Earth Day 2018: End Plastic Pollution

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Great Pacific Garbage Patch - NOAA

Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Photo Credit: Marine Debris NOAA

 

Today is Earth Day 2018. The theme this year is End Plastic Pollution in response to the exponential growth of plastic waste that now poses a threat to human survival owing to its un-biodegradable nature. When exposed to water, sun, or other elements, our plastic waste breaks down into tiny particles invisible to the naked eye. These particles – called microplastics – now contaminate our drinking water, seafood, or even the salt we add to our meals.

Earth Day Network (EDN) sums up the scope of this threat with the following 10 facts of plastic in our oceans.

Plastic waste floating in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Honduras

Plastic waste floating in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Honduras
Photo Credit: U.K. Daily Mail

 

Fact #1 – About 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans every year.

Fact #2 – Five massive patches of plastics are growing in the oceans worldwide. The one between California and Hawaii is the size of the state of Texas.

Fact #3 – Every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans.

Fact #4 – The amount of plastic in the ocean is set to increase tenfold by 2020.

Fact #5 – By 2050 plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish.

Fact #6 – Plastic is contaminating remote depths of the ocean.

Fact #7 – Marine organisms and animals are starving to death with undigested plastic in their stomachs.

Fact #8 – Contact with marine plastic increases disease in coral reefs, home to more than 25 percent of marine life.

Fact #9 – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains more plastic than natural prey upon which fish feed.

Fact #10 – Many fish humans consume have ingested plastic microfibers. Continue reading

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The Souls of Poor Folk: A National Call for Moral Revival

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Poor Peoples Campaign - A National Call for Moral Revival 2018
Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Photo Credit: Poor People’s Campaign

 

I’m finding it hard to stay abreast of all the upheaval triggered by our Twitter-in-Chief. His tweets and threats boggle my mind, create instability across our nation, and embolden our rivals and enemies overseas.

While our bombs turn the Middle East into rubble, people at the bottom rungs in America face their own hell. This month, the Institute for Policy Studies has published its empirical study, The Souls of Poor Folk, highlighting the complex issues that entangle our lives: systemic racism, persistent poverty, the war economy and militarism, and ecological devastation. Here are some of their key findings. Continue reading

“This is My Meditation” – Poem by Guyanese-born Author & Poet Sir Wilson Harris

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Dawn and Evening Star, Olmec Maya Series by Guyanese-born Artist Aubrey Williams, 1982

Dawn & Evening Star, Olmec Maya Series (1982) by Guyanese-born Artist Aubrey Williams
Source: October Gallery

 

On March 8th, Guyana’s illustrious literary writer, Sir Wilson Harris, died at the age of ninety-six in England where he had lived since 1959. Born in 1921 in New Amsterdam, British Guiana (now Guyana), Harris began his writing career as a poet, obtaining exposure through the colony’s literary magazine, Kyk-over-Al. My Poetry Corner April 2018 features one of these poems, “This is My Meditation,” published in 1947. Since I couldn’t find the original title of this poem, I’ve used the opening words as a substitute.

When he was two years old, Harris lost his father, “a well-off insurance businessman with a chauffeur-driven car.” His mother moved to the capital, Georgetown, and remarried. Six years later, tragedy struck again. His stepfather disappeared; believed drowned in the Interior.

“At almost the same time, I saw a beggar on a street corner, with holes in his face,” Harris tells Maya Jaggi (The Guardian, December 2006). “I came home and couldn’t eat – I never forgot that man.”

After completing his studies at Queen’s College, the prestigious secondary school for boys in Georgetown, Harris trained in land surveying and geomorphology. Beginning in 1942, his work as a government surveyor, charting the great rivers of the colony’s interior rainforest and savanna regions, changed his vision of man’s relation to the planet.

balata_bleeders_shooting_rapids_on_the_cuyuni,_british_guiana_c1908

Balata Bleeders Shooting Rapids on the Cuyuni River, Interior of British Guiana (c.1908)
Source: Overtown Miscellany UK/John S Sargent

 

“The shock of contrasts in river, forest, waterfall had registered very deeply in my psyche,” Harris tells Fred D’Aguiar (Bomb Magazine, January 2003). “So deeply that to find oneself without a tongue was to learn of a music that was wordless, to descent into varying structures upon parallel branches of reality, branches that were rooted in a stem of meaning for which no absolute existed.”

Of equal importance was his discovery of pre-Columbian myth and history gained through his contacts with the indigenous peoples in the region.

In his poem, “This is My Meditation,” the young poet calls out what he sees as the cruelty of the Christian God in the treatment of His beloved son, Jesus, left alone to suffer the painful and humiliating death by crucifixion. Continue reading

Update: Doing Business with the USA

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US Total Imports & Exports of Goods & Services 2008-2017

U.S. Total Imports & Exports of Goods & Services 2008-2017
Chart prepared by Rosaliene Bacchus, Your US-Brazil Trade Assist

 

Every year during the period January to March, I update the content and links on my website rosalienebacchus.com. This year, I have redesigned my website to feature my work as a writer. With the exception of three articles – Business with Brazil, Business with the USA, and the Import-Export Workbench – all links to articles for Your US-Brazil Trade Assist remain unchanged.

This week, I completed the update for Doing Business with the USA to include US trade statistics for year 2017. As shown in the captioned chart, U.S. total imports and exports of goods and services have recovered by 6.9 percent and 5.6 percent, respectively, when compared with the previous year.

Other information and charts include the following:

  • U.S. Top Ten Trade Partners 2017
  • U.S. Imports of Goods by End-Use Category 2015-2017
  • U.S. Exports of Goods by End-Use Category 2015-2017
  • Entering the U.S. Market
  • Making Contact with U.S. Importers & Exporters
  • U.S. Import Regulations
  • Visiting the United States for Business

Continue reading

Why should we care about the trade deficit?

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Shoppers at Walmart Store - Christmas 2017

American Shoppers at Walmart Store – Christmas 2017
Photo Credit: Digg/Associated Press

 

America’s trade deficit has been making the news. Our president loves to quote the amount of $800 billion: the U.S. trade deficit for trade in goods only. Our trade in services count too. They earned a surplus of over $242 billion in 2017 (Census Bureau, Exhibit 1).

The total U.S. trade deficit of goods and services in 2017 was $568 billion. We imported $2.900 trillion in goods and services while we only exported $2.332 trillion.

An examination of imports and exports of goods by principal end-use category (Census Bureau, Exhibit 10) reveal that consumer goods together with automotive vehicles, parts and engines account for our mounting deficit. Let’s not forget that goods produced by American companies in a foreign country – like the coveted Apple Smartphone designed in California – becomes an imported product on arrival in the USA. Continue reading

The state as ultimate “landlord” of nonhuman nature

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Athabasca Tar Sands - Alberta - Canada - Before and after arrival of oil companies

Athabasca Tar Sands – Alberta – Canada
Before and after arrival of oil companies

 

The third and final part of my series on the book, Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Kairos Books, 2016), edited by Jason W. Moore, is a synopsis of Christian Parenti’s article on “Environment-Making in the Capitalocene Political Ecology of the State.” A sociologist and geographer, Christian Parenti is a professor of Global Liberal Studies at the New York University.

Parenti’s core argument is that “the state is an inherently environmental entity, and as such, it is at the heart of the value form.” Within its territorial borders, the modern state controls the surface of the earth – the biosphere. Continue reading

“Camelot or Haunted Eden” by American Poet Angela Consolo Mankiewicz

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Lancelot_and_Guinevere_-_Herbert_James_Draper - c. 1890
Lancelot & Guinevere by Herbert James Draper (c.1890)
King Arthur’s Court – Camelot
Source: Wikipedia

 

My Poetry Corner March 2018 features the poem “Camelot or Haunted Eden” by American poet, Angela Consolo Mankiewicz (1944-2017). March 7th marks one year since she lost her battle with lung cancer, leaving behind her husband of forty-five years.

In August 2017, Richard Mankiewicz compiled a Limited Edition of his wife’s body of work in the collection The Poetry of Angela Consolo Mankiewicz. In the Foreword, he shares her farewell message to him in which she built upon the poem “Camelot or Haunted Eden,” first published in Summer 1989.

What words say Love the way I feel it? she asks in the opening lines of her farewell message. In the face of death, during this Horror of a year, their love is all that matters.

She then speaks of Gratitude for things born of your true Love… / Who would have thought Gratitude could be so pure, so wonderful…

She returns to the love, quoting from the featured poem, “Camelot or Haunted Eden,” but omitting the final stanza in which she had expressed her fear of him dying before she did. Life can be unpredictable.

In the first stanza, after over sixteen years together – when the poem was first published – Mankiewicz ponders a love that’s attentive to her needs and calms her fears, like a knight in armor, yet doesn’t suffocate or impede her to pursue her own dreams.

What is this love that rests inside his heart,
That succors me but lets me breathe apart?

This well from which I fetch a word, a hug,
A kiss that lets me live this day and shrug
Off demons that invade my artless brain;
This armor plate, this clasp without a chain. 

The day to day stresses of life can gnaw at any relationship. Happy the couple who help each other recover from incoming assaults with a willing ear, a hug, an encouraging word, as the poet shares in the second stanza.

This love that rocks the stress of everyday
Away from me and lightens my dismay.
This love that makes a lap for me to sink
Inside when worlds collide and I can’t think.
A love that sits with ready arms to hold
My weariness when I am feeling old. 

Yet, the greatest challenge to an enduring marriage is often our character flaws, whether the size of a lime or grapefruit, that can corrode a fragile relationship. In the last stanza of her farewell message, Mankiewicz expresses her good fortune in finding a lifelong partner who loves her with all her human frailty.  

A love that loves my pride and childish grins.
A love that knows my soul and shares my sins.
A love that brought me more than one can earn,
That only luck’s good fortune can discern. 

Camelot or Haunted Eden? Over the years, life-threatening health issues haunted their Eden. No marital relationship, even one that endures forty-five years, is perfect. Life has its pain and anxieties. What makes the difference is the love and gratitude that we sprinkle daily along the journey. Mankiewicz’s farewell message to her husband says it all.

To read the complete featured poem and learn more about the work of Angela Consolo Mankiewicz, go to my Poetry Corner March 2018.

 

How the web of life became Cheap Nature

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The Web of Life Reshaped - Painting by Mike Caimbeul

The Web of Life Reshaped – Painting by Mike Caimbeul
Photo Credit: Bongdoogle.com

 

Part Two of my series on the book, Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Kairos Books, 2016), edited by Jason W. Moore, is a synopsis of Moore’s article on “The Rise of Cheap Nature.” In his article, he refers to two kinds of nature: nature with a common ‘n’ is the web of life; Nature with a capital ‘N’ is environments without humans.

Like Eileen Crist (Part One), Moore argues that we live in the “Age of Capital,” the Capitalocene. Until we understand that “capital and power do not act upon nature, but develop through the web of life,” we cannot formulate solutions for the environmental crises we now face.

Most people (myself included), Moore notes, still think about capitalism in economic terms – markets, prices, money, and the like. He proposes that we think about the rise of capitalism as a new way of organizing nature. We would start to consider capitalism not as world-economy but as world-ecology – the organization of work, re/production of nature, and the conditions of life as an organic whole for the accumulation of capital and pursuit of power. In other words, human activity is environmental-making.

Moore challenges the Anthropocene narrative that capitalism emerged in eighteenth-century England with the Industrial Revolution, powered by coal and steam. The focus on fossil fuels as the ignition for the growth of capital ignores the greatest landscape revolution in human history – in terms of speed, scale, and scope – that occurred in the three centuries after 1450.

The conquest of the Atlantic and appropriation of the New World brought vast expanses of “Cheap Nature” and the labor-power to create wealth. “Cheap” refers to the unpaid work/energy of organic life. Numbered among Cheap Nature – along with trees, soils, and rivers – were indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, nearly all women, and even white-skinned men (Slavs, Jews, Irish) living in semi-colonial regions. These humans, deemed not Human, provided Cheap Labor.

By 1500, Spain alone had colonized an area greater than the whole of Europe and more than 25 million indigenous peoples. Sugar, the modern world’s original cash crop, fed on the work/energy of African slaves. Sugar production devoured forests and exhausted soils. Between 1570 and 1640, Brazilian sugar grew three percent every year. In northeastern Brazil at the height of the sugar boom in the 1650s, twelve thousand hectares of forest were cleared in a single year, as compared with 200 years in twelfth-century Europe.

Scientific advances made it possible to put the whole of nature to work for capital. “Science” revealed nature’s secrets for capital accumulation. “Economy” channeled the labor-power of the landless proletariat into the cash nexus of the labor market. The “state” enforced the cash nexus.

To maintain expanding commodity production required cheap, productive labor; cheap food to control the price of labor-power; cheap raw materials; and cheap energy for diverse industries. Fossil fuels, seemingly unlimited supplies of Cheap Nature, were put to work for the rapid expansion of capitalism.

Though rising costs of fossil fuel production and labor costs have shrunk sources of Cheap Nature and Cheap Labor, capitalism has managed to keep ahead with Cheap Nature strategies within reach of its power. (I think of low cost labor of America’s private prison population and the expanding gig economy.)

Moore concludes that financialization and extreme inequality are predictable results of the end of Cheap Nature. The web of life can no longer sustain capitalism’s world-ecology. Our strategies for liberation must not only determine how to redistribute wealth, but also “how to remake our place in nature in a way that promises emancipation for all life.”

How do humans fit into the web of Life?

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Web of Life Quote from Chief Seattle

 

According to the tenets of Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – Man is the crown of God’s creation, with dominion over all living species on the Earth (Genesis 1: 26-31). Thus empowered, Man has transformed Earth’s ecosystems with devastating effects on forests, rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, and all the non-humans that live therein. With our factories belching carbon into the atmosphere, global warming has become our new reality. The course is set for an unknown state in human experience.

In 2000, the atmospheric chemist and Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen conceived the concept “Anthropocene” to denote a new geological time in which Man is a major geological force. But several geologists and environmentalists disagree with his word choice. Others believe we live in the age of capital, the “Capitalocene.”

Jason W. Moore, an environmental historian and historical geographer at Binghamton University, is one such social scientist. In his book, Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Kairos Books, 2016), he and six other contributors argue that Capitalocene is a much more appropriate alternative. Concepts matter, he reiterates in his “Introduction,” since we use them to make sense of our world.

“The kind of thinking that created today’s global turbulence is unlikely to help us solve it,” Moore notes.

In this article, the first of a series, I share the contribution “On the Poverty of Our Nomenclature” by Eileen Crist, a sociologist and professor at Virginia Tech.

Crist argues that the concept of the Anthropocene reinforces human dominion over Nature, “corralling the human mind into viewing our master identity as manifestly destined, quasi-natural, and sort of awesome.” We arrogantly perceive ourselves on par with the tremendous forces of Nature. Such mentality empowers “the human enterprise” to manage the planet for production of resources and, through technological engineering, to contain the risks and ecological disasters.

She observes that Man’s historical records do not record the non-human others who don’t speak and have no control over their destinies. The sixth mass extinction, resulting from destruction of their habitats for human expansion, becomes just a casualty of history. We accept as normal the humanization of Earth, at the expense of its non-human inhabitants.

“Where is the freedom of humanity to choose a different way of inhabiting Earth, to change our historical discourse,” Crist asks.

Crist calls for humankind to end our species-supremacist civilization and become integrated with the biosphere. This would require an end to viewing our planet as an assortment of “resources” or “natural capital,” “ecosystem services,” “working landscapes,” and the like. While she does not envisage an end to human technological innovation, the sociologist has no idea what such a world would look like. In deindustrializing our relationship with land, seas, and domestic animals, we-humans would have a better chance of reversing the takeover of Nature for our own needs and appetites.

“In making ourselves integral, and opening into our deepest gift of safeguarding the breadth of Life, the divine spirit of the human surfaces into the Light,” Crist concludes.

“Theology of Junk” by Brazilian Poet Manoel de Barros

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Giant Water Lily - Victoria Amazonia - Pantanal - Mato Grosso do Sul - Brazil

Giant water lily, Victoria Amazonica – Pantanal – Mato Grosso do Sul – Center-West Brazil
Photo Credit: Andre Dib/WWF

 

My Poetry Corner February 2018 features the poem “Theology of Junk” (Teologia do Traste) by Brazilian poet, lawyer, and farmer Manoel de Barros (1916-2014). Born in Cuiába, Mato Grosso, he was a year old when his father decided to start a cattle ranch in Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland area, in Mato Grosso do Sul. The young Manoel grew up playing in the yard, between the pens and the “unimportant things” that would influence his poetry.

In “Manoel by Manoel,” he describes his childhood experience:

… I used to play pretending that stone
was lizard. That a can was a ship. That the sloth was a
little problematic creature and equal to a young grasshopper.
I grew up playing on the ground, among ants. Of a
childhood free and without comparisons. I had more
communion with things than with comparison.

When he moved to the city to go to school, Manoel found it a strange and complicated world. In the countryside, they had to make their own toys: small bone animals, sock balls, tin can cars. In “About Scrap Metal,” from his book Memories Invented for Children (2006), he observes:

I saw that everything that man makes becomes scrap metal: bicycle, plane, automobile. What doesn’t become scrap is only bird, tree, frog, stone. Even a spaceship becomes scrap metal. Now I think a white swamp heron is more beautiful than a spaceship. I beg your pardon for committing this truth.

Great uses for scrap metal
Photo Credit: Premier Metal Buyers

  Continue reading