31 August 2008

A case for 'anti-tolerance'

So well said, I'll just link to it...
Hat tip to 'Almost Diamonds'

28 August 2008

Good programs, but still just programs

I have to say, I like what CELA has done here. Their hearts (and minds) are in the right place. CELA is the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and they have just released their newest project; "Our Toxic-Free Future: An Action Plan and Model - Toxics Use Reduction Law for Ontario"

I still can't help thinking however, that programs like this, while they are definitely moving in the right direction, still have that drop in the bucket feel to them.

23 August 2008

Very Exciting Algae

Okay, so in a slight departure from anthropology, here is something really cool. It started with humans strip-mining and eventually creating one of the most toxic environments on earth. Then, years later, we found something living there.

This, like most extremophile cases, perfectly illustrates that life does in fact, always find a way. Although I'm sure there are some jerks who will argue that a divine superbeing put life in a lifeless place, completely ignoring the adaptive processes undergone by generations of algae, I prefer to revel in the magnificence of adaptation and how we can learn from it.

The part I find especially cool is that "Some can even repair their own damaged DNA, a trait which makes them extremely interesting to cancer researchers" The tenacity of researchers "...led to the discovery of a number of promising chemicals. Three of these, berkeleydione, berkeleytrione, and Berkeley acid, came from species of the fungus Penicillium that had never been seen before, and were therefore named after the Berkeley Pit....Further tests revealed that berkeleydione helped slow the growth of a type of lung cancer cell, and Berkeley acid went after ovarian cancer cells. All five were passed along to the National Cancer Institute for further study."

Unfortunately, while this pit of human-made toxicity has caused certain algae and bacteria to flourish, likely benefiting us as well, we should not forget that human irresponsibility has also taken a high toll and will continue to do so.

"In 1995, a flock of migrating snow geese stopped at the massive pond for a rest, and at least 342 of them died there. Authorities now use firecrackers and loudspeakers to scare away migrating waterfowl, but there have been a few smaller die-offs nonetheless....the water level is rising at a rate of several inches a month, and if unchecked it will spill over into the area’s groundwater in twenty years."


17 August 2008

Addressing a few common myths about humans before the 'agricultural revolution'

1. There was in fact agriculture going on for quite some time in various parts of the world before people in Mesopotamia decided to make it a full time job. Before that, people grew gardens and cultivated naturally occurring plants, which added but a few hours to a very light workweek. Totalitarian agriculture, on the other hand, caused food production to be the single most laborious and time-consuming task humans have ever come up with.

2. "The noble savage" or other variations which I have heard, basically endows hunter gatherers (and early horticulturalists) with ideal lives, unaffected by war, conflict, or disagreement. There is no basis for this opinion! There were wars, although they were very small in scale and were intended only as a means of defining a tribe's boundaries and a show of strength, rather than as an attempt to wipe out or take over a neighboring tribe. There were conflicts, and the means of dealing with them, much as there are among modern hunter-gatherers. Laws were not needed, because each culture had means of dealing with specific problems that worked, usually through recompense or restoration rather than punishment. In short, while there are many aspects of the ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle we could stand to learn from, they were still human, and like any other animal, still had conflicts and obstacles. They also did not have access to all the wonderful things that science has brought us in the way of medicine and knowledge of our world and universe, among others.

3. They were slow/stupid/unsophisticated. I get really riled about this one. Some ancient peoples made remarkable tools with limited technology, incredibly intricate carvings, and textiles to rival the modern Italian fashion industry. They had the same brains we do, and would have had geniuses on par with Einstein, Beethoven, or Hawking. What they did not have was the 200,000 years of progressing knowledge to build upon as we do- they were the ones that started that knowledge base for us. The scientific method(In short: observe, hypothesize, test, repeat) was vital to early humans for survival. They needed to predict seasonal shifts, determine patterns and variables in animal migrations and plant growth, not to mention the extensive knowledge of animals' anatomy and behaviour neccessary to effectively hunt and use said animals. We are not the strongest, nor the fastest, nor the most agile of creatures, but we are the only ones with an ingrained desire to know what is going to happen and when!

4. They were 'closer to nature'. They were not 'closer' to nature, they were PART of nature. Humans didn't start looking at themselves as 'above' nature until we were so completely dependent on agriculture that we couldn't live without it.

I think that's all for now, but I'm sure I'll get back to the topic fairly soon.