The Green Blues Show – Edition 25

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The Green Blues Show

formerly a grant maker with the Ford Foundation and a public policy analyst with the Washington-based Aspen Institute…” (I retired from Aspen in 2014 and wrote the book.In today’s edition of the Green Blues Show: The toxic legacy of American chemical warfare in Vietnam. A report card from Canadian Auditors General on how Canada is performing on the climate change file (disappointing). And, the information economy isn’t anywhere near as clean as you’d think. But, Web servers are reducing their carbon footprint.

 

You are what you eat, the old saying goes. You are also where you lay your head at night. This is the conclusion of a recent research study on chimpanzee beds in a Tanzanian forest.

Chimp beds, it turns out, are cleaner than human ones. Just three percent of the bacterial and insect species found in chimp beds in the study came from their skin, mouths or feces. In contrast, almost a third of the bacteria and crawling bugs humans cozy up to between the sheets are smeared, drooled or sloughed off their bodies.

These findings may seem surprising – not to mention disgusting. But they jive with how and where chimps and humans hit the pit. Chimps sleep in nests made of branches and soft leaves, built each day and abandoned at sunrise. So, while chimp fur is home to many ectoparasites – micro and macroscopic – they don’t tend to accumulate in chimp bedding. Instead, the bugs in abandoned chimp beds (that some human researchers have apparently slept in) reflect nest building material and local climate.

In contrast, we humans live in permanent digs, and are surrounded by bugs we shed and feed with our wastes. A third of our lives are spent in bed. Inevitably, many of the hundred trillion microbes living on us and in us also live on our sheets, pillowcases and blankets. Typically, this isn’t a problem, although dust mite allergies are common. Common sense tells us to keep our bedding clean, and not to share our beds with too many other people.

It also makes sense to make peace with the microbes we share our space with, day and night.

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I recall, years ago, watching American news anchor Walter Cronkite on black and white TV, reporting on the Vietnam War. Flickering on the living room screen, a crop duster sailed over a forested landscape, clouds of herbicide billowing in its wake. Weren’t there people living beneath that forest canopy, I asked?

Indeed there were. Between 1961 and 1970, US forces sprayed twenty million gallons of herbicide across Vietnam, over ten thousand square miles of the country. Why? To deny forest cover and food to enemy troops. Also, to clear sight lines for US forces. The most common defoliant – Agent Orange – was contaminated with a highly toxic chemical called dioxin.

As many as four million Vietnamese and 2.8 million American military personnel were exposed. A half century later, the legacy of American chemical warfare lives on. No one knows more about that legacy than a man named Charles Bailey. As head of the Ford Foundation’s office in Hanoi from 1997 to 2007, Bailey helped the Vietnamese government remediate dioxin contamination, eventually focusing on three dioxin ‘hotspots‘ at the US airbases of Da Nang, Phu Cat and Bien Hoa.

Bailey and his long-time colleague, Vietnamese toxicologist Le Ke Son, are the authors of a new book, From Enemies to Partners: Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange (G. Anton Publishing). I reached Charles Bailey at his home on Lummi Island, Washington. Listen to our conversation in this podcast. Here’s the long version:

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated his commitment “to take concrete actions … to encourage the transition to a competitive, low-carbon economy.” According to a report released in March, Canada’s efforts fall sharply short.

“Most governments in Canada were not on track to meet their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” says the report by the Auditor General of Canada and the Legislative Audit Offices of nine Canadian provinces. I spoke with Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Federal Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development.

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Anyone who thinks they’re pioneering the carbon-free economy simply by going digital, making money in cyberspace, should think again: the average Web server, where sites like the Green Blues Show reside, consumes a thousand kilowatts of energy each year, and pumps 630 kilos of CO2 into the atmosphere. Some servers and web sites are dirtier than others, reports Serving.Green, itself a model for lean, energy-efficient web design (on a host that uses renewable energy).

To learn more about green computing, I spoke with Andrew Boardman, the founder of a Winnipeg-based, Certified B Corporation called Manoverboard. Manoverboard helps companies and non-profits develop online strategies and websites with small carbon footprints. It released a Green UX Checklist on Twitter a few weeks ago that might be of help to readers.

In today’s edition of the Green Blues Show, songs by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Champion Jack Dupree and David (‘Honeyboy’) Edwards.

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