Spent an afternoon recently at the Stewart Mine in Pala, CA, where Tourmaline, Lithium and other gems and minerals are mined. A quirky factoid for you – the active ingredient in Pepto Bismol is a form of clay – one of the lesser treasures found in the mine! It’s all part of a new series of programs about geoscience coming soon on Pulse of the Planet.
I met John Dancing Crow on a recent trip to Floyd, Virginia. He’s a Song Carrier. Many Native American songs may not be recorded and can only be performed in special conditions. It’s the role of the Song Carrier to learn, remember and pass the songs on to keep them alive. He’s a living example of an oral tradition in action. Crow is of Cherokee ancestry, and carries the songs of many tribes. This story is of how he became Song Carrier, and was able to fulfill his teacher’s last wish. Crow’s Story
We can’t help being attuned to events associated with our birthdays. Mine is December 21, a date shared with Frank Zappa, Jane Fonda and Joseph Stalin. The pilgrims allegedly landed on Plymouth Rock on this day – the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. December 21st, 2012, was touted, with a nod and a wink – as being the End of You-Know-What, followed quickly by assurances from NASA and the Smithsonian Institution and other bastions of science, that it really wasn’t. The ancient Mayans thought big, in terms of cycles of time, and this date marked the transition point between the end of a 5,125 year period – and the beginning of a new one. It’s this last part that has somehow been missing from most media accounts – the beginning. You could make a strong case for all phenomena being cyclical – passing through stages of development: a beginning, a middle and an end, followed by a new cycle. Octaves, spirals, lifetimes, all symbolize or exemplify this apparent law of life. In the ecology of a forest, new growth feeds upon the residue of the old. In the world of art, new forms of music and visual arts appear, have their moment in the sun, and fall out of fashion. We rarely see past the bloom of the moment – our generation – let alone think on the scale that the Mayans are inviting us think of – thousands of generations into the future. What would it mean to ride that wave, to take that sort of pulse of the planet? What have we learned or retained from those who lived over 5,000 years ago? Great architecture, myth? What sort of legacy can we leave that is worth preserving? What are the questions we need to be asking as we face the prospect of a new beginning of the world?
Twenty years ago, in the early days of Pulse of the Planet, we did a series of programs on the – at the time – new idea that our climate may be warming due to the burning of fossil fuels worldwide. One of the scenarios was that as the world warmed, our weather patterns would become more chaotic, unpredictable and violent. From where I sit in New York’s Hudson Valley, where we’ve seen several “hundred year” floods in the past five years, it looks like we’re seeing the truth of these scenarios, however inconvenient they may be.
We received the following comment from Pulse listener Keith Shannon regarding a recent program in our series on thin film technology. I’ve invited a response from the folks at the Center for Sustainable Chemistry. We’ve also broadcast programs about some of the other thin film strategies they are working on which do not involve the atomic layer deposition system that Keith mentions.
There is a larger question lurking here, about the risks and “down-sides” of many useful and beneficial technologies, even those we have come to regard as “green”, such as solar. These qualifiers include, but are not limited to – safety, costs, collateral effects and sustainability. It brings to mind the concept of the 7th generation, an idea from the Iroquois people — we are cautioned before taking any new action to consider its impact as far as seven generations in the future. As always, we welcome your thoughts. Here’s Keith’s comment:
I wanted to write after hearing your piece on thin film semiconductor production.
While thin film processes use less material and allow for smaller circuit designs, the process has one significant downside. The layering chambers must periodically be cleaned to remove layers of material that build up on the chamber walls, and the most economical means to do this involves the use of an extremely toxic and dangerous chemical, chlorine trifluoride. This compound is used because it’s such a powerful oxidizer (more powerful than pure oxygen) that it will literally set sand on fire, and so it will scour silicon off the chamber walls. However, these same highly reactive properties make it extremely dangerous to work with. If spilled, it causes unquenchable exothermic reactions with things like sand, brick, concrete, and even asbestos. It reacts violently with water (and thus with human tissue), producing clouds of hydrofluoric acid, a deadly poison, and hydrochloric acid, less toxic but a much stronger acid. Because it self-oxidizes, most traditional firefighting methods are futile, and in fact the standard first response procedures for an industrial accident involving chlorine trifluoride are basically to evacuate everyone in a two-mile radius and let the stuff do its thing (after which time the area and underlying groundwater are poisoned with unbearably high fluoride levels).
I hope that in future stories about thin film processes, you mention this unpleasant downside, and what, if any, is being done to find a replacement that is easier and more environmentally friendly to work with.
We recently set up a Bluebird box in our backyard and were rewarded by a pair of beautiful Bluebirds checking out their new home on the very first day. But as often happens, the blues were soon harassed by sparrows, who soon set up residence in the box. We were faced with a dilemma: destroy the sparrow nests? They are an invasive species, after all. Do we leave them be and set up another box? What makes one species of birds more welcome than another? Is there an avian ethicist in the house?
I received an email today from Pulse of the Planet listeners Art and Cathy Taylor in Jackson, MI, who are in a similar quandary:
We love seeing the sandhill cranes, but they are destroying our lawn. They peck out sod by the yard, and they have undermined several of our lawn irrigation heads.
Unsuccessful solution attempts: lawn grub treatment, Avitec application, lawn insecticide, and blasting an air horn at them. We don’t want to harm them, just encourage them to go elsewhere. If anyone has had success using any kind of method, we would be more than happy to hear about it. We realize that we moved into their neighborhood, but there’s got to be a solution out there somewhere.
Art & Cathy Taylor
If you have any suggestions for the Taylors, please post them here as comments, along with your thoughts on the larger issues: How to share our backyards and local environment with our fellow species?