The rights of the Earth. And of bugs. And of trees.

Before the UN, a proposal that Bolivia has already enacted, a new frontier of rights legislation:

Bolivia will this month table a draft United Nations treaty giving “Mother Earth” the same rights as humans — having just passed a domestic law that does the same for bugs, trees and all other natural things in the South American country.

The bid aims to have the UN recognize the Earth as a living entity that humans have sought to “dominate and exploit” — to the point that the “well-being and existence of many beings” is now threatened.

The wording may yet evolve, but the general structure is meant to mirror Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which Bolivian President Evo Morales enacted in January.

That document speaks of the country’s natural resources as “blessings,” and grants the Earth a series of specific rights that include rights to life, water and clean air; the right to repair livelihoods affected by human activities; and the right to be free from pollution.

It also establishes a Ministry of Mother Earth, and provides the planet with an ombudsman whose job is to hear nature’s complaints as voiced by activist and other groups, including the state.

“If you want to have balance, and you think that the only (entities) who have rights are humans or companies, then how can you reach balance?” Pablo Salon, Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, told Postmedia News. “But if you recognize that nature too has rights, and (if you provide) legal forms to protect and preserve those rights, then you can achieve balance.”

via UN document would give ‘Mother Earth’ same rights as humans.

How would one determine the inalienable rights of an insect?  Or of a plant?  Or of “Mother Earth”?  What would be the basis of those rights?  If this might some day be enacted, what do you think it could lead to?

Stinkbug Armageddon

I hearby nominate David Williams for the Pulitzer Prize for Letters to the Editor, if there were such a thing.  He wrote this letter to our small town newspaper on a problem that plagues our state:

Folks, we are doomed. Crooked Run Farm, along with every farmer in Loudoun, now has a bigger enemy even than the developers of Purcellville. I went last Thursday to the 4-H Fairgrounds for a presentation, sponsored by Southern States, on the stink bug invasion. Starker Wright, the govt’s leading expert on agricultural pests for the East coast, came down from his West Virginia research station to give the bad news.

Starting in Pennsylvania, these Asian invaders have moved massively into Maryland, Delaware, W Virginia, and Virginia, but are spreading everywhere already, rapidly by the billions. They have learned to eat every fruit and crop imaginable, destroying them. They are hard to repel, have no natural predators in the US, and when killed by pesticides, they come back to life in a few days. Yes! They go into a kind of coma, rid themselves of the poison, and after a few days depending on the pesticide they are flying around and eating again. But this time, they are stronger from having survived the poison.

According to the USDA’s study, April 10-15 is the major time when they wake up and move out of houses back to the woods and fields. September 24 is the peak of when they return to our houses. Vinyl siding is their best habitat for wintering. Since they can go through 3 generations in a year in this climate, and have no predators or anything eating their egg masses, millions soon become billions. Several million little wasps were imported from Asia to help kill the eggs of the stink bug, but these are held up in a Delaware port while the experts try to decide if letting these pests in to control the bugs might not be a cure even worse than the problem.

Oh yeah, the USDA request for $30 million to help study these
monsters and find a way to stop them is not being met well by the deficit dummies in DC. If there ever were a time when the public good over rides individualism, this is it. This is a war to the death, and so far most people don’t realize the catastrophe that’s looming. If we have to borrow from the future to save the present, so be it. This is the way Americans have met adversity since Ben Franklin went to Paris to borrow money from the French so we could go into debt to win our independence in 1776.

And, despite folklore, killing them does not attract other stink bugs. It only seems that way because the first few you see and kill are followed by thousands which would have come along any way. The USDA is trying to find ways to attract and kill them, but they seem, so far, to be attracted to everything. So get your baddest boots on and start stomping. That may be the only barrier between us and Armageddon.

David Williams


Purcellville Gazette. April 8, 2011


Mercury, up close

NASA’s Messenger space probe has flown by Mercury, the smallest planet and the one closest to the Sun, sending back pictures.

The world has become fragile

Steven Pearlstein reflects on our recent disasters, all of which took us by surprise and none of which we were prepared for:

In just the past decade, we’ve had the attacks of Sept. 11, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane Katrina, the global financial crisis, a global flu pandemic, the earthquake in Haiti, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and devastating floods in Australia and New Zealand. Now, Japan has been hit with a triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

What all of these have in common is that they are all low-probability, high-impact events — the “long-tail” phenomenon, to use the jargon of risk modelers, referring to the far ends of the traditional bell curve of probabilities, or “black swans,” to use the metaphor popularized by former Wall Street trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Such calamitous events have been a regular part of the human experience since Noah and the flood, some of them natural, others manmade. In spite of that, however, we continue to underestimate their frequency and severity.

To a degree, that is a good thing. If we were to focus too much of our attention on all the really, really bad things that could befall us, we’d never get out of bed in the morning.

But the same psychological trait that allows us to go about our daily business also creates blind spots. Although we observe that calamities happen, we assume that they won’t happen to us, or they won’t happen again. And if it has been a long time since the calamity, we are apt to take false comfort that we have beaten the odds. . . .

Part of the problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know. The other part is that small miscalculations of probabilities can have large effects on outcomes when dealing with long periods of time. Think of the sailor who sets off on a voyage a few degrees off course. A few miles out, the error is small, but by the time he crosses the ocean, he may find himself hundreds of miles from the intended destination.

Our reward structures don’t encourage spending the time or the money to deal with low-probability disasters. The chief executive of Citigroup acknowledged as much when he told a reporter in 2007 that he would lose his job if he gave up profit and market share to shield his bank from the obviously excessive risk-taking that everyone knew was going on. And you can only imagine the outcry from the industry and those Gulf Coast politicians if government regulators back in 2009 had ordered oil companies to spend millions of dollars to have enough boats and booms at the ready to deal with a BP-sized oil spill from deepwater drilling.

Indeed, it seems that when we conclude that the chance of something really bad happening is very small, we wind up taking actions that either increase the probability of the disaster or the damage that it will cause. Once the rocket scientists on Wall Street, for example, concluded that it was virtually impossible for investors in so-called “mezzanine” tranches of mortgage-backed securities to lose money, it set off a chain of events that made the prediction untrue. The heavy demand for the securities led to dramatically lower lending standards and a sharp increase in housing prices, creating a bubble so large that when it burst, it caused heavy losses for those same mezzanine investors. The declaration that a particular investment was riskless became a self-negating prophecy.

Similarly, when the government builds a levee, it may reduce the frequency of damaging floods but may also encourage even more people to build homes and businesses behind the barrier. When the Big One finally arrives, the total damage will be even greater than if no levee had been built.

We’re also discovering that the impact of disasters is magnified by globalization. The troubles in northern Japan, for example, are beginning to ripple through global supply chains, creating bottlenecks and shortages in dozens of industries. The way globalization increases economic efficiency is by leveraging the advantages of scale and specialization. Yet the bigger and more concentrated production becomes, the more vulnerable it becomes to disruption.

Many scholars now think that the very complexity of modern life — including our transportation and communication systems, our economy and our social interactions — is directly implicated in the severity of catastrophes. In more complex systems, even small changes or perturbations can have disproportionate and unpredictable effects. The things that make our systems more efficient also make them more effective in spreading the impact of a catastrophe.

via Lessons from the long tail of improbable disaster – The Washington Post.

The Cranach Nuclear Watch

As Japan and the rest of the world worry over what will happen to the earthquake and tsunami damaged nuclear power plants, you should know that here at the Cranach blog we are getting some expert commentary.  MarkB used to work with nuclear power plants, and Carl Vehse–whom you might know merely on this blog as a conservative flamethrower–is by vocation a nuclear chemist.

I appreciate their ongoing explanations of the information that is coming out.

See what they say here and here.

More on Japan’s earthquake

Officials estimate that at least 10,000 may be dead–with thousands more still missing–due to the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan.  Meanwhile, more nuclear power plants are in danger of meltdown.

See 10K dead in Japan amid fears of nuclear meltdowns – Yahoo! News.

Japan has been a world leader in the design of earthquake-resistant structures.  Read this confident–but now ironic–account of all that Japan does to ensure safety during an earthquake.

But this goes to show that all of the ingenious engineering does little if the earthquake is powerful enough.

Go here to help.

What does this mean for California, midwesterners along the New Madris fault, and other potential earthquake zones in the U.S.A.?