Light Bulbs and Straws vs. Human Survival

If we can Save the Banks, We can Save the World.

~ Greta Thunberg

During Elizabeth Warren’s segment on the CNN Climate Forum on Wednesday, September 4, 2019, Chris Cuomo asked her whether the government should dictate the kinds of light bulbs and straws we use. It was typical of mass-media-pundit questions, which so often implicitly incorporate a climate-denialist trope. During the prior debates among the twenty or so Democratic presidential candidates, both questions and answers seemed to acquiesce defensively to right-wing Republican definitions of “political reality.” Cuomo’s question framed the climate crisis as a simple matter of individual choice versus government intrusion into our private lives.

Warren Overcomes

Elizabeth.Warren_CNN.ClimateHowever, Elizabeth Warren would have none of it. She immediately recognized that she was being set up to accept the individualization of an inherently collective, even global problem. Why should the citizens of America submit themselves to government dictates regarding what kind of light bulbs we must buy? What if we prefer plastic straws to the paper ones, which sometimes soften and grow flimsy before we finish our diabetes-encouraging high-fructose corn-syrup infused 20 oz. soda? Warren pointedly asserted that the corporate elites deploy millions of dollars each year to keep us distracted by desires for individual convenience and comfort.

Isn’t the right to choose a sacred value of American Individualism? Well, corporate propaganda regularly confirms its application to industrial consumer behavior, anyway. However, the white nationalists and religious fundamentalists who demand total conformity to the sacred imaginaries of their madness, even as they assert “individualism” in the abstract, do not allow it. Nor do their political enablers. The corporate culture works very hard to exploit such madness to keep the public discourse focused on individual behavior, not institutional corruption. Yet, the force of the climate emergency is gradually making inroads into the “normal politics” that sustain corporate hegemony over industrial civilization until it collapses from the weight of excess.

Warren answered Cuomo’s loaded question by pointing out that such redefinitions of global problems as issues of individual choice rather than matters of public purpose, are exactly what the fossil-fuel industries and their allies and lobbying agents want us to focus upon. The power of the electricity-generation, the fossil-fuels and construction industries produces about seventy percent of global carbon emissions. We participate, of course, by using and wasting the energy and products these institutions produce. The inordinate power of the corporate state has enabled, indeed caused, the national denial of climate chaos.

The Life and Death of Denialism

We can see that denialism fading even as the remaining ten candidates for the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, up the ante on their mostly ambiguous “climate plans.” Sure, their vision is incomplete and their tendency to stay within the lines of business-as-usual remains. Yet, the voices of reason and fact are gaining strength.

Greta Thunberg on SailboatThe very fact that a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, has gained an international following, having merely started a personal School Strike for Climate at her high school demonstrates that the tide is turning. We have no idea whether the climate action movements will be able to move whole societies to transform themselves, but there is hope.

A recent public presentation and discussion by Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein, among other climate activists, reflected the essence of all this. The Intercept organized the event, which is well worth watching and listening to as it demonstrates the wisdom of youth focused on facts.

Ambitious Goals are Not Enough

I keep hearing about what an ambitious plan the Green New Deal is, how bold and grand its goals and the programs it points to are, implying that “in the real world” it is “impractical.” Granted, the Green New Deal was a giant step forward when you consider where the Congress, the media pundits have been on the issue – exactly nowhere.

Of course, in a society where the only sacred thing is “the economy,” anything that might disturb the corporate vision of “economic growth” talking heads deem evil, “socialist,” or just plain stupid.

Policy Dissembling

Even the supposedly progressive (yet corporately constrained) MSNBC commentators have little to say beyond vague political generalities about “climate change.” The Democratic presidential candidates have said little of any substance on the gravest existential threat to humanity ever – until the Green New Deal gained increasing national attention. In the first two rounds of the debates, the average time spent on climate crisis was under ten minutes in a three-hour event. The greatest existential threat to humanity was sidelined amid regressive jockeying around Republican talking points.

Just as with the gun control issue, genuine proposals specifying how to constrain carbon emissions from the global industrial-consumer economy have not seen serious public discussion, despite the unequivocal scientific evidence of imminent existential danger. Such talk is so far away from the public discourse that is is almost entirely out of sight. At least, the Green New Deal points in the right direction.

Aspirations or Action

AOC and Markey unveil Green New Deal

@AOC & Senator Markey unveil the Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is, after all, an aspirational resolution in the Congress proposed by its most progressive Democrats. The attempt to get a genuine public political conversation going about mounting a national response to the climate emergency faltered amid claims that it would be too expensive or that it is a socialist plot to take away our (consumerist) freedoms. However, emergent social movements like the Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement, along with outspoken new progressives like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have gained significant public attention with their blunt talk on the climate crisis.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee was the only presidential candidate to base his run for the nomination explicitly on responding to the climate crisis. Inslee posted on his website serious detailed proposals that extend beyond the other candidates’ lip service proclamations. He dropped out of the race because he just could not get enough traction amid the myriad candidates and sound bites on the stage. The debate moderators had presented the climate issue as somehow just another topic for a brief question. 

The Challenge

Jay.Inslee

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee and the vocal supporters of the Green New Deal have certainly brought the climate emergency to a public that is increasingly aware of the reality of damage already done by climate disruption. Elisabeth Warren offered a climate plan that Mother Jones Magazine gave a grade of C-Bernie Sanders has released a far more detailed extensive plan. Yet, in the short history of climate science, the fossil-fueled propaganda supporting climate denial has set us decades behind when we should have taken rational action. So, we can understand why some view the mere statement of the major actions necessary now, as “ambitious,” bold, or even “unaffordable.”

Yet, ambitious goals are not anywhere near enough. Only massive concrete societal actions will give us a chance to avoid total climate and ecological chaos leading to societal collapse. To curtail carbon emissions to slow global warming and ecosystem destruction enough to salvage some livable degree of climate stability, we need to take drastic actions that will necessarily transform the way we live, as well as the way we relate to each other and to the entire Earth System on which we depend for survival. “Ambitious” as used seems to imply unreasonable or unachievable. Yet, how ambitious is the goal of human survival, as conditions into the Anthropocene turn increasingly unlivable?

Institutions are as Good as the People Running Them

Most of us most of the time envision public institutions as fixed objects, occupied by people who manage and perform their functions for the benefit of the people. When those who the people have entrusted with the authority to lead institutions to achieve their mission, believe in the institutions they oversee, such assumptions pretty much hold true.

However, most institutions function effectively mostly because of the commitment of their directors to honestly implement their mandated operations.

Authoritarian Demagoguery and Corruption of the “Rule of Law”

The so-called “rule of law” exists only to the extent that people believe in the value of institutions operating as prescribed in law. Legislation specifies the mandate and basic operational principles by which an institution is supposed to conduct its business. The institution promulgates rules and regulations as the operational means of carrying out the mandate.

In “normal times,” all this works out, at least in terms of maintaining the legitimacy of the institutions and its actions, more or less effectively, whether we happen to like a particular policy or not.

However, the actions of authoritarians demonstrate the fragile nature of democratic institutions. If the chief executive, i.e., POTUS in the case of the U.S.A., has no commitment to democratic values or the rule of law and happens to be a narcissistic sociopath then the “rule of law” tends to break down.

When the highest executive authority in the land routinely lies and violates the law and ethics, and roles back institutional regulations to further his power-seeking agenda above all else, then all sorts of things we have taken for granted tend to crumble before our eyes. That is what corruption looks like.

The authoritarian demagogue speaks with a forked tongue; his speech has little to do with his actions, intentionally fomenting as much ambiguity as possible. The goal of wannabe dictators is to upset normal expectations, leaving others unable to operate in normal ways. The “new normal” is the abnormality of a personality disorder.

Chaos, Democracy, and Enforcement of Law

When the culture suffers from a weakening of democratic values and deep-seated resentment of the failure of the government to represent the interests of the people, authoritarians can take illegitimate control by manipulating public opinion. They repeat big lies claiming all manner of accomplishments that do not exist. The tyrant defines a free press as “the enemy of the people.” Under such circumstances, corruption has a free reign.

A wealth of self-indulgence clutters the culture, amplified by social media. Core values are clouded in a haze of greed and fear turned skillfully into hatred, distracting people from the corruption of high office. Democratic values take a back seat and, as in our case, the mass (corporate) media promote implications that the “authority” of the would-be autocrat in the highest office, is absolute and exempt from legal or moral constraint. Mandated to execute the laws of the land, he is somehow “above the law” and shielded from prosecution for violating the law. Too many believe he is excused from scrutiny by the one body – Congress – authorized by the Constitution to execute “oversight” over the executive.

Who enforces the law when the highest authority appoints an attorney general to protect his personal power, not the rule of law, thereby avoiding any kind of accountability for violating the law? The danger to the survival of democratic institutions is very real and growing daily.

A Failure to Communicate…or Lead

The majority of Americans understand that global warming is real and that it is mostly human-caused. They understand that most scientists think that global warming is happening, but only about one in six are aware that the consensus is very strong among climate scientists. Nevertheless, about six in ten are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming, while nearly four in ten have personally experienced its effects in some way and think that it is harming Americans “right now.”

Yet, among several other results in the recently released report, Climate Change in the American Mind (April 2019) researchers found in their nationally representative survey that over six in ten Americans rarely or never discuss global warming with family and friends. Less than four in ten do so occasionally or often. That tells me something about the distorted “political climate” surrounding the climate debate, such as it is.

Climate Communication

The findings of this study by Anthony Leiserowitz and his colleagues under the aegis of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication[i] and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication seem at odds with the content of the recent debates of the twenty “top” candidates for the Democratic nomination for the 2020 presidential election.

Election 2020 Debate

The First Night’s Debate Lineup

I noticed that on the first debate night, only a few minutes were devoted to the topic, so I timed the segment when the question finally came up on the second night. It took all of nine minutes out of the two-hour debate and just like the first debate. However, a good deal of that time drifted off-topic as befuddled debaters fell back on their preferred talking points, diverting attention from their hesitancy to take any firm policy stance on specific climate actions. Of course, most claimed concern but had little else to say on the matter.

The contrast between the growing interest and concern over the climate crisis among the American people versus the stilted talk of most Democratic Party primary hopefuls is stark. But what does it reflect or portend? Well, it is clear that the facts and their own experiences have gotten the attention of the American people. Meanwhile, the DNC leadership resists the demands of groups like the Sunrise Movement to have a full debate on the climate emergency.

Climate Censorship

Decades of corporate propaganda and lobbied political denial and diversion has caused long delays in the climate crisis coming to the attention of the public and becoming a genuine political issue. Nevertheless, overwhelming facts and experience have finally entered the public consciousness. So, what is wrong with the consciousness and speech of the politicians?

Aside from the obvious self-interest of the plundering politicians and extreme elements that now dominate the Republican Party, one might think that the Dem’s would be all over this crisis as a central issue with which to distinguish themselves from the “know-nothing” Republicans. If anything, they ought to make an effort to help educate the electorate as to the seriousness of the climate emergency.

Will the Real Leader Please Stand Up

The Trump regime seems an easy target as it persists in its full-blown climate denial and strong-arm attempts to unravel the modest environmental protection accomplishments that accrued from Nixon to Obama. Trump’s agents assigned to administer these departments now have a track record of directly suppressing important scientific findings of government researchers in the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture. They prohibit Researchers from presenting their findings at scientific conferences or disseminating their reports.

Yet the Dem’s cannot even take aggressive action beyond voicing complaints when the regime commits crimes against humanity at our southern border. Nevertheless, they want to be leaders. Amusing, but so sad, even Trump, warned by his advisors that the American people know that the climate crisis is upon us, made some typically false statements about how his administration is making America’s water and air the cleanest in the world. Sure, he has no clue, but it is disconcerting that he sounds so much like the wishy-washy Dem’s, except for the lies about accomplishments.

One might think that such a plethora of corruption and actions in direct opposition to the interests of the American people would offer an especially easy target for attack by the opposition. Many Americans have already experienced the devastating effects of climate chaos. Yet, if the debates are any measure, here is where Mahatma Gandhi’s oft-quoted comment on leadership surely applies to the Democrats who hope to lead the nation:

“There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

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[i] Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Rosenthal, S., Kotcher, J., Bergquist, P., Ballew, M., Goldberg, M., & Gustafson, A. (2019). Climate change in the American mind: April 2019. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. doi:10.17605/OSF.IO/CJ2NS

The Sustainability Conundrum

Sustainable This, Sustainable That; Green This, Green That. What exactly is the point? The “sustainability” meme seems to have gone culturally viral. Promoters use it to give any action or proposal at all a sheen of environmental respectability. But what does it actually mean?

I am afraid that “sustainability” has come to mean nothing at all, other than functioning to evoke a politically correct gloss over whatever the speaker (or advertisement) is promoting. It has gone the way of “green” as an emotionally evocative signal that everything will be just fine, as long as you do not look behind the curtain, behind which you may find the shocking truth. (One notable exception is “The Green New Deal.”)

Talk is cheap

Most “sustainability” talk is constrained by assumptions it deeply embeds in the very same extractive industrial consumer culture and practices that can no longer be sustained. “Sustainable” usually implies that a practice can continue indefinitely because it relies on renewable resources, energy and/or “responsible” methods of extraction, harvest, or production.

Open Pit Mining-in-Tazania1

Open Pit Mining ~ Tanzania

However, industrial-consumer economies cannot sustain current levels of extraction, production, and consumption without forcing extreme levels of climate chaos, ecological destruction, and resource depletion. The industrial-consumer economy will no longer be able to sustain the overgrown populations that depend on it. The limits of growth have arrived; economic growth itself is no longer sustainable.

Words and Deeds

The global industrial-consumer economy can sustain some practices for a long time, yet contribute significantly to climate chaos, ecological destruction, and eventually societal collapse. More broadly, the “technosphere” itself (the techno-industrial complex that sustains and is driven by the endless growth economy) is not sustainable simply because it is destroying the core living Earth systems upon which we all rely for survival.

Physics is not negotiable. Faith in technological innovation and economic growth as the drivers of human progress is no longer a viable belief system. Physical Earth System parameters constitute impassible boundaries to reckless techno-industrial economics. Those who live in the ephemeral world of such utopian dreams hold to their untenable beliefs, but cannot persuade the Earth System to passively accept the plunder and pollution we have put upon it. We have set in motion self-amplifying processes that we have little if any remaining ability to control.

Deadly Decisions

Continuing on our present path of impossible endless economic growth will force the collapse of society itself following both the destabilization of the complex dynamic living Earth systems on which it all depends. Also, the internal major sub-system breakdowns we have already experienced, such as in the 2008 global financial meltdown, all indicate growing system instability leading to an accelerated collapse.

A New Great Transformation, vastly more complex than the industrial revolution that started the now-dying industrial era, is upon us. Yet, we have done little to mitigate or adapt to the catastrophic disruptions of economy, ecology, and climate that it has caused.

The dominant concept of “sustainability” fails to consider the limits of extraction-production-consumption and waste on our finite. The globalized corporate economy has overshot the Earth System’s capacity to carry the ecological load of a

ecological-community-18

population of industrial consumers. What is actually sustainable is so different from the pseudo-sustainable industrial-consumer practices still promoted, that it is hard for most to imagine. Survival of the human species will depend on our ability to shape new local/regional ecological communities that embed their economies within and harmonize with the ecosystems they inhabit.

Asking how to assure “sustainable development,” or worse, “sustainable growth,” is a way of denying the fact that the current trajectory of political economy is itself unsustainable.

Joy of Dog II

Copper has an on-off switch. Two positions: full speed ahead and sleep soundly.

Hotel.Dog

Copper luxuriating in our Durango Hotel room, Winter 2016.

 

Even when she’s being “bad,” stealing sox or slippers and playing keep away with anything she knows I want back, it’s all about having fun. Humans should be so free. Vizslas don’t fully mature until four or five. At four, she still has some of her puppy perspective. She is smart, strong-willed, and just charming enough to get her way…too often. Playful would be a monumental understatement.

Copper was only a few months old when we took her with us to visit friends staying near La Paz, Baja Del Sur, Mexico, four years ago. There, we drove to a deserted beach, planning to introduce her to water. La Paz faces east on the Sea of Cortez. The surf is very small. I waded out to coax Copper in hopes she would learn to swim. Immediately she swam right out to me, circled, and then swam back to shore, looking bewildered, yet excited. All I had to do was call her and she repeated the feat, over and over again. At 6 months, she had more to learn about swimming, but her unbounded energy and enthusiasm guaranteed success. Today, she is an accomplished surf-dog who loves playing in the surf as I did as a kid on the California coast so many decades before. (More on that in a later post.)

IMG_2803

Surf Dog

We were stunned to realize how much Copper loves to run. Each day while in La Paz, we took Copper to a deserted beach. Cynde and I would separate by about 50 or 75 yards along the shore and called her back and forth. We thought she would never tire. Finally, she sat down and looked in both directions as if to say, “Okay, guys, that’s it for me.”

In a couple of minutes, she was back at it. Right then we decided that taking her on walks around the neighborhood as we had done before the trip, was clearly not adequate to her running needs. She is, after all, a Vizsla, a field dog with remarkable energy and endurance.

The Fog of Play

Fog of Play

We take Copper to the dog park daily, even twice a day for the first few months, just to help burn off all that energy having fun. Copper easily learned to socialize with the other dogs and relished the appearance of other puppies with whom she could wrestle and chase. At the dog park, we would learn much more about dog social life and the humans who “own” them than we ever could have imagined.

The dog park has a way of bringing out the best and worst in people (mostly the best), highlighting the human dilemmas that make it so difficult to face both interpersonal and global crises. New revelations about the joy of dog awaited her two-footed companions at the dog park.

Internet Freedom the Co-op Way

I pay $35.00 per month for unlimited Internet service. I get about the same speed as most of the corporate Internet Service Providers offer, for about half the price they charge. All the customers/members of our co-op get the same service for the same price, with no restrictions whatsoever on content because our ‘provider’ is a cooperative owned by its members. Its sole purpose is to provide ourselves with high-speed internet access. All ‘profits’ go to the members in the form of better service and price. For a small increase in the monthly fee, we can upgrading to a higher bandwidth.

We are all encouraged to contribute work in upgrading the equipment of the co-op as well as help set up new members’ receivers, etc. The La Canada Wireless Internet Co-op buys access to large high-speed optical transmission lines. It then transmits all Internet content equally to its members via its installations atop hills in the Santa Fe area. Members install their own transmission/receiving equipment on their rooftops. Usually, more technically knowledgeable members help them.

Ethernet.cable on blue

Ethernet Cable

We members collectively own our own “pipeline” to the World Wide Web and all the information and communication that entails. We are, in effect, shareholders. Because we are our own Internet Service Provider, we do not have any interest in restricting speed and/or content in order to squeeze greater profit from customers – we are not customers, we are member/owners. Unlike Comcast, Time-Warner, or any of the few communications and entertainment giants, we have no conflict of interest between providing the “pipelines” of the Internet and trying to generate profits from particular “content” by giving preferential access to content we own.

When the same media giants control content and transmission, censorship is inevitable, if only a means to greater profit. But remember, political censorship follows directly from economic interest and power. We cannot achieve the democracy of Net Neutrality until Internet content and transmission functions are economically independent of one another.

It is no different from the public officials switching the source of water for Flint, Michigan to save money and poisoning the children of Flint in the process. The supposed beneficiaries of the service become its victims because they are subservient to the institution and have no control over its policies. Those in control had little or no interest in the wellbeing of the citizens/customers or their children, who as a result continue to suffer from lead poisoning. The managers of Flint acted in their own narrow economic/political interests instead of in the public interest. At least with the giant media corporations, the damage is merely cultural, not genetic.

One of the biggest problems with modern societies is that the most powerful economic institutions rule the society instead of the society managing the economy in the interests of the citizenry. That is why some call it the “corporate state.” If you think you need to “take back our country,” then you should forget about the minorities the demagogues encourage you to hate – as a distraction from their theft of our democracy. Instead, start by taking back control of the economy from those giant corporations that run it not in the public interest, but solely in the interests of the economic greed of the financial corporate elites that dominate politics and society alike.