Saturday, March 03, 2007

cups in place #5. BK photo. (another blue-green alliance?)
Posted by Picasa

The Climate Crisis Future

Moving Heaven and Earth

Note: A version of this essay is frontpaged at the European Tribune.
UPDATE: and now on the "Rescued" list at Daily Kos.

It's hard to be hopeful about the Climate Crisis future. Accepting his Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth on Sunday, Al Gore made his pitch for confronting the climate crisis to one billion viewers worldwide. “We have everything we need to get started,” he said, “with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.” And the Republican/Dirty Energy noise machine has been in high gear ever since, demonizing Gore and his Hollywood supporters, and engaging in even more ferocious Climate Crisis denying. Finding the kind of political will and effective leadership necessary seems only remotely possible.

Still, something pretty hopeful did happen in Washington last week, though little notice was taken. It's worth suggesting what it was and why it is hopeful, before I get to the last essay I planned in this series, speculations on what the future may hold, near and far.

The good news in Washington last week was the Apollo Summit for Clean Energy and Good Jobs, a meeting of the Apollo Alliance. If there is any hope for America's future, it will depend on what Apollo and that summit represents: the blue-green alliance of blue collar and environmentalists, and governors and mayors who make things happen, as well as national legislators who keep at it regardless of where the headlines are.

Doing It

While others argue, governors are acting. They know that most of the world is aware of the Climate Crisis, and that there is a growing need for clean energy technology. Not only because of the Climate Crisis, but the many other environmental and health disasters caused by or exacerbated by dirty energy and its byproducts. They see also the economic consequences of dependence on foreign oil and the loss of good jobs, and they foresee the future that Peak Oil will soon bring. So they are acting.

At the Summit, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proclaimed his clean energy priority as a total package: "I don't just want the wind farms. I want the companies that build the turbines. I want the ones that assemble the hybrid vehicles and consult on the conservation strategies. I want the companies that design and manufacture the solar panels. The whole integrated industry ought to and can have a place in Massachusetts ... I really believe that if we get this right, the whole world will be our customer. "

Then Colorado Governor Bill Ritter said he had the same goals for his state. These governors have seen what Governor Ed Rendell did in Pennsylvania: his administration brought a company(Gamesa) into the state to build wind farms and manufacture turbines. An early member of the Apollo Alliance, Rendell worked with the Democrats' traditional ally in Pennsylvania, the United Steelworkers union, and he got legislation passed that guaranteed the Commonwealth would buy enough renewable energy to give Gamesa a minimum market base. The result will be 1,000 union jobs, many in manufacturing, and the beginning of a new industry with global implications.

As Rendell told the Summit: "What else can clean the environment, boost the economy, free us up politically in world affairs, make us better able to withstand a terrorist attack or natural disaster, and help us with our trade imbalance? There's nothing else, this ought to be our number one priority."

The Blue-Green (and other colors) Alliance

While these governors talked about jobs and economic opportunities, the important thing in hoping that this alliance can be sustained is that there is a strong committment to the environment as well: it appears to be a true alliance between blue collar and green. Carl Pope, the head of the Sierra Club, spoke at the Summit, along with Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, who said: "it's time for an environmental intervention."

This is crucial because environmentalists and those in the forefront of warning about the Climate Crisis have long been marginalized as a wealthy overeducated elite out of touch with the American public (an image that the Fox Noise Machine is currently promoting in attacking Al Gore and his "Hollywood" supporters.)

On the ground, many conflicts have arisen when big companies successfully pitted workers against environmentalists (as in the Timber Wars here in California and the Pacific northwest.)
But the blue-green Apollo Alliance shatters those images and those cynically-created conflicts. The blue-green alliance is politically potent, as it could well be the basis for reinstituting and reenergizing the traditional Democratic party blue collar base. But even more importantly, it could be the basis for economic progress as well as giving us a fighting chance for the future threatened by the Climate Crisis.

There's another important part of this alliance that must be noted. Part of the elitist image of the environmental movement has been that it is lilly white. But Jerome Ringo, the inspirational President of the Apollo Alliance, is black. So is Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts.

Alliance at All Levels

We are absorbed by conflict, and such headlines as there were from the summit emphasized the competition for clean energy jobs expressed by the governors. But it's more important to emphasize the strength in partnerships, and the breadth of this alliance and its potential power to transform the country and maybe even the world.

The above named are not the only governors committed to clean energy and battling the Climate Crisis. Nor were those named the only union, environmental organization and government officials present at the Summit.

Trenton, N.J. Mayor Douglas Palmer spoke, (note: that's Trenton, not Beverly Hills),representing more than 372 mayors from all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Among them are mayors who are instituting clean energy programs and efforts to confront the Climate Crisis in their cities. They called for federal block grants to help them in their efforts. "we can no longer behave as if there aren't any consequences from inaction."

U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (WA) called the Apollo Alliance the "most important coalition" in America today, because "this is a matter of our American destiny ... to lead the world in solving this global warming crisis."

Senator Hillary Clinton spoke, as did Senator Bernie Sanders, who has introduced the most aggressive bill against global heating now in Congress. On the blue-green alliance itself, he said: "This is a marriage made in heaven. This is a marriage that will move heaven and earth."

All of this is encouraging and in fact could be crucial. But almost nobody reported on it, and the left blogosphere in particular was quiet about it, including clean energy advocates who have yet to become part of the alliance. Bill Scher of the Campaign for America's Future, a cosponsor of the Apollo Alliance, blogged about it at Huffington Post, which is how I learned about it. But he apparently felt it necessary to attract attention by highlighting the competition between governors for clean energy industries, using "battle royale" in his headline.

But the importance of this alliance isn't about competition (though undoubtedly that will drive some useful efforts)--it's about cooperation: working together in partnerships among groups that were indifferent or hostile to each other in the past.

Yet it is all the noise of charge and countercharge that gets the attention. The left blogs playing into the hands of the right by making Ann Coulter the political equivalent of Anna Nicole Smith, and by covering a convention of conservative Republicans in detail while ignoring this meeting of the hope of the Democratic party as well as the nation and the future.

Here's more on "green collar jobs" at Sentient Times.

Just what the perils may be of all of us ignoring the future is the subject of my final essay in this series.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was a respected biographer of FDR when he became an advisor to John F. Kennedy and then a special assistant to him in the White House. In the early 1960s, he transferred a phrase from Emerson to devise "The Politics of Hope" as a bold assertion that survives Camelot to still speak to some of us today. He was a political player and theorist, judicious and penetrating. In the Kennedy years he showed that an intellectual could provide inspiration as well as guidance in politics, and as a writer he showed that intellectually substantive prose could also be popular. His 60s experience informed his subsequent writing on presidential power, and he also wrote one of the better books on the John F. Kennedy's presidency, and another on Robert Kennedy. He continued his incisive political commentary for the rest of his life--his last book was in 2004. As an elder and an inspiration, I pay my respects to his memory.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

This is as close to a snow scene as we've come in Arcata
in a decade. It's actually hail, or maybe sleet. But it's not
snow. Folks in the hills nearby have seen a foot of the real
stuff, though.
Posted by Picasa


This North Coast Place

New template features, links and a new post at This North Coast Place, and template changes at its companion site, North Coast Texts, which join Captain Future's growing fleet of affordable blogs, patrolling the blogosphere and serving the universe from Secret Squadron Headquarters in Arcata...

And a few new entries in the Saturday Morning Sci-Fi series at the Boomer Hall of Fame.
Beeing There

I've got one more installment planned in my ongoing "Climate Crisis Future" series. These essays have been outlines, speculations on direction and shape of things to come, depending on what is and isn't done today and in the near future. But while some of the Climate Crisis dangers are obviously huge--like Katrina-like storms--and others are very visible over time, like dried-up lakes and buildings sinking into soggy permafrost, there are a lot of very small shifts that can have greater consequences that may not be readily apparent.

The dying off of coral reefs partly or mostly because of hotter oceans is a big thing when you can go and look at it, but coral reefs are remote from most of us. Even harder to see are the effects of animal and plant species going extinct, some even before scientists--let alone the public--know they exist. What we do know about the polar bear and the penguin is clear in terms of the impact on them. But there are lots of species whose place in the ecological chain are still mysterious.

There's a cautionary tale in the news now: the honeybee. Some people know a lot about this species and its place in our food chain. Though few of us are aware of it, much of our food supply is dependent on honeybees pollinating vegetable and fruit plants, and seeds. As stated in this New York Times article, Cornell University estimates honeybees are crucial to about $14 billion worth of foodstuffs annually. And now, suddenly and inexplicably, they are disappearing.

More specifically, bees are leaving their hives and not coming back. Nobody yet knows why, but what is usually a 20% loss of bees in colonies kept by beekeepers has suddenly become 70%. Nobody is yet linking this to global heating, but there is an appropriate point or two here. First, that we're more dependent than most of us think or know on very small and specific aspects of nature, including individual species. And second, our willed ignorance that in part permits mindless exploitation is vast.

We have no idea how bees find their way around, but they do. Creatures with such little brains should not be able to find their own hives after flying around in search of food, but they do. Scientists have even moved the hives and otherwise tried to confuse the bees, but they get back anyway. But not this time.

We don't know why partly because our dogmas tell us bees are stupid and so we didn't really notice this (though beekeepers did, but they don't get grants.) It's the same kind of thinking that has made a recent observation of chimps in Senegal so ignorance-shatttering. These chimps were observed repeatedly fashioning spears from tree limbs, and using them to hunt smaller prey hidden in hollow tree trunks. The human preconceptions that bit the dust include that only humans use tools (that one was obliterated awhile ago--it turns out that even birds use tools), that only humans fashion tools and weapons, and use them to hunt.

There was another preconception punctured as well. It turns out that most of the chimps doing this were female. There goes the male hunter, and all it implies.

It may be that these chimps are unusual in terms of the diet and the prey available to them, but it seems highly unlikely that chimps have sudden acquired the intelligence and skills to do this. But according to this report, scientists have never seen this before. Why not? It may be as ethologist Fran De Waal suggests in his study of peaceful conflict resolution among chimps--scientists never saw it because they weren't looking for it. They had a theory about dominance by the strongest, and never looked beyond it--they just accumulated more "evidence" for it.

What we don't know may kill us. Our self-satisfied blindness may be an even bigger barrier than our self-indulgent denial. We need to get over both.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Milky Way from planet Earth
Posted by Picasa

The Climate Crisis and the Skills of Peace (part 1)

Climate Crisis and the Skills of Peace (part 1)

The challenges of the Climate Crisis are formidable. Getting enough awareness, then political will just to begin addressing it here in the U.S. has been difficult enough, and still is. Then there are the conceptual challenges previous posts here have alluded to, and the challenge of overcoming the either/or mentality to accept the "Fix It" need to address now-inevitable effects that global heating will cause for the next generation or more, at the same time going forward with the "Stop It" efforts to severely scale back greenhouse gases and taking other steps to save the farther future from what could become an unstoppable apocalypse.

But the greatest challenge may be the one that nobody wants to talk about. It is the possibility, and perhaps the likelihood, that while conflicts among politicians, corporations and various interest groups prevent effective action or even attention to either track of the Climate Crisis, human civilization will add to its woes with warfare precipitated by effects of global heating. That warfare could easily become so severe that it would swamp positive efforts to address the crises themselves.

Why is war possible? For one thing: water. The Climate Crisis is shifting precipitation patterns, so more places are mired in floods and droughts which threaten to become longterm. Historically, changes in climate that affect food production and living conditions cause migration and warfare as one group moves in on the territory of another. That may well have been behind the fall of the Roman Empire before barbarian tribes, driven away by cold and drought. And spreading drought--probably related to global heating-- may very well now be a contributing factor to the genocide in Darfur.

But consider this as well: all over the world, high mountain glaciers are melting and disappearing. They are the source of water for billions. As Al Gore points out in An Inconvenient Truth, melting of the Himalayan glaciers, among the most affected by global heating so far, threatens the water supply of fully 40% of the world's population. Most of the countries in the world that now possess nuclear weapons are threatened by climatic changes already beginning to occur, and border each other or are near neighbors.

But in order to address the Climate Crisis, the world needs to do more than avoid war--it must engage in unprecedented international cooperation. Some countries are starting to engage in directly addressing global heating issues together, beyond Kyoto, with the notable exception of the U.S. But when the U.S. joins the international community again, that won't in itself solve the problems. One major issue that will soon arise is the role of the developing world, both the growing economic powers of China and India, and the poorer nations. Indeed, in his essay "An Inconvenient Truth Part II,"Tom Athanasiou writes that addressing global poverty is essential to addressing the Climate Crisis (the 2 degree line he refers to is the total temperature rise point of no return--beyond it, civilization is toast):

It will take a heroic effort and almost unimaginable internationalcooperation to hold the 2°C line, but it is still physically possible to do so. This is because already existing technologies, if developed and disseminated with true “global Manhattan Project” urgency, would support huge, rapid efficiency increases and emissions reductions, and buy us time to decarbonize our infrastructures, adopt fairer ,lower-consumption lifestyles and, of course, develop better technologies.The real need here is what Americans, in particular, might call a Global New Deal.

Like the original, it would focus on stabilizing and improving the lives of the vulnerable, restless poor. But this time the institution building and the politics would be global, and this time the background crisis – the threat that demands cooperation and, by so doing, animates the whole effort – would be as much social-ecological as it is socio-economic.

These issues of international cooperation are going to become more and more acute with each passing year, and the need to avoid climate-based warfare could arise at any time, but almost certainly will in the next 30 years. Apart from the conflicts sown by the greedy and the fearful, we have a couple of basic problems here. We don't have the skills. And we're still moving in the wrong direction.

"We don't have the skills" is a bit of an overstatement, because just like people who have been working diligently, even when reviled and mostly out of public notice, on alternative energy and on the Climate Crisis science itself for decades, there are thousands of people who have been working on developing the Skills of Peace--the skills of resolving conflicts through knowledge and communication, of ways of becoming more conscious of the personal and societal psychology that fosters unnecessary violence and ways of dealing with it, and of the skills of cooperation, and dedicated service to the common good.

But in terms of our leadership, and our institutions, we have largely ignored those skills, including even the possibility of developing, acquiring and using them. We don't for a moment dispute that skills are necessary for conducting warfare. We spend vast treasures on developing those skills and training people to use them. We know that war requires strategies, knowledge and communication of all kinds. But when it comes to peace, we seem to think it arises by magic or not at all.

This is partly a product of a dominant view of human nature derived from a perverse Social Darwinist interpretation of natural selection: the dog eats dog, survival of the fittest view. Such a view may even add to the violence, providing excuses to those who foment it, or who enable it with trade in weapons that constantly become more deadly and easier to obtain and use. But that dark view is unbalanced--it simply ignores the contrary evidence we see everyday in our lives and in the natural world, where cooperation, nurture, giving and compassion are as natural and at least as necessary as anything else.

Even science has not escaped the blinders of this bias, which is why these days are suddenly discovering animal behavior they thought impossible, everything from animal empathy to tool use. It's not like animals have just started doing this stuff. It's that human scientists weren't looking for it because they didn't believe it was there.

But this post is getting long, so let's take a photo break and meet on the other side.

Cups in Place # 4. BK photo.
Posted by Picasa

The Climate Crisis and the Skills of Peace (part 2)

There's a lot of violence in the world, although the destruction of civilized societies by the power of modern weapons we see around the world today is perhaps a lesson more in technology and profit than in human nature. Civilization depends on peaceful means to address differences, disputes and conflicts, but we don't seem to understand or value this until it is threatened. Too bad, because the Climate Crisis is going to test the potential of civilization to generate even greater skills of peace, and apply them to a global community. Or else civilization, along with most of humankind and the ecosystem that nurtured us, will disappear.

Part of our problem is how routinely our violent instincts are exploited. Leaders exploiting our fears, defining them in simplistic us-or-them terms, and convincing us that they are our only protectors, is the obvious and often repeated example, though having fallen for that again in the 21st century is not an encouraging sign.

This exploitation has become something of a foundation for our culture and economy. As a species, we become instantly alert to threat, poised to fight or flee, because instant recognition of threat and instant impulse to action is a survival instinct. Because threat gets our chemicals going, even the artificial threats of movies and TV shows, they are ideal for grabbing our attention, which is what's needed to sell tickets and commercials. The guaranteed attention and glandular response is one primary reason that our "entertainment" is mostly violent, and that violence not only convinces us the real world is like that (despite much of our everyday experience) but it supports the societal dogma that conflicts are settled by violence.

Of course we have other survival instincts, and survival strategies. They just aren't as easy to exploit to sell us, although that doesn't stop merchandizers and politicians from using them as well.

We are so institutionally addicted to violence that we're killing ourselves with it. Even after more than a decade in which our armed forces are called upon to do what is called "peace keeping" as a significant part of their duties, we still have no significant training for these duties. Instead we devote all our efforts to the tragic transformation of young Americans into killers. It's only one of many tragedies being played out in Iraq, but it's a significant one.

Now when we are going to need these skills of peace more than ever, we are turning in the opposite direction. Experts know that violence alone is never going to stop terrorism. Yet the cowardly use of 9-11 to sow fear and justify needless warfare and torture is the most flagrant evidence of our deterioration. Despite even the military's insistence that torture doesn't work, it has become not only national policy but national entertainment. There were no depictions of torture on U.S. television in 1996 and 1997, but more than 200 in 2003 and at least a hundred in each of 2004 and 2005, most of them on the very popular series, "24," but not exclusively. Conspicuously (and stupidly) violent commercials were noticeably prevalent during this year's Super Bowl.

So far the 2008 presidential campaign doesn't look promising in this regard. Despite all the theories blaming warfare and violence on testosterone and "the patriarchy," the presence of a woman candidate in the race who feels she has to talk tough and rattle sabers to show she's qualified only perpetuates the emphasis on violent approaches to conflict over other possible solutions.

The Skills of Peace allow us to approach conflict with appropriate means. Most of us can conceive of situations in which violence seems necessary, but the point is that it is automatically used in far more conflicts than it is necessary or even useful, partly for lack of commitment, knowledge and skills in employing alternative and more appropriate means. Even the means and moods we've accepted and used for generations are endangered today, especially in our civic life. I was struck by a particularly appropriate example in a news story, about a conflict over the Climate Crisis itself, and Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, nominated for an Oscar to be awarded later today.

When a small town school in Washington state wanted to show An Inconvenient Truth in a 7th grade science class, a parent objected. Not an alarming or impossible to resolve conflict in itself, but the violent terms of it and how it quickly spiraled into a panic have become all too familiar. First, the extreme terms of the objection. According to the Washington Post article, :

"No you will not teach or show that propagandist Al Gore video to my child, blaming our nation -- the greatest nation ever to exist on this planet -- for global warming," Hardison wrote in an e-mail to the Federal Way School Board. The 43-year-old computer consultant is an evangelical Christian who says he believes that a warming planet is "one of the signs" of Jesus Christ's imminent return for Judgment Day.

Out of all the ways the School Board could have chosen to respond, they reacted by not only cancelling the film for that particular class, but for the entire school district, and informing the teacher who had scheduled the film she would receive a disciplinary letter for not clearing a "controversial" film first.

When this hit the news, the public response was swift, national and extreme. According to the Post, "Members of the school board say they have been bombarded by thousands of e-mails and phone calls, many of them hurtful and obscene, accusing them of scientific ignorance, pandering to religion and imposing prior restraint on free speech."

At that point the school board could have reacted by digging in their heels, but they didn't. One member made an impassioned speech, "I am here to foster healing in our community," he said, while noting with sadness that "civility and honest discourse are dying in our country." In the end the teacher was permitted to show Gore's film as long as it was accompanied by "other views" of equal scientific merit, which she apparently was having a lot of trouble finding.

Some may characterize that school board's final decision as backing down under pressure, or perhaps it was only coming to its senses (whether it was being disingenuous or hypocritical in the first place is another question), but it did at least make a plea for civility. The extreme views and extreme demands of the parent are very alarming, but so too was the response, if indeed it was "obscene" and extreme (such claims have been made falsely, but I've seen blogosphere responses to similiar situations that suggest the claims could well be true.) There is no scientific validity to Climate Crisis denying, and the threats to separation of church and state was real. But it's worth recalling that the initial Fundamentalist opposition to Darwinian evolution in the 19th century was the fear that it was being used to devalue the worth of the individual, particularly those who weren't naturally selected to be rich and powerful. They weren't entirely wrong.

People who fear that science can be used to oppress them are not crazy. Science has often been used to oppress people. Science unintentionally created the very Climate Crisis that science now warns us may well destroy us. There are plenty of ironies to go around. The Skills of Peace cannot be successful without an attempt at mutual understanding, the commonly held rules of civility, and the acknowledgement of compassion as a human quality and a human strength. We're going to feel it differently, but the Climate Crisis affects everyone and everything: the whole world, the whole future. It's global, remember? We're all in this together. We're going to have to solve it together. It's civilization's ultimate test, in more ways than one.