DUCK SOUP: Somethin's Burnin'

Alternative energy stores are swamped just now according to a friend of mine in the business. He says that customers are worried about the looming Y2K computer snafu and are trying to get ahead of the curve. Gas fired stoves and refrigerators are back-ordered because people fear the bogey of the double digit whammy. One Amish wood cook stove manufacturer which normally operates on a two month turnaround, is reportedly taking orders for delivery two years from now. What we have here is an extreme failure to communicate. The planet may be in the middle of a world wide collapse of forest ecosystems caused in large part by internal combustion engines and smokestacks and folks are getting fruit-caked about a modest computer glitch which may adversely affect freshness dates on potato chip bags for a few weeks. Does the word "denial" ring any little bells?The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that: "In 1997, wildfires raged in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Mongolia, the Russian Federation, Colombia, Peru, Kenya, Rwanda and other parts of Africa. By mid-1998, fires were reported in Indonesia, the Amazon, Mexico and Central America, USA, Western Canada, Russian Far East and parts of Europe. National disasters were declared in many of these places and national and international resources were mobilized to fight the fires." They further report that: "Globally, 1997 and 1998 were the worst years for wildfires and forest fires in recent times. Although forest fires occur every year in the arid and semi- arid zones of the world, nearly all types of forests burned in 1997-1998, even some tropical rainforests which had not burned in recent memory. Droughts associated with the El Nino weather pattern turned moist forests into drier habitats and increased the flammability of forest vegetation, thus increasing the number, frequency, size, intensity and duration of fires." Unlike the Y2K problem which may, according to the maximum worst case scenarios, crash a few planes, stall some international money transfers, maybe cause temporary hiccups in the electric grid and force some computer users to totally re-organize their automated personal reminder programs, the crisis in our forests is long term and urgent. There is troubling news from Europe where, despite serious efforts to reduce airborne pollution, the forests continue to fail. The European Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Europe report that despite a significant improvement in air quality over the past decade, tree death has doubled -- leaving only 35 percent of European forests healthy. Meanwhile, some experts on this side of the Atlantic speculate that the tremendous damage inflicted by last winter's Northeast ice storm may reflect the poor condition of trees as much as the anomaly of extreme weather. Either way the suspected culprit is change in global climate and air quality. So, what to do? First, write or phone your Senators to demand approval and strengthening of the Kyoto accords. Now. Today. Pronto! Second, cut back on energy consumption of all sorts. Drive less. Heat less. Air condition less. More efficient appliances can be a useful part of the picture, but simply running out to buy another toy, say a wood cook stove, that will sit idle for the next decade, is not a solution. It is part of a core problem: overconsumption by wealthy Americans. You see, it takes a serious amount of energy to forge a wood stove. Better by far would be a decision to: replace most of the incandescent lights in your home with high efficiency florescent bulbs; make miles-per-gallon the bottom line on your next car purchase; ride your bike more often and drive less; increase your home's insulation; turn off unwatched TVs; and ... to get back to that computer ... why not turn off your computer when it is not in use? I know it may be just horrid to wait whole minutes while it re- boots instead of springing instantly to cyber-life -- but please notice that the hum you hear is a fan which is busily dissipating waste heat. Finally, if you still lie awake worrying about the millennium, buy a jar of peanut butter, some crackers, and check out some good books from the library next December. Who knows? Y2K may finally kill your TV!

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