalization of their drug of choice then they are in social justice, universal health care, ending poverty (more on that tomorrow), ecological justice, or the end to America's permanent wars on various common nouns.

Except of course the "War on Drugs".

That one they'll fight.

For the record, I support the legalization of pot, not because I smoke it, not because I entertain some rainbow-colored unicorn shit idea that "The world would be better if everyone smoked weed", but because making pot criminal fuels the prison-industrial complex, is used as an excuse for ever-increasing intrusive police state measures, and serves to prevent the adoption of wide-spread agricultural/industrial use of renewable hemp (which the "legalize it" crowd often tries to trot out as the "real" reason for their quest, which would seem a lot more reasonable if they weren't red-eyed and scarfing down White Castle).

But the sheer amount of time, energy, and focus that goes into this one issue is completely out of whack. The US is currently fighting two seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention "police actions" and such in Columbia, Guiana, Belize, most of the 'Stans, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa, to name just a few. The last three years have seen the single greatest movement of wealth from the poor to the rich in the history of, well, history. The rich/poor gap has ballooned, the planet is as sick as a chemo-patient, a cabal of trans-national corporations are constantly tightening their grip on the very essentials and building blocks of life (water, food, DNA) and the one thing that gets the vote out, the one thing that stirs the soma-vacationing Left outa it's off-grid cabins is the call to legalize pot?

Which of course hands the Corporatist Right and their butt-kissing Moralist minions enough ammo to blow gaping holes in the credibility of anyone in anyway connected to the legalize-it-left, while those "leftists" who reject pot (and booze, and tobacco, and meat, and sex, and well, most things that make life fun) and tattoo X's into their fists turn on the very people who they claim to share ideals of ecological and social justice with, because unlike the Moralist crowd, the left likes to smoke, drink, and fuck.

Ok, fine, the Moralists like to smoke drink and fuck too, they just won't admit it.

How about we focus on the pressing issues; human rights, social justice, economic equality, the abolition of wealth (more on that tomorrow too), and ecological justice, and leave the legalization of pot (or the criminalization of animal products, stupid vegans) until the current tide of reactionary economic fascism has been beaten back into Mordor and the gates slammed shut?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Burning Bushes

A while ago, having nothing but time on my hands and the overwhelming urge to do something other than housework for a change, I went out and drastically cut back the hedges that blocked nearly all the light from the living room and kitchen windows. It took hours, chopping away with a cane knife, cutting tree-sized limbs with a chainsaw, and trying (but not really succeeding) to finish-cut with an electric hedge trimmer.

By the time I was done, I had light streaming into previously dark rooms, and a pile of hedge-trimmings the size of a Buick.

As I started stuffing said trimmings into the yard-waste can, and then black plastic bags, I started to reminisce about my childhood, when late summer would include at least one big bonfire of collected yard-waste, scrap wood, and (shocking by today's environmental standards) whatever other flammable junk we had to get rid of.

You can't do that most places these days. Here in Port Townsend, you either have to set your yard-waste out for pick up (which you pay for) every-other Thursday, or pack it up and drive it to the dump (where you have to pay).

And there, in the crisp autumn sun, I had my Moses-moment.

First, it dawned on me that these rules do nothing to "help the environment", rather they wrap a green cloak around a government mandated monopoly on waste disposal. Think about it for a minute. You are required to send this material either in your own (gasoline burning) vehicle or the city contractor's (diesel burning) truck to a central location, where it is chopped up and ground down (by a diesel-powered chipper) and placed in a huge pile to compost (where the anaerobic bacteria deep in the pile will leach out large amounts of methane, which does ten to twenty times more greenhouse gas damage than CO2), until it has decomposed enough to be shipped out in container trucks (diesel again) to garden centers to be sold as potting soil, which is then taken home in the back of consumer's cars and trucks, burning fuel all the way.

Whereas if I burned the stuff right here in the garden (its mostly laurel trimmings, which rot very very slowly but burn well, as they are rich in oils) there is a much smaller amount of air pollution (nicer smelling too, laurel makes a sweet smoke), and the ash and charcoal (trapped carbon) can simply be spread back into the soil. To top off the absurdity, our house, and nearly every house on the street has a wood-burning stove, all of which were blazing away.*
*For the record, no, I can "just burn all the trimmings in the wood stove" as they will burn wet and oily, risking a chimney-fire like the one we just had, a result of the previous tenant not being aware of this fact.

It got me thinking of other "greenwashed" practices that we all feel obliged to follow, yet aren't all that ecologically sound.

Take recycling. While you can still get paid for some recyclables in Iceland, very few places in the the Northwest will pay you to do so. That didn't used to be the case. These days, you have to pay someone (either directly, for curbside recycling, or indirectly for the fuel to take it to the dump) to recycle. Not to mention that the city-contractors drive two separate vehicles, one to pick up trash, one for recyclables, doubling the carbon emissions. After which the dump uses petroleum burning vehicles to shred, compact, bale, and ship these materials to distant plants to be recycled into new goods, which are then shipped all the way back here.

It would be one thing if the recycling took place locally. * If waste was recycled into useful products within a hundred mile radius, to be re-sold primarily within that radius, then the net reduction on greenhouse gases, resource depletion, and local unemployment would certainly justify the resultant pollution. But if the purpose is to simply provide a cheaper set of raw materials to distant manufacturers, is it really much "greener" than resource-extraction (mining, logging, etc).

*It may in regard to paper products, as there is a paper mill not a half-mile from the dump. If not, that's just fucking criminal.

Or take electric and electric-petroleum hybrid cars. Is the amount of pollution and resource extraction, not to mention the fuel spent on shipping material and finished products, that goes into manufacturing these vehicles counter-acted by their reduced CO2 emissions? Wouldn't it make more sense to simply (and it is simple) convert existing vehicles to run on renewable fuels (like methane, wood-gas, ethanol, and biodiesel/plant oils, all of which if produced locally for local sale are if not fully carbon-neutral* then at least much less harmful than petroleum fuels) or further convert them into steam/internal combustion hybrids (which do not require any of the scarce, hard to refine chemicals and minerals required by gas/electric hybrids and "cutting edge" electric cars)?

*Depending on how they are produced, some of these fuels actually result in a net reduction in CO2, not just neutrality.

In the end, recycling, hybrid cars, and yard waste disposal are not about "saving the planet" as much as they are about "insuring profits". The garbage company that hauls away my yard clippings and recyclables makes a profit from the monthly charge to our household, and a further profit from the resale of the valuable materials (paper, plastic, aluminum, glass, scrap-metal, wood-chips, compost/potting soil etc) to whoever will pay the highest price, whether near or far, for purposes ecologically sound or not. The car companies that tout their newest "ultra-efficient" hybrid wonder wagons don't tell you about the waste their production causes, nor that you could reduce your bills along with your "carbon footprint"* by simply converting your existing car to run on locally produced renewable fuel. They don't want to talk about those things. They want you to buy their cars.

The irony is, if I wanted to flaunt convention, regulation, and the like, and just set the remaining pile of trimmings alight, I'd likely have to use a either a petroleum-based accelerant to start the fire, or some plant-oil shipped here all the way from California, or paper produced locally, shipped thousands of miles to be printed, then thousands of miles to be filled with product, and then thousands of miles so I could buy it.

You just can't win...