Music Can Change the World

A commentary on the benefits of music.

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Randy Bachman

This past weekend, my wife and I, along with four other friends, attended a Rock Festival in a nearby city. There is nothing I love to do more than to sit outside on a sunny, hot day and listen to the rock music I grew up on. This festival had rock icons like Randy Bachman, the cofounder of two great Canadian rock bands, The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO). I could have listened to Bachman for several more hours. There were others like Lou Gramm, lead singer for the 70’s and 80’s band Foreigner. It is always fun to sing along with the many hits he sang such as, “Cold as Ice” and “Hot Blooded”.  A surprise to me was the band 54-40, a Canadian alternative rock group from Vancouver, British Columbia, who took their name from the slogan Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!, a slogan coined during a contested U.S.-Canada border dispute. Even though I wasn’t familiar with their music, I enjoyed every one of their songs. I have since purchased some of their music. All in all, it was a great weekend of music. My wife and I have attended rock festivals in the past as well as attended the local music festival at a nearby ski hill. My son sometimes attends the annual Country Music Festival. We go to these events whenever we can. Why? Music feeds the soul. It touches people at a spiritual level. At least that is true for me. Martin Luther, a German professor of theology, composer, priest, monk and best known for his role in the Protestant Reformation once said,

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world”.

I believe Martin Luther was correct. Music is a treasure. It is something that needs to be promoted and valued. Music has the ability to unite people, put people in a happy state, has a calming effect on people and generally makes the world a better place to be in. Paul David Hewson, better known by his stage name Bono, the lead vocalist of the rock band U2, is quoted as saying,

“Music can change the world because it can change people”.

Bono is right! Music can change the world and change it for the better. The article, 11 Powerful Images That Prove How Music Really Can Change the World, reports eleven events that used music to bring change in our world. One particular event that caught my eye was the 600 guitarists who fought the rape culture in India by paying tribute to a 23-year-old who died after being gang raped on a bus. This action triggered other protests in the country.

One music project that is trying to change the world was initiated from the belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The project is called, Playing For Change.  This movement is trying to inspire and connect the world through music. They’ve created many music videos by traveling the world and uniting musicians to create, Songs Around the World. Here is one of my favourites, “Stand by Me”.

Not only can music bring about positive change, it has health benefits. According to a Hufflington Post article, 5 Ways Music Improves our Health, Neuroscientists have discovered that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centres of our brain, by stimulating dopamine, a neurotransmitter that typically makes us feel good or even elated. The article reports listening to music stimulates other areas of the brain suggesting more widespread effects and potential uses for music. This article resolves that music reduces stress and anxiety, that music decreases pain, that music may improve immune functioning, that music may aid memory, and that music helps people exercise.

According to the McGill University Newsroom article, Major health benefits of music uncovered, a large-scale review of 400 research papers in the neurochemistry of music was carried out by the McGill University’s Psychology Department.  It discovered that playing and listening to music has clear benefits for both mental and physical health. The article says music was found both to improve the body’s immune system function and to reduce levels of stress. It even suggests listening to music was found to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety prior to surgery.

In another article by the New York Times, Is Music the Key to Success? the article claims, multiple studies link music study to academic achievement.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) News in Health’s article, Music Matters for Body and Mind, says:

Several well-controlled studies have found that listening to music can alleviate pain or reduce the need for pain medications. Other research suggests that music can benefit heart disease patients by reducing their blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. Music therapy has also been shown to lift the spirits of patients with depression. Making music yourself, either playing instruments or singing, can have therapeutic effects as well.

Over the past decade, new brain imaging techniques have shown that music activates many unexpected brain regions. It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory. It can also activate the brain’s motor regions, which prepare for and coordinate physical movement.

The sentence,“It can turn on areas involved in emotion and memory” is very true. How often has a song come on the radio that immediately brings you back to a time in your past? It happens to me all the time and most often it is a happy time in my life.

Clearly scientific research is showing that music has health benefits. I’ve just quoted from four of the thousands of articles related to the benefits of music. The articles I drew upon were ones that caught my attention. There is no doubt in my mind that music is beneficial. I don’t need research to convince me. Just being at a music event such at the Rock Festival proves that for me. The people at these events are happy, having fun and very friendly. It can only be the music that does that. So, I encourage you to listen to music, no matter what style of music you like, as much as you can and if you are able to go to music festivals. Why? It’s good for you.

Climate Change Confusion

A commentary on whether humans are to blame for climate change

Carbonbrief.org, a UK-based website covering the latest developments in climate science, climate policy and energy policy, reports, Study links heatwave deaths in London and Paris to climate change. The study refers to the 2003 tragedy where more than 70 000 people across Europe died in a  heatwave. Climate Change is a reality. I don’t think anyone disputes that and the science community doesn’t either. All a person needs to do is take note of the strange weather the world has experienced in recent years. In June, we saw extremely wet weather in Europe causing flooding in Paris, France and Germany. In the United States there has been sizzling heat in the Southwest causing uncontrollable wildfires in California.  West Virginia has experienced severe flooding. In the province of Alberta, 88 000 people had to be evacuated from Fort McMurray because of wildfires. Also in June, Eastern China saw a tornado and hailstorm that killed at least 98 people when it sped over the city of Yancheng’s outskirts, destroying buildings, smashing trees and flipping vehicles on their roofs. The list of weird weather goes on and on.

There is no question that our weather is changing and becoming extreme. The ongoing debate is: Is it human activity that is causing climate change? Now I’ve taught about this topic in science for many years and there has been no doubt in my mind that it was indeed humans causing global warming which leads to climate change. I would show the graph comparing CO2 levels to average global temperatures and use it as evidence to convince my students. I would show them pictures of the shrinking polar ice cap and melting glaciers. I would show them Al Gore’s movie: Inconvenient Truth (see trailer below) and emphasize Al Gore’s argument that most of the scientists around the world agree that humans are the main reason for the global warming.

The article Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming on NASA’s Global Climate Change website agrees with Al Gore’s conclusions as it says,

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

The Scientific America article: Is Global Warming a Myth? also agrees with Al Gore as it says,

…scientists have not been able to validate any such reasons for the current warming trend, despite exhaustive efforts. And a raft of recent peer reviewed studies—many which take advantage of new satellite data—back up the claim that it is emissions from tailpipes, smokestacks (and now factory farmed food animals, which release methane) that are causing potentially irreparable damage to the environment.

I have always believed that Al Gore must be right. But then I watched a video, on my son’s insistence, called, Climate Change: Fact or Fiction by Dr. Gary Smith (see below). Dr. Smith convincingly argues that humans are not causing global warming.

Global Research.ca, an organization that seems to me to be credible, has an article called Global Warming: Ten Facts and Ten Myths on Climate Change that seems to agree with Dr. Smith’s conclusions. This article agrees with Dr. Smith as it says,

 Climate has always changed, and it always will. The assumption that prior to the industrial revolution the Earth had a “stable” climate is simply wrong. The only sensible thing to do about climate change is to prepare for it.

The reality is that almost every aspect of climate science is the subject of vigorous debate. Further, thousands of qualified scientists worldwide have signed declarations which (i) query the evidence for hypothetical human-caused warming and (ii) support a rational scientific (not emotional) approach to its study within the context of known natural climate change.

So now I’m confused. I thought it was all clear in my mind but now I’m not so sure. The more I learn, the more confused I get. But I guess that is nothing new as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”  Even Aristotle said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

So now I’m not sure what to think. Am I convinced that humans are not to blame for climate change? NO I’m not. I suspect that we humans are contributing to the problem, but it could also be, at least in part, to natural changes in climate as the earth has gone through many warming and cooling periods. I suspect climate change is due to both. Having said that, I continue to believe that moving away from our addiction of fossil fuels can only help our planet. It just feels like the right thing to do. I guess we will just have to wait and see who wins the debate.

Power of the Mind

Buddha_in_Sarnath_Museum_(Dhammajak_Mutra)I’ve always been intrigued with Buddhism. The founder of Buddhism is said to have declared, “What we think, we become.” What does this really mean? I have been pondering that question for some time now. Others have said something similar. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, once said, “We become what we think about all day long.” Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” That is just a sampling of like-minded thinkers. So that begs the question, what do these quotes really mean?

I suppose the Buddha’s comment “What we think, we become” could be referring to self-esteem or self-talk. I know from personal experience and from observing my students as a teacher for 35 years, that self-talk is huge. I remember one particular student who thought that she could not pass my exams, and in fact, rarely did. What was interesting is this did not change until her thinking changed. I recommended to this student to visit the school counselor. She did and the counselor after much questioning discovered that her self-talk was such that she believed she could not pass my exams. The counselor worked with the student for a long while to change her thinking and lo and behold she started passing my exams. I also have worked with numerous students who told themselves that they were stupid, and these students were seldom successful. I suspect that this self-talk was reinforced at home. So quite literally “What we think, we become.”

Now this ties into what is known as the law of attraction. According to Wikipedia, “the law of attraction is the name given to the adage “like attracts like” which in New Thought philosophy is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. This belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from “pure energy”, and the belief that “like energy attracts like energy.” So this law would say if you think about something long enough, you will attract it to you. Now I’ve had experiences that could be explained by this law. A number of years ago we took a family vacation to the east coast of Canada using a rental car to travel around. As we often did, we stopped to pick up pudding cups for a treat. Since I didn’t want my children to spill pudding in our rental vehicle, I didn’t allow them to consume theirs in the car. The decision was solely mine as there was much protest from my children and my wife. We all stood outside and ate our pudding. After all my lecturing to my children, along with their opposition and my wife’s belief that I was being a “worry wart”, guess who slopped  all over themselves. You guessed it, me. You could call that law of attraction or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “We become what we think about all day long.”

 Now the law of attraction would say that when we worry about something, say “I hope the car won’t break down” or “What if the car breaks down” that we attract that into our life even though we may not want it. I can also relate to this. Many years ago my wife and I took a road trip. Out of the blue my wife asks, “What would we do if the van breaks down?” I responded with, “find a mechanic.” Well, a few hours later our van died as the alternator failed. We had to find a mechanic. Was that the Law of Attraction? Perhaps. Orison Swett Marden, an American inspirational author and founder of SUCCESS magazine, said, “Worry clogs the brain and paralyzes the thought. A troubled brain can not think clearly, vigorously, locally.” This law would say that because we were worrying, thus constantly thinking that the van might break down; we attracted that into our experience.

What I find particularly fascinating is that science is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. Here are two studies that caught my attention. The first is what is called the placebo affect. We’ve all heard of the use of placebos used in the study of new medications. A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine (see Study Finds…), looked at surgery for patients with severe and debilitating knee pain. The patients were divided into three groups. The surgeons shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For the second group they flushed out the knee-joint, removing all of the material believed to be causing inflammation. The third group received a “fake” surgery, where the patients were only sedated and tricked that they actually had the knee surgery. For the patients who received the “fake” surgery, the doctors made the incisions and splashed salt water on the knee as they would in normal surgery. They then sewed up the incisions like the real thing. All three groups went through the same rehab process, and the results were surprising. The placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups who had surgery.

Another fascinating example of how science is showing the power of the mind influences matter is the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto.  Dr. Emoto has been studying the effects of thoughts and feelings on water. He did this by producing different focused intentions through written and spoken words directed towards water samples. He did the same using musical styles. Dr. Emoto would literally present these thoughts to water samples and the water appears to “change its expression”. One of his books, The Hidden Messages in Water (1999), explains how he demonstrated the effects of human thoughts on water. More specifically, he observed the crystals of frozen water after exposing the water to music or thoughts. I have personally read this book and found it quite captivating and he has since published many more. (See Masaru Emoto)

There are many more captivating scientific studies that provide evidence that thought, or the human mind, can influence matter. See the 10 Scientific Studies… to learn more.

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Henry Ford, Time Magazine, Jan 1935

So maybe there is something to the Buddha quote, “What we think, we become.” Or as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” If we think we are a failure, we become a failure. If we think we are brainy, we become brainy. Now I’m not suggesting it is magic. If we think and believe we are good at something, say hockey, doesn’t mean we magically are. However, the wanting to be good motivates a person to practice and become good at it. Eckhart Tolle, a German-born resident of Canada, best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, says, “The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly—you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.” I get that now. If we control those negative or destructive thoughts then our mind can’t use us. If we use our mind in positive and creative ways, then we grow as human beings. It is true. What we think, we become.”

World Water Day

WaterDayTuesday, March 22, 2016 is World Water Day. I had not heard of this day until recently when reading a news article, so I decided to do some research to find out why a day deemed World Water Day was created. What surprised me is this day has been held annually since the 22nd of March 1993, which was the first World Water Day. How could there have been twenty-three World Water Days in the past and I had not heard of it before? Do I live in a bubble? I’ve always known that fresh water was, and still is, a precious resource and that it is rapidly disappearing due to pollution and melting glaciers. In fact, I taught many lessons to my students about it over the years, but when I did some research on the topic, I was surprised by what I learned.

If I am truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I’ve always taken water for granted. There has never been a water shortage where I live. There has always been plenty of fresh, clean water to drink, to have a shower, to operate the clothes washer, to run the dishwasher, and to even water the lawn occasionally. I’ve always assumed, like most people I suspect, that we would always have a supply of fresh water. After doing some research, now I’m not so sure.

The Water Project is a non-profit organization providing reliable water to communities in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the website, water Scarcity is a reality on our planet! That means there is either the lack of enough water or lack of access to safe water. This site says 1 in 9 people worldwide do not have access to safe and clean drinking water. That means over a billion people on our planet lack access to safe water. The site also says that in developing countries, as much as 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions.

The World Water Council is an international multi-stakeholder council that promotes awareness, builds political commitment and triggers action on critical water issues. According to the Council, 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water. The daily per capita use of water in residential areas is

  • 350 litres in North America and Japan
  • 200 litres in Europe
  • 10-20 litres in sub-Saharan Africa

That means each citizen of North America uses 350 litres every day. That’s a lot of water. It begs the question, are we wasting water?

From an agricultural perspective, the Water Councils says the quantity of water needed to produce 1 kg of wheat is 1 000 litres. Rice needs 1 400 litres and beef requires 13 000 litres of water. Perhaps it’s time to eat less steak.

Water.org is an international non-profit organization that brings water and sanitation to the developing world. Here are some interesting statistics I found on their site.

  • 663 million people – 1 in 10 – lack access to safe water.
  • 4 billion people – 1 in 3 – lack access to a toilet.
  • Twice the population of the United States lives without access to safe water.
  • More people have a mobile phone than a toilet.
  • Every 90 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease
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From ideahack.me

The Guardian’s article, How will climate change impact fresh water security? says fresh water scarcity is best understood by contemplating the distribution of fresh water on our planet. Approximately 98% of our water is in our oceans, which consists of salt water, and only 2% is fresh water. Of that 2%, almost 70% is snow and ice (namely glaciers), 30% is groundwater, less than 0.5% is surface water (lakes, rivers, etc.) and less than 0.05% is in the atmosphere. Climate change has had enormous effects on the amounts of fresh water available to us on the planet. The primary one is that global warming causes the polar ice caps and the world’s glaciers to melt into the sea, turning it into seawater.

Does this mean we should we alarmed? Yes it does. Does it mean we should lose hope for the future? No it doesn’t. All the various organizations I mentioned above are working towards solving the water scarcity problem. Science is also working towards solutions.

According to The Guardian’s article, 8 unbelievable solutions to future water shortages, science has come up with innovative ideas such as,

  • Waterless bathing using a lotion called DryBath which is a blend of essential oils, bioflavonoids (group of plant pigments), and an odour-eliminating chemical that is said to save four litres of water ever session.
  • Ultra efficient showers that use a screw-in device that captures water at the beginning of a shower and feeds it back into the system.
  • Using lasers to induce rain at times of drought, an idea debated by the World Meteorological Organization.
  • Folding toilets that make more efficient use of water. Its inventors claim that if installed it could save 10,000 litres per person every year.
  • Using a solar-chemical purification process that involves exposing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to ultra violet radiation from the sun to produce a photo catalytic composite that cleans water.

According to the Canada Free Press’ article, Israel holds the solution to world water crisis, Israel has many new innovative products and policies. Some of these are drip irrigation and “fertigation,” a process of injecting fertilizers, soil amendments, and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system. Israel promotes dual-flush toilets, seawater desalination, advanced wastewater treatment and reuse, free-market pricing of water, drought-resistant seeds, cutting-edge metering and leak-detection systems, conservation education and precision agriculture.

Perhaps the most alarming thing that I’ve learned was on the World Water Council website. It said,

“As the resource is becoming scarce, tensions among different users may intensify, both at the national and international level. Over 260 river basins are shared by two or more countries. In the absence of strong institutions and agreements, changes within a basin can lead to transboundary tensions. When major projects proceed without regional collaboration, they can become a point of conflicts, heightening regional instability.”

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Logo from touchland.com

The prospect of “water wars” has been flaunted for decades and according to the article, Global ‘water war’ threat by 2030 – US intelligence, it may become reality within a decade. The article says the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the organization that oversees US intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, was commissioned by President Barack Obama to examine the impact of water scarcity worldwide on US security. The ODNI predicts that by 2040 water demand will outstrip current supply by 40 per cent. The organization says it could lead to outright fighting, or water could be used as a tool of political leverage, similar to how gas and oil are used today. It suggests revising international water treaties and investing in superior water purification technologies that will make the increasingly scarce resource plentiful again.

The world faces many serious problems such as global warming and water scarcity. It is time for us to get our “heads out of the sand” and educate ourselves about these issues. Even more, it is time for us to get involved, even if it is something as simple as donating to an organization that brings clean water and sanitation to the developing world, taking shorter showers, or purchasing water efficient appliances. If we all do our small part, we will make a difference.

Seek Some Awe

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge.” I totally understand what Mr. James is communicating. I have had many experiences of awe when out in nature. But first, we should understand what awe is.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise. Now that word fear usually confuses me especially when talking about awe.  We typically think of fear as being afraid of something or someone. However, Dictonary.com says in addition to being afraid, fear is reverential awe, especially toward God. The Free Dictionary describes awe as a feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

Dacher Keltner, Professor of psychology at the University of California, defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. So the way I understand awe is that awe are those moments when we experience something majestic or powerful; when we feel wonder. They are the times when we have an encounter with the divine. They are moments when we in some way experience God or the Source of all Being or something mystical. It’s when you are touched at a soul or spiritual level; when what we are witnessing or experiencing is beyond our understanding.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Many astronauts talk about their experiences of awe when looking at the planet earth from space. Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut said, “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” Russell “Rusty” Schweikart, Apollo 9 astronaut said, “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change … it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.”

One of the best known for his experience of seeing Earth from space is Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who said:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

Oxford dictionary defines Samadhi as a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga, this is regarded as the final stage at which union with the divine is reached. In essence what Mr. Mitchell is saying is he felt some sort of union with the divine.

Susan Santucci, a learning specialist and author says, “Watch for glimpses of the divine order.  Find those experiences, sights, and sounds, which fill you with awe.  Any experience met with awe can be spiritual:  a safari through an animal kingdom, taking in a sunset, a hike to an awesome mountaintop.”

P1030507editedI have hiked in the mountains with my son and friends and family for many years. I have to agree with Susan Santucci as every time I stand on top of a mountain, I feel that sense of awe. For me, it is a spiritual experience. It is an experience where I am overtaken with the beauty of the mountain landscape. I have this same experience when I am at the ocean. Standing on an ocean beach, looking at the vast amount of water in front of me sets me into a state of awe. Sunsets do the same. When my wife and I were in Europe a few months ago, we were blessed to see numerous sunsets and even sunrises. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful those magnificent colourful skies can be. Each sunrise we beheld on our trip was uniquely beautiful. I have a sense of awe or wonder every time I am lucky enough to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. For me, each of these experiences were, as Dacher Keltner put it, a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends ones understanding of the world.

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Yes, I understand some of the science behind how mountains are built with colliding tectonic plates. I comprehend that when the Sun appears lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so as the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind. It is mind-boggling to comprehend that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and the deepest known area measures 11 kilometres (6 miles) deep.  I understand that the aurora borealis occurs when collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with its gases. As amazing as the science is, when I experience the above-mentioned things I experience something beyond my science understanding. My experience is met with awe and wonder. When I am experiencing these things I touch the divine.

I had another one of these experiences when my daughter showed me a video of Jeffrey Li, a 10-year-old boy from Canada, and Celine Tam, a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong, performing a duet of the song “You Raise Me Up”. I was blown away. These two singers literally took my breath away. What I heard from these two young people touched me at a soul or spiritual level. It made me ask, “How can a seven and ten year old have singing voices like this?” The singing voice of these two “kids” was beyond my understanding. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out below.

Maybe it is time to seek out more of those awe experiences, whatever they may be for you. In fact, doing so just may make the world a better place. Articles such as High on Wonder: People Who Experience More Awe Are Nicer, Better People, and The Key to Fulfillment claim science is providing empirical evidence that awe is the emotion that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. If we choose to get rid of the some of the distractions like cell phones and watching television in our lives and seek to put ourselves in new situations such as going to new places, and meeting new people, this may increase our chances of encountering awe. If it is true what the studies are saying, experiencing awe will make us better people. I implore you to seek out some awe and wonderment in your lives. You will be better for it!

There is Hope

Evo Morales, an Indigenous Bolivian who has served as President of Bolivia since 2006, is quoted as saying, “Sooner or later, we will have to recognize that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”  Mr. Morales is right!  We cannot continue to abuse Mother Earth without dire consequences.

According to The Watchers, a daily news service that relays information on global events, world evolution and transformation, there are many environmental catastrophes taking place on our planet. Here are some that I noted.

A state of emergency was declared over a large natural gas leak pouring high quantities of methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighbourhood on January 6, 2016. Numerous residents reported health issues and thousands of people have been forced to evacuate the area. The leak of natural gas was first observed October 23, 2015, and is now the largest natural gas leak ever reported.

A flow of toxic mining waste, which spilled into a main river in the city of Mariana, Brazil on November 5, 2015 has traveled at least 500 km (310 miles) through the Rio Doce since the event. The disaster has been proclaimed as the country’s worst environmental catastrophe in history. At least 11 people were confirmed dead, 15 went missing and hundreds of homes were devastated.

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Bellandur Lake, India (dogonews.com)

Bellandur Lake, the largest lake in the city of Bangalore, India, is extremely polluted by a high amount of ammonia and phosphate. From the air, the 36 km (22 miles) wide lake visually appears as if snow is covering a mountain. In reality what looks like snow is a large, white foam covering the water surface, an unnatural phenomenon resulting from extremely toxic, untreated, chemical accumulations. The froth has risen to a height of one meter.

A dam at a waste pond on Mount Polley Mine of British Columbia, Canada, full of toxic heavy metals burst on August 4, 2014, releasing 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 5 million cubic meters of toxic slurry into Hazeltine Creek, Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake.  Mining experts warn that the incident is the largest mining disaster in Canadian history, possibly even globally.

There are many, many more environmental catastrophes listed on the Watchers website, and I haven’t even mentioned the biggest one facing the planet, that is, climate change. Now it would be easy to get down and discouraged when reading this kind information, but as they say, “every cloud has a silver lining”. I still believe that the human spirit is strong and that we can correct our wrongs, even when it comes to the environment. So what is the silver lining you may wonder?

The silver lining is that we now have a tremendous opportunity  to develop new technologies, which in turn would create new industries and jobs as well as benefit our planet environmentally. So what might these technologies look like? The Greenbiz website lists 9 technologies to clean up the planet.   The livescience site lists 10 emerging environmental technologies. Some that caught my attention are:

We now have technologies to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Some of these makes the CO2 into something else that can be sold as products. Skyonic Corporation is building a commercial CO2 capture plant scheduled to begin operating this year which is expected to reduce 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year through a combination of direct capture from a cement plant and the making of commercial products, such as baking soda. This is a technology that could help to curb global warming.

Nuclear reactors are becoming safer. The technology for nuclear power has become so efficient that they now use the byproducts of conventional nuclear power production as fuel. The travel wave reactors, backed by Bill Gates, look to use depleted uranium to generate electricity, rather than leaving it to be stored or used in other applications, such as ammunition. This technology makes nuclear power plants much safer and solves the problem of nuclear waste. This could very well be an alternative to the polluting coal burning power plants.

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From the Berkeley Blog

The United Nations have predicted that water supply shortages will affect billions of people by the middle of this century. Desalination, the removing the salt and minerals out of seawater, is one way to provide potable water in parts of the world where supplies are limited but it is expensive and uses a lot of energy. Scientists are working toward better processes where inexpensive fuels can heat and evaporate the water before running it through membranes with microscopic pores to increase efficiency. That gives hope for new fresh water sources as much of our fresh water supply in the form of glaciers is melting and ending up in our oceans.

Hydrogen fuel cell usage has been touted as a pollution-free alternative to using fossil fuels. These cells make water by combining hydrogen and oxygen and in the process they generate electricity. Most recently, scientists have come up with ways to power laptops and small devices with fuel cells, and some car companies are promising that soon we’ll be seeing cars that emit nothing but clean water. That is great news for our environment.

OTEC technologies convert the thermal energy contained in the oceans and turn it into electricity by using the temperature difference between the water’s surface, which is heated, and the cold of the ocean’s bottom. This difference in temperature can operate turbines that can drive generators. This would be a clean source of electricity therefore helping to reduce climate change by eliminating coal burning power plants.

Bioremediation uses microbes and plants to clean up contamination. Examples include the cleanup of nitrates in contaminated water with the help of microbes, and using plants to uptake arsenic from contaminated soil. There is an urgent need to clean up many of the contaminated sites on our planet such as the Deloro mine, a 202-hectare site that lies 65 kilometres east of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.

I recently watched Disney’s movie, Tomorrowland.  This movie delivers a  message of hope for humanity. It is a call to use our human mental abilities and imagination to make changes that can repair the environmental damage that we humans have created. Just reading about some of the many new technologies being developed gives me hope for our planet. We humans are masters at screwing things up, such as our environment, but we are resilient and savvy enough to fix our mistakes. It just takes public awareness through education, a political will, and economic motivation. New technologies create new industries and new jobs. We can fix our environmental problems and still have a thriving economy.  Keeping things at the status quo is not an option.

There is a Cree Prophecy that says, “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” It’s time we put our health and our planet’s welfare ahead of profits. Our survival as a species depends upon it.

 

 

 

 

 

Bring the New Year

Here we are again saying goodbye to another year and bringing in another new year. It boggles my mind (mainly because it reminds me that I’m getting older) how fast annual events come about, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, holidays or even the Stanley Cup playoffs. New Years is one of those annual events.

Now when you talk to people you discover that some people tend to live in fear. For example, these individuals are afraid to travel because “terrible things,” like terrorism, might (and I emphasize the word might) occur in the world. I categorize these individuals as the pessimists. Now I will admit that I sometimes can fall into this category. It’s easy to do. These are the people who always point out the negative in the world. These are the folks who say, “What kind of world will our children or grandchildren live in?” Fearful individuals seem to believe the world is “going to hell” and are anxious because 2016 will be even worse than 2015.

What I find interesting is that attitudes have not changed. My Mom talks about how her parents used to worry about the kind of world their children and grandchildren would be born into. My parents used to be concerned about the state of the world as they lived during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War. The world has always faced challenges and threats. Today is no different. The reality is the world continues to survive.

Now to be fair, there is some merit to their fear; to their pessimism.  2015 has seen many heartbreaking events. Here are some that caught my imagesattention. In October Hurricane Patricia, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, had winds up to 322 kilometres per hour (200 mph). November saw  multiple attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the best known was the attack in Paris, France, resulting in 130 fatalities. Also in November of this year Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet which is the first case of a NATO member destroying a Russian aircraft since the 1950s. In June of 2015, ISIL claimed responsibility for three attacks around the world during Ramadan such as the one in Kuwait City where a suicide bomber attacked a Mosque killing 27 people and injuring 227 others. Then there was the Greek government debt crisis in July when Greece became the first developed economy to miss a payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 70-year history of the IMF.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the story that has been dominating the news most of the 2015 year and that is the Syrian refugee crisis; the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.  The International Organization for Migration claims that more than one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015. Now I could list other events, but there is no question that there have been numerous shameful events in 2015.

Thank God  (or Allah, or Yahweh, or the Universe) there are those who always see the good in the world. I categorize them as the optimists.  Optimists are filled with hope. These are folks who believe that the world can be better; that humanity is not all bad. Individuals such as these look to 2016 with an attitude of hope, hoping that things will improve.  I choose to align myself with the optimists.

There is merit to their argument. Here are some of the jovial events that caught my attention. In April, health officials declared the Americas the first region in the world to be free of the endemic rubella, or German measles, thanks to a 15-year effort to vaccinate men, women, and children everywhere in the northern hemisphere. This is great news since rubella can cause death or severe birth defects when women catch the disease during pregnancy. In July, history was made when Cuba and the United States reestablished full diplomatic relations, ending a 54-year history of GUSTAVO-CAMACHO-GONZALEZ-L1060274_(23430273715)hostility between the nations. In December, a global climate change pact was agreed upon at the COP 21 summit, where  195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. This is great news for the planet. Also in December of this year SpaceX, a company that hopes to revolutionize space technology, lands a Falcon 9 rocket.  This is the first reusable rocket to successfully enter the Earth’s orbit and return. This brings hope for space travel as it makes it cheaper. December also saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi make a surprise visit to  Pakistan to meet his counterpart, Nawaz Sharif.  This is the first time an Indian leader has visited Pakistan in over a decade.  Relations between these two countries have been bitter ever since the violent division of British India in 1947, and the two nations have a history of  numerous military conflicts. This shows that good relations are possible between rivals. That gives hope that peace is achievable. Also in December the members of the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of a law to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children. That’s great news for kids. There are certainly more positive events of 2015 I could report, but you get the idea.

The Atlantic Monthly in December of 2015 , a magazine published in Washington, D.C,  wrote an article called 2015: The Best Year in History for the Average Human Being. The article cites numerous reasons for making this claim.  Here are a few that caught my attention.

“At the Paris climate conference in December, countries demonstrated renewed resolve to tackle global climate change together. Absent any policies enacted to slow climate change since 2010, the world might have been more than 4 degrees Celsius hotter in 2100 than pre-industrial temperatures. Existing policies to cut emissions reduced that forecast to 3.6 degrees, and the additional pledges in Paris brought it to 2.7 degrees Celsius.”
“The Global Terrorism Index says, 11,133 people died in terrorist attacks—suggesting terrorism accounted for about 1.8 percent of violent deaths worldwide. And for all that terrorism deaths have increased since 2012, they remain responsible for perhaps three hundredths of one percent of global mortality…Rabies was responsible for three times as many deaths as terrorism that year. Stomach cancer killed more people than murder, manslaughter, and wars combined…”
“Civil and political rights also continued their stuttering spread. While 2015 saw rights on the retreat in countries including Turkey and Thailand, the number of electoral democracies worldwide remains at a historic high according to Freedom House…This year, there were peaceful and democratic transitions of power in settings as diverse as Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Myanmar, and Argentina. And Saudi Arabia held local elections where, for the first time ever, women were allowed to stand as candidates and vote.”
The Atlantic Monthly focuses on the positives of 2015. What astounds me is instead of feeling good about the progress made in 2015, the pessimists choose to downplay the article. CBC did this in their article, 2015 ‘the best year in history’? Not everyone agrees. Why not be proud of what humanity has achieved in 2015? Why can’t humans celebrate the positives rather than dwell on the negatives?
When doing research for this post, I ‘googled’ predictions for 2016. What is intriguing to me is the vast majority of the predictions are ‘doom and gloom’ predictions.  One ‘hit’ was titled 2016 will be a year of living dangerously for the global economy.  The Inquisitr, an internationally recognized news website, predicts World War Three will start in 2016.  When you think about it, the third world war has already started as the war on terrorism involves much of the world community. I guess they’re right about that prediction. At least Newsweek predicts a  rise in electric cars which if it becomes true is great for the environment.  Now remember, a prediction is just a guess or a forecast.  When I ‘googled’, “How many predictions came true in 2015?” the vast majority of ‘hits’ were talking about the movie Back to the Future II. In this movie Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future in their time machine, the DeLorean. The date set on the time machine was October 21, 2015.  The various websites were comparing the 2015 of today with the 2015 of the movie. I had little luck finding anything else. That leads me to believe that most of the predictions made for 2015 didn’t come true. Certainly some of the political changes that occurred in 2015 weren’t predicted.

best-year-everSo what will 2016 bring? The pessimists will likely envision , more ISIL terrorist attacks,  more anger from Mother Nature in the form of violent storms, more conflicts between nations, more economic problems, and on and on. Optimists will focus on the positives like improved political relations, the international community working together to slow climate change, improvements in human rights, improvements in health, and so on. I choose to be in the optimist camp. I choose to believe that 2016 will bring many good things. Really, the only thing we can control is the choices we make. To quote Brad Paisley, “Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 [366 for 2016] page book. Write a good one.” I’m choosing to make it a good one. I’m choosing to make 2016  a great year!

Interesting reads: 5 Major Trends and Make your 2016 better

What is really happening?

I have always been intrigued by the idea of aliens from another planet visiting our planet earth.  I’ve watched Hangar 1: UFO Files on the History Channel a number of times and have found the stories of UFO sightings and encounters quite fascinating.  When you “google” the words UFO sightings you get 1.8 million hits.  That says there must be something to these UFOs.  So when I cam across the story on Fox News: Apollo 14 astronaut claims peace-loving aliens prevented ‘nuclear war’ on Earth, I had to read it.  After all, this was a story involving the sixth man to walk the surface of the moon.

The story centres around Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut who was on the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.  He told Mirror Online, an online tabloid, that top-ranking military sources spotted UFOs during weapons tests. He told us military insiders had seen strange crafts flying over missile bases and the famous White Sands facility, where the world’s first ever nuclear bomb was detonated in 1945.

Mr. Mitchell’s story falls right in line with one of the episodes of Hangar 1: The UFO Files that I saw in April of this year.  The episode was called UFOs at War.  This episode maintains that in every war throughout history there were sightings of multiple UFOs over battlefields. That included recent conflicts such as the Afghanistan war and Iraq wars. The episode was attempting to determine if the purpose of these UFO visits was to harm us or were their visits to warn us of our own potential self-destruction? I certainly was fascinated by the topic.

I have an active brain, so when I hear, see or read about phenomena such as UFOs, I get curious and want to know more.  Mostly, I want to know if this could be true.  So I turn to the internet to learn more.  Now one has to be careful using the World Wide Web as there is lots of misinformation on it.  I always try to use information from credible sites or from credible people. In this case, I looked to Stephen Hawking who was a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and author of A Brief History of Time which was an international bestseller.  Furthermore, when you research the smartest people living today, Stephen Hawking almost always appears as one of the ten smartest people alive today.  So I reason what he has to say is credible.

ufoIn the article Stephen Hawking: Earth could be…, Hawking says, “The existence of 100 billion galaxies each containing hundreds of millions of stars means Earth is unlikely to be the only place where life has evolved,  To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational. The real challenge is to work out what aliens might actually be like”.  The article also says that Professor Hawking has been open-minded to the existence of extraterrestrials before, but the discovery of more than 450 previously unknown planets orbiting distant stars since 1995 is believed to have strengthened his belief that life exists outside of earth.

In another article Stephen Hawking: We been overlooked, Hawking says, “that there are other forms of intelligent life out there, but that we have been overlooked. If we should pick up signals from alien civilizations, we should be wary of answering back, until we have evolved a bit further. Meeting a more advanced civilization, at our present stage, might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus. I don’t think they were better off for it.”

Now I agree with Hawking views. I thinks it is just arrogance and naivety for humans to think we are the only living creatures in this vast universe. An article titled, Ignoring 500 Billion Galaxies, says, “There are some one trillion galaxies in the known universe and some 50 billion planets estimated to exist in the Milky Way alone and some 500,000,000 predicted to exist in a habitable zone [a zone where life is possible]”.  The article goes on to say, “Astronomers estimate that there are 100 billion galaxies in the universe. If you want to extrapolate those numbers, that means there are around 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 (50 quintillion) potentially habitable planets in the universe”. The odds of the planet Earth being the only planet in the universe with life seems to be against us.

I especially agree with Mr. Hawking that we humans are not all that evolved.  One just has to look at the way we treat one another to determine where we are on our evolutionary path. I figure if we are at war with one another and killing one another then we can’t be too far into our evolutionary development.  Add to that the fact that we mistreat our planet with pollution. Evolved civilizations would not do these things to themselves and their planet.

In the article, Aliens are coming,  NASA’s Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan claims, “First contact with alien life will happen very soon. I think we’re going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth within a decade, and I think we’re going to have definitive evidence within 20 to 30 years.”  Stofan has held the most senior science position at NASA since August 2013, so what she has to say must be credible.

Now, I know it is difficult to know what to think or believe.  If you use the internet you will find convincing arguments both for and against claims that aliens are among us.  Having said that, I prefer to think that if aliens are indeed among us. then they are here for the betterment of humankind, so maybe they are protecting us from ourselves.  For me that is more comforting than extraterrestrials preparing to invade and destroy Earth or it’s inhabitants.  They don’t need to destroy humankind as we are doing a good job of that ourselves.