Let the Earth Bring Forth Life

Sensational headlines get attention, so you can’t blame Salon for the bit of hyperbole in the title of the article God is on the Ropes, about a new theory that claims “Under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life”–certain conditions being those that prevail on a planet such as the earth.

I have been thinking for a while about a couple of verses in Genesis 1.  In the first God says, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation” (1:11).  Then in verse 24 “Let the earth bring forth living creatures (animals).”  Similar is verse 20, “Let the waters team with living creatures.”

God assigns a role in creation to the earth.  Other verses describes God as arranging “certain conditions,” separating the land mass from the oceans, providing an atmosphere, and roles for the sun, moon, and stars.

Genesis 1 uses simple images to describe the process of creation and the sequential development of life on earth as the creator willed.  If the language of science is mathematics, then you would have to say Genesis is unscientific because it does not use scientific formulas.  But there is nothing in Genesis 1 incompatible with what the natural sciences have shown us about the origin and development of life on the earth.

The Greatest Invention of the Twentieth Century is . . .

In my humble opinion, the greatest invention of the twentieth century was the bicycle derailleur shifting system.

This invention made the bicycle a realistic mode of transportation in a variety of terrains.

Average people with a few weeks of practice can travel on a modern multi-speed bicycle on moderately hills roads at an average speed of around 13 miles per hour.  With improved fitness a normal adult can average 15 miles per hour.  This makes daily commutes of 7-10 miles realistic.

Of course elite athletes race up steep mountains at speeds over 20 miles per hour, and they descend the other side of the mountain at 50 mph or more.

Before the derailleur was allowed in the Tour de France in 1938, racers had two gears, one on each side of the rear wheel.  Just before entering a mountain stage, for example, they could pull over, remove the rear wheel and flip it around.  In those days riders didn’t have support teams.  They had to carry tools and supplies in their pockets with spare tires slung over their shoulders.

Tullio Campagnolo invented the quick release in 1927 after frozen fingers prevented him from turning the wing nuts to release his wheel so he could flip it around.  He went on to found a bicycle parts company that eventually perfected (though they did not invent) the derailleur.  The device itself began to appear as early as 1905.  Its predecessors included complex systems of levers and pulleys.

The bicycle was invented early in the 1800s.  Hundreds of bicycle companies rose up in the United States.  By 1900 there were two large patent offices in the nation’s capital.  One was for bicycle inventions, the other was for everything else.

Susan B. Anthony once said,

The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else.

The bicycle could also do a lot to emancipate us from dependence on oil.  The author’s of the book Bicycle Science estimate that a human powered by the equivalent number of calories in a gallon of gasoline could travel about 1000 miles.  Or, drinking milk instead of gasoline (remember milk is over 90% water) a rider could go about 99 miles.  If riders neglected to replenish all those calories, cycling could also help liberate us from the plague of obesity and diabetes.

Sources:

Jim Langley, Campy Only, Pedaling History.

Date Night

Sonja and I are going tonight to see the Movie about Temple Grandin, staring Claire Danes, and tomorrow to see Temple in Person.  Both events are at 7 PM in the K-State Union.

Temple Grandin is the author of Animals in Translation. She has autism, and says she thinks in pictures and details like animals, not in abstractions and concepts like other people.  She says she understands animal emotions.

Animals do not get conflicted.   They experience one emotion at a time.

I also remember a scene in her book where she describes meeting B.F. Skinner, who turned out to be a creepy old man.

 

Your Chance to Save the Farm

Any entrepreneurs out there who like fresh, wholesome, local food?

Iwig family dairy is selling stock to raise money so they can avoid for closure.  They need to sell about 60 shares (at $500.00) per share by July 23rd.  If they do, the bank has agreed to work with them.

We just entertained are grandchildren, and they love the chocolate milk (and the regular too.)  It is as rich as a good chocolate shake.

We enjoy walking a few blocks with Elijah and Ariana to the Alma creamery, where they sell Iwig milk and other dairy products, such as butter and ice cream that makes Ben and Jerry’s taste like some cheap generic brand.

The mega corporate dairies are making huge profits while small operations are struggling because the wholesale prices have fallen through the floor, while the retail prices are still high.

Investing in Iwig would be a risk–more like a charitable contribution with a chance of getting your investment back.  They say you should definitely not buy stock if you can’t afford the risk.

I hope those who can, will take the risk.

Checkout Iwig’s website for more details.

Gamblers Challenge:  Anyone who was planning to go to the casinos this weekend, why not bet on the dairy instead?

Oily Hair?

Since hair is a natural oil absorber, tons of donated hair are going to soak up the oil spill on the gulf coast.  Matter of Trust tells how you can help.

Why Haiti Suffers

This week’s earthquake was a natural disaster, totally unexpected by everyone except for professional seismologists.  Of all the causes of Haiti’s suffering, only the earthquake itself does not have human fingerprints on it.

Colonial Exploitation

Haiti was once a fertile island paradise (well, half an island: it shares the land mass with Dominica).  The French colonized the western half of the island of Hispaniola. The indigenous population was quickly destroyed by exposure to influenza and other infections brought by the Europeans.  They were soon replaced by slaves kidnapped from Africa.  The French fed their country with food grown on Haiti’s rich soil.

Environmental Desolation

The French and the corrupt rulers who followed them over-exploited the land and destroyed its fertility.  There are few trees left on Haiti–there are a few-oranges, grapefruits, avocados, mangoes–they are sweet but rare.  A few people make a living selling their fruit.  But there are not enough trees left to prevent erosion, which makes flooding and other natural disasters worse.  I visited Haiti 20 years ago, and I don’t recall seeing a bird.  I do remember seeing the local Haitians recycle used motor oil–they poured it on any pools of standing water to kill mosquitoes.

Political Corruption

In 1804 Haiti became the second nation in the Western hemisphere to declare its independence.  In a glorious revolution that should have made the French proud, they killed every white person on the island.  Tragically, since gaining a form of autonomy, Haiti has been ruled by its own dictators and corrupt leaders.  The notorious Duvaliers used the fear of voodoo along with old-fashioned terror and brutality to keep its citizens from enjoying the fruits of freedom.

Who is Helping?

I doubt there is any group of people subject to more negative stereotypes than missionaries.  (Read The Poisonwood Bible, which one of my students who group up as a missionary kid thought was “funny.”)  The people of Haiti know different.  They know that the missionaries are not bigoted, proselyting zealots–they are there to help.  The missionaries run schools, children’s homes, and clinics.  They assist people in farming projects and micro-enterprises.  I will admit, sometimes they tell the people things like–

You are beautiful, you are a child of God.

Hold your head up, God loves you.

There are, of course, many people working with non-governmental aid agencies that are not religiously affiliated.  Usually the missionaries and “secular” aid workers respect each other and work side by side.  They are all there to help the people of Haiti.

One mission trying to help the land of Haiti with long-term recovery is “Eden Reforestation Projects.”  Two missionaries from the Free Methodist Church working with Eden Reforestation are reported in critical condition, and three are missing, after the earthquake, according to our local Eden Vigil representative Lowell Bliss.

Support Your Local Cow

After reaching records highs a year ago, wholesale milk prices–the prices paid to farmers–have plummeted to a 40-year low.  As a result, many dairy farms are facing bankruptcy.  Two or three large agribusiness concerns control most of the milk industry.  Most farmers have no choice but to sell to them, even at a loss.  You probably haven’t notice much difference in the price at the store.  The “middleman” is making a killing.

There are a couple of area dairies that are bucking the trend.  We buy either Iwig or Emerich milk  (See “Mum in Bloom” for photos.)  Both are small scale, locally owned operations.  Both dairies treat their cows humanely and avoid injecting artificial hormones or routine antibiotics. They sell their milk, butter, and ice cream at local grocery stores, and at the Alma Creamery.

When my grandson is visiting we enjoy taking the short walk to the Alma Creamery to buy some cheese and a half-gallon of milk in an old-fashioned glass bottle.   In the past year, I have broken three bottles, through my own negligence–on the other hand I haven’t been putting plastic bottles in the local landfill, so I’ve learned not to cry over spilled milk.

I recently learned that at least one of these dairies is having a tough time financially.  To all of my friends in NE Kansas–do yourself a favor.  See how much better naturally and humanely produced milk tastes.  Support Iwig or Emerich.  If your grocery story doesn’t sell it, ask them.  In Manhattan, Kansas, you can find it at People’s Grocery or Eastside and Westside markets.  In Lawrence, try the Merc.  Here in Alma both the local grocery story and the Alma Creamery sell it.

If you know of other places that sell local dairy products, let me know.

By the way, the ice cream, chocolate milk, and eggnog (available around Christmas) are fabulous.  (More)

Are There Too Many of Us?

The earth is finite; it would be idolatrous to suggest otherwise.  There is a limit to how much human life the earth can sustain, and we are probably getting close to that limit.  Overcrowding is already causing immense human suffering.

The population is exploding in the poorest areas of the world; the birthrate is shrinking in wealthier nations.  When women have access to opportunity, education, and health care, the population problem takes care of itself.

In countries like the United States and most European nations, the birthrate is already below 2.1 per couple, the “zero-growth rate.”  Those few couples with more than two are three children are statistically insignificant.

So, it makes no sense to call for oppressive laws to limit family size in countries that already have a negative growth rate.  Freedom, not coercion, is what is bringing the size of families down.   Yet, some in the UK–a country that already has a negative population rate–are calling for mandatory enforcement of a two-child rule.

The problem is not the rare families who want to have several children.  The problem is the economic assumption that growth in consumption equals economic health.

The Optimum Population Trust calculates that ‘each new UK birth will be responsible for 160 times more greenhouse gas emissions . . . than a new birth in Ethiopia’. (Telegraph).

The solution is not for wealthier countries to stop having babies.  The solution is for people in wealthy countries change their consumption habits and help people in poor countries gain access to education, opportunity, and healthcare.

Earth Hour Is Upon Us

Tonight at 8:30 PM citizens around the world will turn the lights off for one hour as a symbolic gesture.  This is the Lenten season when many people are voluntarily fasting or giving up something as a sign of repentance and humility.  Unplugging for one hour is what I call a “coal fast.”

Will it change the world?  Symbolic gestures don’t change the world in themselves.  What they do is raise consciousness.  And a change in awareness could make us take other actions.  Here is what people in other countries are doing:

In Switzerland, the city of Geneva plans to switch off the lights on its theaters, churches and monuments. Among these are the Reformation Wall, where floodlights normally illuminate 10-foot (three-meter) statues of John Calvin and other leaders of Protestantism. The city’s motto engraved on either side of the statues is:

“After darkness, light.”

Romania planned to turn off lights at the massive palace built in Bucharest by the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.  (more from Yahoo News)

Last night I attended a Care of Creation seminar.  I learned that one in four mammals is endangered, and one in three mammals, and half of the world’s frogs.  Half of the world’s forests, wetlands, and grasslands are endangered or already gone.

Turning off the power for an hour and meditating on what we can do individually and collectively, might be a good way to spend the evening of the fifth Sunday in Lent.

Planet Earth–Unplugged

Here’s a verbal cartoon–I don’t have the time or patience to draw actual cartoons, but sometimes I come up with ideas for one.  So here’s one:

A guy sitting at a computer desk calls his local utility company and says,

Hey, could you throw an extra lump of coal on for me?

Sure, but, uh, why?

I’m going to leave my computer on all night; I just don’t feel like shutting it down.

OK, buddy you’ve got it, one extra lump of coal.

Any volunteers to illustrate?  OK, here’s a better idea.  A friend forwarded this to us:

On March 28, 2009 at 8:30 pm your time, TURN OFF ALL YOUR LIGHTS for 1 HOUR. I plan to include everything but my fridge and freezer, no TV, no computers, no radios, etc. It will be like a wave of turned off lights across the world, for one hour. If you visit this site it will tell of the business, governments and citizens across the world that have and will participate again this year.  It started with 2.2 million people in 2008 in Australia and has grown to over 100 million. I think we should do this every month on the 28th. I joined this group on Facebook. I am  not debating climate change, for or against. Just that worldwide we can stand together for a good cause, our planet and less energy consumption. If the energy companies lose a few dollars in the process, well, that’s a big bonus.

http://www.earthhour.org/

Save the Dinosaurs!

anatosau

Is the saying still true, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”?

Now that the car companies are asking for us to bail them out, like we did the Wall Street high rollers, it could be a good opportunity to retool our transportation system.

In the 1950s president Eisenhower made a momentous decision.  In the name of national security, he used the power of imminent domain to nationalize thousands of miles of farm land and build the Interstate Highway system.  The national security interest was the transportation of troops.

This experiment in socialized transportation was a huge success.  It turned out to be a great subsidy to the automobile industry.  The auto companies thrived, suburbs sprouted, boosting the construction industry–and the middle class emerged realizing the American dream for a whole generation.  These programs of governments subsidies and centralized planning produced a level of prosperity no one could have imagined.  There was only one problem.  It relied on an unlimited supply of cheap petroleum–and fifty years ago, who could have imagined that the supply of fossil fuel was limited?

Our dependence on automobiles–and therefore on oil from unstable countries–has produced a national security nightmare.

Don’t let the temporary cheap gas prices fool you.  As soon as the world economy begins to recover, oil will resume its ascent to $200.00 per barrel.  The reason is simple.  There are ten times as many people in China and India as there are in the US; and they all want to drive cars like we do.  And who can blame them?  The problem is, that there is not enough oil in the world to supply them and us.

We could use this opportunity to retool the factories in Detroit, Ohio, Kansas City, and other places to produce mass transportation: high speed train cars, clean bio-diesel hybrid buses, trolley cars, bicycle lanes.  We could improve our health, simplify our lives, clean up our air, and revitalize our economies.

Or we could try to save the automobile–the dinosaur of our age.

Fossil Fuel is Dead

windfarm-shrunk.jpgSome of my best friends are unbelievers or skeptics. They point out that there are scientists who are unconvinced; they believe the jury is still out; or they say there is just not enough evidence. They don’t believe in global warming.

Well, some of my friends are now reluctantly admitting that it is warming up–they’ve seen pictures of the poor polar bears’ homes melting right underneath their feet. So now they say, “alright, it’s warming; but it’s not our fault; it’s just a normal cycle.”

My daughter convinced me over a year ago. She reviewed a review of 1000 scientific studies that say global warming is a fact, and we are responsible (click here to see her review).

I do understand that the science of climate study is incredibly complex. In fact that’s where the expression “the butterfly effect” comes from. It’s not that anyone literally believes that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a tsunami; it’s just that the mathematical calculations are so complex that a tiny variation early in the equations could have tremendous ramifications later on.

So what is a non-scientist to do? I look at it two ways: first, I have a basic trust that, if there is no other hidden motive, we should probably trust the scientists. Or to put it another way, all I can do is trust the majority of scientists, after ruling out those who may have a vested interest.

That’s why (apart from a couple of experiments in junior high) I never took up smoking. For over thirty years the tobacco companies had their experts who said, “the jury is still out, there is no evidence to prove that smoking causes cancer.” I thought it best to rule out the scientists who worked for the tobacco companies and follow the findings of the majority of other scientists. I’m glad I did, because as my brother recently told me, “Most men our age who smoke are having breathing problems.”

The other way I look at it is in terms of Pascal’s wager. The global warming version of it is this: If those who are warning about global warning are right–and if we don’t listen, we are (to quote some of my old friends) in deep frijoles, up that well-known creek without a paddle, in a world of hurt.

But what if we do take action to forfend the danger that brother Al is warning us about, and it turns out he was wrong? In that case we will have done the following:

We will have eliminated our dependence on oil from unstable countries ruled by the world’s worst despots. We will have stopped funding terrorists. We will have developed new technologies and new industries. We will have revitalized our economy and improved our quality of life.

Maybe we will drive less and walk more. In that case we will improve our health. If we do these things, and it turns out that Al Gore’s Nobel prize was undeserved; that he was wrong, or hypocritical (living in a big house and driving an SUV), well we will still owe him a debt of gratitude.

Last week the health and environment department in my state ruled against two new big coal burning electrical plants. Some of the friends of big coal are hopping mad. They are setting their hopes on the dead industry of the past; not on the new opportunities of the future.