Gregory Travis

September 11, 2007

In the November/December 2006 issue of Mother Jones is an article, by Julia Whitty, titled “The Thirteenth Tipping Point.” The premise is threefold:

First, global climate change is, of course, a clear and existential danger.

Second, that there exist “tipping points” which, if reached, will cause climate change to happen rapidly and irreversibly – with the attendant collapse of the ecosystem and thousands of species, including the human one.

And third, that none of this is inevitable.

A friend sent me the article, I suspect because he knows my fondness for all things relating to science, to meteorology, to energy and to action. And because I’m a sucker for a good gloom-and-doom exposition.

August 28, 2007

Kevin Ryan is a big, intense, man with a soft voice. I sometimes had a hard time hearing him, over the Trojan Horse's raucous lunch crowd, but I never had any trouble understanding what he was saying.

He was saying: "The fix is in."

Ryan came to Bloomington (where he now lives) by way of South Bend. There he had managed the water quality and testing at Environmental and Health Laboratories (EHL), a subsidiary of product safety and testing leviathan Underwriters' Laboratories (UL).

According to Ryan, shortly after the events of 9/11, UL's CEO Loring Knoblauch paid a visit to EHL. And, during that visit, he reminded EHL employees that UL had tested and certified the steel used in the construction of the World Trade Center towers.

(That's a contention that UL now denies. The laboratory disclaims that it was ever involved in fire testing the steel used in the construction of the towers.)

July 31, 2007

The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who discount the future, and those who don't. Those who live for today, and those who worry about tomorrow.

Unconcern comes about because either the unconcerned do not believe the future will actually exist - i.e., Jesus is coming back tomorrow, so why worry about the day after?

Or because the unconcerned believe that man, and man's technology, can surmount any challenge, imaginable or not.

Both are, of course, faith-based positions and, like all positions based on faith, fundamentally irrational.

July 17, 2007

Property taxes. I know, I know. Boring! But they've been much in the news lately, the result of steep rises for some. And that newsplay has opened a door. A door to talk about this little thing we call society.

In short, to talk about Civitas.

"I like to pay taxes," said Oliver Wendell Holmes. "With them I buy civilization." A tax is nothing more than a bill for services, not unlike your electric bill, not unlike your water bill. It's your bill for having a little thing called civilization.

Electric bills are based on how much electricity you use, as indicated by the meter. That's easy. But how to equitably charge you for how much civilization you use? On what to base your tax bill?

July 3, 2007

Sustainability. It’s the rage these days, as enlightened communities and individuals all over the globe are coming to realize, and worry not a little bit about it, that the human propensity to breed and burn, every year a little more than the last, might not be able to go on forever.

Burning, whether it’s coal in a Midwestern electric plant or oil in a speeding semi, consumes resources and converts them to entropy. If that weren’t enough, it adds greenhouse gases to our atmosphere – performing a global laboratory experiment with heretofore unknown consequences. That would be fine if we had another lab, should we blow this one up.

But we don’t. Every time you turn on a light switch, something dies. And the more of us there are to flip on the lights, the more dying. Breeding and burning.

June 19, 2007

I like to say it: there's no such thing as a free lunch. But I gotta tell ya, yesterday I got a free lunch.

The occasion was the annual release by the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. (BEDC) of its comparative survey of the local economy. On the menu were chicken, pasta, broccoli, salad and enough numbers to keep a policy wonk like myself fat and happy.

Lunch was the excuse, but the survey was the story. Done in conjunction with the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC), the survey has, since about 2000, attempted to benchmark our economy - to see how qualitative and quantitative issues have changed and to compare our changes to those of other, similar areas.

A noble cause. A Good Thing. Without studies such as this, people are left to their own prejudices and preconceptions. Bloomington is unfriendly to business. There is no parking downtown.

June 5, 2007

It's Finelight time again. For those who've been living under a rock for the past two years, the story goes like this:

Finelight, a local marketing and real-estate firm, wanted to purchase some land downtown. As all such ventures go, it also wanted the public to make an investment in that land, indirectly in the form of an adjacent parking garage.

RELATED STORY: Good bye, medical marketers

To that end, Finelight execs hired Bloomington's previous mayor, John Fernandez, to help guide them through the city bureaucracy, to get them their garage. It looked, as it always does, like a slam-dunk.

That is, until the ever-imperial Fernandez blew it with a public-relations nightmare. He summarily ejected from Finelight's new property a long-rooted community institution, Ladyman's diner, abruptly and remorselessly - a month short of their 50th birthday.

May 23, 2007

Conservative: “adjective; holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.”

So says my dictionary. Which is why I never cease to be amazed by how fundamentally unconservative members of the putative conservative political party, that is to say Republican, can be.

At least when it comes to behaviors and attitudes about land. “Cautious about change” says the definition. In practice, it’s anything but. What’s the thing that can change a conservative instantly into an activist? What’s the thing that can cause a person to instantly discard his, or her, ideology in sacrifice to practicality?

Money, of course. The root of all evil. That which makes conservatives, not. That which gives lie to the Grand Old Party’s grandness.

May 8, 2007

Last week, as part of its annual O’Bannon Institute, Ivy Tech hosted a panel discussion titled “Economics vs. Atmosphere.” My wife has always raved about the institute, and I figured the subject was a good one for me, too, to get acquainted.

Now I have to admit, I didn’t have high expectations. First, the title of the panel itself sets up a frame of reference, asserting that the two issues are antagonistic, that you can’t have one without the other.

Of course that’s false. As the human economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the natural and social environment, there’s no inherent tension. It’s not the environment or economic development. It’s the environment and economic development.

April 24, 2007

Eben Fodor, perhaps best known for his book Better, Not Bigger, a virtual Bible among those tilting against the growth presumption, was here last week to give a lecture down at the county library.

It had been years since I read Better, Not Bigger, and, in those years, I had forgotten just how much of my perspective had been formed by his book. The lecture brought it all back home. As he spoke, it was one ah ha! moment after another, just as when I first read his book.

CATS was there, taping the whole thing. For those of you who couldn’t make it, make it up, either by watching the rebroadcast or tromping down to the library and requesting a copy.

What is “growth"?

Growth is a word that gets carelessly tossed about and almost always without any context. “We need growth!” goes the saying, without anyone owning up to what it is that they’re actually advocating growing.

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