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Earth Day 2016

22nd April 2016

Earth Day 2016

…the health of our planet has taken the back seat for a long while

 


April 22, 2016 – “The 46th anniversary of Earth Day.

This article has become an annual ritual to recount my thoughts since this movement was in its infancy.”

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day. The late Senator Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day way back in 1970. Yet for many mostly political reasons, Earth Day has remained a low profile movement that recognizes and encourages thoughtful consideration to our planet’s limited resources.

I’m not a tree hugger. I’m a concerned citizen who cares how our life habits affect the environment. But frankly, I’m amazed by those who refuse to accept our collective culpability and lax management of earth’s natural resources.

This past December 195 countries through the United Nations, unanimously ratified an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – an acknowledgement of the seriousness of climate change. So we are finally inching our way towards a gentler and kinder treatment of Mother Earth.


Let me digress for a short while as my mind becomes unstuck in time.

As a young adult I was attracted to Kurt Vonnegut‘s black humor. He died in April 2007 just prior to the original version of this article. News about his life and death took me back to the late 60’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in Ann Arbor. Vonnegut was invited to be “writer in residence” and as one of the most widely read authors of the day, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience at U of M.

He often took breakfast at “The Brown Jug”, where he’d have coffee and smoke lots of cigarettes. Vonnegut claimed that smoking was the slowest form of suicide. My wife Kris, also a student, waitressed at here and on occasion would wait on him. Owing to a hearing difficulty she admitted that she wasn’t a very good waitress and frustrated Vonnegut with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his stay on campus as writer in residence ended prematurely when he left suddenly saying something like: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing more to teach you about writing.” So it goes.

The late 60’s was a very vibrant and exciting, yet conflicted era. From my high school yearbook a Charles Dickens quote describes the period: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of Viet Nam and Kent State, living off the earth and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, James Taylor and Woodstock music. With this as a backdrop, we happen upon the Earth Day 1970 teach-in at the U of M.

After Vonnegut’s departure, the folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot visited Ann Arbor. Gord had been drawing large audiences around the US, Canada and Europe. Here he performed his Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics) for more than 12,000 screaming students. It is a poetic ballad describing the building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing the economy and keeping the land pristine for the future – an apt way to point to the environmental conflict in musical terms.

Lightfoot’s concert was part of the first Earth Day teach-in, a gathering of some 50,000 in Ann Arbor to discuss, educate and find solutions to environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. From all of the excitement and the energy which went into the production of the first Earth Day teach-ins, many of us believed that we were on the verge of saving the environment.

I was planning a career to revolve around conservation, ecology and recycling. I studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as forestry, resource management and cost-benefit analysis.

My great enthusiasm for all things environmental waned not long after graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. It was fully a year later that I was still trying to find a job in this nascent field. Instead, I ended up in the computer and publishing business. So it goes.

I tend to shy about from talking politics so I won’t comment on how well or how poorly us earthlings have done to improve the environment over the past 46 years. However, like others, I’ve seen a very large and urgent movement in recent years to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles.

Of course there have been numerous events that have flashed attention on Earth Day. How about a song with a conservation theme: Conviction of the Heart (click for lyrics) was performed by writer/singer Kenny Loggins at Earth Day 1995 in Washington, DC.

A few years back we took two of our young grandkids to see The Lorax, a movie based on a Dr Seuss’ book. It describes a place where the trees have been clear cut so there are no trees left. Everyone depends on manufactured air to provide oxygen for their survival. Through battle with “industry”, the hero finally succeeds in planting a single tree. This act restarts the path to regenerating oxygen naturally. While the story is a little far fetched, it presents the oxygen depletion issue to a young generation.

Later, we took them to see another movie – The Croods which depicts the struggle of a family of cave people to survive in a deteriorating world. They survive through human ingenuity with inventions such as fire, shoes and wheels. I hope this isn’t the only lesson for our next generation – that technology alone is going to save our environment. Yes, we are quite ingenious. But a lot of us have reservations that technology by itself will solve our planet’s woes.


Photography and the Environment

So what does all of this rambling have to do photography? Well, to continue in the same vein, I thought it might be interesting to look at photography then and now to compare their individual environmental impacts.

At first, I thought this was going to be a “no brainer” – that digital photography yields huge environmental savings compared to conventional photography. But as I began to dig deeper, I see that there are two sides to this argument.

Conventional Photography

Having worked in several commercial photo labs long before the advent of digital, I’m familiar with the processes that are used in conventional (film-based) photography.

Most conventional cameras use a cartridge or canister filled with film for 12, 20 or 36 exposures. Each “roll” of film is individually packaged for sale in hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Besides the resources needed to manufacture the film, a considerable amount more are used to market and distribute the products.

Film derives its light sensitivity from a chemical mixture of silver halide that’s coated onto its surface. After being exposed to light by the camera, the film is first “developed” – the silver halide image is converted into a metallic silver and then “fixed” – the unused silver halide is dissolved. This makes the negative image permanent. Color film requires additional chemicals to form the dyes used to reproduce the various colors. And still other chemicals are used to enhance the drying of the photographic materials. In addition to these chemicals, a large amount of water is used to rinse and clean the chemicals from the surface of the film.

Conventional photographic prints are processed similarly using a silver halide sensitive paper and chemicals to develop and fix and wash the positive images. Most commercial photo labs make prints from each exposure on a roll of film.

The environmental impact of conventional photography is significant. A large amount materials is consumed to make film and photographic paper. A large amount of nasty and toxic chemicals are used to process both the film and prints. And an awfully large amount of fresh water is used in the process as well.

Digital Photography

At first glance, the coming of age of digital photography appears to have a beneficial impact on the environmental.

With digital, no longer is there a need for roll after roll of film. Instead a single chip (SD-card or CF-card) can capture hundreds, maybe thousands of images.

Now, these digital images no longer require chemical development. Rather, the images are immediately available to review while still in the camera. For permanence, the images can be copied to your computer hard drive for safekeeping, further enhancement and presentation.

Unlike conventional processing where each exposure is mindlessly printed by the photo lab, you can be more selective. Instead you can choose to print only the best of the best images. And it’s your choice to print them using a conventional photo process at your favorite photo lab or print them at home on your color ink-jet printer.

Regardless of which camera you’ve purchased, digital photography seems like a winner from an environmental standpoint.

The Rest of the Story

As with many things in life, digital photography has a few “gotcha’s” that cloud its environmental friendly moniker.

The upside is that digital provides big savings in resources by eliminating film, packaging, paper and chemical processing. However, digital shifts the resource burden to the manufacturing and maintaining of the personal computer. Yes, there are some who make do without a personal computer. These picturetakers bring their digital film to a photo lab to make their selected prints. But most picturetakers collect, organize, retouch, process and present their photographs using a personal computer.

While it’s dated, a United Nation report tells us that “the average 24 kg desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels. Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water – a total of 1.8 tonnes of materials.”

Of course a personal computer is used for other tasks as well, so it’s not fair to put the full blame for digital photography’s negative impact on the environment.

And to power all of these cameras, computers and accessories the need for electricity either from the wall outlet or batteries is climbing. Does this contribute to our CO2 footprint?

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are working feverishly to add new and amazing whiz-bang features to their cameras. But now instead of buying a conventional camera every ten years or so, the buying cycle for digital cameras is a lot more frequent. Read: more resources consumed.

Wrapping it Up

We can credit the overwhelming adoption of digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film and prints. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

Unfortunately, from an environmental standpoint, digital photography is a mixed bag when considering the pervasive number of new cameras and extensive use of the personal computer.

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut might comment on this no-win situation with the phrase so it goes.

A while back, I wrote another article that might be of interest if you’re following the status of our environment.

After all of these years as an avid photographer I’m still a proponent of carefully using our precious natural resources. Aside from photographing family, my favorite pastime is nature and landscape photography. To see some of the ways that I commune with nature, please click here.

To the best of my ability I continue to practice “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our wildlife nor its surroundings. Photography, whether conventional or digital, is a gift that lets me enjoy the wonders of our amazing world visually. I think many others agree.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 


 

 
More Information
Here’s a few articles that touch on the conventional vs digital photography debate.

For those of you who are interested in the movement, here is a link to one of the main Earth Day sites.



History of Earth Day

************************************************************************

Written by Arnie Lee, former flower child and founder of Stay Focused.

Please leave your comments below or address your thoughts about this article, to Arnie via email

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot


There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds

As to this verdant country they came from all around

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall

And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring

The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring

Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day

And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see

They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea

Bringing the goods to a young growing land

All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land

From the eastern shore to the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Get on our way cause were moving too slow

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining

The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day

Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping

Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey

Bending our old backs til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Laying down track and building the bridges

Bending our old backs til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains

Into the muskeg and into the rain

Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe

Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay

Driving them in and tying them down

Away to the bunkhouse and into the town

A dollar a day and a place for my head

A drink to the living and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung

All the battles have been won

Oer the mountain tops we stand

All the world at our command

We have opened up the soil

With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

And many are the dead men too silent to be real

 

 

Conviction Of The Heart

By Kenny Loggins

Where are the dreams that we once had?

This is the time to bring them back.

What were the promises caught on the tips of our tongues?

Do we forget or forgive?

There’s a whole other life waiting to live when

One day we’re brave enough

To talk with Conviction of the Heart.

And down your streets I’ve walked alone,

As if my feet were not my own

Such is the path I chose, doors I have opened and closed

I’m tired of living this life,

Fooling myself, believing we’re right

I’ve never given love

With any Conviction of the Heart

One with the earth, with the sky

One with everything in life

I believe we’ll survive

If we only try

How long must we all wait to change

This world bound in chains that we live in

To know what it is to forgive

And be forgiven?

Too many years of taking now.

Isn’t it time to stop somehow?

Air that’s too angry to breathe, water our children can’t drink

You’ve heard it hundreds of times

You say you’re aware, believe and you care,

But do you care enough

To talk with Conviction of the Heart?

Earth Day 2014

20th April 2014

Earth Day 2014

…crawling forward at a snail’s pace

 


“April 22 marks the 44th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

This topic has been on my mind so much so that I’ve written and rewritten this article several times over the years. Here is my recollection of some of the thoughts that have followed me since this movement was in its infancy.”

Earth Day

As April arrives each year I’m reminded of Earth Day.

This year I’m dumbfounded as I have yet to read, hear or see mentioned anything about Earth Day. I suppose the environment has taken a back seat to events like the confounding search for Malaysia Air Flight 370, the unraveling crisis in the Ukraine or the sorrowful sinking of a ferry off of South Korea.

While I consider myself quite concerned about the environment, I’m certainly not a tree hugger. Yet as the years pass by since Earth Day 1970, it’s apparent that the general public is stuck in low gear on this topic.

Regardless, maybe you’d like to follow along as my mind becomes unstuck in time.

From the time I first started reading his black humor, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published. The news coverage of his life and death took me back to the late 60’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in Ann Arbor. Vonnegut was invited to be “writer in residence” and as one of the most widely read authors of the day, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience at U of M.

He sometimes frequented “The Brown Jug”, a small, local campus restaurant where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. As an aside, Vonnegut claimed that smoking was the slowest form of suicide. My wife Kris, also a student, waitressed at The Brown Jug and on occasion would wait on him. But owing to a hearing difficulty she admitted that she wasn’t a very good waitress and frustrated the celebrated writer with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his purpose on campus as writer in residence ended prematurely when he suddenly left declaring: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing more to teach you about writing.” So it goes.

To put things in the proper perspective, 1970 was a very vibrant and exciting, yet conflicted era. I’m reminded of Charles Dicken’s quotation in my high school yearbook which aptly describes the period: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of Viet Nam and Kent State, living off the earth and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, The Beatles, James Taylor and Woodstock music. With this as a backdrop, we happen upon the Earth Day 1970 teach-in at the U of M.

Shortly after Vonnegut’s departure, the well-known folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot came to Ann Arbor to perform for more than 12,000 screaming students. Gord had been drawing large audiences around the US, Canada and Europe with his classic Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics), a poetic ballad describing the building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing the economy and keeping the land pristine for the future. His music was great back then and to this day, I remain a Lightfoot fan. I was so much the fan that a few years ago I traveled to Las Vegas (by myself since no family member wanted to accompany me) to hear him in concert. And I ended up staying for two of his performances. I even have a life size poster of Gord which was gifted to me by the advertising manager of the casino.

Lightfoot’s concert was part of the first Earth Day teach-in, a gathering of some 50,000 in Ann Arbor to discuss, educate and find solutions to environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. From all of the excitement and the energy which went into the production of the first Earth Day teach-ins, many of us believed that we were on the verge of saving the environment.

As an economics student, I was counting on a future career that would revolve around conservation, ecology and recycling. I studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as remote sensing of the environment and cost-benefit analysis.

My great enthusiasm for all things environmental waned some time after graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. It was fully a year later that I was still trying to find a job in this nascent field. Instead, I ended up in the computer and publishing business. So it goes.

I tend to shy away from public discussions about politics so I won’t comment on how well or how poorly us earthlings have done to improve the environment over the past 44 years. However, like others, I have observed a very large and urgent movement in recent years to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles.

A few years back we took two of our young grandkids to see The Lorax, a movie based on a Dr Seuss’ book. It describes a place where the trees have been clear cut so there are no trees left. Everyone depends on manufactured air to provide oxygen for their survival. Through battle with “industry”, the hero finally succeeds in planting a single tree. This act restarts the path to regenerating oxygen naturally. While the story is a little far fetched, it presents the oxygen depletion issue to a young generation.

Last year, we took them to see another movie – The Croods which depicts the struggle of a family of cave people to survive in a deteriorating world. They survive through human ingenuity with inventions such as fire, shoes and wheels. I hope this isn’t the only lesson for our next generation – that technology alone is going to save our environment. Yes, we are quite ingenious. But a lot of us have reservations that technology by itself will solve our planet’s woes.

Photography and the Environment

So what does all of this rambling have to do photography? Well, to continue in the same vein, I thought it might be interesting to look at photography then and now to compare their individual environmental impacts.

At first, I thought this was going to be a “no brainer” – that digital photography yields huge environmental savings compared to conventional photography. But as I began to dig deeper, I see that there are two sides to this argument.

Conventional Photography

Having worked in several commercial photo labs long before the advent of digital, I’m familiar with the processes that are used in conventional (film-based) photography.

Most conventional cameras use a cartridge or cannister filled with film for 12, 20 or 36 exposures. Each “roll” of film is individually packaged for sale in hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Besides the resources needed to manufacture the film, a considerable amount more are used to market and distribute the products.

Film derives its light sensitivity from a chemical mixture of silver halide that’s coated onto its surface. After being exposed to light by the camera, the film is first “developed” – the silver halide image is converted into a metallic silver and then “fixed” – the unused silver halide is dissolved. This makes the negative image permament. Color film requires additional chemicals to form the dyes used to reproduce the various colors. And still other chemicals are used to enhance the drying of the photographic materials. In addition to these chemicals, a large amount of water is used to rinse and clean the chemicals from the surface of the film.

Conventional photographic prints are processed similarly using a silver halide sensitive paper and chemicals to develop and fix and wash the positive images. Most commercial photo labs make prints from each exposure on a roll of film.

The environmental impact of conventional photography is significant. A large amount materials is consumed to make film and photographic paper. A large amount of nasty and toxic chemicals are used to process both the film and prints. And an awfully large amount of fresh water is used in the process as well.

Digital Photography

At first glance, the coming of age of digital photography appears to have a beneficial impact on the environmental.

With digital, no longer is there a need for roll after roll of film. Instead a single chip (SD-card or CF-card) can capture hundreds, maybe thousands of images.

Now, these digital images no longer require chemical development. Rather, the images are immediately available to review while still in the camera. For permanance, the images can be copied to your computer hard drive for safekeeping, further enhancement and presentation.

Unlike conventional processing where each exposure is mindlessly printed by the photo lab, you can be more selective. Instead you can choose to print only the best of the best images. And it’s your choice to print them using a conventional photo process at your favorite photo lab or print them at home on your color ink-jet printer.

Regardless of which camera you’ve purchased, digital photography seems like a winner from an environmental standpoint.

The Rest of the Story

As with many things in life, digital photography has a few “gottcha’s” that cloud its environmental friendly moniker.

The upside is that digital provides big savings in resources by eliminating film, packaging, paper and chemical processing. However, digital shifts the resource burden to the manufacturing and maintaining of the personal computer. Yes, there are some who make do without a personal computer. These picturetakers bring their digital film to a photo lab to make their selected prints. But most picturetakers collect, organize, retouch, process and present their photographs using a personal computer.

While it’s dated, a United Nation report tells us that “the average 24 kg desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels. Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water – a total of 1.8 tonnes of materials.”

Of course a personal computer is used for other tasks as well, so it’s not fair to put the full blame for digital photography’s negative impact on the environment.

And to power all of these cameras, computers and accessories the need for electricity either from the wall outlet or batteries is climbing. Does this contribute to our CO2 footprint?

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are working feverishly to add new and amazing whiz-bang features to their cameras. But now instead of buying a conventional camera every ten years or so, the buying cycle for digital cameras is a lot more frequent. Read: more resources consumed.

Wrapping it Up

We can credit the overwhelming adoption of digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film and prints. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

Unfortunately, from an environmental standpoint, digital photography is a mixed bag when considering the pervasive number of new cameras and extensive use of the personal computer.

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut might comment on this no-win situation with the phrase so it goes.

Last year I wrote another article that might be of interest if you’re following the status of our environment.

After all of these years as an avid photographer I’m still a proponent of carefully using our precious natural resources. Aside from photographing family, my favorite pastime is nature and landscape photography. To see some of the ways that I commune with nature, please click here.

To the best of my ability I continue to practice “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our wildlife nor its sourroundings. Photography, whether conventional or digital, is a gift that lets me enjoy the wonders of our amazing world visually. I think many others agree.

Happy Earth Day!

 

 


 

 
More Information
Here’s a few articles that touch on the conventional vs digital photography debate.

For those of you who are interested in the movement, here is a link to one of the main Earth Day sites.



History of Earth Day

************************************************************************

 
Written by Arnie Lee, former flower child and founder of Stay Focused.

Please leave your comments below or address your thoughts about this article, to Arnie via email

 

 

 

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot


There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds

As to this verdant country they came from all around

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall

And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring

The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring

Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day

And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see

They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea

Bringing the goods to a young growing land

All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land

From the eastern shore to the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We’re gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Get on our way cause were moving too slow

Behind the blue Rockies the sun is declining

The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day

Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping

Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey

Bending our old backs til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Laying down track and building the bridges

Bending our old backs til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains

Into the muskeg and into the rain

Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe

Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay

Driving them in and tying them down

Away to the bunkhouse and into the town

A dollar a day and a place for my head

A drink to the living and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung

All the battles have been won

Oer the mountain tops we stand

All the world at our command

We have opened up the soil

With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

And many are the dead men too silent to be real

Earth Day 2012

21st April 2012

Earth Day 2012

… 42 years and counting

Tomorrow marks the 42nd anniversary of the first Earth Day. (Note: I’ve redated this article so that it corresponds to an April 22 date.)

This is a personal recollection of some of the memories that have followed me since this global movement was in its infancy. I also take a short look at both conventional film and digital photography to describe their effect on the environment.

Usually my daily thoughts are centered around publishing, software, grandkids or one of many other diverse topics. But as April arrives each year, a newspaper article here or a radio broadcast there reminds me of Earth Day.

Stick with me for a few paragraphs as my mind drifts back a bit.

From the time I first started reading his black humor, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published.

The news coverage of his life and death took me back to the late 60’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in the city of Ann Arbor. Vonnegut was asked to be “Writer in Residence” at the University. As one of the most widely read authors of the 1960’s generation, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience among would-be writers studying at the U of M.

He sometimes frequented a small, local campus restaurant called “The Brown Jug” where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. Back then, it was popular lore that Vonnegut declared smoking to be the slowest form of suicide.
(more…)

Earth Day 2011

19th April 2011

 

Earth Day 2011

… 41 years and counting

Note: This article as been adapted from the original written for Earth Day 2007.

 

April 22, 2011

 

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the first Earth Day. Here is a personal recollection of some of the memories with photos that have followed me since this global movement was in its infancy.

On a daily basis owing to my job, my thoughts are usually centered on the topic of photography. But recently, a few things happened to jog my memory and I was carried back to the first Earth Day of 1970. Stick with me. I’ll get back to the subject of photography soon enough.

From the time I first started reading his compelling, black humor books, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published.

The news coverage of his life and death had my mind wandering back to the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in the city of Ann Arbor. Somewhere in that time frame, Vonnegut was asked to be “Writer in Residence” at the University. As one of the most widely read authors of the 1960’s generation, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience among would-be writers studying at the U of M.

He sometimes frequented a small, local campus restaurant called “The Brown Jug” where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. Back then, it was popular lore that Vonnegut declared smoking to be the slowest form of suicide.
(more…)

 

Earth Day 2010
… 40 years and still counting

Note: This recently updated article was adapted from an article written for Earth Day 2007.

 
April 21, 2010 

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the first earth day. Here’s a personal recollection of some of the memories with photos that have followed me since this global movement was in its infancy.

Eyjafjallajokull volcano*

On a daily basis owing to my job, my thoughts are usually centered on the topic of photography, aviation and airplanes. But recently, a few things happened to jog my memory and I was carried back to the first Earth Day of 1970. Stick with me. I’ll get the other parts soon enough.

From the time I first started reading his compelling and humorous books, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published. With his passing I made it a point to listen to my favorite NRP radio station and to read the newspaper articles about one of America’s funniest writers of the 20th century. I also made my way over to the local bookstore to buy a few Vonnegut books so as to refresh my slowly failing memory with a few of his lesser known works.

The news coverage of his life and death had my mind wandering back to the late 60’s and early 70’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in the small city of Ann Arbor. Somewhere in that time frame, Vonnegut was asked to be “Writer in Residence” at the University. As one of the most widely read authors of the 1960’s generation, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience among would-be writers studying at the U of M.

He sometimes frequented a small, local campus restaurant called “The Brown Jug” where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. It was popular lore that he claimed smoking to be the slowest form of suicide.

My wife Kris, then a student and part-time waitress, was also a Vonnegut reader. On occasion, she would wait on him in the restaurant. She admitted, that owing to her hearing difficulty, she was not a very good waitress and therefore frustrated the celebrated writer with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his purpose on campus as writer in residence ended when he left prematurely declaring something to the effect: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing much to teach you about writing.” So it goes.

 

To put things in the proper perspective, 1970 was a very vibrant, exciting and yet conflicted era. I’m reminded of Charles Dicken’s quotation in my high school year book which aptly describes the period: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of Viet Nam and Kent State, living off the earth and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, James Taylor, Woodstock and The Beatles music. With this as a backdrop, we happen upon the Earth Day 1970 teach-in at the U of M.

Not long after Vonnegut’s departure from the campus, we were treated to a free music concert. The popular folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot came to town to perform for more than 12,000 screaming students in one of the large stadiums at the University. Gord had had been drawing large audiences around the US, Canada and Europe with his classic Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics), a poetic ballad describing the building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing the economy and keeping the land pristine for the future. His music was great back then and to this day, I remain a Lightfoot fan. I was so much the fan that two years ago I traveled to Las Vegas (by myself since no family member wanted to accompany me) to hear him in concert at the Orleans Casino. And I ended up staying for two of his performances. Would you believe that I even have a life size poster of Gord which I gifted to myself courtesy of the advertising manager at the Orleans?

Anyway, traveling back to 1970, we understood that Lightfoot’s appearance was part of what was to be part of the first Earth Day teach-in, a gathering of some 50,000 in Ann Arbor to discuss, educate and find solutions to environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. From all of the excitement and the energy which went into the production of the first Earth Day teach-ins, many of us believed that we were on the verge of saving the environment.

As an economics student, I was counting on a future career that would revolve around conservation, ecology and recycling. At the time, I was deeply serious about this course of study. I studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as remote sensing of the environment and cost-benefit analysis.

My great enthusiasm for all things environmental waned some time after graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. It was fully a year later that I was still trying to find a job in this nascient field. Instead, I ended up in the computer business. So it goes.

As I usually stay away from public discussions about politics, I won’t comment on how well or how poorly the earth’s inhabitants have done to improve the environment over the past 40 years. However, like others, I have observed a very large and urgent movement in recent years to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles.

As a side note, the Boeing 747 jumbo jet was introduced to the world at about this same time. Its launch was just coincidental to the first Earth Day.

So what does all of this rambling have to do with aviation and photography? {Among other topics, our company is involved with both flight simulation and photography.}

Well, to continue in the same vein, I thought it might be interesting to look at several aircraft and compare their individual environmental impact. Here’s a table that I compiled from publicly available data.

Aircraft
Entered

Service

Engines
Passengers
Fuel

Consumption

Fuel /

Passenger

Boeing 727-200
1967
3
180
1840 gal/hr
10.2
Boeing 747-100
1970
4
360
3700 gal/hr
10.27
Concorde SST
1973
4
108
6700 gal/hr
62
Airbus A300-600
1988
2
270
1670 gal/hr
6.19
Boeing 747-400
1989
2
410
3380 gal/hr
8.24
Airbus A320-200
1988
2
150
800 gal/hr
5.3
Boeing 737-800
1998
2
180
790 gal/hr
4.3
Boeing 777-300 ER
2003
2
360
1800 gal/hr
5

Acknowledging that the raw data in the above table is open to much discussion, it is still interesting to compare gross numbers. When Earth Day 1 was held, the most was the most widely used aircraft of the time was Boeing’s 727. As you can see, the fuel consumption per passenger of the three-engine 727 was more than double that of the twin-engine Boeing 737 used as the daily workhorse today. As already noted, the original Boeing 747-100 appeared about the same time as Earth Day 1. And its fuel consumption was comparable to the Boeing 727. We see that today’s Boeing 747-400 has 20% better fuel economy today than its early predecessor.

As it is today, noise pollution was also a concern in 1970. Pushed by local community noise abatement regulations, many airports placed restrictions on night time operations giving us more quiet sleep time. At the same time, aircraft manufacturers were making continuous reductions in engine noise. By some accounts, we’re told that engine noise is 50% less than in 1970.

The industry has been on the right track over this time period. And preliminary estimates for the next generation Boeing 787, Airbus 350 and Airbus 380 promise even more improvements in fuel and noise.

I suppose we can draw some comfort from the fact that today’s aircraft are clearly more efficient today than the aircraft of 37 years ago. And look, we’re no longer flying the Concorde SST which had an atrocious fuel burn. But concerning the environment, the world today flies a significantly larger number of aircraft each day than were flown back in 1970. Yes, it’s true that we’re moving more passengers over longer distances and at faster speeds. But the unspoken costs to the common community for this mode of transportation are the continued high requirements of limited fossils fuels and the contribution of the fuel burn to global warming. In the Kurt Vonnegut tradition, it might be nice if we could become “unstuck in time“- go back and make a few corrections to the decision making of the past 40 years to steer us on a slightly different course.

Those of you who are fans of flight simulation might take at least a little pride in the fact that your hobby helps preserve the environment as compared to real flight. While the manufacturing of computers and computer usage do have an impact on the environment, the impact is not of the same magnitude as the manufacturing and operation of aircraft. So you might consider all types of computer simulation as a modest way to help from further damaging the world around us.

On the photography side, we can credit the overwhelming adoption of digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

This past week we’ve seen how the activity of a single volcano in remote Iceland demonstrates the fragility of the global environment. The ash clouds produced by the eruption of Eyjafjallajoekull has created a cascade of disruptions in Europe. Not only has air travel been severely affected, but other commercial enterprises such as food suppliers and medical services have suffered.

To underline the impact of air travel on the environment I found a study that compares the carbon dioxide emissions from European aircraft operations and the volcano. According to the report, the daily CO2 output from daily aircraft operations is 345,000 tons compared to that of the volcano. I won’t disagree that this may be an unfair comparison – the public benefits from air travel while it’s questionable whether the pubic benefits from the volcano eruption. However, this exercise illustrates one of the costs to society from air travel.

As Mr. Vonnegut reiterates from his Slaughterhouse Five, so it goes.

For those of you who have the inclination, here are few links to Earth Day sites.

************************************************************************

Author: Arnie Lee, former flower child and President of Abacus

*Eyjafjallajokull volcano photo used under creative commons license by Narisa via Flickr.
Unless otherwise noted, photos are from the author’s personal collection.

Address any comments about this article, to Arnie via email

 

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot


There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds

As to this verdant country they came from all around

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall

And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring

The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring

Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day

And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see

They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea

Bringing the goods to a young growing land

All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land

From the eastern shore to the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

Were gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Get on our way cause were moving too slow

Behind the blue rockies the sun is declining

The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day

Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping

Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey

Bending our old backs til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Laying down track and building the bridges

Bending our old backs til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains

Into the muskeg and into the rain

Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe

Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay

Driving them in and tying them down

Away to the bunkhouse and into the town

A dollar a day and a place for my head

A drink to the living and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung

All the battles have been won

Oer the mountain tops we stand

All the world at our command

We have opened up the soil

With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

And many are the dead men too silent to be real