Category Archives: Environment

Optimism in the Face of Crisis: How the Left Will Win

It’s always fascinating to observe ruling classes seemingly willfully destroying the conditions for their own future rule. History is black with the ashes of self-immolated wealthy classes, grim reminders of the autosarcophagous nature of infinite greed. In eighteenth-century France there was the parasitic aristocracy that shunted all responsibility for the kingdom’s finances onto the lower classes, thus setting the stage for the French Revolution. Today, there is the parasitic oligarchy that strips the lower and middle classes of everything but their labor-power and their debt, thus setting the stage for…revolution?

Let’s consider some of the remarkable methods the U.S. ruling class, or at least dominant factions of it, are currently using to sabotage their own future rule. To a large extent these devices fall under the category “neoliberal,” which is to say a fetishization of privatization and marketization, but that only obscures their real origin, the dominance of the capitalist mode of production itself. Neoliberalism is but a vicious manifestation and continuation of basic tendencies that have characterized capitalism for centuries, including the monomaniacal pursuit of profit, suppression of popular power, class polarization, increasing capital mobility, unfettered imperialism, the pillaging of the natural environment, etc. The salient difference between now and earlier is that on a global level these tendencies appear to be approaching their limits, reaching such a fever pitch that they’re undermining the possibility of capitalism-in-the-future.

The short-sightedness of infinite greed

Daily headlines testify to the institutional myopia. Congressional Republicans seem to be trying as hard as they can to arouse the enmity of as many people as possible by passing the horrifying American Health Care Act—which is only serving to build support for a single-payer system. Trump’s tax plan, which admittedly is pie in the sky, proposes “one of the biggest tax cuts in American history” (according to the director of Trump’s National Economic Council)—to benefit the wealthy, who don’t have enough money yet. More fodder for populist rage on the Left. And, of course, yet another device to “starve the beast,” i.e., hamstring the federal government’s ability to administer society in such a way that…society continues to function.

Trump’s budget, as we know, is a masterpiece of misanthropy. Among its shining provisions are $2 trillion of cuts to health programs, a 31 percent cut to the EPA, $472 billion slashed from income security programs, and $346 billion of cuts to education, training, and employment programs. It has no chance of becoming law, but since it’s just an extreme version of Republican priorities, it doesn’t bode well for the country’s future. Which is to say, it doesn’t bode well for the ruling class’s untrammeled exercise of power—because of the civic collapse and consequent popular resistance it augurs.

Public education, for instance, has been an integral component of the mass middle-class nation-state, one of the guarantors of relative social order (in part by supporting the hope, at least, of social mobility). It isn’t news to say that neither the Trump administration nor the billionaire class as a whole is enamored of public education. They loathe the idea of paying taxes to help people who are “beneath” them, and, in fact, dislike anything opposed to the gospel of privatization and atomization. And, of course, there’s a lot of money to be made from privatizing education. Hence the ongoing nationwide crusade to destroy public education. State educational funding has been cut in the last decade; tuition at four-year public colleges has simultaneously increased 28 percent, exacerbating the student debt crisis; the spread of charter schools continues to chip away at the funding and the culture of robust public education; and the constant political, budgetary, and media attacks on teachers and their unions basically serve the function of attacking mass education itself.

With Trump and Betsy DeVos at the helm, the war on students, teachers, and public schools is only escalating. In DeVos’s crosshairs are after-school programs, arts programs, childcare programs, money for teacher training and class-size reduction, financial aid for low-income college students, adult basic literacy instruction, etc. Voucher and market strategies, on the other hand, are given over $1 billion in Trump’s budget.

The most obvious example of the ruling class’s disregard for its own future power and well-being is the case of global warming. If civilization collapses, dragging down with it most life on earth, then, however much the wealthiest of the wealthy try to barricade themselves in Xanadus remote from climate chaos and the misery of the rabble, their quality of life is going to be affected. But as usual, short-term gain matters more than any other value, including long-term self-interest.

It’s true that much of the oligarchy is worried about global warming, as shown by the outrage from even American business interests and politicians over Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But the efforts devoted to addressing climate change are pathetic. The corporate media scarcely even mentions it, at least by comparison with the coverage it would get from a genuinely free press. At a time when carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is at an unbelievable 408 parts per million, it is Trump’s probably nonexistent collusion with Russians that obsesses the political and media establishment. We’re on track to hit 500 ppm by 2050. Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting at an accelerating rate. Coastal areas are in danger of being wiped out by the end of the century or earlier. The Amazon rainforest could be a memory within our lifetimes. Meanwhile, even on the state level in the U.S., “the progress [in reducing carbon emissions] is slow,” according to one expert, “and the near-term targets are low.”

The longer the oligarchy abdicates responsibility for the well-being of future generations, the more ammunition it gives to radical popular movements whose aim is to completely transform the American political economy.

Last, I would mention the ruling class’s apparent equanimity regarding the probability of another economic collapse in the near future, possibly a greater collapse than that of 2008–2009. The work of Marxist economists such as David Harvey, Robert Brenner, and the Monthly Review school illuminates the fundamental weaknesses of the American economy from a long-term perspective—weaknesses that have much to do with “excessive capitalist empowerment vis-à-vis labour and consequent wage repression,” to quote Harvey. The only reason the economy functions at all is the existence of a colossal amount of debt, which temporarily solves the problem of low aggregate demand. But, as Reuters columnist James Saft points out, consumer debt growth—which has lately been occurring at a far faster rate than incomes and the economy are growing—“can’t outpace wages forever.” Corrections, like that of 2008, are inevitable.

The Republican Party is doing what it can to ensure that the next crash is as catastrophic as possible by moving to gut the Dodd-Frank regulations, which would facilitate a resurgence of predatory lending and other practices that led to the 2008 crash.

Of course, the ultra-rich can expect to be bailed out again in the event of a crash. They don’t have much to fear in this respect. What should cause them some concern are the “pitchforks” that will be brandished next time around: the surge of populist rage, largely left-wing (and therefore truly frightening), that will quite possibly signal the beginning of the end of neoliberal hegemony. We should, after all, recall an earlier parallel to our own time: in 1930 organized labor and the Left were in an abysmal state, having experienced a decade of repression so cataclysmic that historian David Montgomery famously referred to it as “the fall of the house of labor.” The unionization rate was at 7 percent, barely above our current private-sector unionization rate. And yet within six years, after the emergence of continent-wide protest movements in the context of the Great Depression, the political economy had moved so dramatically to the left that the U.S. welfare state was born, the federal government was committed to protecting unions, and industrial unionism was making epochal advances that laid the basis for the sustained prosperity of the postwar era.

The case for optimism

The advantage of a Marxian, “dialectical” point of view is that it allows one to see silver linings in developments that look entirely and straightforwardly disastrous. The crises of the present, including the decline of the bureaucratic labor unionism that was integrated into the corporatist structures of the nation-state, present opportunities that leftists ought to embrace. Just as the mature welfare-state in the West didn’t and couldn’t emerge until the horrors of the Depression and World War II had paved the way for it (in part by mobilizing the Left on an epic scale), so the crises of the coming decades will, one can expect, prepare the ground for a reconstruction of society on a more just and democratic foundation.

Said differently, modern history is cyclical. The ferment of U.S. labor and the Left in the Progressive Era—with the IWW, the Socialist Party, the Western Federation of Miners, epidemics of strikes—was finally crushed by the reactionary backlash of the Red Scare and then the triumphalist New Era in the 1920s, when “the business of America [was] business,” as Calvin Coolidge said. The decimation of labor, which suppressed aggregate demand (because of consequent low wages and insecure employment), helped cause the Depression, which saw a revitalization of the Left. During and after World War II, big business launched a remarkably successful counteroffensive (associated, misleadingly, with the name of Joe McCarthy, who was a bit player) that purged politics, culture, and organized labor of almost every hint of leftism.

But this phase of nearly unchecked Cold War corporatism succumbed to the turbulence of the 1960s and ’70s. African-Americans, students, women, anti-war activists, environmentalists, and rank-and-file workers erupted against the repressive bureaucratic regime of centrist liberalism, permanently changing American culture and politics. In response, as we know, business and conservatives mobilized once again, determined this time to annihilate organized labor and the New Deal state itself, which they saw as a challenge to their power and profits. Thus came neoliberalism, another triumphalist “New Era” of savage repression and “end of history” propaganda (this time with a dash of postmodernism thrown in for good measure). By 2017, we’re overdue for the next left-wing phase of the cycle.

But this time it’s going to be different. It’s not just another phase that will be followed by a reactionary backlash. As I’ve argued at length in Worker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, the unique historical role of neoliberalism has been to bring the long epoch of capitalism to its global consummation—which, in classic dialectical fashion, will end up precipitating its downfall. In fact, the nation-state system itself, which is integrally connected to capitalism, is in the early stages of its long decline. The political economy of privatization and social atomization on the one hand, and transnationalism on the other, that has emerged on the basis of information technology deployed in a neoliberal context is unraveling the social fabric of the nation-state—in part by facilitating the emergence of a global consciousness and the undermining of a national one. This, in turn, is making possible the rise of global social movements (which, incidentally, are what Marxism was all about to begin with: “Workers of the world, unite!”).

The decline of the middle class presents dangers in the form of semi-fascism, but, unfortunately, it is necessary if we’re ever to transcend corporate capitalism. The middle class, after all, has historically been the conservative bastion of an inequitable social order. As it collapses, many of its members will be seduced by the political right, but others—together with the majority of the lower classes and minorities—will join progressives and radicals. Both Jeremy Corbyn’s success in Britain’s recent election and Bernie Sanders’ enormous popularity demonstrate that the left-wing has but to broadcast its message effectively in order to build a mass popular movement.

The coming decades are going to see the apocalyptic struggle between labor/humanity and capital (particularly the most reactionary sectors of capital) that Marx prophesied but for which he got the timeline wrong (not foreseeing state capitalism and the welfare state). As the least progressive sectors of business struggle to push capitalism to its most misanthropic, world-destroying extremes, liberal and leftist institutions will acquire more support from the populace, more resources, and more power. They already are. The precise dynamics of this process can’t be foreseen, but that it will happen can be predicted with near-certainty simply given the cyclical/dialectical logic of history. The only alternative is total repression of the population for an indefinite period of time—which, since we don’t live in Nazi Germany, isn’t an option.

It’s unlikely we’ll see a return to twentieth-century social democracy, because the nationalistic, heavily unionized political economy that produced that social formation is dead. It has succumbed to relative fragmentation and atomization. Instead, we’ll see momentum grow behind more radical initiatives like the democratization of ownership—which is proposed in the Labor Party’s manifesto and has been championed by Bernie Sanders and other senators. The very structures of government and the economy will be thrown into question as the idea spreads that humanity’s current predicament is a direct product of these structures. Popular pressures to address global warming will reinforce and align with anti-capitalist movements, as it becomes clearer that only radical changes in the economy will be adequate to meet the ecological threat. The very inseparability of all the crises afflicting the country and the world—militarism, the privatization of resources, climate change, income inequality, economic stagnation, unemployment—will foment wholesale popular radicalization.

Moreover, the fact that the victims of the stagnant status quo include huge numbers of young people is extremely dangerous to the oligarchy. The youth will be the shock troops of the revolution.

One of the lessons of history is that the longer an elite prevents change from happening, the more it ensures that the change, when it comes, will be radical and all-encompassing. The French royalty learned this to its cost when it was swept aside by revolution in the 1790s. Tsar Nicholas II learned the lesson when his hidebound conservatism eventually empowered the Bolsheviks and got him and his family massacred. The Southern plantation aristocracy in the U.S. learned it when its viciously reactionary politics and unwillingness to compromise led to the Civil War and slavery’s abolition. The U.S. ruling class learned it when its crushing of labor in the 1920s indirectly led to a flood of appallingly progressive legislation in the 1930s. And in the next couple of decades, our ruling class is going to learn the lesson once again.

The Poison of Commercialization and Social Injustice

In cities and towns from New Delhi to New York the socio-political policies that led to the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London are being repeated: redevelopment and gentrification, the influx of corporate money and the expelling of the poor, including families that have lived in an area for generations. To this, add austerity, the privatization of public services and the annihilation of social housing and a cocktail of interconnected causes takes shape. Communities break up, independent businesses gradually close down, diversity disappears and another neighbourhood is absorbed within the expensive homogenized collective.

People living in developed industrialized countries suffer most acutely, but developed nations are also being subjected to the same violent methodology of division and injustice that led to the murder of probably hundreds of innocent people in Grenfell Tower.

The rabid spread of corporate globalization has allowed the poison of commercialization to be injected into the fabric of virtually every country in the world, including developing nations.

As neoliberal policies are exchanged for debt relief and so-called ‘investment’, which is little more than exploitation, the problems of the North infiltrate the South. Economic cultural colonization smiles and shakes hands, wears a suit and causes fewer deaths than the traditional method of control and pillaging, but it is just as pernicious and corrosive.

In the Neo-Liberal world of commercialization everything is regarded as a commodity. Whole countries are regarded as little more than marketplaces in which to sell an infinite amount of stuff, often poorly made, most of which is not needed. In this twenty-first century nightmare that is choking the life out of people everywhere, human beings are regarded not as individuals with particular outlooks fostered by differing traditions, backgrounds and cultures; with concerns and rights, potential and gifts and heartfelt aspirations, but consumers with differing degrees of worth based on the size of their bank account and their capacity to buy the corporate-made artifacts that litter the cathedrals of consumerism in cities north, south, east and west.

Those with empty pockets and scant prospects have no voice and, as Grenfell proves, are routinely ignored; choices and opportunities are few, and whilst human rights are declared to be universal, the essentials of living — shelter, food, education and health care — are often denied them. Within the land of money, such rights are dependent not on human need but on the ability to pay, and when these rights are offered to those living in poverty or virtual poverty, it is in the form of second and third rate housing, unhealthy food, poorly funded and under-staffed education and health services. After all, you get what you pay for; if you pay little, don’t expect much, least of all respect.

The commercialization of all aspects of our lives is the inevitable, albeit extreme consequence of an economic model governed by profit, fed by consumption and maintained through the constant agitation of desire. Pleasure is sold as happiness, desire poured into the empty space where love and compassion should be, anxiety and depression ensured. But there’s a pill for that, sold by one or other of the major benefactors of the whole sordid pantomime, the pharmaceutical companies. Corporations, huge and getting bigger, are the faceless commercial monsters who own everything and want to own more; they want to own you and me, to determine how we think and what we do. These faceless corporate entities are given rights equivalent to nations and in some cases more; they have incalculable financial wealth and with it political power. They devour everything and everyone in their path to the Altar of Abundance, assimilate that which springs into life outside their field of control and consolidate any organization which threatens their dominance.

Commercialization is a headless monster devoid of human kindness and empathy. It sits within an unjust economic system that has created unprecedented levels of inequality, with colossal wealth concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer men (the zillionaires are all men), whilst half the world’s population attempts to survive on under $5 a day and the Earth cries out in agony: every river, sea and stream is polluted, deforestation is stripping huge areas of woodland, whole Eco-systems are being poisoned and the air we breathe is literally choking us to death. Apathy suffocates and comforts us, distractions seduce us and keep us drugged: “Staring at the screen so we don’t have to see the planet die. What we gonna do to wake up?” screams the wonderful British poet Kate Tempest in Tunnel Vision. “The myth of the individual has left us disconnected, lost, and pitiful.”

How bad must it get before we put an end to the insanity of it all? It has got to end; we can no longer continue to live in this fog. During a spellbinding performance of Europe is Lost at Glastonbury Festival, Tempest stood on the edge of the stage and called out, We are Lost, We are Lost, We are Lost”. We are lost because a world has been created based on false values — “all that is meaningless rules” — because the systems that govern our lives are inherently unjust, because we have been made to believe that competition and division is natural, that we are simply the body and are separate from one another, because corporate financial interests are placed above the needs of human beings and the health of the planet. Excess is championed, sufficiency laughed at, ambition and greed encouraged, uncertainty and mystery pushed aside. The house is burning, as the great teacher Krishnamurti put it, Our House, Our World — within and without — both have been violated, ravaged, and both need to be allowed to heal, to be washed clean by the purifying waters of social justice, trust and sharing.

Systemic external change proceeds from an internal shift in thinking — a change in consciousness, and whilst such a shift may appear difficult, I suggest it is well underway within vast numbers of people to varying degrees. For change to be sustainable it needs to be gradual but fundamental, and have the support of the overwhelming majority of people — not a mere 51% of the population.

Kindness begets kindness, just as violence begets violence. Create structures that are just and see the flowering of tolerance and unity within society; Sharing is absolutely key. After Grenfell hundreds of local people shared what they had, food, clothes, bedding; they shopped for the victims, filling trolleys with baby food, nappies and toiletries. This happens all over the world when there is a tragedy — people love to share; giving and cooperating are part of who we are, while competition and selfishness run contrary to our inherent nature, resulting in sickness of one kind or another, individual and collective.

Sharing is the answer to a great many of our problems and needs to be placed at the heart of a new approach to socio-economic living, locally, nationally, and globally. It is a unifying principle encouraging cooperation, which, unlike competition, brings people together and builds community. The fear of ‘the other’, of institutions and officials dissipates in such an environment, allowing trust to naturally come into being, and where trust exists much can be achieved. In the face of worldwide inequality and injustice the idea of sharing as an economic principle is gradually gaining ground, but the billions living in destitution and economic insecurity cannot wait, action is needed urgently; inaction and complacency feed into the hands of those who would resist change, and allows the status quo to remain intact.  We sleep so deep, it don’t matter how they shake us. If we can’t face it, we can’t escape it. But tonight the storm’s come,” says Kate Tempest in Tunnel Vision. Indeed, we are in the very eye of the storm, “The winter of our discontent’s upon us” and release will not be found within the corrupt ways of the past, but in new forms built on ancient truths of love and unity held within the heart of all mankind.

Lies that Capitalists Tell Us

While supporters of our two-party system wring their hands over the sensationalist nonsense reported by the mainstream media, we thought it might be worth touching on the most dangerous lie of all-time: capitalism. It’s an all-encompassing delusion, including: the myth of continual technological progress, the mendacious assumptions of endless economic growth, the lie that constant bombardments of media and consumer goods make us happy, and the omissions of our involvement in the exploitation of the planet and the resources of distant, poorer nations, among other things.

We’ve taken the time to hash out some of the most pernicious mendacities we’ve come across in our (relatively) young lives, in the workplace, in our private lives, and in the media. ***

Please share these counter-arguments far and wide, in order to educate your fellow citizens, and, if necessary, to provide the intellectual beat-downs needed when arguing with pro-capitalists. So without further ado, here is our list of the most devious “Lies that Capitalists Tell Us”:

1) Wealth will “trickle down”

It’s hard to believe an economic policy that conjures images of urination could be wrong, but the idea is as bankrupt as the lower classes who have been subjected to the trickling. Less than ten people now have the financial wealth equivalent to half the planet, and the trickling seems a lot more like a mad cash-grab by the (morally bankrupt) elites. Rather than trickle down, the 1% and their lackeys have hoovered up the majority of new wealth created since the 2008 crash. After 40 years of stagnant wages in the US the people feel more shit on than trickled upon.

It’s not a mistake that the elite reap most of the profits: the capitalist system is designed this way.  It always has been, and will be, until we the people find the courage to tear it down and replace it with something better.

2) I took all the risks

It can be argued the average employee takes far more risks in any job than the average person who starts a business with employees. The reason being is that the person starting a business usually has far more wealth, where most Americans can’t afford a 500 dollar emergency; meaning if they lose a job or go without work for any stretch it means some tough decisions have to be made. A person with even a failing business cannot be fired, but the employee can be fired for almost any reason imaginable. They are operating without a net at all times.

The capitalist uses all sorts of public infrastructure to get his/her company off the ground. From everything to the roads to get you to your job, colleges, public utilities, tax breaks, electricity, etc. Even the internet itself was created from public research. Yet elite business owners still have the audacity, and are so full of hubris, that they believe in the hyper-individualist, macho, rugged-cowboy/pioneer facade they affect.

3) I could pay you more if there were less government regulations

Many capitalists argue that layers of government bureaucracy prevent them from paying their employees a fairer, living wage. This is a huge whopper, as our regulations (like no child labor, a minimum wage, disability and worker’s compensation, basic environmental impact studies, etc) actually provide safety against the worst type of exploitation of workers and destruction of the land by corporations. Without these minimum regulations, an age of even more outright neo-feudalism would occur, where employees could be laid-off and rehired ad-infinitum, based on downward market wage forces, at the wishes of ever-more capricious owners, management, and CEOs.

4) If you work hard, one day you can be rich like us (We live in a meritocracy)

America is not a meritocracy, and no one should think it is. There exists no tie to the intelligence of work done or the amount of it that guarantees success. Rather to be rich depends more on either being born into it, or being exceptionally good at exploiting others so one may take the bulk of the proceeds for themselves. This is the magic formula for wealth in this ever so “exceptional” land – exploit, exploit, exploit.

Inheritance and exploitation is how the rich get rich. To understand the exploitation aspect takes some understanding of how the rich function. Next to none of the super rich become that way solely by meritocracy. Their income is created through complex webs of utilizing leverage usually to extract some form of passive income. They are the rentier class or con artists, or both.

You only have to look at what the rich are dabbling in. Like Robert Mercer, for instance, who made his money via “a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.” Skimming money off corrupt financial markets hardly seems like a worthwhile activity that contributes anything to humanity. It’s a hustle.

Or take Bill Gates, who did some programming for a few years, poorly, and became rich by landing a series of deals with IBM initially, and then by passively making money off the share values of Microsoft. The late Steve Jobs may have been one of the more hands-on billionaires, but even he required thousands of enslaved Asian hands to extract the kind of  profits Apple was able to make.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson almost certainly has organized crime links, as if owning a casino wasn’t enough of a con to begin with.

Rich DeVos became a billionaire by running a pyramid scheme most are familiar with called Amway.

The Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart, pays a median wage of 10 bucks an hour (far below a living wage), they strong arm vendors, and also rely on products made with working conditions that resemble old world slavery, while having more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans.

There’s just no way to make that kind of money without having a major market advantage and then profiteering off it. Lie, cajole, coerce, manipulate, bribe, rig, and hustle. These are the tools of the rich.

No one is worth this kind of money and everyone needs each other’s help to function, but in the minds of the rich they consider themselves the primary cogs in the machine worthy of their money for doing not much else than holding leverage over others and exploiting it.

5) This is as good as it gets (there is no alternative, TINA)

Through a process of gaslighting and double-bind coercion the choices we are fed are propagandized via controlled media outlets owned and operated by elites. We are told our choices must be between the democrats or republicans, attacking the Middle East or face constant terrorism, unfettered capitalism or state run communism. We are given binary choices that lack all nuance, and nuance is the enemy of all those who seek to control and exploit. They feed us a tautology of simpleton narratives which unfortunately do exactly what they hoped, keep people dumb and biting on their red herrings.

Capitalists make it seem as if there is no alternative because they hoard all the money, have all the hired guns, and pay off teams of servile lawyers, judges, and lobbyists to write and enforce their anti-life laws. Capitalists demand “law and order” whenever their servant classes get too restless. In general, the most hardened, dogmatic capitalists exhibit bewilderment and/or disgust at genuine human emotions like joy, creativity, spontaneity, and love. Many capitalists have an unconscious death wish, and want to drag the rest of us and the mother Earth down with them.

Capitalists have stolen all the farmlands, hold all the patents to technology, and don’t pay enough to mass amounts of citizens to get out of the rat race and get back to live off the land. The screws are turned a little tighter every year. If we are not done in by massive natural disasters or an economic collapse, expect a revolution to occur, hopefully a non-violent one.

6) We give back to the community

Corporations set out to create non-profits as a public relations move. They cause the problems and then put small band-aids on the gaping wounds they have directly contributed to and use the charity as a source of plausible deniability to obscure the fact that they are exactly what we think they are: greedy.

Handing out bread-crumbs after you’ve despoiled, desecrated, and bulldozed millions of hectares of valuable habitat is not fooling anyone. The elite one-percenters are the enemies of humankind and the biosphere itself.

7) The system (and economic theory) is rational and takes into account social and environmental costs

People tend to think someone somewhere is regulating things to keep us safe. They look around and see sophisticated technology, gleaming towers in the sky, and what they believe to be is a complex intelligent world. But in truth no one is running the show. The world functions as a mad cash grab driven by neo-liberal ideology. Our leaders are driven by power, fame, and money, and exhibit strong psychopathic, sociopathic, and narcissistic traits.

The problems of modern industrial capitalism and its impact on the world are clear – our exploitation of the resources, people, and other species are a direct result of our consumer-based infinite growth model. Just a few of the problems we face are species extinction, climate change, ocean acidification, and a toxic carcinogen filled trash dump of a planet that reached population overshoot decades ago.

If the system was rational, we would begin planning to lower birth rates to decrease the world’s population, and voluntarily provide education, decent, dignified jobs, as well as birth control and contraception to women worldwide.

We live by money values, and think in money terminology. When we discuss healthcare the topic arises about how to pay for it before nearly anything else. The priority isn’t on saving lives but how to pay for things. Yes, how will we pay for healthcare when banks can create money on a computer through the magic of fractional reserve banking, which they often use to bail out their crony friends. The money isn’t real but the implications of restricting it from the populace are. Money is created out of thin air by the magic of the Federal Reserve, yet we have all heard our bosses, and the pricks in Washington complaining that “we don’t have enough money for that” when it comes to healthcare, improving schools, and humanitarian relief for the poorest parts of the world.

Again, if the system was rational, world poverty would be solved within a few short years. Money destined for weapons and “defense” could be used domestically as well as abroad to Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, and there is more than enough money (75 trillion is the annual world GDP, approximately 15 trillion in the US alone) to pay for a good home, clothing, and food for every family worldwide, with an all-renewable powered energy grid.

8) The future will be better

When Trump’s slogan “make America great again” was on the lips of every alt-right fascist, most of us stopped to ask, when was it great? The truth is that politicians have been promising something better since the inception of this country and “better” has never arrived.

There is always another expensive war to fight and another financial meltdown occurring on average every eight years. Wait, you might say, what about those sweet post-WWII growth years brought about by the New Deal? The sad truth is those years were only materially beneficial to white, middle-class men, who were highly sexist, racist, and complicit in incubating today’s consumer-driven Empty Society.

The post-WWII era was an aberration in our history and the result of having more jobs available than people, but as the country rapidly exploited its natural resources and reached the limits of linear growth while the population exploded the leverage that allowed people to have higher wages receded. Even though efficiency increased enormously, the people lost leverage to demand higher wages.

Without leverage held by the people capitalism will return to its status quo goal – exploit, and that’s just what it did. In the US, corporations grew richer and the people grew poorer starting from the mid 1970’s to the present.

9) It’s Just Business

Employees devote years of their lives to companies and when they are let go they are told it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. This is how all bad news is delivered even when personal. It says we are cold-hearted organizations that adhere to a bottom line first and human needs second. So know when they say “it’s just business” what they are saying is understand we are sharks, and acting like a shark is just what we do.

This is also the logic behind defending war crimes and similar atrocities. Nations like the US claim they have a “responsibility to protect” civilians from terrorists. Then, when American bombs kill civilians (or their proxies use US-made weapons), they are referred to as “collateral damage”.

10) Financial markets & debt are necessary

The health of the entire economy is too often gauged by the stock markets. But the reality about financial markets is they are extraneous gambling machines designed to place downward pressure on companies to post good numbers to elevate share prices. These financial markets funnel capital to a smaller and smaller number of multinational corporations every year, and perpetuate non-linear economic growth (and therefore more pollutants, CO2, pesticides, strip mining, razing of forests) that is killing the planet.

Debt is the most fundamental lie in our economy. Money is only supposed to be a tool to move goods efficiently around a market, but for money itself to be a wealth engine is a Ponzi scheme. And we all know how that ends.

*** For a wider taste of our oeuvre, visit Reason Bowl Radio to watch Jason expose the Trump administration for the sorry sacks of shit that they are and discuss current events, as well as Jason and Bill’s commentary and ramblings about topics such as psychedelics, the nature of consciousness, and reflections on how to effect social change.

Levees

Here in south Louisiana we are, to a degree, surrounded by levees. For those not familiar with them, levees are manmade earthen barriers that are designed to protect the inhabited areas of the region from rising waters and storm surges. They are not a new strategy, historical accounts tell us of levees being erected by the first European settlers to the area three centuries ago. European styled settlements were always challenged by the climate and ecology of the bayou land.

Levees, locks, canals, and pumping stations are all modern manifestations of this centuries old effort to live against the ongoing pressures from the environment. From another perspective this reality reflects a philosophical ideal of living in opposition to the natural flow of existence. In this sense levees stand as a physical manifestation of this philosophical principle of standing against while, for millennia indigenous peoples here in what is today Louisiana have lived in a state of coexistence with their surroundings. The ebb and flow of life dictated the life-ways of the people of the land and ordered our existence.

Most of my life was spent in Plaquemines Parish (in Louisiana counties have retained their ecclesiastical designation as parishes), which stretches from just south of New Orleans to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Growing up in the southern portion of the parish, levees were a constant part of my physical surroundings. In 1969 we lost our home in one of the small Indian settlements “outside the levee” to hurricane Camille and upon our return took up residence inside the hurricane protection system.

For the next thirty-five years my life would evolve within the protections of those earthworks that surrounded my hometown. High school, marriage, and the birth of my children would all take place in the confines of the same south Louisiana settlement. From my front yard looking east you could see the great ships passing in the river, if you looked up that is. The inhabited land in southern Plaquemines within the levees is on average about 15 feet below sea level and only the levees keep out the Mississippi River to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west.

And so it was, for those thirty-five years that despite numerous storms and hurricanes the levees kept us safe and dry. Within the shadows of those man-made dikes the community survived and prospered in spite of nature’s seasonal upheavals. The U.S. Corps of Engineers had constructed a defacto barrier between the manufactured world I lived in every day and the reality of the ecosystem that surrounded us.

This all came crashing down on August 29th 2005 when hurricane Katrina came to call. Her thirty foot storm surge rolled ashore to challenge our hurricane protection walls that had stood for over three decades and our protection was found wanting. Two or three major breeches were all that was needed to put my home and the homes of my neighbors underwater. On that day we learned that no matter how much time, money, and effort is put into levee construction they are not, on their own, a permanent solution for the security of at risk communities.

During those years before 2005 as the real levees grew in high and breath the vibrant marshlands outside them deteriorated as the avarice of 20th century economic development devoured them. From the inside there is a false sense of security that grew with each year that passed while the forces of coastal erosion raged on. Since the 1930s Louisiana has lost over 2000 square miles of land, but since 1969 we were “safe” inside the levees.

I think about that lesson as I contemplate the metaphorical levee that surround us just as those physical one did. We don’t recognize them as levees but they are artificially constructed barriers that seek to shield us from the realities that exist outside of them. They exist in many forms and in many areas but they all have in common a foundation based on a constructed reality. And as we do with the physical ones, we need to set our sights on what is transpiring outside our figurative levees.

Ironically it is again in New Orleans, the focal point for physical levee failures in 2005, in which the failure of a philosophical barrier transpires in 2017. In the last few months all eyes have turned to the Crescent City as several century old monuments dedicated to the long defeated Confederate States were removed from their positions of prominence. Battle lines erected between those who supported the administration of Mayor Landrieu and his removal directive and those who opposed him in the name of heritage and history exposed the fallacy of many of the accepted views on the status of race relations in the city and in the state.

Race relations stand as a levee constructed over decades and giving us the sense of security based on the idea that we have not fully attained equality but we are “headed in the right direction.” The barrier is well known though not readily recognized for what it truly is. We are taught about the progress we’ve made, reminded about the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the election of Barack Obama all of which assures us protection from a social and civil system based on discriminatory statutes and traditions. We have the ability within this levee to realize the great American creed that all men are created equal.

But here in New Orleans within the levees, both physical and metaphorical, stood those statues dedicated to the battles and heroes of the Confederate States of America. For decades they have stood in counter distinction to the civil rights struggles that have transpired in their shadow. As the controversy over their existence reached its recent crescendo one could not help but wonder about the world that has transpired under the shadow of Robert E. Lee’s statue in the now oddly named “Lee’s Circle.”

To the defenders of the Confederate statuary these are memorials to a particular part of the city’s three centuries of history. The monuments to Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, and the Battle of Liberty Place commemorate the men who stood for a noble, though ill-fated cause and attest to heritage and not hate. The War Between the States is framed as a conflict over state’s rights and the issue of slavery is greatly minimized. These noble men fought in what their generation would call The War of Northern Aggression and their memory should continue to be honored.

In truth these shrines were erected in honor of an insurrection that sought to tear apart the nineteenth century United States of America to maintain an economic system that depended on chattel slavery to survive and prosper. No less a voice than Alexander Stevens, the Vice-President of the Confederacy, would declare in 1861 that slavery was the cornerstone on which the Confederacy was founded. This fact is reinforced by the succession proclamations of the individual states and stands in opposition to the modern defenders of these particular monuments and their view of history.

So the question asked in New Orleans, and increasingly across the south is this, can we have both a fair and just society and memorialize those who fought to prevent such a society from coming into existence. The answer for over a century in New Orleans has been yes and with that yes a levee was constructed that sought to protect both sides but in reality only fostered a false sense of peace and progress. From inside this levee we struggle to understand recent events in places like Ferguson, Missouri and movements such as Black Lives Matter because we’re shielded from the reality outside our protected system.

In truth the conflict over slavery and race has never truly been settled in this country, Appomattox Court House was not the final word by any means. When General Sherman tried to implement his famous “40 acres and a mule policy” he understood as the military victor that to assure that victory he needed to dismantle the white power structure of the south and give the former slaves an economic and social step-up to real equality. That effort continued sporadically through the Reconstruction Era but ended when Federal Troops were withdrawn from the former Confederacy in 1877.

The century of discrimination, lynching, and Jim Crow that followed made the Civil Rights struggles of the 20th century inevitable. The just and equal society that was paid for with the pains of the Civil War and built by Reconstruction policies was abandoned for economic and political expediency. The controversial monuments of recent news reports were erected at the end of the nineteenth century more as testaments to the survival of the antebellum power structure than to bravery of Confederate leaders. Indeed the Liberty Place Monument specifically commemorates a violent insurrection instigated by the Crescent City White League against the duly elected Reconstruction government in 1874.

None of these historical realities are addressed within our metaphorical levee so the turmoil that transpires outside their protective heights is misunderstood or ignored. When protesters raise their hands for justice or broach the age old subject of reparations there are many who are indignant or confused. Were not these issues resolved in 1865? Surely they were settled by the events in and around 1965? Why such controversy over flags and statues?

So the levee failed and the reality it held at bay came flooding in. Those flood waters swept down monuments despite all the protestations and cries for the preservation of ‘history.” But for those who cheered the removal the question is do they understand that the waters are rising on them also. If they believe that simply removing monuments will rectify centuries of injustice and assuage liberal guilt they are as oblivious to the historic realities as the confederate flag wavers.

Just as hurricane protection is dependent on the restoration of the ecosystem outside the levees so too is societal protection dependent on the restoration of truth outside our walls of ignorance. Repairing historical inequities depends on our acknowledgement of the historical realities of race and race relations in the United States. From inside the levee there were those who saw the election of America’s first black president in 2008 and thought we had arrived at true equality while today in 2017, outside the levee, we see the body of Philando Castile and know that we have “miles to go before we sleep.”

Beyond “No” and the Limits of “Yes”

Naomi Klein understands that President Donald J. Trump is a problem, but he is not the problem.

In her new book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trumps Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, Klein reminds us to pay attention not only to the style in which Trump governs (a multi-ring circus so routinely corrupt and corrosive that anti-democratic practices seem normal) but in whose interests he governs (the wealthy, those he believes to be the rightful winners in the capitalist cage match), while recognizing the historical forces that make his administration possible (decades of market-fundamentalist/neoliberal rejection of the idea of a collective good).

Klein, one of the most prominent and insightful leftist writers in North America for two decades, analyzes how Trump’s “genius” for branding, magnified by his reality TV success, carried him to the White House. But while we may have been shocked by the election of Trump—not just another celebrity but the ultimate “hollow brand” that adds no tangible value to society—she argues that we should not have been surprised:

Trump is not a rupture at all, but rather the culmination—the logical end point—of a great many dangerous stories our culture has been telling for a very long time. That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That white men are better than the rest. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and the one percent deserve their golden towers. That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own. That there is no alternative to any of this (p. 257-258).

Underneath all these pathologies, Klein explains, is “a dominance-based logic that treats so many people, and the earth itself, as disposable” (p. 233), which gives rise to “a system based on limitless taking and extracting, on maximum grabbing” that “treats people and the earth either like resources to be mined to their limits or as garbage to be disposed of far out of sight, whether deep in the ocean or deep in a prison cell” (p. 240).

Klein’s book does not stop with an analysis of the crises, outlining a resistance politics that not only rejects this domination/subordination dynamic but proceeds “with care and consent, rather than extractively and through force” (p. 241). In addition to the “no” to the existing order, there must be a “yes” to other values, which she illustrates with the story behind the 2015 Leap Manifesto (“A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another”) that she helped draft.

Klein believes the expansive possibilities of those many yeses are visible in Bernie Sanders’ campaign and others like it around the world. Near the end of the book she lists ideas already on the table: “free college tuition, double the minimum wage, 100 percent renewable energy as quickly as technology allows, demilitarize the police, prisons are no place for young people, refugees are welcome here, war makes us less safe.” She goes on to identify more ambitious programs and policies: “Reparations for slavery and colonialism? A Marshall Plan to fight violence against women? Prison abolition? Democratic worker co-ops as the centerpiece of a green jobs program? An abandonment of ‘growth’ as a measure of progress? Why not?” (p. 263).

Klein is not naïve about what it will take to achieve these goals but stresses the possibilities; “there is reason to believe that many of the relationships being built in these early days [of the Trump administration] will be strong enough to counter the fear that inevitably sets in during a state of emergency” (p. 208).

Recognizing that the 2008 financial crisis created opportunities for more radical change that were lost not only because of the Obama administration’s cautious, centrist approach but because of progressive movements’ timidity, she reminds us that the most important changes in the past (expansions of justice and freedom post-Civil War, during the New Deal, and in the 1960s and ‘70s) “were responses to crises that unfolded in times when people dared to dream big, out loud, in public—explosions of utopian imagination” (p. 217).

Klein is right to challenge the pessimism that so easily sets in when we capitulate to the idea that radical change is politically impossible because of the success of decades of right-wing propaganda and organizing in the United States. Politics is a human enterprise, and therefore humans can change it. Utopian thinking in these realms is to be encouraged, as movements build the capacity to move us toward those goals.

My only critique of Klein’s book—and it is not a minor point—is that while reminding us not to accept artificial, self-imposed limits on social/economic/political fronts, it glosses over the much different status of the biophysical limits we must work within. Klein’s 2014 book on climate change demonstrated how thoroughly she understands what my late friend Jim Koplin called the “multiple, cascading ecological crises” of our time. But what are the implications of facing those crises?

Go back to Klein’s list of programs, which includes “100 percent renewable energy as quickly as technology allows,” alongside such goals as free tuition and a doubled minimum wage. These are very different kinds of projects that shouldn’t be conflated. By building a stronger left/progressive movement, greater equity in higher education and fairer wages could be won. But much more difficult challenges are hidden in “100 percent renewable energy.”

First, and most painful, is the recognition that no combination of renewable resources is going to power the world in which we now live—7.4 billion people, many living at some level of First World affluence. That doesn’t just mean the end of luxury lifestyles of the rich and famous, nor just the end of middle-class amenities such as routine air conditioning, cheap jet air travel, and fresh fruits and vegetables from the other side of the world. We are going to have to face giving up what we have come to believe we “need” to survive, what Wallace Stegner once termed “things that once possessed could not be done without.” If you have trouble imagining an example, look around at the people poking at their “smart” phones, or walk into a grocery store and survey the endless aisles of food kept “cheap” by fossil-fuel inputs.

If we give up techno-utopian dreams of endless clean energy forever, we face a harsh question: How many people can the Earth support in a sustainable fashion, living at what level of consumption?

There is no magic algorithm to answer that question. Everyone’s response will be a mix of evidence, hunches, and theology (defined not as claims about God but ideas about what it means to be human, to live a good life). I’m not confident that I have an inside track on this, but I’m fairly sure that the answer is “a lot fewer people than there are now, living at much lower levels of consumption.”

There are biophysical limits that we can’t wish away because they are inconvenient, and they limit our social/political/economic options. Those realities include not only global warming but an array of phenomena, all interconnected: accelerating extinction of species and reduction of biodiversity; over-exploitation of resources (through logging, hunting, fishing) and agricultural activities (farming, livestock, timber plantations, aquaculture), including the crucial problem of soil erosion; increase in sea levels threatening coastal areas; acidification of the ocean; and amplified, less predictable threats from wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves. We are no longer talking about localized environmental degradation but global tipping points we may have already reached and some planetary boundaries that have been breached. The news is bad, getting worse, and getting worse faster than most scientists had predicted.

The goal of traditional left politics—sometimes explicitly, often implicitly—has been to bring more people into the affluence of the First World, with the contemporary green version imagining this will happen magically through solar panels and wind turbines for all. Honest ecological evaluations indicate that in addition to the core left/progressive goal of equity within the human family, we have to think what kind of human presence ecosystems can sustain.

A simple example, but one that is rarely discussed: A national health insurance program that equalizes access to treatment is needed, but what level of high-tech medicine will we be able to provide in a lower-energy world? That question requires a deeper conversation that we have not yet had about what defines a good life and what kinds of life-extending treatment now seen as routine in the First World will not be feasible in the future. Instead of rationing health care by wealth, a decent society should make these difficult decisions collectively, and this kind of ethical rationing will require blunt, honest conversations about limits.

Here’s another example: Increasing the amount of organic food grown on farms using few or no petrochemical inputs is needed, but that style of agriculture will require many to return to a countryside that has been depopulated by industrial agriculture and consumer culture. If we are to increase what Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry call “the eyes-to-acres ratio”—more farmers available to do the work necessary to take better care of the land—how will we collectively make the decisions needed in moving people from cosmopolitan cities, which young people tend to find attractive, to rural communities that may seem less exciting to many?

My point is not that I have answers, but that we have yet to explore these questions in any meaningful depth, and the ecosphere is going to force them on us whether or not we are ready. If we leave such questions to be answered by the mainstream culture—within the existing distributions of wealth and power, based on that logic of domination/subordination—the outcomes will be unjust and inhumane. We need to continue left/progressive organizing in response to contemporary injustices, not only for the short-term progress that can be made to strengthen communities and protect vulnerable people but also to build networks and capacities to face what’s coming.

To ignore the ecological realities that make these questions relevant is not hope but folly; to not incorporate biophysical limits into our organizing is to guarantee failure. Until we can acknowledge the inevitability of this kind of transition—which will be unlike anything we’ve faced in human history—we cannot plan for it. And we cannot acknowledge that it’s coming without a shared commitment not only to hope but grief. What lies ahead—coming in a time frame no one can predict, but coming—will be an unprecedented challenge for humans, and we are not ready.

Saying no to the pathological domination/subordination dynamic at the heart of the dominant culture is the starting point. Then we say yes to the capacity for caring collaboration that we yearn for. But we also must accept that the systems of the larger living world—the physics and chemistry of the ecosphere—set the boundaries within which we say no and yes.

No one can predict when or how this will play out, but at this moment in history the best we can say about the fate of the human species is “maybe.”

We have a chance for some kind of decent human future, if we can face the challenges honestly: How do we hold on to the best of our human nature (that striving for connection) in the face of existing systems that glorify the worst (individual greed and human cruelty)? All that we dream is not possible, but something better than what we have created certainly is within our reach. We should stop fussing about hope, which seduces too many to turn away from difficult realities. Let’s embrace the joy that always exists in the possible, and also embrace the grief in what is not.

We must dare to dream big, and we must face our nightmares.

As I tell my students over and over, reasonable people with shared values can disagree, and friends and allies often disagree with my assessment of the ecological crises. So, let’s start with points of agreement: We must say no not only to Trump and the reactionary politics of the Republican Party, but no to the tepid liberal/centrist politics of the Democratic Party. And we must push the platform of the social democratic campaigns of folks like Sanders toward deeper critiques of capitalism, First-World imperialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy.

But all of that work will be undermined if we cannot recognize that remaking the world based on principles of care is limited by the biophysical realities on the planet, an ecosphere we have desecrated for so long that some options once available to us are gone, desecration that cannot magically be fixed by a technological fundamentalism that only compounds problems with false promises of salvation through gadgets.

No is not enough. But yes is not enough, either. Our fate lies in the joy and grief of maybe.

American Darkness Vs. Bhutan Brightness

As Donald Trump axes America’s commitment to the Paris Climate Accord, the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay finalizes Bhutan for Life, a fund that will give the country the funding required, meeting its commitment to remain carbon neutral forever.

As such, the Kingdom of Bhutan is making America look like a tired old retread jalopy/bucket of bolts that sputters and coughs along the roadway to doomsday. By ignoring the pressing issue of climate change/global warming, America looks insignificant, undignified, and very weak whereas Bhutan’s carbon neutral commitment looks relevant, sophisticated, and very strong.

In point of fact, Bhutan is a carbon sink, meaning it absorbs some of America’s and everybody’s CO2 for free. Bhutan cleanses the planet because its government demands it do so, clashing with Mr. Trump’s radical contorted vision of a dog-eat-dog world.

The Kingdom of Bhutan is located deep in the Himalayas nestled between China and India. The kingdom’s prime minister discusses a world standard for environmental preservation, aka: Earth for Life, in a TED talk widely praised as “powerful” and “fascinating” and “moving.” It is a brilliant speech.

In his speech the PM explains Bhutan’s commitment to remain carbon neutral. Correspondingly and initiated in 1970s, the country declares its commitment to GNH or Gross National Happiness as a substitute for GNP or Gross National Product. Effectively, Bhutan’s people have turned economic progress into a planet friendly endeavor. All development in Bhutan is driven by GNH. Education is free. Health care is free. Economic activity is based upon “development with value” for the environment. This is the antithesis of America as well as much of the world. Futurists much prefer using Bhutan as a model rather than America when writing about a livable world in the decades ahead.

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Article 5, Section 3 declares a minimum 60% of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time.  Singularly, Bhutan is one of the few global biodiversity hot spots in the world.

Bhutan’s economy generates 2.2 million tons of CO2 annually. However, its forests sequester more than 3xs that amount. Notably, Bhutan is a net carbon sink.

Additionally, the country exports clean renewable hydropower electricity.  This offsets an additional 6 million tons of CO2. By 2020, Bhutan will be exporting enough clean renewable electricity to offset 17 million tons of CO2. If they were to harvest one-half of their hydropower potential, they could offset 50 million tons of CO2 per year, and that is Bhutan’s goal. That is more CO2 than NYC generates in one year.

Wistfully, climate change brutally impacts Bhutan. The Himalayan glaciers are melting fast, causing flash floods and landslides. Years ago a glacial lake broke lose and flooded the country. Now, Bhutan has to contend with the looming danger of 2,700 glacial lakes that did not exist 20 years ago because global warming is melting Himalayan glaciers to the bone, 2,700 xs so far. Yet, Bhutan has done nothing to contribute to global warming but the country is bearing the brunt of the consequences of New York City’s congested traffic spewing CO2 like there is no tomorrow.

Worldwide, the drastic sudden loss of glaciers, happening way beyond natural variability, over time, will impact more than one billion people in Asia alone as they lose a major source for irrigation and drinking water. In South America, the World Bank issued a warning a couple of years ago of impending loss of irrigation and drinking water for inhabited areas surrounding the Andes Mountains. Thereby, ecological migrants, already a major problem in the Middle East, will become the norm in the world community, but to where?

Based upon the World Bank study:

If warming trends continue, the study concluded, many of the Andes’ tropical glaciers will disappear within 20 years, not only threatening the water supplies of 77 million people in the region, but also reducing hydropower production, which accounts for roughly half of the electricity generated in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.1

The climate change denial camp claims glacial melt is natures’ way, but it has been scientifically established that anthropogenic (human caused) global warming is hitting glaciers hard. A landmark study of 200,000 glaciers in the world ruled out natural causes behind the rapidity of melt:

In our data we find unambiguous evidence of anthropogenic contribution to glacier mass loss. What is happening in recent decades is not explicable by natural climate effects such as variations in solar radiation or volcanic activity.2

Problematically, glacial melt is accelerating ever faster and recklessly faster yet. For example, Mengke Glacier, one of China’s largest, retreated an average of 26’ annually from 1993-2005 but from 2005 to 2014 it averaged 54’ per year. Anthropogenic global warming, which Mr. Trump denies, has cranked up glacial melt by more than 100% since a little over one decade ago. That rate of change is well beyond the impact of natural variability. It’s huge acceleration with a cherry on top.

If the world does not hurry up installation of renewables, it risks suffering massive loss of sources for agriculture and drinking water and power generation. And, that likely guarantees worldwide chaos as angry mobs of distraught edgy people roam the planet in search of sustenance. This is already underway throughout the Middle East and southern Mediterranean region, which are drying up.

One obvious answer is carbon neutral policies using Bhutan as the archetype versus America as the deviant, odd, peculiar, really strange abnormality. How to do it? Bhutan provides free electricity to farmers so they will no longer have to use firewood to cook their food. The country subsidizes the purchase of electric vehicles. The government is going paperless. All of those efforts, and many more, are part of Clean Bhutan, a national program. They also plant trees throughout the country via Green Bhutan, another national program. Bhutan also has protected areas that are at the core of their carbon neutral strategy. These protected areas serve as carbon sinks or as explained by the PM “our lungs” wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and nature reserves.

The World Wildlife Fund is Bhutan’s principal partner in its journey of Bhutan for Life, a commitment to remain carbon neutral forever. Beyond those stupendous terrific spectacular efforts, Bhutan’s PM has a dream of Earth for Life, encompassing all nations. Well, almost all nations….

He’s likely not holding his breath for America’s participation. As far as that goes, Mr. Trump is villain number one to the spectacular majestic Himalayan glaciers. He and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria share a loathsome, and lonely, title: Global Warming Deniers, Par Excellence.

One has to wonder where the Philippines callous President Rodrigo Duterte stands since he and Mr. Trump are so much like two peas in a pod (footnote: Duterte signed the Paris pact on February 28, 2017 stating in a letter to the Senate: “After examining the text thereof, I find it advisable to accede to the Paris Agreement and seek the Senate’s concurrence thereto.”) Wow, he read it!

Now, if only… Oh well, forget it!

  1. “Retreat of Andean Glaciers Foretells Global Water Woes”, YaleEnvironment360, April 9, 2009.
  2. Marzeion, B.; Cogley, J.G.; Richter, K.; Parkes, D., 2014, “Attribution of global glacier mass loss to anthropogenic and natural causes”, Science345919-921, DOI: 10.1126/science.1254702.

Trump Follows Previous US Presidents Who Have Undermined Climate Action

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement follows the path of previous presidents who have undermined international climate agreements. We disagree with Trump, but it is important to understand his actions in the context of the history of the United States regarding previous climate agreements. Once again, the political problems in the US are bigger than Trump. His action brings greater clarity to the inability of the US government to confront the climate crisis and clarifies the tasks of people seeking smart climate policy.

The US Has Always Prevented Effective International Climate Agreements

The US has consistently blocked effective climate agreements because both parties in power have put the profits of big energy before the climate crisis when it comes to domestic and international policies. The Republicans proclaimed themselves the “drill baby drill” party while the Democrats are the “all of the above energy” party. Both slogans mean the parties seek to ensure US corporations profit from carbon energy. Both have supported massive oil and gas infrastructure and extreme energy excavation including the most dangerous forms; i.e., tar sands and fracking. Both parties have also supported wars for oil and gas. All of these positions will be viewed as extreme as the world confronts the great dangers of the climate crisis and the US will be deservedly blamed.

If we go back to the Clinton-Gore administration and the Kyoto Protocol we find the US pushing a “free market” trade in pollution credits, where corporations would buy the right to pollute in other places around the world, i.e. poor and developing countries. Gore made sure other countries understood the US’ position. As Mitchel Cohen writes:

Gore commandeered the Kyoto conference. The U.S. government, he said, would not sign the Accord – as limited as it was – if it imposed emissions reductions on industrial countries. Instead, he demanded that the rest of the world adopt his proposal that would allow industrial nations like the U.S. to continue polluting by establishing an international trade in carbon pollution credits. Gore’s “solution” – like Obama’s – was to turn pollution into a commodity and buy and sell it in the form of “pollution rights”. The free market trade in “pollution credits” would simply shift around pollution and spread it out more evenly without reducing the total amount of ozone-depleting greenhouse gases. It would allow the United States and other industrial countries to continue polluting the rest of the world.

The Kyoto Protocol failed. Rather than reducing climate gas emissions by the 5 percent target, there was a significant increase of 58 percent from 1990 to 2012.

In Copenhagen, the story is more complex but has the same result— the US undermined efforts for an agreement with enforceable reductions in climate emissions. The US role in Copenhagen become more fully understood when Edward Snowden leaked documents showing intense US spying on other nations participating in the climate talks. The most important spying was on the Danish government where the US leaked a draft of a plan for enforceable emissions standards; and on China where the US intruded into a meeting where the Chinese, Indians and others were working on a similar plan.Chinese negotiators entered into the talks willing to undertake mandatory emissions cuts but instead the US falsely turned China into the villain. The editor of The Ecologist, Oliver Tickell, summarized what happened:

Looking at the evidence as a whole there can be little doubt that the Copenhagen climate talks were deliberately and highly effectively scuppered by a ‘dirty tricks’ operation carried out by the NSA and other US security agencies – including the pivotal leak to The Guardian of the Danish text.

Following Snowden’s revelations, we know that they had the ability to do that in spades. They also had motives. The US wanted:

* to protect their politically powerful fossil fuel industries, and their right as a nation to carry on polluting;

* to avoid having to pay out billions of dollars in climate funding to developing countries;

* to deny China the global leadership role it sought to secure for itself, and instead leave it humiliated;

* to present the USA and its President Barack Obama as trying against the odds to secure a climate agreement, in the face of obdurate resistance by other countries.

The operation was, in other words, spectacularly successful. The rest of the world were played for suckers. China emerged with a bloody nose. And the US was free to carry on letting rip with its emissions.

Making this more confusing for people in the United States are the false statements of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign where she claimed the she and Obama came to the rescue and saved the world from China. This falsehood is described as an alternative reality by some of those who covered the meetings.

The US Undermines the Paris Agreement

We reported extensively on the Paris climate agreement when it happened noting that it was a small and inadequate step because the goals were not strong enough and there was no enforcement to ensure countries met their promised reductions in climate gasses. We were not alone in this analysis. In a newsletter after the agreement, COP21 An Opportunity For Climate Justice, If We Mobilize, we wrote:

Friends of the Earth International described the agreement as “a sham.” The New Internationalist, measuring the deal against the People’s Climate Test developed before COP21, described it as “an epic fail on a planetary scale.”  Climate scientist James Hansen said it was a “fraud . . . fake . . . bullshit.”

Analysts blamed the United States for the weakness of the agreement, writing COP 21 crafted “the deal according to US specifications in order to insulate Obama and the agreement from attacks.” Obama insisted that the 31-page agreement exclude emissions reductions targets and finance requirements from the legally binding parts of the deal because making those binding would have required US Senate approval, which he could not achieve due to the power of the oil, gas and coal lobbies’ influence, especially over the Republican Party. Also excluded from legal enforcement was a clause in the agreement that would expose the US to liability and compensation claims for causing climate change.

While we are critical of the shortcomings of the Paris agreement we also recognize it is a step to finally — after 21 years of trying — get an international agreement approved by all but two countries (Syria and Nicaragua). Dahr Jamail correctly summarizes the situation when he describes the Paris Accord as not going far enough but Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement endangering life on Earth. He points to the reaction of the world in response to Trump, with uniform opposition to his decision. The new French president Emmanuel Macron urged US scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs to come to France and help “make the world great again” by working to confront the climate crisis. Environmental groups focused on climate change were uniformly critical with some describing the action as making the US a rogue nation. Trump was already unpopular around the world, protested wherever he went, but now he has become a pariah.

The Task of the Movement is Clarified

There was an immediate reaction to Trump’s decision with protests at the White House and around the world, with mayors and governors saying they will abide by the climate pact and with business leaders leaving Trump’s business advisory board in protest. The climate justice movement, already growing, will build on this decision by growing even more. The long history of US climate inaction from both parties demonstrates we must build independent political power that undermines those who profit from the status quo and makes both parties face the reality of climate change.

Persistence is a key. The day before Trump’s announcement ExxonMobil shareholders and investors voted to require the company to report annually on climate-related risks to the corporation. This took decades of work by shareholders inside ExxonMobil. Similar shareholder resolutions are being passed by shareholders of other companies and other votes are very close to passage at energy utilities. The oil and gas industry must be held responsible for their role in the climate crisis. Litigation against ExxonMobil for hiding the truth about climate change for four decades is advancing in what will be the crime of the century with great liability.

There is tremendous momentum around transitioning to a clean energy economy. Jobs in clean energy in the US are at 800,000 and growing and around the world at 10 million workers. In the last three years there has been an 83 percent increase in solar jobs and 100 percent increase in wind jobs. Solar employs more people in the US than oil, gas and coal combined. This January all new energy came from solar and wind without any increase in oil, gas, nuclear and coal. Renewables now account for 18 percent of total installed operating capacity in the US. Renewables accounted for 64 percent of all new electrical generating capacity installed last year in the US. Researchers report that gas-powered cars will disappear in the next decade and the oil industry will collapse. Investor advisors are telling people to expect the demise of the industry. The US is just scratching the surface potential of this new economy.

Keep protesting because resistance to the oil, gas and coal agenda continues to be critical. People power has been reported by the industry as the greatest threat to their expansion. Infrastructure protests continue to grow at a time when science tells us to stop developing such infrastructure.  Similarly protests are occurring against oil trains turning into a nationwide resistance against the oil trains’ high risks to communities.

Another national effort is focused on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which serves as a rubber stamp for the oil and gas industry. For the past five months, the FERC has only had two commissioners out of five seats, leaving it without a quorum and unable to approve new fossil fuel projects. Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE) is working to prevent the conformation of new commissioners until FERC stops serving the oil and gas industry and starts serving the health and safety of communities impacted by its projects. On May 25, BXE disrupted a Senate hearing focused on the FERC commissioners. More actions are planned. Visit BeyondExtremeEnergy.org to get involved. There is something for everyone to do.

Another form of extreme energy is nuclear power. Indigenous communities in the Southwest are mobilizing to stop uranium mining on the rim of the Grand Canyon in a sacred site. If the Canyon Mine succeeds, toxic ore will be trucked 300 miles through tribal lands to a mill close to the Ute Mountain Utes. This month, a Haul No! Tour is being held to raise awareness and hold actions. There is a long legacy of poisoning the air, land and water from abandoned uranium mines throughout the US. On a related note, Ban the Bomb actions are planned on June 17 in support of a new treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons.

On the electoral front, Trump’s move ensures climate will be a centerpiece of the 2018 and 2020 elections as the US cannot actually withdraw from the Paris agreement until after the 2020 presidential race. We cannot allow the fraudulent debate commission (really a front for the two corporate parties) to not ask a single question about climate change.  There are massive majorities in favor of staying in the climate agreement – 70 percent of all voters, majorities in both major parties and among independents. In every state this is a majority position. But the reality is the US has a government owned by big energy and Wall Street investors who profit from climate pollution.

The current Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, attended a meeting in Saudi Arabia where ExxonMobil made a multi-billion dollar deal to explore gas off the coast of Mexico and build a refinery in Texas. The US government has been marinated in oil for decades, with presidents and vice presidents who have come from the oil, gas and related industries. Now is the time to change that. We need to make 2020 an election that produces a president who leads on effective actions to address the climate crisis.

Finally, we agree with Ken Ward, former deputy director of Greenpeace facing felony charges for shutting  down an oil sands pipeline, that Trump’s action is an opportunity. The fig leaf of the inadequate Paris agreement has been removed. The world can advance in creating an agreement not held back by the United States. The movement for a new energy economy must now build enough power to put in place real solutions to the climate crisis. As with many other issues, Trump’s actions crystallize the reality we have been facing for many presidential administrations so the movement now knows what it must do.

Indonesian Borneo is Finished: They Also Rape Orangutans

How destructive can man get, how ruthless, in his quest to secure maximum profit, even as he endangers the very survival of our planet?

The tropical forests of Kalimantan (known as Borneo in Malaysia), the third largest island in the world, have almost totally disappeared. Coal mines are savagely scarring the hills; the rivers are polluted, and countless species are endangered or already extinct.

It is all a terrible sight, whether you see it from the air or when driving (or walking) through the devastation that is taking place on the ground. The soil is black; it is often saturated with chemicals. Dead stubs of trees are accusatively pointing towards the sky. Many wonderful creatures, big and small, who used to proudly inhabit this tropical paradise, are now hiding in the depth of what remains of one of the largest tropical jungles on earth.

Engines are instantly roaring everywhere; huge equipment is continually cutting through something pure, or digging and finally transporting what has already been extracted, killed, or taken down mercilessly.

Ms. Mira Lubis, Senior Lecturer at Tanjungpura University, Pontianak in Western Kalimantan, summarizes the situation honestly but brutally:

I think we, the people of Borneo, have lost our sovereignty over our own space and resources, under the pressure of global capitalism… Apparently, we just became poor despite all the wealth that we have.

*****

One morning I looked from my hotel window in the city of Samarinda (East Kalimantan), spotting an enormous coal barge. It was sitting right in front of me, stubbornly, under the bridge (one of only two bridges connecting two shores of this steamy city of 850,000). The barge was too big to move, as the current appeared to be too strong. One push boat and one tugboat were trying to move it against the torrent, in vain.

Everything that can be extracted is taken away

I went downstairs and encountered a frustrated Mr. Jailani, a shipping manager employed by a coal company. “They were supposed to use a pilot boat, but there is none in sight,” he lamented. “This happens so often. Coal barges already hit this bridge on at least three occasions.”

Coal mines were exactly what I was looking for, but he dismissed my questions with a polite but firm answer:

You can never make it to the mines. They are off-limits. Guards are everywhere, and you’d have to have special permit to enter the area. And there is not much to see, anyway. Our company was recently awarded a prize for environmental consciousness.

I decided to ignore his words and polite warning. I went to Sambutan, a mining town a 40-minute drive from Samarinda. At some point, continuous and depressing urban sprawl gave way to a fully devastated landscape. Some images were striking: a man, alone, with a metal bar, single-handedly crumbling the entire side of a mountain, supposedly in order to sell stone for a local construction site.

Nearby, in a makeshift stall, a couple and a child were selling fruits. I asked them about the mountain and the man, and they replied with a certain amount of admiration:

We are selling coconuts here for almost two years. For as long as we are here, he has been here as well. He is a real daredevil. What he is doing is so dangerous, but he never stumbles, never falls.

Before Makroman town, we turn left, soon leaving the main road behind. Wherever one looks, the entire landscape is ruined: mountains mutilated beyond recognition, forests gone, and huge tracts of land “cleared.”

Despite what I already witnessed in all corners of Indonesia for years, I’m still not prepared for what soon opens in front of my eyes: the endless and horrifying sprawl of natural calamity: dozens of square kilometers of dust, noise, and mud.

I try to avoid 100-ton trucks, which almost run my car off the path. They are transporting coal. I see filthy processing plants. I see old, rusty equipment scattered all around the area.

Suddenly I realize that I’m “there,” in the middle of the notorious ‘PT CEM’ (Cahaya Energi Mandiri), a giant Indonesian-South Korean coalmining joint venture.

I’m not supposed to be here, and to see all this with my own eyes. But I’m entering the mining area with a car equipped with local license plates. It is right before 1pm – the end of lunch hour. Checkpoints are unattended. I step on the gas, and dash in. Guards will soon return, but it will be too late to stop me. My rented car is already cutting through dirt and dust, progressing towards its goal.

Moonscape of PT CEM

PT CEM has operated in this area since 2008, and it counts on mining concessions covering approximately 1,600 hectares, in the area of Sungai Siring, Samarinda.

In Indonesia, the images of natural disasters like this one are hardly ever publicized. Mining in Papua, Kalimantan, Sumatra, and elsewhere brings in billions of dollars annually, into both government coffers and into the deep pockets of corrupt individuals. This country, with the fourth-largest population on earth, is producing very little, but is extracting in an unbridled manner all that is still available above and below the ground. National mass media is fully subservient to both local and foreign business interests.

*****

The native population is stuck with low-paying jobs and almost no benefits. The environment is “changing,” pollution is reaching epic proportions, but there is very little awareness, even among the poorest of the poor, of the dreadfulness of the situation.

On the way out from the mining site, three men (sub-contractors of PT CEM) are trying to fix their broken truck. They speak, first reluctantly, then more and more openly:

The pay here is very low. Our basic salary consists of US$115 per month, which is below official minimum wage. We have no health insurance, and no housing allowances.

In nearby Makroman, Ms. Suwarti, a housewife married to a farmer, explains:

We have two lots, each with 200 square meters, producing bananas and other crops, but the mining company wanted to use it. They offered compensation of only US$110. If we’d refuse, the company would still grab and use the land, but would give us no compensation. After all, coal that was extracted from our plot, they filled the pit but now nothing can grow there, anymore. The land is ruined. We were very angry, but what could small people like us do?

It is like this all over the area, all over Kalimantan, all over the entire Indonesian archipelago.

People are often confused; only few of them are fully aware of the situation.

Ms. Ruswidah owns a store near Muara Badak. She appears to be content with the increasing number of palm oil plantations:

I think it is good that there are palm oil plantations here because there are many people out of jobs after an oil company VICO closed down its operation here. Business is very bad for me now. Now, at least there is something replacing VICO.

Then she continues:

Palm oil plantation is good for the environment around here. Why? Because after they set up this plantation here, there are no more forest fires here. I have already seen three big forest fires in my life, and I’m only 36 years old. Before, bad people would just burn the forest down, but now at palm oil plantations, they have guards.

What Ms. Ruswidah doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know, is that most of the forest fires in the area were triggered in order to “clear” the land for either palm oil plantations or for mining operations.

Broken infrastructure and kids begging

Few kilometers further down the road, I speak to Ms. Nurliah, who used to work for PT. Kelapa Taruk, a palm oil plantation owned by Korean. Now she is considered an “outsource worker”:

They used to pay me Rp. 76,300/day (US$5.7). But now, they pay us according to our performance. They pay us Rp. 200,000 per hectare, and Rp. 100,000 for chemical spraying per hectare.

The Korean company is using the customary lands that belongs to the village. Usually they negotiate a 25-year contract. And there is always some profit sharing scheme with the village, but I don’t know the details. They don’t share this information with us, laborers.

Recently, the Korean company hired a Javanese manager. Since he is in charge, the conditions of our jobs here are becoming worse and worse. Now for the whole month we probably get paid only about Rp. 1,5 million (US$112). They don’t construct school and don’t provide health insurance. I don’t think we get any benefits from having palm oil plantations here.

*****

Mr. Yhenda Permana, director of LNG-producing company PT Badak NGL, which is based in Kalimantan, says:

I’m very sad to see destruction of Kalimantan. If we look from above, the island is already ‘bald,’ dotted with black toxic lakes. They burn the forest with, even with orangutans still living there. Local people do it, but who is behind them? Protected forests are also logged out and burned. Afterwards, in most of cases, palm oil is planted.

One of the national forests I visited, symbolically named ‘Bukit Soeharto’ (Suharto’s Hill) is almost gone. I ask an old local lady, Ms. Halbi, who is selling basic goods at the side of the road, whether there is any respect for native protected forests on this island:

We are allowed to grow some plants here. Even I do. Pepper and dragon fruit. It is not our land, but nobody does anything to stop us.

Stubs and stubs, everywhere, ‘replacing’ magnificent trees, in what used to be one of the greatest areas, often described as “the lungs of the planet Earth.”

Ms. Windrati Kaliman, former lecturer at INSTIPER (Plantation Technology Institute) Yogyakarta, has her theory on the matter:

Massive deforestation accelerated after ‘de-centralization.’ Now local governments are free to give permits for logging. Rainforest is being converted into palm oil plantations and mines. In theory, protected forests and parks cannot be used for logging, but in reality they are: In Kalimantan, but also in Aceh, Riau, and many other parts of the country.

It is not only trees that are disappearing, and not only people who are living in increasing misery.

The legendary Borneo orangutan is almost extinct. And so are bears, countless species of birds, and insects.

Family of orangutans now in safety

In Samboja Orangutan Sanctuary & Rehabilitation Center, Mr. Andreas (a caretaker), can barely hide his outrage:

You cannot imagine what is being done to these intelligent and fascinating apes. This one – we rescued him from a timber plant. Just for fun they had him chained under the generator, for years. As a result, he lost his hearing and suffers from brain damage. It is very common in Kalimantan to hunt for female orangutans, shave them and sell them for sex to desperate forestry workers. It is like rape, like horrible slavery. Remember, these apes have 97% same DNA as humans, and as humans, they have 4 types of blood.

I walk around the Center, observing from the distance these fascinating, melancholic creatures. So many awful stories and fates! This used to be a paradise on Earth: for apes, for other mammals, for butterflies, plants and hundreds of different trees. This used to be “the end of the world” and the beginning. Oh Borneo, what is left of you now?

Instead of tropical forests palm oil plantations everywhere

I traveled through several parts of Indonesian Kalimantan, around Samarinda and Balikpapan, as well as Pontianak. I testify that I saw those “black lakes and rivers,” as well as countless open pits, and palm oil plantations, almost everywhere. I flew over hundreds of kilometers of hellish wastelands. I listened to people suffering from cancer, from respiratory diseases, but above all, from hopelessness.

Ms. Mira Lubis confirmed what I discovered:

Now the Kapuas River and its tributaries are increasingly polluted by all types of waste, ranging from household waste, pesticides, fertilizers to mercury, which is mainly dispersed because of mining activities and large scale palm oil plantations. This creates a serious threat to the survival of communities along the river network…

As Mr. Yhenda Permana concluded:

Can you imagine, this once stunningly beautiful island with deep native forests and thousands of living creatures, is now converted and ‘dedicated’ to only one crop: palm oil?

The tragedy is not only devastating Kalimantan, but almost the whole of Indonesia. This is what has been happening to this country with a deep and ancient culture, and enormous natural beauty, ever since the 1965 US-sponsored coup, and re-introduction of savage capitalism, feudalism, and unrestrained corruption.

Pertamina oil rigs at sunset

Not much is left. Who knows whether anything at all will remain here in one or two decades from now? If not, then what will happen? But the savage capitalism does not bother to ask such questions. It consumes, it plunders everything, while it can. In Indonesia, it seems that there is absolutely nothing that can stop it!

• Original, shorter version, first published by RT

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Why Aren’t Corporations Required to be Socially Responsible?

Imagine if a corporation had to justify its existence beyond making money for capitalists. What would happen if a social balance sheet, as well as financial one, had to be filed every year and companies continually in a deficit position would eventually disappear?

Consider Barrick Gold. Would the world be better off if the world’s largest gold miner ceased to exist?

Pick a continent and you will find a Barrick run mine that has ravaged the environment and spurred social tension. Present at the company’s recent shareholders meeting in Toronto were two women from Papua New Guinea who say they were raped by Barrick security. A few hundred women have been sexually assaulted by company employees near its Porgera mine in the Oceanian country. While the company has provided nominal compensation to some sexual assault victims, in 2011 Barrick founder Peter Munk dismissed the matter in a Globe and Mail interview, claiming “gang rape is a cultural habit” in Papua New Guinea.

Three weeks before the shareholder meeting Barrick’s Veladero mine in Argentina spilled cyanide solution into a handful of rivers in the western San Juan province. This was the third major cyanide spill at the mine in 18 months. An Argentinian court fined Barrick US$9.3-million for spilling one million litres of cyanide into five rivers in September 2015 and is set to impose further fines and restrictions on its operations over its failure to complete mandated improvements that could have prevented the third spill. 270,000 people have signed a petition calling on Argentina’s president to shutter the Veladero mine.

In 2014, reported the National Observer, Barrick dismissed a senior engineer allegedly for raising “serious safety concerns” about the Veladero mine. Raman Autar later sued Barrick in Canadian court for wrongful dismissal.

It’s unknown whether Autar’s warning could have prevented the cyanide spills, but it’s clear the company has repeatedly ignored environmental concerns and targeted those trying to curtail its ecological devastation. In 2009 former Argentine environment minister Romina Picolotti told a foreign affairs committee meeting to discuss bill C300, which would have reduced Ottawa’s support for the worst corporate offenders abroad, that her staff was “physically threatened” after pursuing environmental concerns about Barrick. “My children were threatened. My offices were wiretapped. My staff was bought and the public officials that once controlled Barrick for me became paid employees of Barrick Gold.”

On the other side of the globe the Toronto company is pressuring the Tanzanian government to abandon an effort to increase the domestic economic benefits from its natural resources. A majority-owned Barrick subsidiary, Acacia Mining is threatening to withdraw from the East African country if the government doesn’t rescind a measure to halt the export of unprocessed ore. Tanzania wants foreign companies to build more gold smelters in the country. By shuttering its operations Barrick is hoping the short-term loss in employment will pressure the government to back off of its efforts to increase the country’s stake from its natural resources.

Last year a Tanzanian tribunal ruled that Barrick organized a “sophisticated scheme of tax evasion” in the East African country. As its Tanzanian operations delivered over US$400-million profit to shareholders between 2010 and 2013, the Toronto company failed to pay any corporate taxes, bilking the country out of $41.25 million.

Two weeks ago Canadian Journalists for Free Expression published a statement decrying the “persecution…journalists in Tanzania are facing… for reporting on mines operated by Acacia Mining.” One reporter fled the country after being threatened by individuals reportedly associated with the company and another received a notice from the government to stop reporting on Acacia.

Since 2006 security and police paid by Barrick have killed at least 65 people at, or in, close proximity, to the Toronto company’s North Mara in Tanzania. Most of the victims were impoverished villagers who scratch rocks for tiny bits of gold and who mined these territories prior to Barrick’s arrival.

Within Canada Barrick is a right wing political force. Benefiting from Canadian aid money, Export Development Canada financing and diplomatic support, the company has aggressively opposed moves to withhold diplomatic and financial support to Canadian companies found responsible for significant abuses abroad. Barrick is part of regional corporate lobby groups the Canadian Council of the Americas and the Canadian Council on Africa, as well as being represented on the Senate of the Canadian International Council and the board of the C.D. Howe Institute. The company has sponsored various other right wing groups and events.

Founder and long-time Barrick CEO Peter Munk has provided at least $60 million (he receives tax credits for donations) to right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser Institute and Frontier Centre for Public Policy as well as the Munk Debates and University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2010 the Fraser Institute gave Munk its most prestigious award “in recognition of his unwavering commitment to free and open markets around the globe.”

If it had to justify its existence beyond making money for capitalists Barrick, which mainly produces a mineral of limited social value anyways, would have ceased to exist and the world would be better off.

What about the Kids?

For many of us, it is insanely difficult to wrap our hearts and minds around the prospects which lie ahead for humanity. The list of potential calamities is long and varied, and the scenarios that rise to the top of the ‘most probable today’ column shift all the time. Are we looking at full-blown nuclear war, or will it ‘just’ be Fukushima cesium making its way into our food and water? Could it be rising acidified oceans, unpredictable weather fueled by hotter seas, or maybe a methane ‘burp’ that leads to an abrupt end to agriculture?  And then, even if we somehow evade all of these and manage to survive, what about the social and political chaos that is being fomented by right-wing ‘populists’ around the globe?  What will happen when climate refugees are either: (a) us, or, (b) camping in large numbers in our backyards?  Where will water come from? Food?  Security of any sort seems less than certain looking into the decade ahead.

It is entirely possible that things will unfold in a manner none of us can foresee and if that happens, then we will have to be nimble and respond accordingly. No guarantees, no promises. We are in uncharted waters and not only is there no easy answer for the collective, but we must all find our own way, both in this limbo time, when for many of us, things continue pretty much as before, and in the years ahead, as the status quo collapses.

This time it becomes exponentially more difficult for those who have children and grandchildren, those who love individual kids and hold them close in their lives. It is one thing to contemplate the breakdown of natural and social structures known throughout our lives, to allow oneself to consider—and to grieve—the destruction of so much of the planet and those, human and not, who have made it their home. It is another thing altogether to feel into the suffering, the loss and the violation of hopes and dreams that likely await many children, those who have yet to really begin to live their lives.

I speak here of the children of privilege. Clearly, there are already too many children on this planet-of-plenty whose hopes and dreams are limited to the modest wish for a bowl of millet, the continued well-being of a single parent, the departure of the ominous droning overhead. But in various parts of the developed world, there are children whose lives appear untainted by the shadows that are beginning to loom over all of us, acknowledged or not. Many parents (as well as aunts, uncles, grandparents—including the honorary sort), are loathe to look at our global circumstances head-on simply because they cannot bear to confront what the current reality bodes for the little ones, the innocents, whom they love and cherish.

Writing about our prospects of survival as a species has invited correspondence with many deeply thoughtful and loving people; one of the most impossible and important questions I have been posed is “How do I raise my kids knowing what I know about the future of our planet?” Obviously, teaching your child to recycle and pick up litter isn’t enough anymore. Some parents wonder if there is anything concrete to do—shall we buy rural land, rain-collection barrels and a goat? There are those who have the luxury to consider such a course; others are where they are and will stay there to weather the storms or perish in them. But as awareness of our plight reaches consciousness, all adults who love ‘their’ children struggle to understand how to hold the information they have, what to share and how to share it in a way that both protects and prepares the children for an unknowable future. How much is too much to tell your joyful six-year old? What do you say to the twelve-year old, exuberant with enthusiasm for life, planning for college and career and family?  How do you prod the eighteen-year old, who reads the news and ponders apocolypse, to finish his college application or résumé?  Do you even try?

There are no pat answers. We have never been here, precisely, before. Yes, we can look back in history for ideas and we can consult students of the mind and spirit for guidance.  But ultimately, I believe that the best way to discern a path through this time, to hold your child’s hand lovingly in your own while the ride gets wilder and wilder, is to bring the conversation out of the dark and put it on the table where we may all contribute. There is deep and totally understandable fear abounding, and fear often begets denial. Our denial, however, does our kids a great disservice. No matter how painful it is for us to look at the facts, we owe our children at least that much courage. Remember, young kids ‘read’ feelings. Our words, no matter how reassuring, mean nothing if what we broadcast from our hearts is out of alignment. Talking with one another, as adults, about the challenge of how to raise our kids on the brink of planetary collapse is urgent and imperative. Sharing ideas, feelings, experiences and strategies invites creativity and innovation, both of which we sorely need if we are to do our very best by our children.

In order to invite discussion, I will offer a few thoughts that are currently guiding my parenting.  I hope they can be seen and used as a jumping off point, a catalyst to consider your own values and how you might best weave them into what is quite possibly the most potent and important relationship you are likely to have with another human being.

Before I dive into particulars, I want to note a couple of overarching principles. They may seem obvious and simplistic, but they are also foundational, so please bear with me. First of all, everything is dependent on the child in question—who they are temperamentally, how old and how mature, what their strengths are and where they find support, what and whom they love and treasure. You know your child better than anyone else and if there was ever a time when our kids needed to be deeply seen for and as themselves, it is now.

Secondly, the surrounding circumstances are paramount to how you approach your child.  If you live in California as I do, you teach your children to take short showers, and to learn to love parched golden-brown lawns. You may use public transportation or limit unnecessary driving. But for the average fourth-grader in this part of the world whose parents have legal status, the sky isn’t falling. Yet. If you lived with your family in Fukushima Prefecture, or you and your kids were recently displaced by flooding and mudslides in Colombia, you are likely facing something more complex in terms of the narrative you share. The point is that we will all be facing more difficult times, and as the adults, we must gauge our parenting to the current circumstances as well as to the individual child.

Finally, a great deal depends on how you view this time.  Is it catastrophe or opportunity?  Can you find ways to authentically and honestly embrace the challenges and the gifts of the changes that are fast approaching?  You set the tone for your children. With that in mind, here are a few of the tenets that I lean on to help me find my way:

#1. Know yourself and your own feelings.  Seek out your own responses to the global crises. Whatever we deny or repress in ourselves will tend to create a stiltedness, which can in turn inspire worry in our kids. There is no right way to feel—ever–but knowing your own feelings means you are better prepared to both talk and listen authentically to your children.

#2. Never lie.  It is about respect. (They will likely see through you, anyway.) Our children are sovereign souls who are here for reasons we cannot fully know. They may be small, or young, or naïve, and sometimes dreadfully uncooperative, but as fellow humans, they always deserve our respect. Which means: do not lie to them. Truth is nuanced, and this is at the nub of what we are exploring here: how to be honest in the most loving and responsible way possible.

#3. Never impose your personal truths.  We are likely to have strong opinions at times, and we may be very certain about what will or will not transpire in the future. It can be tempting to pass these truths on to our kids, to stand firmly in the sea of chaos, but it is important, in my view, to make sure that everything we do share is based upon the child’s interests rather than our own. Consider silence, consider waiting for questions. We are people first, parents next, and sometimes it is very difficult to see the line that separates our own needs from our kids’.  It is worth some extra vigilance in this arena.

#4. Tell your children the ‘right truth’ to the best of your ability.  While you may know how things look to you and which pieces of the puzzle are clear and thus, potentially reassuring for you, these may not be the ‘right truths’ for your child.  (I shudder at the echo of ‘alternative facts’ here, but there is a profound difference in the relationship. As parents we are in charge of vetting information and presenting it in the way it is most likely to help our kids prosper and thrive. Even now. Especially now.) Know your kids’ developmental capacities. Listen to your child’s questions and comments to hear the subtext. Ask questions before you tell them the ‘truth.’ Try to discern what it is that they are really asking for, under the words they are using. What truth can you share that meets them where they are?  Different kids, different ages, different circumstances are all going to play into the ‘right truth’ and it will change, continue to evolve as the child does, and as life does.

#5. Allow plenty of space and support for any and all reactions, including none. Let your child know that it is good for her to feel anything and everything that she does. And follow her lead. Be there if that is what she wants—a lap, a hug, a talk, a cry together, a round of teacups smashed in the back garden—but beware of prioritizing any need you might have to make it all okay.  Some kids are going to want to dance or watch a movie or play basketball. And not talk. Honor their wisdom in dealing with impossibility.

#6. Offer something to replace that which is lost.  We are not especially good at giving things up wholesale. Most smokers need gum or hard candy to replace relinquished cigarettes. When things get really bad, wherever on this planet we are living, our kids are going to lose a lot. We must do what we can to offer them something to staunch the pain of that loss. Not false assurances, not mental methadone, but something simultaneously honest and supportive. Something that helps them to stay upright, to know how deeply they are cherished. Preliminary ideas include: making lots of time and space for joyful activities together (in spite of everything); being in nature; celebrating your child aloud and often for who he is and his amazing contributions to this life with specificity; service, possibly as a family, to others whose needs are greater.

#7.  Listen and learn.  Our children carry wisdom we often overlook and discount.  It is their lives which hang in the balance; in these times it is especially critical to understand their vision, to learn what we can from them, and to honor their right to carve a path of their own design. They may, after all, save the world.

These thoughts just barely skim the surface, and don’t begin to address the incredible emotional intensity involved for parents and children alike. They are offered simply as a catalyst to broader and richer conversations. I urge anyone who feels moved: follow the thread, connect with others, contemplate your values, and consider carefully what you are going to give your kids as the world alters.

Most of us want dearly for the children we love to have a broad range of choices and a full and vibrant life. But we are embarking on a collective journey of learning about limitation. When I set myself the exercise of clearing away all the ‘stuff’ of contemporary life, the wish I am left with, what most of us want for our kids—at minimum– is to hold them close and keep them safe. Much as we long for it, this has always been beyond a parent’s reach at some point or another. We do what we can, and we do the best we can.  Ultimately, heartbreakingly, we cannot protect them from life. But we can love them, and we can bring an ardent consciousness to our love, as well as a profound gratitude, moment to moment, for the mysterious and beautiful path we walk together as humans connected one to another, old and young, on this incredible planet, for so long as it is given to us to do so.