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

Joy of Dog III

At first, twice a day at the dog park was barely enough to burn off a good portion of Copper’s seemingly boundless puppy-energy. For a while, it was a bit of a chore, but fun to watch her run and play with the other dogs. We discovered a whole culture of human social organization at the dog park too, but that is another story, a reflection of other larger scale social relations and problems of the nation and the planet.

The social life of dogs is much more complex than one might imagine without experiencing their interaction at the dog park. It was especially good to find other puppies at the dog park who could match Copper’s energy. She learned the ropes and soon became quite popular among the other dogs at the park, mostly because of her enthusiasm and friendliness.

Dog Society

Copper could match any other dog’s energy and playfulness, and her disposition is so sweet that all the other dogs like her – except those two aggressive poodles, whose owner exhibited a total lack of responsibility for her dogs and simply refused to control them. That is also another story in itself. But Copper tolerated even a level of aggressiveness that would offend and repel most other dogs. It just occurred to me, those poodles remind me of Trump.

Puppy play pose_Copper and Django

Copper playing with Django

Generally, dogs socialize newcomers in the etiquette of play, which in some ways mimics the behavior patterns of the hunt. In their wrestling, they often pin one another down, engaging in mock battle, appearing to bite one another’s throat as if to kill. In that behavior, they acknowledge the mutual trust that is inherent in allowing another dog to wrap her/his big jaws around one’s throat. However, it is “mouthing,” not actual biting with what could be a lethal instrument. Mouthing is also a sign of affection expressed toward their human “masters.” For dogs, the primary instrument for engaging with the world is their mouth – their closest analog to our opposable thumb.

Socializing and Play

On a good day, up to twenty dogs of all varieties and sizes may appear at the 1-acre fenced area, covered with a blanket of wood chips. The etiquette (and lack thereof on the part of a few) regarding human responsibility for dogs and their waste, mirrors the culture of civility versus the culture of waste and indifference in the larger society.

I had owned several dogs over the years, but when I was a kid, nobody I knew had ever heard of such a thing as a dog park. I ran, walked, and played with my dogs in the yard, the neighborhood, and sometimes at the beach or a neighborhood park. The dog park is another world entirely. Copper took to it as she had taken to the water on the coast near Baja California del Sur when she was a small pup.

Personality

Now, Copper enthusiastically swims out to me through the surf at a deserted beach on the west coast of mainland Mexico; I swear she likes body surfing, just as I did as a kid in Southern California. In the calm waters at the beach at Rincon de Guayabitos, she loves to swim out among the moored boats, chasing after gulls and pelicans as far out as fifty yards before I call her back.

Copper’s favorite playmates tend to be the young dogs of her approximate age and energy, although her energy level surpasses that of almost every dog she encounters. When her playmate might tire and withdraw from the high-energy wrestling and running, Copper sometimes starts barking impatiently, demanding more play. As it turns out, Vizslas mature slowly and continue to exhibit puppy characteristic until four or even five years. She is four and a half now, and clearly retains some of that ‘puppiness.’ However, she will always be a “fun dog.”

Controlled Burns: Misallocation of technology and labor

Once the extractivist culture began plundering the forests of North America for construction materials and fiber for paper and other products was well underway, the threat of major forest fires grew. A number of factors were involved.

Trump-Orders-FEMA-To-Withhold-Funds-For-California-Forest-Fires-In-Misspelled-Tweet-780x405

Trump orders FEMA to withhold funds for California Wildfires

The ideology and practice of forest-fire suppression to protect the property and sometimes lives of those who encroached on the forests caused a deep disturbance of the role fire played in the natural cycle of the life of forests. Because of fire suppression, increasingly dense undergrowth became more common in forests not decimated by clearcutting. That made them increasingly vulnerable to exceedingly hot, intense, and rapidly moving wildfires, such as the Camp Fire in Butte County, California, far more difficult to restrain or control than a century ago.

An Unnatural Relationship

Various forestry authorities deploy so-called “controlled burns” with the intent of eliminating the massive amounts of fuel (dry underbrush produced by alternating climates of heavy precipitation and drought) accumulated because of human fire suppression. In the past, the occasional forest fire did that job until the official forestry policy implemented the policy to “prevent forest fires.” Now it became a matter of “Man against Nature,” so typical of the industrial-consumer culture, which frames forests as just another source of materials to draw upon for industrial production.

In their natural state, forests are huge carbon sinks. That is not so when they are disturbed by massive intense wildfires and insect infestations and become net carbon emitters. Here is the problem. Never mind the risk of such “controlled burns” getting out of control due to rapid change in weather, such as high winds. What is the primary consequence of burning sections of a forest? Obviously, burning fuel of any kind adds carbon to the atmosphere – precisely the opposite of the most urgent need today. This counterproductive effect results from a misallocation of labor and technology as well as a misunderstanding of the Nature of the Earth System we inhabit.

Technology and Labor

We can accomplish many tasks more easily and efficiently by applying the power of fossil-fuel burning equipment than by the use of labor and hand-powered tools. Controlled burns use a mix of both. While the long-term effect may be to dampen the power of today’s super firestorms, the immediate effect is to increase the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. That, of course, is something that we simply cannot afford, especially when we see so little progress (as in NONE) by national and international authorities to reduce carbon emissions.

Given the situation and the growing probability of firestorms of unprecedented intensity and speed, it certainly makes sense to thin the forests of the excessive fuel (dried undergrowth) that poses a great risk of catastrophic forest fires. The fires themselves contribute much to the carbon in the atmosphere, forcing more global warming and consequentially more climate chaos. In either case, controlled burns or firestorms, the result is catastrophic in one way or the other. That is because both involve burning fuel. But wait, here’s another contradiction.

The global corporate free-market economy drives more people into low-wage jobs and/or poverty every day. The corporate economy cuts labor costs through automation and outsourcing. We live with the myth that American workers will not do the backbreaking work that we assign to illegal immigrants. Oh, what a difference a living wage would make.

Restoring the Forest Ecosystem

Like so many other ecosystem restoration necessities, we should restore the natural state of the forests in a way that allows sequestration of all that carbon contained in the underbrush that we need to remove. The process of pyrolysis can convert carbon from forest undergrowth into Biochar through thermal decomposition of biomass without oxygen (preventing combustion). Biochar can be used as a soil amendment, sequestering the carbon potentially for thousands of years.

However, the focus of controlled burns remains fixed on traditional ideas of protecting property from near term risk of conflagration. This ignores the bigger picture. In the context of our climate emergency, the first priority of any public policy must be the restriction of carbon emissions. Period.

When it comes to removing fuel from forest floors, the solution must be labor intensive, which has a very small carbon footprint. How can we accomplish that? Pay high wages for hard work and workers will come – they do so for the oil extractive companies. Remove the material and subject it to composting or biochar production and sequester it in agricultural soils. Win-win.

This is just one small example, well, not so small, of how proper climate action and economic justice can converge. Let’s get over that obsession with “labor-saving devices.” In many other ways, human labor can become a path to reducing climate chaos by increasing economic opportunity for all people.

Joy of dog

I didn’t really want another dog.

We enjoyed Shadow for nearly sixteen years, the last couple of which were very difficult for us all. Weimaraner life expectancy is 11 or 12. Shadow was a wonderful dog, but once she passed after almost 16 years, I didn’t want to take on the responsibility again, not for a while anyway. Nor did I want my travel to be constrained by the complications of boarding a dog.

Some dogs have no problem with staying for a few days or a couple of weeks at a commercial kennel, but others do. Shadow hated kennels. So would I, if confined like that with strangers.

Finally, I relented. Shadow had been Cynde’s first dog; she wanted to get another Weimaraner, but I opposed the idea. “You cannot replace Shadow, ever; we need to find another kind of dog, a different one.” I was adamant. Cynde was so attached to Shadow that I knew another Weimaraner would be difficult, not only because of the breed’s tendency to be hyperactive and its size (females run 55-75 pounds) in context of her back injury.

My resistance had already weakening when we accidentally discovered Vizslas. We were in the lobby of the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after an environmental awards presentation, when a young girl walked by, led by two beautiful copper-colored hounds, one older, one young. We asked the girl what kind of dog they were. We had never seen Vizslas before, nor did we know anything about them.

Vizslas are smaller than Weimaraners (females 40-55 pounds), look very similar. We soon found out that they also have sweet dispositions as well as being too smart for humans. They are an old Hungarian breed of hound. I’ve been told that the Weimaraner and the German Short Hair were bred from Vizslas. According to the AKC:

“The Vizsla is a versatile, red-coated gundog built for long days in the field. For centuries, these rugged but elegant athletes have been the pride of Hungarian sportsmen and their popularity in America increases with each passing year.”

IMG_0731

Copper at one year old.

Well, that was it. The Vizsla hunt was on, accompanied by my mixed feelings. Love of dogs versus responsibility aversion. When we found her, we just had to name her “Copper” because of her beautiful color. Dogs can be a great addition to a household, but ownership entails responsibilities. Humans need to be trained to properly relate to dogs. No other animal has a relation to humans anything like that of a dog.

In the U.S., the consumption of commercial pet food parallels that of human food; it is a huge carbon-intensive industry. Dogs evolved as domesticated animals because some former wolves gradually over generations, as scavengers, entered a symbiotic relationship with humans. The feeding of scraps became a central feature of our inter-species bonding. We certainly have enough food scraps these days to sustain our pets. Do we really need a major industry to supply specialized diets for the world’s greatest scavengers? Dogs and cats account for a quarter of the carbon emissions of all “animal agriculture.” For more on carbon emissions and the global costs of affluence, see various posts at www.thehopefulrealist.com.

Cascading Consequences of Terminating Trust

Trust. Who do you know that you know you can always trust? How much does it matter to you? Do you trust your money to buy today’s value next year? Probably not. You know that several presidents have taken “executive action” to tweak the official calculation of inflation to make it look smaller than the increase in the prices you suffer at the grocery store. Now, with the current occupant of the White House caught in over 10,000 lies, how can you trust anyone anymore?

Some things are highly predictable. Others are not. As a general pattern, where I live the weather is quite hard to predict beyond the next few hours. Some days I can predict that it will not rain for the rest of the day. That happens when I have seen the voluminous data compiled into an electronic weather map that shows Santa Fe in the middle of a big high-pressure system. Easy, no rain today.

Predictability and Trust

Rain squallOn other days, I know with a high degree of certainty that it will rain in the area, but whether it happens at my house is a roll of the dice. I can look out west toward the Jemez Mountains and see scattered rain squalls. Whether they reach my garden is subject to a number of factors most of which change as the storm clouds approach or turn north. At that level, the weather at my house is unpredictable. It has nothing to do with trust.

Trust clearly involves predictability, but that is not all. We do not trust or mistrust the weather; we just know it is only partially predictable. When we trust a person, something more is involved – moral motivation. We can predict friends or enemies’ behavior without necessarily trusting them. We may predict an enemy’s behavior without trusting them at all.

Why? Because trust is an integral part of a relationship. The weather does not predict or trust us at all. We try to predict the weather with very limited success, not because of trust but only because of past patterns that we know are often consistent, in general, if not in any specific case. We have certain expectations of politicians, but generally, we do not trust them.

Presidential Prevarication

We can trust some politicians some of the time. That happens when we know that they hold certain values and stick to them when it comes time to vote on a bill put before the legislative body. Various politicians trust each other because they have long-standing relationships involving moral commitments some of which cross party lines. Despite the general untrustworthy character of national politics, it seems clear that politicians have to trust each other to some extent to get anything done. That, of course, is one of the reasons politicians get so little done in this era of political acrimony.

Then, throw into the mix a president who nobody trusts and who trusts nobody. Demanding total allegiance by subordinates but “throwing them under the bus” at the slightest impulse not only causes a great deal of staff turnover. It also eliminates trust as subordinates scramble to predict the next impulsive absurdity or policy blunder devoid of any expert consultation. The sycophants struggle to make sense of their own boot-licking.

Predictable Mistrust

Commentators have recently pointed out, in response to the latest act of trust violation by the pretend-autocrat, that back when impeachment threatened Nixon, he continued to sign legislation the parties considered important for the nation. The parties involved had retained a sufficient level of institutionalized trust to “work together in the nation’s interest.”

In the present instance, however, where prevarication prevails and the only value demonstrated by the president is the self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement of the modern icon of sociopathic narcissism, trust is simply out of the question.

Pelosi and Schumer

Pelosi and Schumer ~ Vox

I doubt that Pelosi and Schumer trusted Trump to negotiate an infrastructure bill in good faith. Yet, they were duty bound to make the attempt. I get the distinct feeling that Pelosi in particular is playing the self-described ultimate player. Cornered by continued failures and court decisions upholding the constitutional separation of powers against his blanket assertion of total executive power, the would-be dictator flails out with increasingly erratic impulse. Even his impulse to be unpredictable is predictable. However, that is no basis for trust.

The Climate Does Not Compromise, Mr. Biden

The other day, Reuters reported that Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden has developed a “middle-ground” plan for Climate Action. Well, Joe, the Climate does not compromise with corporate favorites: fracked natural gas, futuristic hopes for carbon capture technology, or nuclear power. When it comes to climate chaos, the middle ground is where total societal collapse will start.

Climate chaos due to global warming, widespread species extinction, and the collapse of ecosystems around the world together constitute an immediate global emergency unaffected by political compromise. In fact, at this point, political compromise on climate is an immediate existential threat to humanity.

Out with the “Old School” Politics

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Joe Biden. Photo credit: The Hill

Biden is an old-time Democrat who does not seem to understand the planetary transformation that confronts humanity today. His focus seems, as always, fixated on gaining the support of the most powerful institutions and elites in the nation while trying to charm the American voters with that toothy smile, as if the existential threat to humanity were just another campaign issue among many.

The whole point of the Green New Deal is that there is no “middle ground” when it comes to the global chaos now emerging. Profligate carbon emissions and ecosystem destabilization from the global industrial-consumer economy have already gone too far. Climate inaction has pushed us close to some critical tipping points leading to climate, ecosystem, and therefore societal collapse. Simply put, we cannot survive the collapse of the living Earth systems in which we live.

No Green New Joe

Of course, the forces of the status quo objected to the Green New Deal. To take on emerging climate chaos fully requires that we denizens of the global industrial-consumer economic bubble must change the way we live. The young members of the Sunrise Movement and the Extinction Rebellion movement know this. They do not feel constrained by the old political deal-making that kept all those representatives and senators so well healed over so many decades.

Biden is an old-fashioned “business as usual” politician. His early lead in the run-up to the Democratic primary rests primarily on name recognition and on the disproportionate attention the corporate media give him. However, Biden does carry a lot of negative political baggage. Trying to unload some at the political last minute will not work. Ask Anita Hill. His glib generalities belie a stubborn refusal to acknowledge past patriarchal practices.

Wrong Side of History

All that suggests to me that he is still the same guy – an old corporate Dem who is more concerned with cementing relations with the same old corporate and financial elites that have controlled national politics for far too long. He was on the wrong side of civil rights, mass incarceration, and the Iraq war. What more might we want to avoid? Well, his key supporters (lobbyists and big donors) have apparently formed a $60 million “dark money” group; we know that kind of fundraising does not focus on small individual donations or the interests of the American people.

If Biden’s brand of business-as-usual politics prevails and the “Ecomodernsts” control climate action, the likelihood of societal collapse and human depopulation, amidst an increasingly unrecognizable and unlivable changing planet will rapidly approach certainty. Some argue it already has.

The Complex Costs of Calamari

Every time I get near the Central California Coast, I try to arrange a side trip to Cambria by the Sea. It is a beautiful little town, though rather too “touristy” these days. And, of course, the beauty of the seacoast is a major draw for this ol’ California Jubilado. But it is one simple fact that draws me to Cambria more than all the rest. The Sea Chest Oyster Bar has the best calamari in the world! The world as I have experienced it anyway. Yet, all the Costs of Calamari are greater than the price of the meal.

Anyone who enjoys seafood knows that ordering Calamari is a haphazard proposition in most restaurants, even the “best” (expensive) ones. Nearly always, you get a plate of those little deep-fried breaded rings and tentacles. They may be tender or tough, or even downright rubbery, whatever the price. I was unequivocally shocked when, during my inadvertent adventure in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a waitress delivered a large plate of calamari strips I had bravely ordered for an appetizer. We quickly learned that they serve huge portions of everything in “T or C,” and all the people are above average…weight. Out in the middle of the southern New Mexico desert, I tasted Calamari that was in my top ten ever. I was surprised that I got strips, not rings and tentacles. They were amazingly tender and tasty. More can sometimes be better.

Best Dinner

However, the calamari strips or steaks at the Sea Chest in Cambria are clearly number one. According to Steve, who has cooked there forever, they buy their Calamari from a fishing outfit somewhere in the western Pacific. Those squid must be huge. Once tenderized and lightly breaded, the steaks range to ten inches across and about a quarter inch thick.

Calamari.SteakWatching the cooks behind the Sea Chest Oyster Bar is an entertainment in itself. They prepare everything on industrial grade high-fire stoves, mostly in large pans and pots. Scallops, halibut, crab legs, whatever, it is all fresh and delicious. A Sea Chest calamari steak is a meal in itself, so tender you can cut it effortlessly with a fork. It is lightly breaded and sautéed in butter to a golden brown. The action at the stoves among the five or six cooks is a study of efficiently orchestrated motion as they weave their motions in the small space between the prep counter behind the bar and the stoves at the back wall.

“External” Costs

So, there I was the next morning recovering from calamari overload, a once in a few years delight. Yet I wondered what the real costs of this extravaganza might be. Sure, we know that the restaurant incorporates various materials (calamari, butter, etc.), labor, rent, supplies, power, equipment maintenance, and overhead in the price of its dishes. The costs of extraction from the western Pacific, shipping, refrigeration, etc., go into the price tag as well. However, as with so many of the production processes of industrial society, the so-called “externalities” of such supply chains are not part of the equation.

I might find it difficult to calculate easily the global carbon emissions from the entire chain of energy consumption from extraction to consumption and waste in the ‘calamari trade.’ The costs of calamari were not all reflected in the price of the meal. I did not waste any of my dinner; it was too good, so I had my leftovers for breakfast. Yet, if I could calculate the external costs, how much of the $29- price of my fantastic meal would reflect the damage done to the planet?

Not much, if any, I suspect. If all the costs of the Calamari trade were included in the price of a meal, I doubt that I would ever afford to eat a calamari steak again. We must recognize that even with the best of policies responding to the converging crises of the early twenty-first century, life will not be the same. We must shape it anew. For more on carbon emissions and the costs of affluence, see other posts on www.thehopefulrealist.com.