21 August 2009

Dear Mr. Al Megrahi...Karma can be a real bitch.

On August 20th, the Scottish government decided to release Libyan intelligence agent Abdelbaset Al Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds due to terminal prostate cancer. The release of Al Megrahi, charged with the greatest mass murder in British history, has ignited a firestorm of debate on both sides of the Atlantic regarding his role in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. The fact that Al Megrahi was given a hero's welcome on return to Libya has further enraged the families of the 270 victims.

While driving home yesterday, I was listening to a local religious channel. Although I don't always agree with the tenets of the born again movement, the station usually has interesting phone in debates regarding religious issues. Yesterday, the debate was framed around how the release of Al Megrahi either reinforced, or was opposed to, the Christian concepts of forgiveness and compassion. More specifically, when we follow a religion that constantly speaks of these actions, how prepared are we to actually put them into action when faced with barbaric acts such as this ?

The callers were heavily slanted towards the Old Testament concepts of retribution and revenge and easily outnumbered the compassionate ones that argued that all men and women are deserving of compassion and the opportunity for salvation. There was some polite finger pointing from the compassionate camp which basically argued that if you call yourself a Christian, you need to express compassion regardless of the actions of the sinner for divine judgment was not the role of call in show participants. Although the arguments on both sides were interesting, I needed to remind myself that this wasn't some college dorm room bull session- at the root of the argument were 270 dead men, women and children who were obliterated by a deliberate, calculated and well planned murder. Turning the tables slightly, how do I view this as a Buddhist ?

I try to meditate on a daily basis. Before I meditate I try to think of a subject for that session of meditation and then focus on it as I begin. Today, I will meditate and send loving kindness and compassion to Mr. Al Megrahi in hopes that he will see the error in his ways and attempt to turn his heart from one of hate and death to one of compassion and love for his victims and their families. I honestly feel sorry for Mr. Al Megrahi because I believe the negative karma created by this crime will banish him to countless reincarnations on this planet in the lowest orders of existence. By extinguishing 270 humans, the highest goal for reincarnation, he has sentenced himself to countless lives of suffering and pain.

To the families of the victims I will send loving kindness and compassion in hope that they are gradually freed from the pain of their loss and consoled by the fact that their loved ones were reborn and now walk this earth once again. To the world I will send loving kindness and compassion that our stupid tribal conflicts will no longer escalate into the mass murder of others.

19 August 2009

Paging Don Quixote

I took this picture during a recent trip to West Virginia. It shows a portion of a wind farm stretching along one of the many ridge lines that cross this beautiful and secluded area. The picture was taken on a foggy, rainy morning in which mother nature thankfully obscured the scar that these wind turbines, and many others like them, have caused upon the wilderness.

For my family and me, the outdoors represents an opportunity to spend time together in various pursuits including canoeing, hiking and mountain climbing. It is a welcome departure from the daily grind, especially useful in prying the kids away from the television and Playstation in order to get some fresh air and exercise. Unfortunately, I have personally noticed a proliferation of these wind turbines from the border between Maine and New Brunswick, throughout Pennsylvania and now in West Virginia. (For a review of the wind farms in Pennsylvania click here on the industry's working group website- note that issues such as visual pollution and impact on local species are not addressed.) Since they are placed on areas of higher elevation in order to catch the most favorable winds, they have permanently damaged the landscapes in otherwise pristine areas. The visual damage that these things cause is one thing, the environmental damage they cause to migrating birds and local bats is quite another. Is it worth the cost ?

The wind farm debate has put environmentalists in an uncomfortable position. On one hand, the clean power generated by wind turbines makes sense when compared against more pollution intense methods such as natural gas and coal. On the other hand, the wind turbines are killing tens of, if not hundreds of thousands, of migrating birds according to various estimates including everything from migrating songbirds to raptors that misjudge the speed at which the turbine blades are turning. On top of these casualties are bats which are already under pressure due to habitat destruction and disease. While environmentalists wring their hands and try to come up with solutions ranging from migration pattern studies and other ways to prevent the destruction of wildlife I would like to offer another solution- blow the damn things up and sell the scrap.

Wait a second, you ask, how can a committed lover of the outdoors such as yourself oppose such a green way of generating power ? An article in a recent issue of the Economist nicely dovetailed with my own recent thinking on this matter. The article addresses the coming energy crunch in the United Kingdom and its analysis of the contribution of wind farms should cause even the most ardent green to stop dead in his or her Birkenstocks. Wind farms cannot replace the bulk energy generated by coal, gas or nuclear and the U.K. may be the first nation to host an Olympics illuminated by candles. In order to replace the power generated by old fashioned means, the entire nation of Wales would have to be covered in wind turbines.

If wind farms kill wildlife, mar the landscape and produce relatively tiny amounts of power, why the rush to build them ? As usual, follow the money. Tax dollars are being thrown at the wind industry by Congress and the President's vision of a new green economy. Industrial corporations, such as General Electric, which produce the turbines are benefiting from these subsidies as well as the opportunity to market themselves to the public as being concerned about the environment in general. Local and state politicians, such as Pennsylvania's Governor Rendell can loudly proclaim that the wind farms will create jobs (up to 85,000 according to the industry web site I linked above.) Landowners who have the acreage to lease to the power companies also benefit from having some of these behemoths built on their property. Opposition is light and scattered because environmentalists are quick to label anyone against this method of power generation as anti-environment. For a politician to actually have the guts to oppose this industry would be to risk political suicide.

Pennsylvania is literally awash in natural gas. The ability of drilling companies to now reach the gas within the Marcellus shale of Western Pennsylvania makes the idea of building more wind turbines seem infantile and purely for the purposes of propaganda to benefit politicians and energy companies. Yes, burning gas creates pollution but new technologies are making the process cleaner. In addition, the construction of a gas burning (or even nuclear) plant reduces the physical footprint of the production source to a few square miles versus thousands. It is time for us to question the motives behind this industry and to hold them (and their lackeys in state and federal government) accountable for the environmental impact of their decisions. Will the wilderness we leave our children be pristine or pockmarked by thousands of these damned things ?