Tag Archives: environment

Book Review: Moby Duck

A couple weeks ago I went to a lecture by the author of Moby Duck, Donovan Hohn.  I was interested in this because of a story that I remember reading a few years ago. The story was about a flotilla of 1000 ghost rubber ducks, bleached by the sun, about to invade the coast of the UK.

That story turns out to have been false, part of the growing myth surrounding the Friendly Floatees. Much like the white whale, a figment of the collective imagination.

This book tells the story, as best can be reconstructed, of these toys. They weren’t made of rubber, and the ducks only accounted for 1/4 of the toys (lost in the creating of the myths were the turtles, frogs, and beavers).

The story is incredible. In an attempt to find the full lifecycle of these toys Hohn goes up and down the Alaskan coast looking for the toys cast upon the rugged north Pacific beaches. He goes to sea, many times, including joining scientific expeditions looking at the plastic content of the Pacific, meso scale currents in the North Atlantic, and crossing the North West Passage (now possible due to a rise of 5 degrees C at the poles) all exploring the possible tracks these toys could have taken. He even goes to China to find the birth place of these toys, and crosses the Pacific on a container ship not unlike the one the Floatees fell off of.

His style is very much like that of Bill Bryson, though his mind drifts and wanders in a really interesting way that gives you a sense of the drifting and wandering of these toys at sea. It’s an incredible lens to look at our Oceans, a largely unexplored part of our earth, the impact we are having on them, as well as the dangers that still lie out to sea.

Highly recommended.

The Onion: EPA – Stubborn Environment Refusing To Meet Civilization Halfway

“For 40 years, we have worked tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of our natural environment,” a visibly angered EPA administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters. “But this can only work when it’s a give-and-take. If the environment won’t even meet us halfway by regenerating a rain forest or two, or pumping out some clean air and water every once in a while, then what’s the point of us trying?”

I love the Onion.

NYTimes: The New Sputnik

A quite interesting Op-Ed from Thomas Friedman a couple weeks ago that I missed makes the point that China is starting to shift their economy hard in the direction of green endeavors.

Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech. The
view of China in the U.S. Congress — that China is going to try to
leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date. It’s going to try to
out-green us. Right now, China is focused on low-cost manufacturing of
solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for
these products. It still badly lags U.S. innovation. But research will
follow the market. America’s premier solar equipment maker, Applied
Materials, is about to open the world’s largest privately funded solar
research facility — in Xian, China.

I suspect that the effort to clean up Beijing for the 2008 games is part of what spurred this notion there.  They had to basically shut down the city for months to get the air quality to levels that the long distance runners would compete.  That probably brought some of the environmentalists to the forefront of the party.

On an unrelated front, I thought nytimes was going to get rid of their stupid sign in form.  Get with the 21st century nytimes.

A generation makes such a difference

The last bit of media that was playing as we came in for approach to JFK from Berlin was an episode of Mad Men.  This was an original configuration 767, so there was just the big central screens in coach, and everyone was watching the same thing.  Neither Susan nor I we watching with head phones, but from time to time we’d see the pictures going by.  At some point the family was out for a picnic, and they “cleaned up” by throwing their beer can into the woods, and just flipping everything off their blanket and onto the ground.

I turned to Susan and said “ah, the 50s, how amusing you were”.  Her response was “…or horrifying”.  50 years ago communing with nature meant throwing you trash on the ground.  It took a generation to realize that trash isn’t taken away by magical fairies.  It just remains, and leaches into the ground water, and causes all manner of problems for generations down the road.  It makes for a good TV moment because the entire audience understands how egregious the act was.  2 generations will do that.  When you are in the middle of a change, it’s a lot harder to see that perspective.

They didn’t even have cucumbers

Our trip to Europe was primarily for Clemens wedding, in Berlin.  (We got there via Switzerland, but that’s a different story).  The wedding was small (by US standards), with about 50-60 people there, but the mix was amazing.  Americans, Germans, and Turks, all with quite interesting backgrounds, and all great people.  It was my first time to Berlin, and I realized how lacking my history was, so crammed a bit out of the guide book and asked some questions of the folks there.  For Clemens, who grew up in the city, I got some great responses at times that showed how matter of fact the second big moment in history for me was (the first being the challenger explosion).  “What’s up with that tower.”  “So there was this wall around the city…”

On the last night of the trip we went out to dinner with a student from Susan’s MFA program who is a German native, and living in Berlin now.  At some point the whole unification question came up and she started retelling her remembrances from childhood.  The one thing she remembered most was how the news kept saying “They didn’t even have cucumbers” of the East Germans, when trying to show how bad off they were.  This wasn’t actually true, in East Germany they had food when it was in season.  So no tomatoes or cucumbers in January, when they are shipped in from Argentina, picked green, and taste like styrofoam.  But this was the height of the 80s.  Western civilization’s peak got symbolized with any thing, any time you want it.  Much like the beer can in the woods, it doesn’t matter the impact, or the quality.  So when unification happened, one of the much lauded benefits was this any time culture.

We’re hopefully starting to leave that wastefulness behind.  In another generation I think we’ll see tomatoes in January no less quaint than throwing our garbage out the car window.  Food miles do matter, both for flavor and for impact to the world around us.  Once we got home we had friends over and had some fresh farm tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar.  Amazing flavor.  Yes, we don’t do this in January, but once you’ve tasted what a tomato is actually supposed to taste like, you wouldn’t want to either.