Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Fake News: Terrorists, automakers do stuff

February 4, 2010

Bin Laden is going green

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Feb. 2) — Osama bin Laden put himself on record this week as the “Green Terrorist.”

No, it’s not effects of the long-rumored kidney disease reportedly being suffered by the Al Qaeda leader. Instead, bin Laden made a statement Jan. 30 criticizing Western industrialized countries for being responsible for the global warming crisis.

“Talk about climate change is not an ideological luxury but a reality,” bin Laden wrote on Al Jazeera’s English-language website.

Sources say the terrorist leader has begun a campaign within his own ranks to emphasize this new theme of environmental awareness among Jihadi fighters. Blue recycling bins have been spotted outside caves in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. Old cell phones are being converted into improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and are being demolished throughout the Arab world. Discarded aluminum cans of Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew and, bin Laden’s personal favorite, Dr Pepper, are being collected by newly homeless tribesmen whose farms had been transformed into a war zone.

The Saudi madman has even begun an “eat local” initiative, following a December incident in which he was unable to get Domino’s to deliver its sensational new pizzas to his cavern in South Waziristan. In that incident, which ended in a prolonged firefight between guerrillas and combined special ops forces from the U.S. and Great Britain, not only was bin Laden’s home judged to be outside the delivery area, but the local franchisee refused his request for goat toppings.

“Our guy taking the order thought he said ‘goat droppings,'” said Domino’s manager Abdullah “Pete” Mutallab. “We figured it was just kids playing around on the phone.”

Islamic fanatics have even begun working with local schoolchildren to drive home the point that “together, we can save the planet.” Second-graders at Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri Elementary School recently showcased a project to use recyclable material in their artwork, with dryer lint collected from a nearby launderette being used to create beards in drawings the children made of their favorite extremists.

Even animal rights are being promoted by the now-environmentally-aware fighters. Sheep and camels are first being asked to give their permission before being ritually slaughtered. Most animals tend to agree to the request, in part because the word “mmeehh” means “go ahead” in the local Pushtan dialect.

Bin Laden also took the opportunity on Al Jazeera to praise the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an airliner near Detroit, saying that the “carbon footprint caused by modern-day jet travel was contributing to deterioration of the ozone layer,” and that’s the main reason he continues to try blowing planes out of the sky.

Speaking of Detroit …

DETROIT (Feb. 3) — General Motors announced a recall of 380,000 Chevrolets, Buicks and GMC Trucks yesterday for what officials described as “sudden, intentional acceleration” in several dozen documented cases where drivers actually arrived at their intended destinations promptly.

Reports have surfaced in the media that a significant percentage of motorists in GM vehicles experienced forward movement when pressing their foot to the gas pedal. A few have even told authorities that the cars were unexpectedly responsive and were actually able to achieve the posted speed limit within the first five minutes of operation.

“This is not what the public has come to anticipate in General Motors autos and light trucks,” said spokesman Allen Gibson. “It’s an issue that we will address immediately with this recall.”

Most owners of vehicles purchased from GM in recent years have developed a habit of parking their cars uphill of wherever they want to drive to the next day, and then roll toward their destination, stopping occasionally to push as needed. They’ve relied on sturdy braking systems and solid front bumpers that allow them to stop close to where they want to. Most are surprised, however, when they find that in addition to stopping, they can also go.

“Frankly, I thought that pedal was a foot rest,” said Missy Stevens, a LeSabre owner in Fond du Lac, Wisc. “I’ve counted on having that arch support after a long day on my feet. To have it cause my car to move forward down the street came as quite a surprise.”

Spokesman Gibson said GM was already at work retooling its manufacturing sites to prevent the problem recurring in future models. He said the so-called acceleration pedals will be removed entirely and replaced with a comfortable and stylish hassock.

Team-building breaks out at climate conference

December 17, 2009

I heard a news item on the radio the other day reporting that delegates at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen were dividing into “breakout” sessions. I immediately recalled way too many days during my corporate career spent in seminars listening to motivational, team and quality trainers spouting endless tripe while waving their markers in the air and pawing at their overhead projections.

At some point during these affairs, participants are inevitably broken up into smaller groups and given childish assignments that, if nothing else, wake them up. These “games trainers play” give the presenters a chance to go on the internet and look for a better job while their hapless audience makes paper airplanes and/or a beeline for the emergency exit.

Perhaps not the “breakout” organizers were intending but still a chance for team members to get creative and think outside the box or, in many cases, outside the local Hilton.

As a former corporate trainer myself, I wanted to find out more about these sessions. I wanted to sympathize with the government officials from around the world who not only had to endure a mind-numbing symposium but also Scandinavian winter and Danish food which, as I understand it, is woefully short of actual Danish. However, when I searched online for “climate change breakout,” all I could find were stories about the violence that had broken out among the thousands of protestors in attendance outside.

So I decided to dig out a manual from my old training days to figure what they might be up to in Denmark. “Team Workout” describes itself as a trainer’s sourcebook of team-building games and activities. It contains 50 recipes for getting seminar attendees on their feet and involved in activity — “icebreaking,” as it was called in those days before global warming, when such a thing was necessary.

The following are a few of the exercises that could play a role in saving our precious planet from greenhouse gas emissions which might otherwise doom us all:

Activity 6: Creating a Team Logo — The purpose of this activity is to initiate a discussion of team purpose and values employing an easel, flipchart, markers and push pins. At the end of the 45-minute session, the team presents its logo along with its rationale to the larger group. Other teams can ask questions for clarification, such as “what were you thinking?” and “can you believe they’re making us do this?” The book says “the team may elect to take the logo back to the workplace and use it in some fashion,” but that hardly seems likely unless there’s some type of spill that needs to be cleaned up. Variations include creating a team slogan, song or name, or selecting a well-known song, movie or television show that reflects the team’s values. I might suggest “Lost” or “So You Think You Can Team-Build?”

Activity 14: Get SMART — Six to eight people sit around a rectangular table learning the SMART protocol for preparing team goals. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. Individuals suggest goals for the group, then 7 minutes is spent reaching a consensus. (Plenty of time to figure out how to undo a century of environmental abuse). A sample goal that meets all five criteria is “by the end of the third quarter, 90 percent of all requests from customers will be handled within 48 hours.” A goal that might not be exact enough could be something like “try not to die.”

Activity 16: How’s Your Team’s Vision? — This one gives employees the opportunity to learn about the “strategic planning process,” from “visioning” and “culture alignment” to “planning a plan” and “gap analysis.” A monster of an endeavor clocking in at 4 hours, this workout ends with the team evaluating how close they are to realizing their vision: on a scale of one to ten, one means “we are nowhere,” five means “we are halfway there,” and ten means “we are there.” Or, the facilitator can simply choose one of the listed variations — “have the team members evaluate their effectiveness in advance” — but then the lunch break would come at 10 a.m. and the boxed sandwiches and stale cookies won’t be arriving till 11:30 at the earliest.

Activity 26: Rhyme Time — This game provides an opportunity for the team to work together on a joint task while sitting in a cluster of chairs. A deck of cards is prepared in advance, containing questions that will have a pair of rhyming words as the answer. The rules are that “there are no rules,” except of the course that the answers contain two words which rhyme. For example, a cause-and-effect diagram prepared by a team of well-to-do members is a “hightone fishbone.” An informal recognition given as a natural part of the regular work day is an “herbal verbal.” An ironic acknowledgement a team can give a manager who shows little interest in them is a “bored award.” You get the idea.

Activity 36: Tell-a-Story Teaming — This activity helps team members enhance their creative-thinking skills, works well with large groups and introduces the concept of 5×7 index cards. The facilitator instructs the group to develop a short story that includes eight suggested topics — a person, place, object, animal, activity, food, occupation and mood. “Some dude went to the store wearing a mask and carrying his cat. He stole some Slim Jims from the clerk, and felt good about it. The end.” In the debriefing portion of the session, the team is asked how this activity will help them back on the job. This is when team members really get the chance to be creative.

Activity 50: Yea, Team! — I think this is supposed to be pronounced “yay, team,” but the sarcastic inflection (as in “yea, right”) is probably more accurate. This “energizing” activity requires a minimum of 20 people unfamiliar with each other and, perhaps not surprisingly, “a large enough room to allow participants to move around.” Prior to the session, the organizer has to learn information about people in the group — hobbies, interests, past experiences or unusual facts. There’s an elaborate description of the process for this activity, but it seems to boil down to having people mill about, eventually standing on large grid squares containing a trait that applies to them. Examples given include “likes to tie flies,” “survived an earthquake” and “has a rich fantasy life.” Every time you encounter someone who shares this characteristic with you, you write the letters T, E, A or M on a smaller paper grid, and at some point, somebody yells out “yea, team” and is declared the winner, usually of a t-shirt or hat with corporate logo. Variations include having a cow plop on the winning square, having Bob Barker serve as master of ceremonies, or having Bob Barker plop on a square.

…and this last bullet point proves I’m an idiot

Just what you wanted: advice on hydrology

August 8, 2009

“You Want My Advice?” is a weekend summer rerun feature of davisw.wordpress.com. I look at questions of ethics, propriety, faith, technology, geopolitics, health, etc., and offer completely inappropriate, irresponsible and possibly even life-threatening advice. Today, we hear from a reader with a really stupid, really boring science question.

Q. With talk of rising seas, what could happen to the rivers that flow into the oceans? Will they reverse flow? Will rising seas back up into freshwater lakes? And what happens to our groundwater should saltwater flow backward into it? – Getting Thirsty Just Thinking About It

A. Finally … a hydrology question. Our readers have been waiting forever.

Though I’m an expert in many fields (taxidermy, thoracic surgery, the Dave Clark Five, the Ming Dynasty), this is one area where I’m a bit of an amateur. I’ve never studied the subject formally but rather have approached it as an all-consuming hobby, primarily through my quest to drown as many fire ants with boiling hot water as I can. (It’s fun to put a stick in the middle and watch a few lucky creatures survive, only to realize later their world has been wiped out.) So let’s see what the professionals have to say on the subject.

Hydrology has been a subject of investigation and engineering for millennia. For example, in about 4000 B.C. the Nile was dammed to improve agricultural productivity of previously barren lands. Aqueducts were built by the Greeks and Romans, while the history of China shows they built irrigation and flood control works. The ancient Sinhalese used hydrology to build complex irrigation works in Sri Lanka, and are also known for invention of the valve pit which allowed construction of large reservoirs which still function.

All of which has nothing to do with your question, especially that part about whatever the hell a “valve pit” is. I predict that when the seas rise that rivers will indeed reverse their flow and the seas will back up into freshwater lakes, just as you’ve postulated. Our groundwater will be rendered too saline to drink, which doesn’t bother me because I only drink Pepsi anyway.

It’s basically just an end-of-the-world scenario, and nothing to worry your little head about.

A word or two against Earth Day

April 22, 2009

If I may, I’d like to raise a contrary word during today’s celebration of Earth Day.

Surely there’s nothing more universally accepted across the political spectrum than the premise that our Earth is a good place, worthy of our devoted stewardship. Whether you’re on the religious right and believe it was created by God in six days, or on the scientific left and believe it’s a remnant of the Big Bang, or somewhere in the middle and believe it was coughed up by the Great Turtle, you still respect and honor the big blue orb. It is beloved by us all as our nurturing mother, our protecting father, the annoying little brother we can pick on with impudence.

Is this love we have for our home planet grounded in a verifiable reality? We feel affection for our families, our hometown and our country primarily because they are ours; they must be the best available because they’re associated with us. There’s no objective comparison involved, since few of us with all our teeth can claim to have lived on another planet.

While I too like the Earth, I’m not quite so terra-centric as to believe it’s necessarily the best of all possible worlds. In the spirit of skeptical curiosity that prompts us to demand the best of those we love (with the exception of spouses), I’d like to honor our globe today by pointing out a few flaws it could stand to work on.

For example, there’s the whole concept of plate tectonics. Exactly whose idea was it to have our land masses floating on a worldwide sea of searing magma? And even worse, these plates aren’t even moving in the same direction, so they periodically collide into each other causing catastrophic earthquakes. Or the lava erupts through a volcano and obliterates helpless villagers and camera crews. It’s not a requirement of habitable planets that they follow this model. I probably wouldn’t rather live on a gas giant like Jupiter, where it’d be hard to get your footing, but a simple solid rock with no fancy innards would suffice.

Then there’s the related issue of topography. Mountains and valleys certainly make for some nice scenery, but they become terribly inconvenient if you’re trying to traverse them, especially in a four-cylinder Honda Civic like mine. And they’re strewn about so randomly. You’re headed cross country on the wide open Great Plains, then all of a sudden there’s the Rocky Mountains, showing up out of nowhere (at least according to MapQuest). If we need a little variety, might I suggest something like the dimples of a golf ball, so you could easily negotiate your way around the variations if you wanted.

I’m also not thrilled about the whole concept of air. I know that we theoretically need it to breathe, but having it be invisible doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in its availability. You walk into a room and you can’t tell immediately whether it has any air in it or not. And on the occasions when it is visible (smog alert days, windstorms, anywhere in urban China), you really don’t want to be inhaling it into your body. My ideal would be to have this life-sustaining vapor instead manifest itself in a solid state. It would condense in the space around us, then become weighty enough to fall to the ground, and we could eat it for our oxygen requirements. A nice raspberry flavor would be pleasant.

The prevalence of water collecting into various depressions around the globe is another notion worth challenging. I know that stuff about it being the basic building block of life and all, and yet I don’t understand why it so often has to be muddy or salty. There are also fish, amphibians and reptiles living there that are bound to give it a less than flavorful taste. I’d propose removing all the bothersome creatures, put down a nice sealant to prevent soil and other organic matter from seeping in, and replacing the water with a more popular beverage, either Fanta Orange or Pepsi.

I think we could also demand a lot more of our non-human animal life. Too much of it is either microscopic or threatening or, in the case of viruses and bacteria, both. I’d like to see a lot more of it be of the cute variety (like kittens, baby bears, Sarah Palin) or the docile yet delicious variety (beef cattle, decapitated chickens, etc.). I understand that there does need to be some class of creature that can rival man for his dominance at the top of the food chain, yet I don’t think lions and wolves and rhinos are doing their job. We need something about 50 feet tall, with fangs of steel and fire-breathing capabilities. Let’s see the weekend hunters tackle that.

Speaking of the great outdoors, I’d like to weigh in on our plant life too. I know “going green” is the theme of the day today, in honor of leaves and grass and various shrubberies. If you think about it, though, that’s not really the predominant color we see in nature. Go outside right now and hug a tree and tell me what you find in your face: that’s right, it’s scabby, resinous tree bark. Now try to get that stickiness out of your eyebrows – good luck.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention one of my least-favorite forces of nature, gravity (the most-hated is centrifugal force, which always knocks my groceries all over the back seat of my car whenever I make a hard left). We tend to take it for granted that we’re attached to the surface of the Earth without ever considering whether that’s really necessary. It doesn’t just have to be in science fiction or on the space shuttle that we can float about freely. I know they’re called the “laws of gravity,” but it’s worth acknowledging that there exists a judicial appeal process in modern liberal democracies. Perhaps if President Obama gets a couple of Supreme Court appointments in the next few years, we’ll have the votes needed to challenge such an arbitrary and archaic statute.

Finally I’m going to mention a particular peeve of mine that I think we’d all be better off without. The Van Allen Belt is a band of charged particles about 75 miles above the Earth, held in place by our magnetic field. While it may not technically be considered an everyday part of our world, it still hovers menacingly above us, compressed by the solar wind into the ominous-sounding Chapman Ferraro Cavity. Theorized about for decades, its existence was finally confirmed in 1958 by Dr. James Van Allen. (Coincidence? I think not). As our planet grows larger and larger with obese humans, discarded trash and greenhouse gases, the belt will gradually tighten around our waist until it no longer fits our enlarged form. My idea: let’s switch to Van Allen suspenders while we can still claim it’s a fashion statement rather than a requirement of our girth.

Oh, and one more thing: the name, Earth, itself. Or, more formally, the Earth. Any geographic location preceded by “the” is almost always a loser-land: the Sudan, the Ukraine, the Bronx, even the Moon. Seems like only the Discovery Channel and well-educated guys with English accents drop the “the,” and they’re usually mispronouncing it as “uth” anyway. All the other planets in our solar system have cool Roman names, so I’d propose something similar for us. We should consider Terra, Lasagna or Urethra.

So as we all do our individual parts to celebrate Earth Day today (for example, I just ate my Styrofoam coffee cup rather than throw it in the trash), let’s also remember that our home is far from perfect and let’s continue to look for ways to improve it.