Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Time of Darkness, a Time of Light

Nabatean City of Petra in Jordan: Al Kazneh

Yuletide, Solstice, a time of darkness and a time of light, a time  of the year thoughtful people make resolutions not to eat so much candy. Maybe because my recent writerly project turns on introspection, or maybe because I temporarily lost my mind, I was just about to pop for my last hurrah: a trip to Jordan where the most exquisite desert in the world, Wadi Rum, offers the kind of landscape where centuries ago prophets went on vision quests, and came back with such artifacts as manna and the ten commandments.

And then I couldn’t. I couldn’t because just before I pushed the ADD TO CART button, this article appeared on my computer screen:  

How to Help My Daughter Face Climate Change With an Open Heart by Chris Moore Backman, (appearing originally in Yes! Magazine) which, with its author’s very kind permission, I republish here:

When the wildfires were still raging in California, my 12-year-old daughter and I rode Amtrak north from Oakland to Sacramento. Nearing Berkeley, we caught our first glimpse of the gray-brown wall of smoke issuing in from Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Butte, and Solano counties. After riding 10 or so miles further on, the illusion of the wall suddenly dissipated, and we found ourselves speeding along in a fog of fine ash, our train blanketed in its opaque haze.

Gazing into the smoke, my daughter seated beside me, I considered the stark difference our awareness of global warming created between my childhood and hers. And I felt a deep anxiety stir in my belly.

“At first, we didn’t know what we were doing. It was reasonable for us to start burning fossil fuels.”

What happens to a child’s psyche, I asked myself, as she gradually absorbs the knowledge that our planet is warming at a terrifying rate and to an unimaginably dangerous degree, then quietly observes the adults in her life, particularly those most responsible for caring for and protecting her, doing the very things that are causing the emergency? What happens as she observes the mundane spectrum of everyday life in the United States amid climate chaos: as dad pulls the car up to the pump, as mom comes home from the airport after a business trip, as the family sits down to another meat and factory farm-based dinner, iPhones at the ready and the thermostat cranked to 70?

I turned my gaze from the smoke and looked again at the book in my lap, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, by climate scientist Peter Kalmus. The page I had been reading would eventually lead to here: “Few people respond to facts… While intellect certainly plays a role, it’s a rather small one. Our dire ecological crisis calls us to go deeper.”

River of Sand: Wadi Rum (wadi means river)

In his famous meditation on children, Kahlil Gibran likens parents to the bows of the divine archer, from which children, like arrows, are sent forth into the mystery of their own souls and futures. The beloved bow, Gibran attests, sends the arrow swift and far, by bending to the archer’s strength, while at the same time remaining stable. Such flexible stability is what I long to achieve as a parent—a certain rootedness and strength of purpose, mediated by gentleness. It’s what I believe I need if I’m going to accompany my daughter as she learns to face the coming storms—and fires—with her eyes and heart open.

So it is that I’m gravitating toward the solace and instruction of other dads these days, the more humble and down-to-earth the better. Kalmus, father of two young sons, is one such dad.
“At first, we didn’t know what we were doing. It was reasonable for us to start burning fossil fuels,” Kalmus says early on in Being the Change. “However, now we do know what we’re doing.”
When it comes to social change, how we live our lives is of paramount importance.

It’s an exquisitely sane point of departure for the author’s first book, which reads as an openhearted letter to anyone deeply concerned about global warming and at all cognizant of how quickly the climate change clock is ticking. Being the Change details Kalmus’ process of bringing his daily life into alignment with his conscience—a process that carries some very welcome side effects: namely, a carbon footprint weighing in at one-tenth the U.S. average, greater happiness, and deepened connections with loved ones and life itself.

As a climate expert utterly in the know about humanity’s devastating impact on the health of the biosphere (see Chapter 3), and with as clear a picture as can be had about where our civilization’s carbon addiction is leading (see Chapter 4), Kalmus eventually proves no match for the cognitive dissonance he experiences because of his own outsized carbon footprint. His chosen response is refreshingly straightforward: “If fossil fuels cause global warming, and I don’t want global warming,” he writes, “then I should reduce my fossil fuel use.”

Although there’s zero evidence that Gandhi ever wrote or uttered the most popular phrase attributed to him—“Be the change you wish to see in the world”—the sentiment is distinctly Gandhian. Finding congruence between our deepest convictions and our outward behavior, according to this adage, is the true measure of our genuine happiness, and of our contribution to the world. It’s an old and simple idea: When it comes to social change, how we live our lives is of paramount importance. In India, Gandhi captured the heart of a massive social movement with his own rendering of this basic philosophy. “Nobility of soul,” he summarized in a letter to his cousin, “consists in realizing that you are yourself India. In your emancipation is the emancipation of India. All else is make believe.”

Burning fossil fuel causes harm.

What makes Being the Change important is not Kalmus’ restatement of this age-old tenet, but his plainspoken description of putting it into concrete practice. He offers thorough, humbly stated guidance on establishing new daily practices which, step by step, can break a person free from the carbon-heavy status quo. What’s more, through his inspiring and often funny anecdotes about his homespun experiments aimed at paring down—things like bicycling , growing food, meditating, embracing a vegetarian diet, and renouncing air travel—Kalmus illustrates that overcoming our addiction to fossil fuels isn’t a path of puritanical self-mortification. Rather, low-energy living (low-energy being Kalmus’ corrective for green, because of its insidious consumerist implications) can be a deeply satisfying adventure, calling for equal parts creativity and fun.

Boiled down, the path Kalmus advocates is based on two simple and, if we’re open to them, life-changing premises.

High scarps: Wadi Rum (no vehicular transportation)
The first is that burning fossil fuel causes harm. According to Kalmus, this harm will last for around 100,000 years—10 million years if we count reduced biodiversity (and why shouldn’t we?). The reason he has taken what to many people looks like radical steps to avoid burning fossil fuel is that he doesn't like causing harm. This connection is obvious intellectually, but most people, and society, have not taken this in deeply enough to change their actions to any significant degree. Kalmus, the dad, however, feels this connection in his gut. “Burning fossil fuels should be unacceptable socially,” he says, “the way physical assault is unacceptable. The harm it does is less immediate, but just as real.” Who could argue that future generations—likely our own children and grandchildren—as they suffer the consequences of our negligence, will see this as plainly as we see the immorality of chattel slavery today.

The second basic premise of Being the Change is that burning less fossil fuel makes for a happier life. Despite every message to the contrary trumpeted by our consumption-driven society, this appears to be the normal experience of those following similar paths, not the exception.

On these two premises rests a path of radical personal transformation with deep implications for the collective. “Using less energy at the global scale would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and serve as a bridge to a future without fossil fuels,” Kalmus says. “Using less energy in our individual lives,” he further (and to my mind most importantly) asserts, “would equip us with the mindset, skills, and the systems we’ll need in this post-fossil-fuel world.”

Returning my gaze to the smoke, it occurred to me: As soon as the wildfires ran their deadly course, clean up, then construction, would immediately follow. The set would be quickly and efficiently reconstructed according to the same basic blueprint used before. And the reconstruction would undoubtedly be touted as evidence of inspiring community-resiliency, and probably of a certain American spirit, rugged and purportedly unique to us.

What if our children saw us respond to this crisis with maturity, sanity, and integrity?

It occurred to me also, holding Being the Change in my hands on that smoke-immersed train with my beloved child beside me, that Peter Kalmus has provided us with a different blueprint, and he’s shown through his own experimentation that we have the capacity to choose it, and to use it. On the cusp of climate catastrophe, we are neither choiceless nor powerless.

The gloaming in the desert: Wadi Rum
At bottom, I read Being the Change as the testament of a father trying to do right by his kids—a testament that leaves me with a much different set of questions about the psychic wellness of our children: In the face of the climate emergency, what would it do to their psyches to see us, their parents and other adult caregivers, pouring our hearts into the work of personal and societal transformation, on behalf of people we will never meet? On behalf of all other living beings, the rivers and trees and soil? What if our children saw us respond to this crisis with maturity, sanity, and integrity? With the flexible stability of Gibran’s bow? What would it do to them, for them, if we came into resonance with our own souls?

(Chris Moore-Backman and his daughter recently attended the hearing at the Ninth Circuit where children are suing the U.S. government for its irresponsibility on climate action.)

I shared Moore-Backman’s article with my son, a research physicist. This is what he replied: “For the last three or four years, I’ve been thinking that the increased craziness of youngsters, certainly influenced by the increasing craziness of adults, must also be due to the demonstrated lack of care adults show for their children’s and future generations, evidenced by their lack of care for the environment and inability to mitigate climate change.” Perhaps I had my son and everyone’s sons and daughters in mind  when I decided at the time of the Fukushima catastrophe to ditch my car and proceed on foot. I do not yet use a cane; on bad balance days, I resort to hiking poles.

1. Take the train. (Make sure the tracks are clear.) Don’t fly (burning jet fuel is highly carbon intensive.)

2. Take public transportation. (Or walk.) Don’t drive. If you must drive, car pool, stock pile errands.

3. Take taxis when you’re in a hurry. Slow down. Ditch your car.

4. Turn off the lights when not in use.

5. Reduce your garbage output to compost, and no more than 1 cubic foot per week. Avoid bulky packaging.

6. Buy organic. Patronize farmer’s markets.

7. Walk lightly. Leave a small footprint on the Earth.

8. Add to this list.

The Very Best Roses of the Week:

Sunday, December 17, 2017

II. Promises to Protect

The fate of life on our planet is everybody’s stake.  But at the very forefront of resistance, the indigenous struggle worldwide has captured the flag and spearheaded an international movement which effectively sends out the message that both capitalism and national boundaries (and nationalism itself) can no longer supply the frameworks for solving problems of such global magnitude.
400 indigenous people & supporters march 200 miles to Quito

Last week the big news in the pipelines saga revealed that the courts are finally allowing five valve turners the legal standing that will allow them to pursue a necessity defense.  That’s really big news.

This week, when all measures are failing, Earth First set up a tree sit to block the route of the Valley Lateral Pipeline. Activists are gearing up to pack the courtroom to resist TransCanada’s proposed Potomac Pipeline originating in Pennsylvania and passing through Maryland to connect the a gas distribution line in West Virginia. The State of Virginia Water Control Board delayed certification of Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s permit.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has several pipelines and their builders in its legal sights: Energy Transfer Partners and /Energy Transfer Equity who are suing Earth First on a charge for racketeering, and Bayou Bridge LLC’s proposed Louisiana Pipeline, where they are opposing the state licensure of private security company Black Swan, the same outfit that terrorized the resisters in North Dakota. In California, Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed an amicus brief arguing that Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal’s suit to operate a coal terminal in Port of Oakland is without merit. And the Center for Biological Diversity filed notice to sue the administration for permitting oil companies to dump fracking and drilling waste, fouling the Gulf of Mexico, and imperiling sea life. After years of pressure from environmental activists, World Bank agreed to curb its Funding of fossil fuels and stop funding oil and gas exploration after 2019. And on  the alternative energy front, U.S. energy storage surged 46% led by a Texas big wind project.

Black Snake Chronicles: Resisting Wasichu Economics 


This week, resisting Wasichu economics, the system that destroys Mother Earth, The Puyallup Tribe along with other climate activists have been protesting the Port of Tacoma natural  gas facility, arguing that the project will

Activists protesting the Tacoma LNG terminal
impact tribal rights to fish in treaty waters. Protecting the indigenous lands and culture of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s indigenous communities, a Brazilian court revoked the license of a proposed massive open-pit gold mine which would have impacted the Xingu River basin. as thousands of indigenous leaders and followers completed a 200-mile march to Quito. And this week the Standing Rock movement celebrated its first anniversary. Both Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux have fled court documents urging a federal judge to reject the recent arguments of federal officials and the pipeline developer that seek to ignore the tribe’s proposals. And the same day the Nebraska Public service Commission approved TransCanada’s permit to allow Keystone to operate through part of the state, two hundred indigenous people met for the Gathering to Protect the Sacred, reaffirming the international agreement among indigenous nations to protect the planet from tar sands projects, whether located in the U.S. or Canada. where 90% of the Canadian dollar value is based on tar sands. Not only are the tar sands being stopped by citizen opposition, the surge of natural gas, and of alternatives are jeopardizing the marginal value of tar sands, and because Alberta is land locked country, there’s no economic way of getting that oil to market without risking repeated oil spills down the line “as if the pipeline were passing a kidney stone,” to quote one journalist.  Just a few moths ago four pipelines designed to bring the tar sands out of Alberta were on the drawing boards, but two months ago, the longest one was scrapped by TransCanada because of declining barrel prices and the resulting drop in tar sands extraction.

Divestment is climbing, electric cars are coming on line, and Keystone XL is facing the disinterest of the very oil producers and refiners the pipelines were supposed to serve. Without customers, pipelines go broke. Enbridge Line 3 (the 915,000 barrels-a-day pipeline) is ripe for a tribal suit.

Lakota organizer Judith LeBlanc states, “The traditional indigenous practice is that you must respond to adversity with courage, humility, compassion and love of community as we always have….Native peoples have a legal, moral, spiritual, and inherent right be caretakers of the planet.”

The Dakota Sioux and their allies world over remain committed to Mni Wiconi—Water is Life.

Roses Amidst This Week’s Thorns

Amazon Watch announces Toronto-based Belo Sun Mining license to drill revoke by  a federal court upholding Brazilian indigenous rights.

Honduran resistance continues with Zelaya and Nasralla calling for peaceful and permanent general strike.

Doug Jones won a Democrat Senate seat in Alabama 49 to 51 (see Common Dreams, 12.16.17)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

What’s To Be Done?

The good news this week reported that doctors all over the country cancelled their appointments to travel to D.C. in a concerted effort to warn Senators they’re sentencing patients to death. Among those Senators is maverick vocalist McCain (“Bomb, Bomb Iran”) himself currently battling brain cancer while fully supporting the Senate version of the tax coup.

New Yorkers Greet Trumpissimo with shouts of 'lock 'im up!'
To quote Elizabeth Warren: "I wish I could tell you all of the awful things that
are in [the bill], but I am still reading [it] myself. The Republicans released [it]
only a couple of hours before the votes started last night. There were no
hearings. There was no debate. In fact, they were literally sending around edits in hand-written chicken scratch minutes before we had a vote." In fact, Democrats offered a resolution to delay the vote so legislators would have a chance to read it; all 52 Republicans voted against it.   

Writing about the provisions of the Awful Terrible Tax Coup, particularly since  its provisions have carefully been kept under wraps by the complicity of congress and some media, and the cycle of Republican tax cuts followed by Democrats restoring cuts goes unreported. These topics are better addressed by others (notably Went2theBridge) who do lots better than I can. But reflecting on the meaning of this event in today’s politico-global context is something that calls me to action.

The headline of an article in today’s Common Dreams reads: New Study Shows How Taxing the Rich Saves Lives, While [Trumpissimos’s] Plan Kills. The thought immediately arises: Can the Master Plan be about thinning the herd?  Far from seeming to offer a contradiction, can the plan be deliberately designed?

How else to explain the apparent indifference by over 600 people who happen to occupy chambers in very close proximity to one another, in a very localized region of a major city, many of them millionaires, if not billionaires, to the emiseration of millions of their fellow (and sister) citizens, many of whom, as addicted television potatoes, may have voted them into office??  What kind of moral pathology is it that holds them in its grip?  

Some of the legislation’s more Mediaeval grotesqueries include:

  • Adding 1.2 trillion to the national debt for which we will be in hock for the rest of our lifetimes.
  • Taxing students on their student loan income where in other industrialized countries, college education is free.
  • Reducing the benefits to the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • Repealing the ironically titled Obamacare (compulsory subscription to overpriced medical HMOs.
  • Conferring legal status to the fetus as persons.
  • Raising taxes for people facing high medical expenses. Discouraging adoption of children, including the 100,000 children now in U.S.  foster care. 
  • Increasing disability expenses for small businesses. 
  • Eliminating the tax credit that boosts investment in poor communities. 
  • Abolishing the separation between church and state. 
  • Cancelling the tax credit available to struggling immigrant families with citizen children. 
  • Providing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (in a sop to Murkowsky). 
  • Eliminating state and local tax deduction.Offsetting massive giveaways for the rich and corporate special interests with cuts to medicare, medicaid and education under the guise of job creation.

Now comes the final coup de grace: “reconciliation” with the House version of the bill. Last time around 13 Republicans crossed the aisle.  Some of the differences between the two bills include:
  • Thirteen million Americans will lose their healthcare in the Senate bill.
  • Health insurance premiums will increase by 10% for millions more.
  • The estate tax is repealed in the House bill.
  • Wealthy businesses (including Trumpissimo’s) get huger tax breaks in the House.

What is to be done?

It seems obvious to me that if indeed we oppose the moral pathology which reigns in Washington, it is not enough to hand wring and fulminate. We have the choice to recognize fecklessness in august places as an opportunity to live in the country of the heart.

What is the cost of travel to this country? It’s free.  It’s rewards are such that any gesture of extending help to another human being now becomes a political act, an act of defiance in which—provided the circuit is completed—is to be found the source of immense personal satisfaction and joy.

What I mean by completing the circuit requires three simple steps: extending the offer of assistance to those in need in a no-strings-attached form. Acceptance of the offer by the person in need. And acceptance of the offer on that person’s terms—not the giver’s.

Recently I noticed an announcement on a social media site by a parent looking for a mentor for her ten-year-old child.  It occurred to me: I can apply for a grandchild! In magnitude, it is a small and humble act. It does not turn the valve off on a pipeline and subject me to arrest and felonious charges; it does not reduce the trillions of budget dollars allocated to the development of “usable” nuclear weapons; it does not stop the daily geo-engineered spraying of our skies with coal ash, but it does create a counter-narrative of a world in which enough people care to truly make a difference.

The doctors who travelled this week to Washington were writing their small chapter of that narrative.

Sign Move-On’s petition stopping congress from going after Medicare and Social Security to pay for their hit on the national debt.

Organize a general strike. Nationwide.