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.

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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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

Intermediation Blues

As commonly used in finance, “intermediation” refers to banks and other financial institutions borrowing from savers/investors and lending to companies that need funds for investment in operations and new projects. I will look at the idea more broadly here.

Intermediation occurs in countless ways in our industrial-consumer society. Most of the time, we do not even notice the indirectness of our mostly transactional lives. When did you last buy a product directly from the person who made it?

About the only way you can make a direct purchase from the producer of food is to buy those organic carrots or tomatoes from your local farmers market. What percentage of your food purchases are those? Most likely, very small. In most other cases, a direct transaction with no intermediation is impossible.

Dependency and Distance

The more distance between you and the other (if there is a singular other involved), the more dependent you are on a process beyond your reach. When did you last negotiate what characteristics your iPhone would have? To do that you would have to contact the maker, but like so many other products, smartphones result from thousands of makers producing countless components for assembly somewhere you have never heard of.

A team of people whose criteria result from complex sets of information from engineering and marketing studies designs the product. The design criteria and information intermediate between the revenue goals of the giant corporation controlling the process and estimates of how large a market their advertisers can influence to buy the product. Who decides what use-value an object may have for the end user? And who, exactly, is the end user? That is not always clear either.

Intermediation of Communication

When inventions like the telephone and telegraph became available for use by consumers and businesses, many praised their power to facilitate long-distance communication. Messages were sent directly from one party to another by telegraph; people talked directly to one another on the phone. The mail service provided delivery of direct written communications from one party to another. Today, people use their smartphones and computers to engage with social media or to send texts or email more than to communicate directly to anyone. Their calls to businesses are intermediated by complex, often dysfunctional telephone menu trees leading to recorded messages, not to humans.

Social media may be the most obvious technology of intermediated communication. How many Facebook friends do you have? How many have you actually met, face to face? People have “meetings” over Skype because it intermediates in a way that simulates face-to-face conversations. But face it, you are actually looking at an electronic image approximating the person you are talking with. The same process is involved when your geographically dispersed committee or board of directors meets via Zoom. You are replicating the experience of direct human communication.

Dangerous and Deadly Intermediation

People rightly complain that the use of drones such as the MQ99 Reaper in warfare feels in ways unseemly. A drone operator commands the aircraft from afar. He drops its bombs somewhere in Pakistan or Yemen by viewing images on a screen and receiving “intelligence” reports in his air-conditioned office near Las Vegas. He has no direct way of knowing whether the targeted group of people in a village or on a road consists of a terrorist group or a wedding party. Intelligence reports are often sketchy or based on false data. Combat drone operators experience PTSD at equivalent rates as troops on the ground.

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Lion Air ~ the First of two suspiious crashes.

Why was I not surprised when in a very short period two Boeing 737 Max-8 airliners crashed shortly after takeoff, one in Indonesia and the other in Ethiopia? Numerous pilots had complained of a tendency of the new autopilot software to force the aircraft into an abrupt nose down or nose up attitude. If any human technology epitomizes intermediation, it is the autopilot.

Software designed to control aircraft flight is extremely complex. Airborne situations are also extremely complex and diverse. I do not know what exactly went wrong and killed all those passengers and crew. But I do know that in automated control systems, the more complex the system, the more statistically susceptible to catastrophic collapse it is.

When I got my new small airplane in 2008, equipped with a basic autopilot, I was amazed at its ability to fly the aircraft in light to moderate turbulence better than I could. Its electronic responses were faster than my own in responding to change. But on a couple of occasions, the aircraft began to oscillate to the point where I had to hit the autopilot master switch and take manual control. Those 737 Max pilots didn’t have a chance since the defective software had been designed to override “pilot error” and drove the aircraft into the ground.

Disintermediation Rising

Intermediation has its advantages in complex systems, as long as it works. But there are limits to its benefits and there are dangers in its over-use. It appears that in several ways we have already reached the limits of utility and risk.

In the coming decades, deteriorating economic and ecological conditions will force industrial-consumer economies to contract for their societies to avoid suffering the most extreme consequences of climate chaos and the other converging catastrophic crises. Disintermediation must be part of the process of mitigating these crises.

We must examine many processes as to whether to disintermediate them. Many of the solutions to the converging crises at the end of the industrial-consumer era will involve returning to direct human interaction to accomplish tasks for which intermediation poses too many costs.

Conservatives, Liberals, Deviants and Rebels

What’s up with all this controversy over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her diverse freshmen Democrat colleagues in the House of Representatives? What is so different about their public pronouncements? Why are even centrist Democrats attacking them? Something is happening here and their elders don’t know what it is, do they, Mister Jones?

Most of us believe that we act reasonably and hold our beliefs because they are true. Yet, we disagree so much and so often. How can that be?

Imagery and emotion often control how we view facts and how we apply reason to evidence in everyday life, and especially in politics. We all started out with “questioning minds.” That is why children drive parents to distraction by incessantly asking “Why?” As often as not, the answer elicits another “Why?” In our maturity, we question only those who fail to conform to what we have come to believe.

Conservatives Conform

As they grow up, most folks stop questioning everything and accept the conventional explanations of how the world works. We conform to the worldview of those around us because it seems to make sense, and, after all, those most respected around us hold these views.

Most people want to “fit in.” They gradually shape their understandings of the world in the context and with the perspective of the social group to which they belong. That works well for most people in most situations, especially when things are stable. However, in the late stages of the modern world, as we have known it, things no longer seem all that stable.

Liberals Accept Deviance

Some do not simply conform to the norm, they deviate from what others consider normal. They take on the identity of rabble-rousers if they are outspoken in their challenges to the conventional wisdom. If they break with convention, adopting peculiar lifestyles or dress, sociologists label them deviants.

Some deviants just go about their lives just wanting to be left alone to their different lifestyle. They simply deviate from the norms of the social group, community, or society they belong to because they have taken on a different perspective. These deviants get in trouble to the extent that conservatives demand that they conform, sometimes invoking laws against deviant behavior. Liberals generally defend the right of deviants to deviate, as long as nobody gets hurt.

Almost Nobody Likes a Rebel

The social deviant is considerably different from the rebel who intellectually and openly challenges the status quo and the conventional wisdom about life and some core societal arrangements. At some point, the moral dimension enters the picture. Some rebel against particular norms, conventional practices, or unfair elements of the social structure itself. That is where moral indignation becomes political protest.

The “establishment” in any society resists all forms of protest or demands for change, particularly in the structure of power itself. Elites, who sit comfortably atop the establishment, frame such demands as threats to the social order, and as challenges to the core values of the nation. The propagandists and marketing directors they pay, know this well and exploit it fully.

Values become quite malleable, especially when propagandists reinterpret or distort them to exploit emotions like fear. We sometimes hold tightly to the comfort of sacred words, not realizing that powerful forces have changed their underlying meanings. Dominant institutions, advertisers and politicians often manipulate the imagery and emotions attached to our key cultural concepts.

Moral Protest

The corporate, financial, and political elites who for decades have concentrated more and more power among themselves, fear and despise moral protest. It points directly at their ethical failings. We see their fear today in their responses to the challenges of the

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@AOC

New Progressive Democrats in Congress, the @AOCs and the Sunrise Movement. These new progressive members and their allies are self-aware rebels who have penetrated the core of the political center of power. They are not afraid to speak their minds and ask “Why?” which shocks and offends their elders. However, they know that “well-behaved women rarely make history.”

These political rebels consciously (or should I say, conscientiously?) fail to conform to the “traditional” norms that require new members of Congress to sit down and shut up until they have secured the privileges of seniority and rank among their older (mostly white male) peers. The new progressive female congresspersons of color will have none of it. They have arrived to speak truth to power, so naturally, they offend those old white men who have hidden behind their privileged status for decades.

George Lakoff explains in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, how corporatist “conservatives” often win politically by “framing the debate” with emotions and imagery that influence voters far more than the fact-filled policy-wonk talk of conventional “liberals.”

All they are trying to conserve is their own power and that of their corporate sponsors, not any core American values, such as those expressed in the traditional American progressive ideas of a “Green New Deal.”

In that, they are bucking the tide of growing public sentiment against their privileges, against excessive wealth and power, and for saving people and planet from their sanctimonious greed.

On the Road Again: Hasta La Vista, La Peñita

La Peñita, I shall return! Well, I would not equate myself with that eccentric WWII general, but I do plan to come back to La Peñita next winter – how could I not? To return to that vibrant little village by the sea has too many reasons to list – most of them too complicated to try to explain here. But I would do it in any case, if only to see Martín again.

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Downtown La Peñita

That reason is complicated too. What an interesting character. Martín is a carpintero (a carpenter/woodworker, builder of windows, doors, cabinets, and furniture of all kinds) in his small shop La Peñita. Some would consider him an anachronism or maybe an inefficient economic actor in a worldwide industrial system that has passed him by. When I met the old man – well, I’m not sure if he’s older or younger than I am – three years ago, I felt an immediate affinity. That little old man with rotting teeth, standing in his flip-flops on the dirt floor of his woodshop, just glowed with serenity. He seemed completely comfortable in his carpintería on a side street a few blocks from the center of town. Martín had worked in the U.S. for awhile many years ago, remembering only a few words in English. We talked about wood and the world for an hour, despite my broken Spanish.

Searching for Huanacaxtle

I had been looking for a source of Huanacaxtle, a tropical hardwood sort of like mahogany, but with beautiful complex grain patterns. It is found throughout Central America and goes by several different names. I had seen some beautiful tables and other furniture made of Huanacaxtle in a gallery in Mazatlán, when we stopped over there, near the end of our first road trip to La Peñita. The grain, color, and figure of this wood are amazingly varied, rich, and muy bonito. After seeing finished pieces in that gallery, I seriously wanted to buy some to take home and make something with it.

Martín is a rare find in this world today, even in Mexico. He’s been working with wood for over a half-century. I might not have found Martin had I not asked a rather unlikely source if he knew anyone in the area who cut or milled Huanacaxtle. Seff Ramirez runs a typical roadside fruit stand on the highway a few km north of La Peñita. He operates a rather nice nursery there too. The man knows how to use a machete. We had stopped to get some of those delicious mini-bananas that are so prolific in the area. I had decided to ask anyone I met if they knew of a carpintería where I could buy some Huanacaxtle.

The Road to Martín

I always try to speak Spanish in Mexico; too many Norte Americanos expect everyone to speak English. That seems presumptuous to me, despite the surprising number of expats and tourists living or traveling in throughout Mexico. Seff surprised me when he answered my question in California English. I asked about that; turns out my guess was right, he’d lived in California for many years. Anyway, when I asked about Huanacaxtle, he said he knew a guy in the local pueblo up the road aways who occasionally cut planks to make furniture for himself or his neighbors.

I asked Seff if he could contact the wood-cutter to see if he had some to sell. It was getting close to our time to depart La Peñita and drive north through the central highlands and deserts to cross the border at Juarez. I wanted to buy a few pieces that would fit in the bed of my pickup truck amid all the other stuff we took with us on a three-month trip through Mexico. I wanted to make something of that beautiful wood in my home woodshop. That did not work out at first. (More, in the next installment of the “On the Road Again” series.)