Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What is religion?

What is religion? (your definition)





    My daughter was asked in her world religions class to answer this question in two or three sentences. I am tempted to do the same. So I will, except that I will devote an entire essay, covering also questions like, What is my definition of religion? What is religion to me? What are the best definitions of religion I have found in my reading?


    My slightly cheeky personal definition of my religion, the Baha'i Faith, is "people who sit around in a circle and read from books." This describes, physically, what we do in our meetings, at least 95 percent of the time. Admittedly, sometimes we sit around a table, which may be square, and read aloud from books. But still, this pretty much describes what Baha'is do. So, when we say "study circle," the emphasis is on "circle." Such is the importance of equality in our scriptures.





    There has been effort recently to update this definition to "people who sit around in circles and recite." If we memorize enough from our holy writings we will not need to read aloud from books anymore, we will have it by heart. Maybe future generations of believers will memorize enough that my original definition will need to be revised. However, there is little sign that the sclerotic brains of believers of my generation can make such a change.


    Facetious as my definition is, it is not without precedent in earlier religious teachings. According to the Qur’an, the definition of a believer is someone who hears the word of God (be it read or recited, be it read, intoned or chanted) and is changed and uplifted by the experience. The,


    "true believers are those whose hearts are filled with awe at the mention of God, and whose faith grows stronger as they listen to His revelations." (Q8:3)


    Or, as Christ put it, "The sheep knows the voice of the shepherd." Indeed, this reading aloud refers literally to what the word "Qur'an" means in Arabic, "dictation" or continuous recitation. It is what the Prophet or Manifestation does, and learn and follow is what we do.





    The Qur'an furthermore emphasizes that once we are filled by reverential feeling by hearing the Word, it is not enough just to wave our hands in the air and say, "I believe," we must obey and enact what the Word says, "Do not say you believe, say you submit." Thus religion is not a belief or system of beliefs, it is what the word "Islam" means, submission to the Will of God. Earlier faiths taught the same thing.


    "Not by might nor by power shall this be done, but by my spirit." (Zechariah 4:10 and 6)


    Abdu'l-Baha, in a passage that many Baha'is have memorized, defines religion as a process that begins, yes, in submission to God, but also one that has a final purpose, to change conditions that lead to progress for the human race.


    "Religion ... is not a series of beliefs, a set of customs; religion is the teachings of the Lord God, teachings which constitute the very life of humankind, which urge high thoughts upon the mind, refine the character, and lay the groundwork for man's everlasting honour." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 52-53)


Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Thoughts about the Industrial Wind Turbine Debate

Badi blog post for 8 November, 2011


    I have been sick for 5 weeks with a fever that became a cough that turned into pneumonia. Then, when I thought I was on the mend, I coughed so hard I that I popped a rib. Nothing turned up on the Xray, other than pneumonia in my right lung; however, the doctor says I may have moved a rib (yuck) or maybe tore a ligament or muscle or something. I asked if I should wear a girdle or some other back support. He said I can if I want to catch pneumonia and die. I answered, "Hey, I've already got pneumonia. Oh ... I see."







    All I know is that even now it hurts a lot whenever I move, sneeze, or even fart.


    So I underwent yet another week of agony every time I cough and of sleeping sitting. One benefit, though, was that the constant threat of a cough accompanied by a knife in my side somehow removed a mental block I have had against video editing. So, I took a day or two and put together the following 15 minute video on the case against Industrial Wind Turbines (IWT's), based on the opening comments by a well known opponent of IWT's in a debate that took place at the end of September.








    At Dunnville High School a group of activist students named DREAM recently sponsored a debate on wind turbines. It was called: It is All About Power; Should there be industrial wind turbines in Haldimand County, Ontario?

    Part One: The case against.




    Arguing against wind turbines was John Laforet, founder of Wind Concerns Ontario, a member of parliament who in opposing wind farms went against the policy of his own party. His argument, basically, is that we need to step back and do an environmental assessment before we commit to installing industrial wind farms.




    If my video editing mental block stays out of my way, I plan to post two more videos on this subject before next Thursday's Philosopher's Cafe. I promised a showing of these YouTube videos at our October discussion, after which we will debate the issue again, hopefully with more informed opinions.


    My second planned video will condense the best parts of the Q&A that took place after the debate (unfortunately, the proponent of IWT's did not address the issue in his allotted time in the debate section, but he did better in the question period) and a third video will be devoted to my own ideas on the subject, many of which I will sum up now. I guess I am pretty shy about speaking into a camera, so this may be something that never happens. Or, maybe the period of illness will have changed that mental block too.


    Another YouTube video I came across just after posting my video against IWT's is a good supplement to many of the points that John Laforet makes in his harangue. Grant Robertson, an environmentalist turned NDP policy wonk on Industrial Wind, explains "How to stop the Industrial Wind Model." The title is a little deceptive, but he makes some very good points,




    I am especially grateful to MPP Grant Robertson for mentioning the fact that the amount of air pollution here in Ontario has vastly decreased since the Recession started, and that as a result the industrial heartland of the U.S., just south of where I live, was gutted. This explains why my health, generally speaking, has been so much better during the past four years. A lot of people are suffering from unemployment, but human canaries-in-a-coalmine like myself are much better off.


    MPP's Laforet and Robertson offer hints at the strategy that the owners of the fossil fuel industry seem to have adopted. First of all, buy out the manufacturers of IWT's. This has been done already. Second, use this so-called "green" technology to accomplish several of their overall goals. They are in a win-win situation. Let us say the issue becomes so politicized that wind turbines are blocked wherever they are proposed. They win, because the alternative is natural gas and other fossil fuels, and that is where most of their profits are going to come in any case.


    Or, say they win the "battle" for IWT's without enough opposition being provoked. Being so powerful, and being ostensibly on the side of "green power," they can frame the issue in whatever way they please. So they stipulate that whenever you put in a wind turbine, you have to burn their natural gas during all the times when the wind is either not blowing or blowing too hard for the turbine to work safely. If you do not like that odd coupling, we simply will refuse to run the turbine, and the government will be accused of slowing the switch to green energy. And of course, we are more than willing to shut the process down, since our main purpose is to burn as much gas as possible anyway.





    Not many people realize that fracking shale for natural gas has revolutionized the whole energy situation during the past five years. Now the fossil fuel industry has so much gas in its hot little hands that it is desperate for new markets. And, as Robertson points out, southern Ontario is surrounded by vast shale deposits under the Great Lakes. Sure, fracking here could turn the world's largest freshwater lakes into vast toxic waste ponds, but think how much profit would go to the Fat Cats! This opening frontier of easy profits explains why they are so avid to push what one would never expect from them, wind turbines.


    When you edit a video like this and try to bring hours of footage into the 15 minute limit that YouTube imposes, you hear the same argument over and over again, dozens of times. One point that Laforet makes is that water power, hydroelectric dams and turbines, is a much more viable and economical prospect than wind. I checked his facts about hydro and on the whole they stand up. For example, the Canadian Research Council says,


    "Electricity generation in Canada amounted to 585 terawatt hours in 2009. Canada's abundant water resources provided a significant contribution in this regard, as hydroelectricity represented 60.4 percent of total generation. Other sources of electricity supply included coal (16.9 percent); nuclear (14.6 percent); petroleum products, natural gas and waste (7.5 percent); and emerging renewable sources (0.6 percent), i.e. solar, wind and tidal." (http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/statistics-facts/energy/895)


    This figure is so high because of the huge power generation facility in northern Quebec. The Wikipedia article about Ontario energy policy points out that the figure for hydro here is lower than that for all of Canada, but it is still a pretty respectable percentage.


    "Hydropower currently accounts for approximately 21% of the current electricity supply in Ontario. This capacity is estimated to rise to 30% by 2025 as new sites are added to the current installed capacity and the existing ones are refurbished. Particular emphasis will be placed on developing hydroelectric plants with large storage capacities that can be used to provide dispatchable energy, which are equally capable of meeting peak electricity demand or offsetting the intermittent nature of other renewable sources such as wind." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_electricity_policy#Hydroelectricity)


    If you are interested in more data about what kinds of electricity generation goes on in Ontario, here is a site with a detailed breakdown by type and geography.




    So yes, Ontario already benefits from green energy, hydro, especially from Niagara Falls, more than almost anywhere in the world. We have less need for wind energy than the industry is trying to make out.


    Better still, the prospects for hydro are getting better with improved technology. For example, check out this video from Make Magazine, one of my favorite publications.




    Anthony Reale invents water turbine


    posted on the Badi Blog on OCT 31, 2011




    What this talks about is an inventor in Michigan who was watching a nature documentary on television about the basking shark when he wondered, "How can that huge mouth move forward without a vast expenditure of energy?" The result was a new Water Turbine that should exploit hydroelectric power in more places with much more efficiency.




    Or, for Canadian content, this guy invented another new kind of water turbine,




    So yes, my opinions about wind turbines are changing as I delve deeper into the issue. Right after the debate in September, I wrote,


    "Neither debater mentioned the double standard of requiring the makers and installers of wind turbines to jump through hoops by complying to long health studies and environmental reviews, while cars and road noise and fumes, much louder and more poisonous, are left unquestioned, simply because we are used to them, and, one surely must concede, the fact that we all undeniably benefit from roads and vehicles almost every hour of the day, whenever we travel. Anyone who actually spends time in the country, perhaps camping out in the open, realizes that the noise from roads and rail are much, much louder and disturbing than wind turbines. At least so far ... Probably there are ill effects on our health from that preexisting noise, but we accept it as the price of this present infrastructure. The problem with wind is that the benefits are much further down the road, and mostly they have not kicked in yet. ... ten years after this debate (we will see the good as well as the bad, and the benefits and harm will not be) mere speculation."


    This opinion was modified considerably when, during one of my long, miserable nights of coughing and trying unsuccessfully to sleep sitting up, I watched a long and rather tedious documentary on TVO about how the first turbines to be built in England for decades were introduced.




    The industrial turbines were opposed ardently and at great sacrifice by residents who were getting sick from the noise.


    An American version of this documentary will be showing on CBC this upcoming weekend.





    By then I was aware that the turbines are being pushed by fossil fuel magnates who could not care less about whether they succeed or not. As it turned out, they succeeded and according to news reports this fall the wind farms in Devon went online. I am sure that the covert owners of the turbines felt some chagrin at how easily they pushed it through, in less than ten years. After all, everything they did was calculated to kick up as much dust and confusion as possible. They kept all data secret, and shared it only after court orders and delays in court gave them no choice. Be secretive about everything. What a perfect way to fan the flames of controversy and keep the opposition in a fury!


    The takeaway lesson from this weird story is that if we really want to promote wind power while minimizing any harm it causes, all government has to do is make laws requiring that noise and wind monitors be sited all around every wind turbine. The main guy in this documentary bought and set up such a monitoring system all by himself, so it cannot be all that difficult or expensive to do. Then you have the data overseen and collected by an impartial third party, like a university. Let them pipe all data directly to an open systems website on the Internet, one that is immediately accessible to anyone interested.


    Here you can register all complaints of local residents and their doctors, with all of the information being confirmed on an ongoing basis by epidemiologists.


    This third party information gathering should involve naturalists as well. If bats or birds are dying from a turbine, shut it down right away, until the problem is solved. We can no longer tolerate harm to animals, any more than we should harm to humans.


    One reservation I had at the start remains unchanged. I wrote,


    "I regret that the debate format was chosen in the first place. What we need is brainstorming, not clashes of ideas and opinions that kick up more dust and distortion than they illuminate the facts at hand. We need to modernize the whole idea of a debate."





    I would add now that public discussions need to be set up in a problem solving format. A debate only helps if a question has been around for centuries with little agreement by experts; then it is useful to hear both sides so that you can make up your own mind. The prospect of wind turbines is not such an issue. For one thing, the decision to put IWT's in here has already been made, with our local government, Haldimand County, being excluded completely by Ontario Government's Green Energy Act.

    So it is all moot, as far as practical decisions go.


    Aside from the spiritual principles taught by the Baha'i Faith, I am very enthusiastic by NEF's problem solving approach to a public discussion. You can read about it at:




    Next time, I will talk about what we should be doing to solve the specific energy problems in Haldimand.