Category Archives: Forest Fires

Diary of a Smoke Refugee

As Arun Gupta tweeted the other day, “Pardon the catastrophic global warming, we now return you to your regularly scheduled state violence.”

It’s been quite a week here in Oregon. I know there are plenty of other horrors happening in the world. The invisible ones are the worst. Like tens of millions of children in the US going to bed hungry every night in recent weeks, or the tap water in Flint and Gaza continuing to be undrinkable, or the many people every night in Yemen and India dying alone at home of disease, knowing it’s pointless to go to a hospital that has no medicine and no equipment. The visible horrors are more dramatic, more newsworthy, and also deadly for some, devastating for many – Sudan and Alabama underwater. Siberia, California, and Oregon on fire.

The fires here in Oregon have further exposed the deep divisions in this society, as have all the other previous or ongoing catastrophes, from the 2008 financial crisis to the current global pandemic. They have also further exposed a government that, at every level – federal, state, county, and municipal – is deeply entwined with both corruption and incompetence. To be clear, I say this not to disparage the heroic efforts of firefighters and others in the course of this ongoing tragedy. As with the one thousand medical workers who have lost their lives in the course of their efforts to respond to the Covid-19 crisis in the US, the firefighters and others on the ground doing all kinds of mutual aid also suffer the consequences of corruption and incompetence higher up, for which they are by no means responsible.

Putting the broader current reality into some bit of context:

Huge swaths of the western US are made up of land that is controlled by the federal government, either by the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. The job of the Forest Service is to make the forests available for corporations to profit from logging it all, and then they use federal tax money afterwards to deal with the resultant erosion, mudslides, mercury poisoning, and destructive fires that result. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) makes federal land available for corporations to drill for oil and mine for coal, uranium and other things.

While old-growth forests also burn, the forests aren’t destroyed by them – on the contrary, they need fire to prosper. But over a century of reckless logging practices throughout the region and beyond has resulted in a patchwork of tree farms, which are very vulnerable to being completely destroyed by fire.

The land that’s not controlled by federal agencies is controlled by more local authorities, and, of course, much of it is privately owned. Real estate investment, speculation, and development are a huge part of the country’s economy, along with property management. In the same way that the main job of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management is to facilitate the exploitation of the land and forests by private corporations, the main job of local government authorities, it seems, is to facilitate real estate transactions.

After decades of government dis-investment in housing and the ongoing deregulation of the housing market, coupled with successful corporate-led campaigns to ban the practice of rent control in 48 out of 50 states, including Oregon, housing has become increasingly unaffordable in cities across the country, very much including all the major urban hubs of the west coast. The unaffordability of housing has resulted in people moving ever further from the urban centers, into areas that were undeveloped, as they say, until recently. First Portlanders unable to stay in their city were moving to Gresham and Oregon City. Then they were moving further out, to Molalla and Estacada, once the idea of the commute taking over an hour became a concept people were ready to swallow, if it meant the possibility of being able to afford decent housing.

Putting the past two weeks into the context of more recent events:

Since the videotaped murder of George Floyd by clearly sadistic police in Minneapolis on May 25th, Portland has been one of many cities across the US and the world where people have been protesting in one form or another, usually in multiple parts of the city at the same time, every day, against police brutality and racism, and increasingly around related issues that disproportionately impact the poor and people of color, such as access in this society to things like housing, health care, and, increasingly, food.

The protest movement here in Portland involves people from all walks of life, of all ages, from all the various racialized groups, genders, etc. The protests have been continuously met with massive police brutality. As time goes on, people are becoming more and more organized, with different networks becoming well established, taking on crucial responsibilities such as providing protesters with food, water, and medical care. Other groups take on the responsibility of making sure there’s a clear barrier around the gatherings, to make it harder for people to drive into the ranks of those assembled with motor vehicles. Others try to provide some semblance of security, keeping a lookout for suspicious characters laden with assault rifles and American flags, such as the member of Patriot Prayer who was killed in the course of the extremely tense atmosphere of the violent Trump Cruise that came to Portland on August 29th, during which time the police largely absented themselves, and allowed uncontrolled combat between fascists and antifascists to take place in the streets of the city. Michael Reinoehl was involved with doing security at the protests, and had been for a long time. Five days later, unmarked police vehicles pulled up at the apartment where Michael was staying, outside of Lacey, Washington, and executed him right there, in a hail of bullets.

Oh and, of course, then there’s also the pandemic, the various societal impacts of which probably need no introduction by now.

On the first weekend of September, a week after the deadly, 600-vehicle Trump Cruise, another Trump Cruise was planned. Hundreds of pickup trucks with over-sized US flags on the back of them, making them look a lot like those pickup trucks that get rigged up as mobile rocket launchers by groups in Afghanistan or Libya, were back in the Portland suburb of Clackamas, a county named after the Indian nation whose unceded land we are occupying now. So soon after they invaded Portland, so soon after the execution of Michael Reinoehl, this time they went from Clackamas to the state capital of Salem, bypassing the regional center of resistance that Portland has become.

By September 7th, the extreme wind event teamed up with the years of so-called drought, downed power lines, a multitude of dry lightning strikes, a century of terrible forestry practices, and decades of the cancerous suburban expansion caused by the exponential rise in the cost of housing over that time, all came together to cause the massive fires already ravaging California to do the same in Oregon. I was in Cathedral Park, where one of the last events related to Black Lives Matter was taking place, before all protest activities basically took a solid week off to focus on the apocalypse.

Mic Crenshaw and other great local hip-hop artists were performing, after the speeches were over. Several hundred were gathered beneath the very high bridge that is above the park, and the sky was completely shrouded in smoke from the fires that had begun burning around much of the state. Several people were talking from the stage about threats from fascists that people had been getting, folks threatening to come to the park and be violent. The decision was made to end the event early, but it continued, with a sort of “stay at your own risk” caveat. Some people left, but most stayed until all the performers on the sound truck were done.

I think there was one other, very scarcely-attended protest after that, before priorities really shifted. As large parts of Oregon were under evacuation orders, those being evacuated needed all kinds of assistance. The groups who had been providing food, water, medical care, and other things, generally began mobilizing to do what they could to help out with the broader effort that various elements of the government, churches, the Red Cross, and so on, were involved with, in terms of providing for basic needs.

The Trump Cruise elements of society were surely involved with fighting fires and feeding people, I’m just assuming, but some of them were and are also involved with setting up illegal roadblocks in various parts of the state, looking for people they consider suspicious, which seems to include anyone wearing black, and people of color with big cameras, such as OPB photojournalist, Sergio Olmos. One road block mentioned in the news was in Corbett, east of Portland, where I have recorded most of the albums I’ve put out since I moved to Portland 13 years ago, at Big Red Studio, which was even closer to being evacuated during the Eagle Creek conflagration of 2017.

As fires were increasingly burning in the less populated areas of Clackamas, threatening the biggest towns in the county, leveling some of the smaller ones, and threatening the main urban center of the state, Portland, just to the north of Clackamas County, local officials here in Multnomah County and in the city of Portland were very active on Twitter, and presumably in other media, encouraging us all to download an app called Everbridge, so we would make sure to get emergency notifications related to the spreading and uncontrolled fires, and possible evacuation plans.

Dwelling on this point for a moment: when a child is abducted and is being transported in a car, or when Portland was under a curfew because of what they call riots, my wife, my teenage daughter, and I all receive text notifications on our phones about these things. They come in with a loud noise, and then you have to look at the message before you can do anything else with the phone.

Given that the state seems to obviously have the capacity to send push notifications to residents of the state with phones, why do we now need to download this app? Who knows. But what can quickly be ascertained by anyone with half a brain are the following: on the Google Play store, the app has been downloaded 500,000 times or more, which is also an indication that it has been downloaded by fewer than a million people. Reviewers give the app a 2.3 star rating, with widespread complaints that it just doesn’t work. Since County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury was encouraging everyone to download the app, I did so, as did my wife, Reiko. She has an iPhone, I have an Android. We’re both proficient at this sort of technology, and neither of us could make the app work. Neither of us have ever received a notification from this app since we downloaded it and registered ourselves with it to the best of our abilities. Neither of us have received any other notifications on our phones regarding the ongoing fires through any other means, either.

In Jackson County, in southern Oregon, where the cities of Medford and Ashland are, and where the suburb of Phoenix used to exist, incredibly, the existing emergency alert system that interrupts local radio and TV programs to tell us what’s going on, was never used. Also never used were the emergency text notification system that has been used before in the state of Oregon, as I mentioned previously. The only notification system they were using was this app, Everbridge, which we were all supposed to have downloaded by now. But as you can see on the app store, even if close to a million people may have downloaded the app, that’s only a fourth of this state’s population. And the app doesn’t work, as anyone who tried to use it might have discovered long before this catastrophe.

My friend Jason Houk was one of thousands of people in Oregon whose homes were completely destroyed in the fires. His home was in Jackson County.

By the weekend of September 11th, the air quality in cities up and down the west coast was the worst in the world. All of us who have for months now been getting a crash course in epidemiology have lately been learning about the existence of something called the Air Quality Index. As the business press has had to discover new adjectives to describe the catastrophically dire state of the economy, so the meteorologists have had to start inventing new categories of bad weather. For the first time, that weekend the local air was no longer being described as “hazardous.” It had now graduated to a new term: “smoke.” It was no longer being called a type of air, it was a new gaseous substance with a different name altogether.

I looked upon my wife and teenage daughter with a combination of admiration and horror as both of them expressed a lack of interest in getting out of the city for a while. Fires were raging in the county just to the south, the air was virtually unbreathable, all activities that any of us had been involved with had been canceled for the time being, such as my protests, such as the toddler’s preschool, the teenager’s rock gym, my wife’s tennis sessions. But out of a sense of solidarity with the majority of the population of the city that was unable to get away from the smoke because they were too busy trying to keep their jobs or couldn’t afford a hotel room, they didn’t want to leave.

Admiration aside, I had different priorities. When two of my aunts teamed up to offer to pay for us to get a hotel room anywhere where the air quality was significantly better than Portland, until things improved, I insisted we leave town. Which worked with my wife and our youngest children, but not with the teenager, who insisted on staying in Portland with her other mother, sealing the doors and windows, and staying inside.

The four of us bailed last Sunday and headed to Astoria. I had studied Air Quality Index maps and fire maps, which all confirmed what I already suspected. In Oregon, the main fires were in the massive valley that goes up and down the state, on the other side of the mountain range that is beside the coast. The climate has always been much drier to the east of that mountain range, and then to the east of the next range, it’s desert. This is the case in all the three western states. This thin strip along the edge of the continent is kept moist and foggy by big weather patterns that tend not to change much, even in recent decades. The mountain range keeps the fog on the west side of it, and the hotter it gets east of the range, the more that keeps the fog from spilling over, thus trapping it along the coast. The northwest tip of the state of Oregon, the city of Astoria, has weather very reminiscent of the west coast of Ireland, for the same sorts of reasons having to do with what happens when trade winds meet land masses.

If you watched the weather reports, you would have thought the air was terrible throughout the western US. If you looked more closely, you’d see there were exceptions. My aunts, and others, were encouraging us to fly to the east coast – to the northeast, specifically, where I grew up, which thus far is well insulated from fires, if not from floods. Good that we didn’t consider that option, out of a combination of fear of flying during an out-of-control pandemic and various other considerations, because the airport soon closed to most flights anyway, due to the smoke.

We drove on the sparsely-populated streets, past the countless tents and the increasingly gray faces of the people still living in them, to the highway that leads north and west, and ends where the continent ends, in Astoria. As we got to the other side of the last of the mountains, the grass and all the other vegetation got greener, and soon we were at the ocean, enshrouded in fog which smelled only slightly of campfire. A slightly smoky fog, rather than just billowing, orange-tinged ash, passing as air.

The real refugees are those whose homes were destroyed. We were just temporary refugees, and very privileged ones. We had a sponsor paying for a hotel room. But this is also the case with refugees from Syria or Honduras or anywhere else. The ones with the means to escape are the lucky ones. The ones who can escape, in a private car, to a hotel room, are luckier still.

To compound the sense of guilt I was already feeling, as we settled into our hotel room, I heard from other folks who had already escaped to Astoria or some other town on the north coast, but who were heading back into the smoke because they could no longer afford the extortionist rates the hotels were charging. During our five days in Astoria, other folks joined us who hadn’t been planning to leave Portland, but who just couldn’t stay in the smoke any longer.

As has been the case for a very long time, I’m glued to news coverage in various forms. Hanging out with small children, as I’m usually doing in recent years, this takes the form of listening to radio and podcasts through an ear bud in one ear, while I’m at the playgrounds and such. The governor has been holding daily press conferences, which I’ve been listening to.

I’m sure they have a decent air filtration system at the capital, but I had an immediate sense of respect for the woman, if only for the fact that I think she was addressing us from Salem, which at the time had some of the most toxic air of any city on Earth. When we left Portland, the AQI was over 500.

The most notable thing about the governor’s press conferences was the fear of public speaking that you can hear in her voice and in the voices of every member of her staff. You can hear when the governor tries to sound like she’s emoting, and puts this breathy quality in her voice that we’re supposed to understand as empathy. Maybe she feels empathy, I’m not saying she’s a sociopath, necessarily, but the empathy fails to come through. At least she was audible, which was not the case with any of her staff members, speaking on Zoom or something, from their various locations. At the first conference there was nobody playing the role of host, so there were lots of awkward transitions, until the governor realized midstream that she better play that role herself, if no one else was going to do it. Which was good, because she was the only one who seemed to be using equipment at her office that allowed her broadcast to be audible through OPB’s feed. With a good headset on, listening on my phone to OPB, I could just barely hear the other speakers, such as the guy managing the overall fire response, who seems to have moved to Oregon quite recently from somewhere in Maine. What really shocked me was that day after day, the audio quality of these press conferences never improved.

The continually poor production values of their little fireside chats were compounded by much of the stuff they were saying, when you could figure out what it was. Apparently the Oregon Employment Department is starting a new Disaster Unemployment program, in addition to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, PUA. But after six months, tens of thousands of people in Oregon who qualify for PUA have yet to receive a dime from the Employment Department, which is running on 1980’s technology and has suffered from a Covid outbreak within the ranks of the staff, as well as having offices closed due to the fires. And now we’re supposed to believe any of us will receive timely assistance from them now? The governor made no mention of this reality, preferring her fantasy version, where she’s at the helm of a functional state.

Listening on many national news reports to the governor of California’s press conferences, while also making efforts to coordinate a response to the ongoing emergency, he has blown much of his hot air in the form of partisan political diatribes aimed at President Trump and the Republican Party.  Candidate Biden has done the same, inferring that if we want to avoid more such fiery calamities, we’d better not vote for the “climate arsonist” Trump, which Biden is apparently not, despite a long political career pointing to his culpability in our current ecological collapse.  Governor Gavin Newsom wants to blame climate change on the catastrophic situation, and federal policies around climate change, and thus deflect the lion’s share of responsibility for this mess, which lies at the doorstep of the capitalist system, and the real estate investment and unregulated real estate development that underpins it, from which he and most of his colleagues in government throughout the west coast profit from personally and politically.

If the exurbs such as Molalla and Paradise are the most vulnerable areas in this brave new climate, let’s be very clear that the biggest victims of these fires are the people who couldn’t afford to live in the places that get most of the firefighting resources, the places where most of the residents commute to to work, the bigger cities.  And any efforts to mitigate this situation with better forest management will suffer the same fate as efforts to solve the housing crisis through little band-aid solutions they come up with for that — they will fail, certainly as long as the underlying problem of unregulated capitalism that drives the ever-expanding exurbs to keep expanding as they are doing.

Roaming the streets of Astoria, on the boardwalk and in the outdoor seating areas of the cafes on the piers, we observed, met or overheard conversations of many different people. It’s a town with two centuries of history as an international hub of fishing, canning, and trade, there at the mouth of the gigantic Columbia River, which leads to the sprawling ports of Portland, through which much of the world’s trade has long passed on a daily basis. The canning and fishing is nothing like it was once, but there’s a big Coast Guard presence in town, along with some functioning industry, lots of fishing boats and other sorts of boats, and it reeks of history, with many of the buildings that played a prominent role in the labor wars of the early twentieth century still standing as they were, such as the Finnish social center, and the American Legion hall, with the river still filled with functioning, though soggy-looking, wooden pilings, with large buildings atop them, with cars and trucks and cafes and canneries and little ad hoc museums.

With this backdrop, the sidewalks and grassy knolls are filled with a wide variety of people. Some of them are to be found there in Astoria year round – like the middle-aged women frequenting the cafes in the morning, talking about goings-on at the arts center, and the many people living near the trolley shelters, drinking cans of beer, and the gothic-looking teenagers who clearly have no appreciation for the fact that they live in paradise, and wish their parents would move back to Portland, where there are protests and night life.

Then there are the visitors. Some of them are actual tourists, which Astoria would normally have more of this time of year, but for the pandemic. But most of the visitors were playing the role of tourist because they were smoked out of their towns. Many families crammed into pickup trucks with several dogs and too many suitcases. Along with them, guys who looked like they hadn’t left the pot farm in years, but were being put up there by the Red Cross, and had no idea what “a card for incidentals” meant, when asked for one by the hotel clerk. I felt like a snob for even noticing that interaction, but when you are a frequent traveler, it becomes easy to spot folks who have never stayed in a two-star hotel before, or who have never been through an airport security line.

Other visitors were clad entirely in black, like I generally am. In large urban centers throughout the world, this is a very common way to dress. Outside of those centers it’s less common. Less common still are people clad entirely in black, who also have visible tattoos, piercings, and white, punk rock or political slogans on their clothing. There were many people who fit this description around town, more than on previous visits to Astoria, and I got the impression that many of them were smoke refugees like us. I also got the impression that all the American flags around this Coast Guard town was making them uncomfortable. I wondered if anyone had yelled at them, as had happened to me in recent weeks, when postering in certain Portland neighborhoods east of the 205. I was pushing a stroller around Astoria, insulated from those types of interactions by the small children. The only comment I heard was a suburban-looking woman commenting to her friend that all the articles of clothing I was wearing were the same shade of black. They were clearly entertained by this, which made me smile.

Having returned to Portland, with the AQI at a much more reasonable level, back to the usual rating in the high double digits, the mayor’s ban on CS gas has proven to be the farce that it obviously was, since he didn’t ban the use of chemical weapons by the police, but only this particular one. As the air became breathable again and the fires were becoming contained, the protests resumed. Adding fuel to the fires of the ongoing social unrest in this country, news of ICE’s apparent forced hysterectomy ring inspired renewed efforts at abolishing that particularly onerous agency, along with the police in general. Copious clouds of tear gas and other forms of wanton police brutality have characterized the past two nights on the streets of Portland. As Arun Gupta tweeted the other day, “Pardon the catastrophic global warming, we now return you to your regularly scheduled state violence.”

The post Diary of a Smoke Refugee first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Like a Rowboat in a Typhoon: Why 2020 Center-Right Yankee Election Outcomes are Dead in the Water

Image courtesy of our comrade Hermit

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed up the world….
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

— The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats, 1919

ORIENTATION 

How dare you?

“Oh, great, that’s all we need. A cynical radical leftist who is so out of touch that you would jeopardize losing the elections to Trump out of some purity. Noam Chomsky thinks this is the most important election in U.S history. How can you be so apathetic at a time like this? We have to get Trump out of office or we will have fascism. If Trump wins there will be blood on your hands. I can’t believe any radical news site would even publish this article. Up yours.”

My claim

First of all, I am not cynical in general. I am, however, cynical that any capitalist party can keep Yankeedom from collapsing. Secondly, this article does not tell anyone whether or not to vote or which party to vote for. My claim is that both Yankee political parties have already demonstrated for the last 40 years they are incapable of managing to reconstruct or repair deep ecological, infrastructural and structural problems that are engulfing us right now. Yankeedom is collapsing and it will continue to collapse regardless of who wins this “election”. Thirdly, fascism is already here and it will continue even if Trump loses the election. Though I don’t make a case for socialism, I will say that our choices are either fascism or socialism.

WHAT IS POLITICS? RULING VS GOVERNING

One of the root meanings of the word “politics” is to steer. In other words, deliberative political bodies ask themselves big sociopolitical questions like – “where have we been based on past practice and where are we going, based on future plans?” Steering is something like the word “governing”. In cybernetics, to govern is likened to a heart in the human body.  It is the grand central station in which all subsystems of the body meet. These subsystems are integrated and monitored for feedback about the system’s past behavior and fed forward, anticipating where the system is going. No subsystems are left floating on their own, freely determining their own direction.  Applying the words “governing” and “steering” to politics in human societies, the sad truth is that with the possible exception of hunting and gathering and simple horticultural societies, agricultural state civilizations and industrial capitalist societies do not govern their populations, they rule them. We have oligarchies struggling for power, but part of their power should not be defined as steering. They are not steering. In fact, nobody’s driving, yet they imagine they are steering and governing.

Turning specifically to Yankeedom, it is a deeply stratified class system in which the ruling class controls the major resources and the lower classes are granted just enough resources to make it to the next day. The different parts of the political system have regional struggles between the core and periphery rather than cooperation. Technology is developed not in a systematic, forward-looking way to make life easier, but mostly as weapons of war for destruction. Spiritual institutions are organized by the rulers to terrorize, demoralize and mystify their own populations. The religious authorities sanctify the rule of the rulers, just as Marx said. On the whole, at their best, the ruling classes everywhere, not just the United States, are no better than the general population. They really can’t think beyond one generation. Neither ruling class party in the history of Yankeedom has governed their populations. They have taken turns ruling them.

SIGNS OF STRUCTURAL COLLAPSE

Part of the drumbeat of the “Lesser of Two Evils” folks, is the hope that a democrat will bring things “back to normal,” meaning Yankee social life as it was before March 2020. But thinking there is a “normal” to get back to is a pathological denial of the fact that the Yankee empire has been collapsing for 50 years. All this while both parties have ignored the long-standing ecological and infrastructural problems, including the fallout from the pandemic over the last six months of 2020.

COVID -19 has expanded rather than leveled off because the nation-state ignores what scientists say and it has no national plan that all states must follow, unlike countries that have resolved the pandemic crisis, often with half the resources of the U.S. Socialist countries like Cuba, North Vietnam and China have responded quickly and admirably. Here in Yankeedom, neither Republicans nor Democrats have risen to the occasion. Each party has had six months to step up to the plate. They have done nothing systemic.

Large parts of the population are in denial that there is a pandemic and are ignoring what scientists say, spreading the virus as they dance in the clubs and on the beaches. This self-destructive behavior is partly explained by the refusal of both ruling class parties to educate their populations in basic science. Both parties have been anti-science for 50 years and have allowed college courses to skimp on science classes. At the same time movie and television producers flood the air waves and movie screens with ESP claims, extraterrestrials and reports of people who have returned from the dead. Most of the Yankee population is scientifically illiterate and innumerate (without a basic knowledge of mathematics and arithmetic).

Extreme weather is a very serious problem that has been neglected for 50 years and there has been no long-term plan to address this. Every year we have record-breaking temperatures in the summer, along with massive fires in the West. In the winters, record cold spells hit the East and North-central states. Glaciers are melting and water is rising. Has either party come to the table with a long-term plan? They haven’t because both parties are beholden to capitalists who refuse to think beyond three months into the future.

Police departments have turned into state terrorist organizations which have been amassing more and more weapons for decades. There is no structural reform, as the police are handed bloated budgets while they are trained to mutilate and kill as a matter of course, treating the citizens as enemies. Neither party has done anything to reign in police violence. Self-destructively, by not reigning in the police, capitalists who own both parties keep people in the streets protesting – the very people they need to get off the streets and back to work if they are to rehabilitate the physical economy.

There is an open rebellion against police terror which the ruling class has failed to address structurally. Any claim for reparation for minorities, not just for being killed by police but also for being housed for decades in prison for minor crimes is like spitting in the wind. Sadly, some of the most rabid “Back the Blue” folks are white working-class people who are also most likely to be beaten by the police. Unbeknown to most white working-class in this country, there was a time when to be a redneck meant to be against the police.

Openly armed fascist groups wave confederate flags and white power signs that will probably get worse if the Idiot-King loses. Is this a serious political problem for either party that requires a long-term solution? Apparently not, as these right-wing groups have been three and a half years in the making, bringing to the surface a racist undercurrent that has been festering in Yankeedom for hundreds of years.

We are in the worst capitalist crisis in history because COVID-19 has crippled the physical economy. Respected political economist Jack Rasmus tells us the real unemployment rate is between 25-30%, not the much lower numbers publicized by the Department of Labor. Those who have jobs are often working at reduced work hours. Consumer spending is at a low point. Both parties sing a capitalist tune that workers can be sacrificed so the economy can live. This is an economic policy? Where are all the bourgeois economists who populate every university, pumping out ideological propaganda about the free market? Do they have any policies for fixing the existing physical economy other than to say “let ‘er (the market) ride!”? These same economists are consultants to each party. Are they recommending any governing policies? For them, the physical economy and the stock market are all the same thing.

Capitalists and the state want to open up the schools this fall to in-person learning despite the fact that the COVID-19 has not even reached its peak yet. It risks jeopardizing the lives of 7-14-year-olds, as well as college students, faculty and staff. In part, capitalists want children back in school to increase the chances of their parents going back to work. Parents are more likely to stay home to guide their children through Zoom sessions rather than go to work and leave them on their own. Capitalists need workers back at work – even if they are killed. This is an economic policy?

Economically, finance capital has produced a runaway fictitious capital bubble that was not even checked after the Great Recession. The neoliberal choir boy, Obama, offered no structural reform of banking institutions. Capitalist economists blithely ignore growing bad debt. They imagine that a gambling casino (the stock market) and the use of financial instruments, like derivatives, pose no problems.

The Federal Reserve has to pump blood transfusions (money) on a regular basis into financial markets to keep them from tanking. Does either party think this might be a long-term problem? Now, the Fed has promised to keep interest rates at 0% for the next 3 years in the hopes that even more people will fall into credit card debt. Does either political party think there might be something wrong with printing more money as an economic policy? Apparently not.

Both major political parties are hated by their populations, as evidenced by the winning party being unable to attract more than 20% of the population. When these politicians are told that 60% of the population doesn’t vote or is ineligible to vote, do they say, “hmm, this is a problem, especially if we claim to be a democracy”. The answer is no. They imagine the people who don’t vote are ignorant, stupid, poor or have mental health problems. It never crosses their minds that these potential voters might not vote because these two parties and their grandstanding, lying and back street deal-making have nothing to do with the lives of most of the population. This is a great example of a political system that ignores the feedback from its periphery – that its system simply isn’t working.

Short-term thinking – Another of the many problems with the political system of Yankeedom is that it is ruled by capitalists who refuse to think beyond a single quarter. They want their assets liquid and ready to move at any time. Capitalists are incapable of governing in the way we’ve defined the word. In addition, the electoral systems that capitalists control last only four years. As long as Republicans and Democrats switch administrations every four years, there can be no long-standing policy that would supersede the various revolving doors of regimes.

All these twelve points are signs of neglect and decay that are very typical of the research Joseph Tainter did for his book The Collapse of Complex Societies many years ago. In the face of all these deep, long-term systemic problems, Congress was adjourned for one month! Given these points, do either the Democrats or the Republicans “govern” our society today? For the 40% of the population who vote for either party, voters think whichever political party wins, they govern. But from their lack of response to any of these problems, these parties do not govern – they rule.

QUALIFICATION

As a socialist, I have absolutely no confidence that an enlightened long-term thinking capitalist could solve any of the problems above. However, since those of you are convinced that these presidential elections are so important, let me propose some things that an enlightened, long-term thinking capitalist might do to address these problems, whether the solution comes from a Republican or a Democrat. Then at the end I will ask you if you think the political party of your choice would implement even one of these solutions when they begin their term. The purpose of the proposals below is to get our bearings about what an overall plan might look like. I am not attempting to prioritize in what order this reform would come.  Under a socialist party, we would have both a short-term and a long-term plan so we could attack these problems systematically. However, I am not arguing for socialism. I am only arguing that neither party will lift a finger to address the multiple crises we are facing.

WHAT WOULD AN ENLIGHTENED CAPITALIST PARTY DO WITH THESE PROBLEMS IF THEY WERE CAPABLE OF GOVERNING?

Have a national plan to deal with the pandemic

First, we will follow the lead of countries who have successfully managed the COVID-19 virus and will implement a long-term plan even if it means shutting down businesses and schools for six months. We will have a national plan that every state will follow. No longer will states decide their own policy in the bumbling way that has been done so far.

Overcome scientific illiteracy and innumeracy

Furthermore, long-term, we will redevelop our higher education programs to stress mastering the sciences and expand courses on critical thinking. There will be scientific boards of directors who will redesign movie and television curriculum to emphasize stories based on science, not fantasy. Science fiction writers will have to demonstrate to scientists how their script is based on scientific findings and not just on fantasy. This will begin to cut into the rampant scientific illiteracy and innumeracy that has existed for two generations. There will be required courses in geography and international politics. The reign of businessmen determining course development while sitting on the boards of directors will end.  College instructors and scientific researchers will have prominent seats on those boards.

Redeploy the military for infrastructural building and repair

The enlightened capitalist party will reorient our resource base. As it is, we are currently involved in at least seven wars. We have come to realize that capitalism can only grow long-term if it invests in life rather than death. Therefore, all the troops will be called home and redeployed. Once home they will work at rebuilding the crumbling infrastructure that has been decaying for decades and will cost trillions of dollars. They will fix roads and repair bridges. They will also build low-cost housing to get every person off the street. City budgets will hold a certain percentage of land for low cost housing. City life will no longer be determined by the whim of real estate agents, given the virtue word “developer”.

Systemic climate change plan

An additional benefit to closing down our war machine will be its effect on global warming and pollution since the military is the world’s largest polluter. We will begin implementing the scientific recommendations to combat extreme weather and pollutions that have been sitting on the shelves of the U.N. for 50 years. A major part of the budget will be spent on trying to halt or reverse all the devastating fires, sickening smoke, pollution, ever more fierce hurricanes and tornadoes and melting of glaciers.

Full employment, satisfying basic needs

Next, we capitalists have come to realize that there are many needs people have that are not realized because they have low profitability returns. As capitalists we have tried to create needs that don’t exist to get people to buy products and services that do not last, either materially or by providing real emotional satisfaction. As it turns out, people have considerably more needs than we realized and so there will be no longer any unemployment. Everyone will work to satisfy the needs of all social classes. Capitalist societies are the only types of societies in history to have unemployment. This is a waste of our collective creative power. “Yes” says the short-term thinking capitalists, “but if you don’t have unemployment, wages will rise and cut into our profit margins.”  As long-term thinking capitalists, we learned in the 1950s and 1960s high wages and profitability can easily go hand-in-hand.  The amount of creativity that will be unleashed will more than make up the difference. In addition, a great deal of new revenue will be generated by a return to taxing corporations as was done in the 1950s and 1960s. Corporations used to be taxed at a far greater rate than today. These corporations took it in stride and still made a fortune.

Installing economic floors on the economy

Economically, everyone will receive a basic income so that no one ever has to be concerned about starving or not having a place to live. That is, in addition to increased investment in the “matriarchal” state, including universal health care, expanded pensions, mental health and physical care for veterans.

Alternatives to state terror

Police departments will be abolished, and the revenue redeployed into community defense councils following the recommendations of critical criminal sociologists who have developed alternative systems using recommendations that have been on the shelves for years. Up until now, they could never be put into practice because of the fear of police lobbies and their unions. Police will be replaced by social mediation teams, social workers and neighborhood review boards.

Next, prisoners of non-violent crimes will be released and put into rehabilitation centers and transition programs where they will either learn a trade or develop a skill they already have. They will be able to get a good college education if that is what they want. The pouring out of prisoners into the workforce will be a tremendous boon to the economy. Prisons will be modeled on the method currently in use in Norway, with the focus on rehabilitation, rather than punishment.

Attacking the National Rifle Association

As capitalists we want to invest in the reduction of violence in our population. All weapons beyond simple handguns will be illegal. The purpose of a gun should be simply for protection. No one needs machine guns to protect themselves. Open Carry gun laws will be abolished.

Long overdue reparations

The demands of the current uprising are larger than simply a reduction of police brutality. They are about restitutions.  Systemic racism has continued and even worsened since the civil rights movement. To begin to make up for this, we capitalists will follow the guidelines of criminal sociologists who have calculated what would be fair restitution based on centuries of slave labor. The reparations packet would include funding employment opportunities, grants in the arts and sciences and education, childcare tuition reduction for trade as well as other programs sociologists would recommend.

Savings banks and public banks free of stock market speculation

Economically we will be transforming banks that are reinstated and can be used for commercial purposes, rather than solely for financial investment and not tied to the stock markets. Furthermore, public banks will be established in most states in order for people to invest in community institutions that have no investments in the stock market. Banks will reinstitute the rule where there can be no investments made without a certain proportion of gold to back them up. Capitalist speculation will be discouraged and penalized.

Switching to political proportional representation according to social class

Politically we will begin a process of overhauling the two-party system, with which Americans have expressed frustration for decades. What we must face is that right now sociologists tell us that there are eight social classes. The two major political parties represent at best the top 1%; 5% of the upper class; and 10% of the upper middle class. As it stands now, about 85% of the population has no representation. The middle class needs its own separate party; the working class needs its own party and those below the working class need their own party. Each party can only have representatives from its own social class. If we want people to become more political and be real citizens, we must give them their own representatives and pay them the salary of a middle-class citizen. There will be no more political representatives who are millionaires pretending to represent the middle and lower classes.

Conclusion

I want to point out that none of these suggestions are socialist. There is no call for the abolition of private ownership of resources. There are no constraints on inheritance. There is no proposal to freeze the assets of the 1% and redistribute them. There is no call for workers to seize the workplaces and run worksites themselves. There is no call for the nationalization of banks and industry. There is no call for closing the stock markets. My proposals are all long-term structural reforms to do damage-control over the continuing collapse of Yankeedom.

I believe most of you reading this would agree that many of these improvements would be necessary. Yet you hold on to the belief that the political parties controlled by the capitalists would in some way address these problems. They have not and they will not. In all cases up until now, both parties have done nothing. They are either unaware of the level of crisis we are in, they are in denial there is even a problem, or they recognize a problem, but their response is anemic, erratic and not well thought out. What makes you think that after this election any of these politicians will do anything differently? Vote for whomever you want but whoever your favorite candidate is, understand they operate under a political party owned by an incompetent, myopic, irresponsible capitalist class who will go down dancing on the deck of the Titanic. Paraphrasing Freud, compared to the conflict between id and the superego within the individual, the ego is helpless, much like being in a rowboat with one oar in the middle of a typhon.  The ego doesn’t have a prayer. Neither do these existing political parties.

About seventy years ago, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. triumphantly proclaimed that centrist liberalism was a “Vital Center” against the twin dangers of left and right-wing totalitarianism. Today we can say the “vital center” has collapsed with both parties falling into the abyss. Our only solution to the collapse we are experiencing is to develop a mass socialist party with a plan and systemic steps to be taken over the next 5, 10 or 15 years. That is our only hope for reducing the fall as a result of the collapse. Capitalist parties are incapable of solving these problems.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Like a Rowboat in a Typhoon: Why 2020 Center-Right Yankee Election Outcomes are Dead in the Water first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Brazil’s 63,000 Fires

Amazon Day, a day of celebration for over 100 years on September 5th, has passed. Amazon Day commemorates the year 1850 creation of the Province of Amazonas, encompassing 60% of Brazil and extending into Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and French Guyana.

Meanwhile, illegal fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rage on, and on, and on stronger than ever. Nowadays, in spite of the spirit of Amazon Day, suicidal spates of lawlessness rule Brazil’s precious rainforest.

Indeed, leading scientists believe there is genuine concern that the Amazon rainforest ecosystem could collapse. Already, severe devastating drought sequences have hit every fifth year like clockwork so closely spaced together that normal regrowth does not happen. Thus, the ecosystem is inordinately weakened in the face of human-generated firestorms, further weakening this beleaguered ecosystem.

As substantiated by NASA, the rainforest doesn’t react like it used to. It does not have enough time between droughts to heal itself and regrow. Throughout all of recorded history, this has never been witnessed before, a fact that is horribly concerning and downright depressing. 1

Not only is an ecological breakdown apparent above ground, the breakdown is also found underground. Based upon current images by NASA’s GRACE satellite, the Amazon is in tenuous condition in an unprecedented state of breakdown. The GRACE-FO (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On) satellite system monitors water levels stored deep beneath Earth’s surface. GRACE’s images detected large areas in what’s classified as “Deep Red Zones,” meaning severely constrained water levels. Nothing could be worse.

Furthermore, the peak rainy season, which runs from December to February, was among the top 10 worst on record this year, with just 75% of the season’s usual rainfall.

Additionally, and of consequential concern, the world’s two leading Amazon rainforest scientists made a startling announcement only recently: Thomas Lovejoy (George Mason University) and Carlos Nobre (University of Sao Paulo) reported:

Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.2

Tipping points define equilibrium between life and death.

Furthermore, it is important for world opinion to realize that raging fires are not normal in rainforests, which contain tons of wetness, dripping moisture, and cool air. In fact, even during normal dry seasons, if a fire starts in the undergrowth, it peters out quickly because of extreme wetness throughout rainforests, a moniker that perfectly describes the ecosystem… “rain… forest.”

Not only are fires an aberration under normal conditions, but also deforestation, which brings on the fires in the first instance, is illegal, especially in Brazil. Yet, deforestation is rampant with massive fires as part of the clearing process. It’s highly probable that nearly all 63,000 fires for the current year are the result of illegal deforestation.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change, it committed to eliminating all illegal deforestation — which, according to Human Rights Watch, accounts for 90 percent of all deforestation — in the Amazon by 2030.

Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) monitors and reports on the fires, 63,000, and still counting for the year 2020.3

The Amazon contains the world’s most precious natural heritage, teeming with the richest biodiversity on the planet, including break-thru medicinal resources, many not yet discovered, and most importantly, serving as the single most significant global climate regulator. Without the Amazon, life throughout the world turns miserable, beyond wildest imagination, like a Stephen King horror movie.

Yet, it is burning, and it is unnecessary, and it is mostly illegal.

After all, the world can get by “just fine” without burning down the most precious resource on the planet in order to grow palm oils and soy and cotton and to raise cattle and dig for gold and oil and logging. But, the world cannot get by “just fine” with a crippled rainforest. That’s happening right now smack dab in front of the world’s eyes closed wide shut.

According to Rainforest Alliance, Brazil’s government knowingly looks the other way. As such, President Jair Bolsonaro deflects international criticism, going so far as to say that environmental NGOs start the fires to make his administration look bad. It’s obvious that he’s reading, and likely memorized, Trump’s playbook.

World leaders, like France’s Macron, have called him out in the past, but Bolsonaro merely flips ‘em the bird. He’s living proof that mean-spiritedness, as it originates via purest of ignorance, goes a long way towards deflecting criticism. For proof, the international community has done nothing substantive to stop the illegal fires.

Bolsonaro wins as the world loses.

And, abiding by the precepts of the Trump playbook, in an address to the UN, he said, “the Amazon remains pristine and virtually untouched,” claiming that Brazil is “one of the countries that protects its environment the most.” At the time of his speech, the Amazon rainforest was burning at record rates and illegal deforestation had surged by 84% following his inauguration.

In his UN speech, Bolsonaro especially heaped praise on U.S. President Donald Trump for supporting him, even as he was under fire by the international community.

Meanwhile, because of excessive global warming, climate change has turned up its intensity way-way-way beyond the models of climate scientists as registered with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). From Antarctica to the Arctic, the climate system is out-of-control, including the all-important life-supporting integrity of the Amazon Rainforest.

Sadly, the facts are indisputable based upon numerous scientific reports; the world climate system is literally coming apart at the seams as excessive usage of fossil fuels spews CO2 that blankets the atmosphere that retains more and more heat that undermines the world’s major ecosystems. Given enough time, society has an insurmountable problem, like right now.

Look to Siberia, the Arctic, Antarctica, Greenland, Australia, and the Amazon Rainforest for incontestable evidence. Meanwhile, severe droughts haunt the world from the Amazon to the Middle East (900-yr drought) to Australia (800-yr drought), throughout SE Asia to all of Central America (“the Dry Corridor”), to a 10-year mega drought-turned-desertification in central Chile to a massive 60-yr drought in Brazil, to totally dried-out to-a-crisp portions of Africa, t0 China’s Lancang River (the Danube of the East) at 100-yr low water levels in Thailand where it streams, and the list could go on and on.

In turn, eco migrant footsteps follow in kind, kindling rightwing politics throughout the world.

All of which prompts the obvious query: Will the nations of the world never seriously coordinate efforts to combat fossil fuel-generated global warming with its deadly accomplice, abrupt climate change?

Notably, it’s already started everywhere nobody lives.

Mercy!

  1. “NASA Finds Amazon Drought Leaves Long Legacy of Damage”, NASA Earth Science News Team, August 9, 2018.
  2. “Amazon Tipping Point: Last Chance for Action”, Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 12, December 20, 2019.
  3. “Brazil: Alarming Number of New Forest Fires Detected Ahead of Amazon Day”, Amnesty International, September 3, 2020.

The post Brazil’s 63,000 Fires first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Plastic Meets the Road and Capitalism’s Role in Climate Change

Earth Day & Capitalism Like Vinegar and Oil?

Continuously, discussions focusing on degraded ecosystems and tipping points forcing climate change to ramp up to chaos many times center around the “C” word.

Not “c” as in “cancer.”

“Capitalism is destroying the planet,” said Pat DeLaquil, an energy policy expert working with various governments, NGO’s and the private sector to “help achieve economic development and combating climate change.”

He was one speaker in a two-guest gig at the Newport Library on January 27 as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and 350 Oregon Central Coast.

The other person presenting is director of a plastics to road recycling non-profit headquartered in Toledo.

Twenty people listened to DeLaquil as he zoomed through his data-filled Power Point. His SOP is working with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and other groups to lobby for passage of a new version of climate change policy during this state’s short legislative session.

No matter how many details behind the framework of HB 2020 are aired, convincing Oregonians of all stripes to get behind this cap on statewide carbon emissions is a technical, legal, intellectual, PR, and emotional challenge.

Two Newport City Council members attended Monday, as gale force winds buffeted the library. Interestingly, kicking off the double header was a video clip from a January 13 Senate National Resources and Environment Committee.

Arnold L. “Arnie” Roblan, in a droll voice, stated how he’s visited all parts of Oregon listening to youth. He emphasized it’s been 16 years since he was a school principal, but now he’s seeing like never before a huge shift in how PK12 students are viewing the world.

“There’s been a big change,” Roblan stated in the video. “Kids are extremely anxious about the climate.”

Kicking off the 2-hour event was Bill Kucha, Otter Rock artist and head of 350 Oregon Central Coast. He strummed guitar and sang his song, “There’s Music All Around Me.” The message is one of hope in a world with thousands of ecosystems collapsing.

While Sen. Roblan stated the counties along the coast are at the “epicenter of ocean acidification and beach erosion caused by climate change,” one audience member, Michael Gaskill, asked Pat DeLaquil if he gets frustrated with each year increasingly watered-down of environmental bills get passed.

Gaskill was in attendance to listen to the speakers and to sign up attendees interested in the Congressional campaign of Hillsboro Democrat Mark Gamba, who’s vying for the 5th district position in November.

Another audience member wanted immediate response to her comment that “capitalism is the problem hurting the poor” was exasperated by the lack of social justice apparent in the discussions.

The C word was bandied about much in DeLaquil’s opening remarks:

What drives capitalism to extremes? Two things: this hyper-individualism of the Ayn Rand economic school which purports everyone is unique and must fight for himself or herself to acquire as much as possible. And, two, patriarchy which indoctrinates young children into believing this hierarchy of male control. This belief that males are not caring about social issues, the environment, and females are not supposed to speak their minds when confronted with this apparent destructive system.

The dichotomy is common in discussions about male domination in business, industry, militarism, and monetizing seemingly every single human transaction. Women, on the other hand, are seen “only “as mothers, nurturers put on earth to support the family and keep the peace by not speaking out against environmental, cultural and community degradation and destruction.

DeLaquil carried that allusion further saying capitalism and socialism can be reformed to support a clean, safe, market-centered society with social safety nets like education, health care, other entitlement programs that are part and parcel of Social Democratic countries like Norway or Denmark.

Don Quixote Fighting the Plastics Monster

“The window is closing faster on plastics than climate change, I really believe,” Scott Rosin of Plastic Up-Cycling told the gathering.

Knowing Rosin from Surfrider beach clean ups, and for an upcoming Deep Dive column, I don’t see him as Chicken Little “the sky is falling” fellow.

He’s fought forest fires in the 1970s and ‘80s. He’s been high up in the trees as a forester, and he knows the value of hard work – taking down entire stands of forest in for many years as an area logger.

He and his co-lead, Katharine Valentino, are looking for partnerships and financial backing for their project to get most of Lincoln county’s plastic waste stream into our roads in the form of new thoroughfares, repaved ones, potholes, driveways and parking lots.

The stats on the ground and in the water are staggering: “Think about it. Predictions of a billion tons of plastic produced each year by 2025. Compare that to 1.5 million pounds produced in 1950.”

He went on to punctuate this staggering stat: “Predictions about current rates of plastic waste state by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”

As a surfer and lover of the ocean, Scott reminded the audience every time they read about a whale beached and dead, guts filled with plastic, that mammal represents less than 10 percent of the actual death rate of whales since most die offshore and sink to the benthic zone.

Rosin and Valentino see innovators in Scotland and in California, as well as other places, coming to the rescue. TechniSoil out of Redding California is taking recycled plastic, bitumen, asphalt substrate and integrating it into a flexible and long-lasting paving mixture (up to 15 percent of the total volume for paving roads could be plastic).

Then there is MacRebur and Scottish CEO Toby McCartney who was working in Southern India helping people at landfills gather potentially reusable items and sell them. Scott Rosin tells us McCartney observed some of the plastics the pickers culled, putting it into potholes and setting it on fire.

Instant melted plasticized pothole filler.

“Not the most environmentally friendly way to fill potholes,” Scott said. “However, those plastic filled potholes outlasted the actual roads.”

Carbon, Global Heating, Resources Plummeting and Us v Them?

Some of the buzz words coming from the 2-hour talk include “decarbonizing the economy” and “carbon budget.”

Add to those – renewable energy; trade exposed; energy intensive.

Pat DeLaquil, with doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT and who’s worked with USAID, the Asian Development Bank, and large companies like Bechtel (not a green company), wants people to relate to what they are seeing in the news – flooding, wildfires,, degraded ecosystems, increased rain events, droughts – as applicable to their own communities and states.

“The artic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the planet,” he said showing us maps of that ice world. He’s also warning us about methane clathrates releasing a greenhouse gas more than 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide; and the warming tundra with millions of tons of frozen greenhouse gasses – ancient carbon. “The carbon that’s locked in the permafrost in the Arctic is thousands . . . millions of years old.”

He also brings to light the terms “runaway climate change” and the “albedo effect” – white snow and ice reflect back the sun’s rays. Less white, means more ocean warming.

DeLaquil and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters are pushing hard a Clean Energy Jobs bill.

[This] is one step in a continuing process of increasing climate change ambition in Oregon and by example the rest of the US. Just as the Renewable Portfolio Standard was followed by the Clean Fuel bill, then the Coal to Clean program, the Clean Energy Job (CEJ) bill will need to be followed next year with Agriculture and Forestry measures and elements of the Green New Deal. We are in this fight for the long haul and our strategy is to win one step at a time.

He mentioned Time magazine’s 2019 person-of-the-year Greta Thurnberg who just attended the most recent Davos, Switzerland, gathering of the World Economic Forum. DeLaquil dovetails Senator Roblan’s comments about youth being panicked about the status of the world tied to global warming with this 17-year-old internationally-known Swede.

Politics play front and center in the climate debate at the state level with all the parsing of SB 1530 (regulating carbon emissions through commercial, industrial, agricultural use of fracked or natural gas) as well as how we tax and regulate transportation fuel.

Pat also discussed the concepts around clean fuels, carbon sequestration in our forests, natural resource protection (like wetlands), assessing the emissions coming from agricultural and the forestry industries, and the heady concept of a law to protect the rights of nature. Lincoln County Community Rights is one group heralding this rights of nature designation.

This is no bed of roses, as the people attending the talk and the two speakers know. There is much push-back on this bill and other decarbonizing legislation, and many in Oregon have contrary opinions on global warming. The lobbying group, Timber Unity, has expressed disagreement with SB 1530.

Ironically, globally the court of last resort – public opinion – is pitting scientists in the climate arena and superstars like Greta against those in the Donald Trump administration and Fox news. At Davos January 21 Trump announced the U.S. would join an existing initiative to plant one trillion trees.

He also pitched the “economic importance of oil and gas” while throwing barbs at those like Greta Thurnberg, calling climate change activists “pessimistic” and the “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.”

Pat DeLaquil, interestingly, is not in this geopolitical arena, yet someone with his energy sector experience would paint a different picture for global warming deniers. He reemphasized the power of the youth movement. Thunberg responded to President Trump’s remarks by referring to them as “empty words and promises” by world leaders:

You say children shouldn’t worry… don’t be so pessimistic and then, nothing, silence.

Elephants, Billiards, Paradigm Shift

The first man-made plastic was created by Alexander Parkes who publicly demonstrated it at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London. The material, called Parkesine, was an organic material derived from cellulose that once heated could be molded and retained its shape when cooled.

Svante Arrhenius (1859-1927) was a Swedish scientist that was the first to claim in 1896 that fossil fuel combustion may eventually result in enhanced global warming. He proposed a relation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperature.

Transitioning from DeLaquil’s 35,000 foot view of the climate change debate, then down to the micro view of the state’s efforts to go carbon free by 2050, to Scott Rosin’s Plastic Up Cycling non-profit spurred the audience into thinking about one “miracle of oil” – plastic – and the consequential negative consequences both locally and globally.

It’s obvious the tall white-haired Rosin has fun talking to groups – he’s a real yarn spinner.

In 1867 an article came out saying elephants were going to be extinct in ten years. The billiards market used ivory for the balls.

Necessity and environmental concerns turned into the mother of invention. “It was called cellulose. The invention of plastic billiards balls was the beginning of the consumer revolution. Anybody could have a pool table now since the plastic balls were affordable.”

Four or five quality billiard balls could be made from the average tusk of an Indian, Ceylonese, or Indo-Chinese elephant. This market for raw tusks centered in New York and Chicago where craftsmen would eat up blocks of ivory to create the gleaming spheres.

“Now we are experiencing 154 years of plastic, and it’s not a pretty picture,” Rosin told us.

He reminded the audience of his work from January to July 2019 for Surfrider heading up weekly Sunday beach plastic debris clean ups where on average 5 people from Lincoln County showed up was disheartening. Even after he had contacted dozens of volunteer organizations.

This past October Katharine Valentino and Rosin scrambled to set up a non-profit to deal with the plastics coming into our county’s dumpsters which invariably ends up trucked to Salem and dumped into a landfill.

TechniSoil is working with the Mayor of Los Angeles to put in a plastic road that leads to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. MacRebur has a proprietary aggregate that binds the plastic to the bitumen so there is no leaching into the ground.

TechniSoil touts their roads containing 6.6 percent plastic last seven to 14 times longer than conventional roads. Rosin emphasizes how on-site machines repaving roads with plastic aggregate actually tear up the old road, grind up plastic, mix it with bitumen and old asphalt, eliminating a huge carbon footprint of dump trucks hauling off torn-up roadway pavement.

Plastic Up-Cycling is hawking its project to interested people, as well as looking for $100,000 to get the plastic road mixture tested by an OSU lab.

Plastic comes from an energy-intensive and polluting process of turning oil into polymers and then into various types of plastics to serve myriad of purposes for which we in our throwaway society consume it.

The fact is landfills are composed of 12 to 15 percent plastic. The road paving process pencils out this way: for every mile of roadway, 1.1 million plastic bottles or 3.2 million plastic bags churned into a road mix will cut down on the waste-stream big time.

Climate Action Plan 2.0

The event was topped off with Martin Desmond, with Central Coast Citizen’s Climate Lobby, giving us the table of contents to the 74- page Lincoln County Climate Action Plan. The goal for this initiative is to get Lincoln County carbon neutral by 2035.

For Pat DeLaquil, his biggest disappointment, he stated, “after working in this field for years” was the failure to pass the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill.”

This congressional bill — American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 — was passed as major legislation to create a cap-and-trade system for heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, but was not taken up by the full Senate and never became law.

For Bill Kucha – artist, teacher, activist and musician – he puts much hope in young people in this county and throughout the world. He’s also a prolific letter-to-the-editor writer:

The good news is that there is a growing movement toward a new type of corporation called B-Corporations. In B-Corporations, financial profit counts, but so too does consideration for the environment, neighboring communities, and the workers. Our state must actively encourage the proliferation of progressive alternatives like this, if we ever hope to heal what ails the Earth. You can play a role, too: you can insist that the 2020 Election, at all levels of government, must prominently feature serious conversations about the Climate Crisis. (Sept. 1, 2019, News Lincoln County)

For me, it’s obvious conversations have to be more dynamic and robust, covering a larger swath of citizens. We have to organize half-day or three-day summits or charrettes to get policy makers, politicians, subject matter experts and citizens coming together to communicate more effectively and think both critically and holistically about issues around ocean rise, acidification, coastal inundation, weather and climate disruptions.

Lincoln County residents need to respect (and question) the work of activists and citizens on all sides of the issue while also coming together to listen to the passionate scientists and experts working on these issues.

For Scott Rosin, getting plastics out of the waste stream means cleaner water, cleaner soil, cleaner food and cleaner human and non-human bodies. “I would have never thought about the effects of plastic on the environment and us thirty or forty years ago,” Rosin said. “It’s unthinkable to have plastic in our drinking water, in all our food, and breathing it in.”

Getting into the Narrative of an Energy Guy

Pat DeLaquil was touted to me by several people at the Newport gathering as “he’s really been around” and “he really knows the deal with China since he’s been there” and “he has a lot of insight into energy.” So, Pat was kind enough to submit to some email questions. Pat lives in Gresham.

Paul Haeder: You said you have been doing this for more than 40 years. What got you started in energy analysis, and was it always EEE — energy, economy, environment?

Pat DeLaquil: Following grad school, I joined Sandia National Labs in Livermore, CA to work in their new systems analysis program. My first assignment was working on safeguards for nuclear material used in the country’s nuclear weapons program, but in 1980, I joined their solar energy program and been a leader in the commercialization of clean and renewable energy technologies. In 1984 I left Sandia and joined Bechtel Corporation to lead their Renewable Energy RD group. There, I worked closely with the California utilities and EPRI to lead the development of consortiums to build key R&D projects such as PV-USA and the 10 MW Solar Two Power Tower.

PH: Your age, where did you grow up and schooling?

PD: I’m 71 and grew up in western Pennsylvania in strip mining country and saw firsthand the destruction they caused. I knew I wanted to be an engineer by age 13, and I have a B.Sc. in Marine Engineering from the US Merchant Marine and a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have authored or co-authored over 90 papers, reports, and articles on solar and renewable energy including chapters in two books on renewable energy technology. I have a patent for a high temperature solar receiver.

PH: I work on the 5 e’s — started off as triple e’s for sustainability: Equity, environment, economy . . . education and energy. There are a lot of intersectionalities here, and, of course, the environment overrides and undergirds everything. In capitalism, that is not true. What are your own intellectual challenges when you consider how rapacious, how extractive-oriented, how unjust capitalism is to the people, the 99 Percent, or the 80 percent? Discuss.

PD: This requires a long answer, and I touched on this in my talk, but only briefly. I am attaching for your information and use, both my presentation from Monday and a longer presentation on this subject I gave to the Multnomah Democratic Party Climate Action Forum back in November. Slides 1 thru 9, including the notes, provide a pretty full answer.

PH: There is a lot of policy stuff and political maneuvering and lobbying in your work. For the average reader, what are your holistic takeaways for this evening’s talk?

PD: The most important things that the average reader can do is to get engaged politically by demanding that your legislators be climate champions and if they are not find one who can replace them. While individual actions are important, they will never be enough. We must have systemic change that will only come when progressives have control of our political systems.

PH: What gives you hope for the world, for Oregon’s future?

PD: I have been in a very discouraging mood since HB2020 was stonewalled by the Republicans, and even more so given the ho-hum response that too many people have given to the wildfires in Australia, which also has a climate denying government. The voices on youth are what currently gives me the most hope, but even that seems not to be enough. I’m afraid that it’s going to take a major climate-derived calamity, with millions of people dying before the average person decides we must take action.

PH: What lends you pause?

PD: The tremendous amounts of money, embedded organizations and media-led philosophies that the oligarchs and large corporations have used to gain strangle holds on governments around the world. The four key conservative political frames are shown below, and we must replace these with progressive frames in the general public discourse. In addition to people power and grassroots organizing, we must counter and replace the Reagan framing with more progressive framing if we are to win this battle.

Bill Kucha song he performed at event –

There’s a Music –

There’s a music all around me

and it won’t go away and it’s trying to say

– everything impossible is going to see the light of day,

everything angry and mad is growing up and coming out to play.

There’s a reason for all that wrong,

it’s creating a season for a new kind of song,

everything helpful and good is sprouting in the neighborhood.

Everything helpful and wise is growing to a larger size.

So mister, now come out and say your

Yes, plow the fields of your dark past into something good at last.

Mega Droughts Engulf Countries

Throughout the world, mega droughts are hitting hard with a ferocity not seen in decades and in some cases not seen in centuries. It’s not merely coincidental that as global warming accelerates droughts turn more vicious than ever before. All of which begs the logical question of when will world leaders wake up with a unified plan of action to mitigate carbon emissions, or is it already too late?

Nobody knows for sure if and when it is too late, but the evidence is crystal clear that extraordinarily powerful droughts are decimating regions of the planet like there’s no tomorrow.

An Australian research paper1 addressed the issue: . According to The University of Melbourne headline about the article: “Recent Australian Droughts may be the Worst in 800 Years.”

That study, which identified the “worst droughts in 800 years,” was published two years prior to the recent drought period accompanied by massive fires across the entire continent… these are unprecedented conditions… never before recorded or seen! Thus sending a strong signal that the world’s normalized climate system is broken, caving-in to a new era of “torrid breakaway climate extremes.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology:

The data is in and 2019 has topped the charts for average and maximum temperatures as well as the lowest annual rainfall across the country.

According to the report, Australia’s annual mean temperature was 1.52°C above the 1961-90 average of 21.8°C. Results: A dried-out continent ignited into torrid breakaway fires. Curiously enough, 1.5°C above pre-industrial is the guardrail danger zone reported at the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meetings.

Meanwhile, severe droughts are hitting throughout the world; e.g., according to NBC News: “Ravaged by drought, farmers in rural Honduras and Guatemala live on the edge of hunger… Central America’s Choice: Pray for Rain or Migrate.”

Based upon activity at the U.S. border, Central Americans have selected the migration option, giving up hope, heading north. As the Trump administration rejects the legitimacy of climate change/global warming, forces of climate change drive eco migrants to the States.

According to the UN World Food Program, as for Central America: “Five years of recurring droughts have destroyed maize and bean harvests, leaving poor subsistence farmers in the so-called Dry Corridor that runs through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua struggling to feed their families.”

Farther south, central Chile is in the midst of what scientists have labeled a “Mega Drought,” an uninterrupted period of dry years since 2010. Half of the country has been designated “Emergency Status.” Farmers are going out of business.

According to Felipe Machado, director of Chile’s Resilience Institute: “We are talking about a process of desertification rather than a temporary drought or absence of rain problem.”2

As it happens, the classification of “desertification” is an advanced stage of radical climate change and convincing evidence that global warming is beyond the scope of all expectations by world leaders. Otherwise, they’d already have in place a Marshall Plan generic to combat global warming, but they do not.

Furthermore, in South America’s Brazil:

The SPI-12 time series showed that from 2011 to 2019, excluding the south region, the other Brazilian regions have been exposed to the most severe and intense drought events in almost the last 60 years.3

Regrettably, the Amazon rainforest is also a victim to Brazil’s worst drought in 60 years, which in and of itself should be alarming enough for the major leaders of the world to call an emergency UN session, but no, that carillon call is dead silent. Hmm. Is it possible that all the leaders of the world are so unenlightened as to ignore the Amazon rainforest’s transition from “carbon sink” to “carbon emitter,” same as their coal-powered plants but without as much soot?

And, along the way, according to NASA, the Middle East’s drought cycle from 1998-2012 was the most severe in 900 years. According to Ben Cook of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the drought has continued “in parts of the Middle East.”  Meanwhile, the entire Middle East and southern Mediterranean regions are drying out faster than anywhere else in the world, which is one more source of eco migrants searching for sustenance.

Furthermore, according to The New Humanitarian (June 2019), a severe drought in Africa “leaves 45 million in need across 14 countries, feeling the compound effects of years of drought.”

A CNN World report dated December 14, 2019 says the once mighty Victoria Falls, where water thundered over the precipice on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, is nearly dry. A multi-year drought has slowed the enormously powerful waterfalls to little more than a weak stream. That is astonishingly disheartening and representative of massive droughts hitting regions of Africa hard, very hard; one of the world’s great waterfalls turned parched says it all.

Throughout much of Asia drought is becoming the norm rather than the exception. This year alone, according to data from the Manila-based Asia Development Bank, drought has been severe in Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, while Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar have all seen moderate drought.4

The Mekong River, known in China as the Lancang (aka: the Danube of the East) which cuts through five countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, turning into the Mekong River 2,703 miles long, has seen water levels drop dramatically. In northeastern Thailand, the river is at its lowest level in 100 years. According to Chinese scientists the glacial headwaters that feed the Lancang River are down 80% because of global warming.

Remarkably, the impact of global warming is just now starting to strut its stuff so visibly and so perceptibly that average people are recognizing its threat.

Whereas, in the past global warming was apparent to scientists over a period of decades. Today, it’s unmistakably apparent year-by-year, as entire countries and populations experience its relentlessness and utter devastation.

Postscript: Global governments plan to increase fossil fuels by 120% by 2030, including the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Canada, and Australia.

  1. Multi-century Cool-and Warm-Season rainfall Reconstructions for Australia’s Major Climatic Regions, European Geosciences Union, Vol. 13, Issue 12, November 30, 2017 by Mandy Freund and Benjamin Henley
  2. “Chile Declares Agricultural Emergency as Extreme Drought Hits Santiago and Outskirts”, Santiago Times, August 26, 2019.
  3. Ana Paula M.S. Cunha, et al, “Extreme Drought Events Over Brazil from 2011 to 2019”, Atmosphere, October 24, 2019.
  4. China Daily News, August 12, 2019.

What Passes for Reality Is Not Worth Respecting

In October of last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released its flagship World Economic Outlook. In that report, the IMF said that the global growth rate would stumble at 3% in 2019. A month ago, the IMF’s main economists returned to this theme; ‘Global growth’, they wrote, ‘recorded its weakest pace since the global financial crisis a decade ago’. The analysis of why there was such a low growth rate rested on the trade war between the United States and China and on ‘associated weaknesses’. (The IMF promises a fuller discussion about the crisis in its World Economic Outlook Update, which it will release on 20 January).

Strikingly, the IMF economists note that as a result of global turbulence, ‘firms turned cautious on long-range spending and global purchases of machinery and equipment declined’. What this means is that firms are not investing in their expansion or in new technologies. Instead, firms are beginning to rely more and more on outsourced production, precarious employment, and a permanent regime of low-wage work. In other words, firms are cannibalising society – putting immense pressure on fragile networks of family and community, deepening the conservative impulses in society, and decreasing society’s health and well-being.

Denis Mubiru, Tukoola Bagaya?! (My Work Goes Unnoticed), 2015.

To prevent a major collapse, central banks around the world have lowered interest rates permanently and have provided cheap money to the business world. These firms – which have not invested in the productive sector – are borrowing trillions of dollars which they then put into the world of what Karl Marx called ‘fictitious capital’. The value of global stock markets is now nearly $90 trillion (according to Deutsche Bank), putting it ahead of global GDP (if you add in the total value of global financial stock – including bank deposits, government and private debt securities, and equities – the figure in 2004 was $118 trillion; it was over $200 trillion in 2010 – over 200% of global GDP). This expansion of fictitious capital has come more and more within borders, and not through global cross-border capital flows. These flows – which include foreign direct investment – has shrunk by 65% since 2007, from $12.4 trillion to $4.3 trillion.

For almost five decades, these two processes have confronted human society: a slowdown in productive investment from capitalist firms and an increase in the volume and importance of financial capital. Profit rates have declined overall, and debt rates have increased. No real attempt has been made to solve this problem, largely because there is no easy solution from within the confines of the capitalist system. Three main avenues opened up to lessen the severity of the crisis on the capitalist system, but not to solve the cascading crisis:

1) The policy slate of neoliberalism not only freed the capitalist class from the chains of taxation; it also deregulated finance and foreign direct investment, privatised state services, and commodified social wealth. The entire drive of neoliberalism weakened the capacity of States to formulate national economic policies; since formulating economy policy did not strengthen a democratic order, States delivered the advantage to multinational firms (including international banks).

2) The collapse of the Third World Project and the weakening of the socialist bloc delivered hundreds of millions of workers into the global working class and thereby allowed firms to bid down wages through subcontracting at the same time as State regulations collapsed through ‘labour market reforms’ pushed by the IMF.

3) A massive expansion of debt through lowered interest rates and easy access to credit. The Institute of International Finance shows that global debt is now at $250 trillion and counting; it is now 230% of the global GDP. Government debt accounts for nearly $70 trillion; half of the global debt is in the hands of the non-financial private sector. A new report from the World Bank called Global Waves of Debt shows that debt in emerging and developing countries alone continues to break its own records, rising to over $55 trillion in 2018, ‘marking an eight-year surge that has been the largest, fastest, and most broad-based in nearly five decades’. This debt in the emerging and developing countries is now 170% of the global GDP. But it is this debt that has fuelled what growth can be measured, and it is this mountain of debt that perches perilously over the fate of the world.

We, at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, have been closely following these developments and offering our analysis of what appears to be a long-term structural crisis for capitalism. In our dossier no. 24 (January 2020), we offer a thumbnail assessment of this long-term crisis and of the continued policy of austerity, then we pivot to an analysis of the emergence of the rivalry between the United States and China. We are of the view that the ‘trade war’ between the United States and China is not an irrational phenomenon, but that it is precisely the outgrowth of both the long-term economic crisis and of the policies of austerity. This assessment allows us to provide a brief analysis of the approach towards these matters that is being developed by the Institute for International Relations at Tsinghua University (Beijing).

The key finding of the Tsinghua approach is that we are entering a ‘bipolar world order’ in which there will – eventually – be two major powers in the world, the United States and China. Either these two powers will come to some understanding over the international organisations – such as the IMF and the World Bank – or more regional organisations will appear with different standards and a more heterogenous understanding of trade and development. Whether these fissiparous tendencies will make an impact on the world financial system is not part of any of these discussions, which seems to indicate that it will remain intact. For countries in the Global South, the implication of continuities of financial power means that no major change at a global level will be possible in this bipolar dispensation. What alternatives there will be for austerity regimes are unclear.

The slow attrition of US power and the emergence of the bipolar order can be glimpsed in the ongoing crises in West Asia. The US assassination of an Iranian general – who was carrying a diplomatic passport and was on a diplomatic mission in Iraq – and the widening of the gates of hell as missiles fly across the Iran and Iraq border; growing pressure from China and Russia with regard to this crucial part of Eurasia and the attempt by the US to encircle Eurasia – all of this suggest just these shifts. Anti-austerity protests intersect with protests against social toxicity. A general strike in India on 8 January combined the demands of the working class and the peasantry with a social compact that does not disadvantage minorities. Much the same kind of dynamic is visible in Latin America, where popular fronts have emerged against regimes of authoritarian austerity. Beneath the storm and stress of the shifts in the balance of power lie myriad struggles; this is why our dossier is called The World Oscillates Between Crises and Protests.

The general attitude in these protests is that what passes for reality is not worth respecting; the establishment leaders and their callousness is to be disregarded. US President Donald Trump threatens to destroy Iran’s cultural sites, a threat that is in the nature of a war crime; Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison watches his country burn and reacts with muffled unscientific and crude noises; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says nothing when the police and hooligans of his political orientation enter its universities and beat and arrest students. Social media explodes with anger against these men and their inhumanity. Young faces have their chins up, their fists in the air; they are not afraid.

It is true that these are protests of the youth, but it would be inaccurate to believe that youth can be reduced to age. There are many young people who have surrendered to reality, who cannot see beyond the horizon of the present; there are many older people who are youthful in their desire for full-scale transformation. The point is not age but attitude, the sensibility that the world we have need not be the world for eternity. ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’, Wordsworth wrote of the time of the French Revolution. ‘But to be young was very heaven’. To be young means to imagine ‘heaven’, another dispensation – the place, Wordsworth sang, ‘where in the end we find happiness, or not at all!’.

It is with great pleasure that we – at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research – welcome Professor Aijaz Ahmad to our team as a Senior Fellow. Professor Ahmad, a leading Marxist philosopher and cultural theorist, is the author of the classic book In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literature (1992) and of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Imperialism of Our Time (2004).

Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change

Despite the Internet, connectivity, and linking technologies, distance has not shrunk the Australian sense of self, an often provincial appraisal of the world seen in slow motion and stills.  Whether it’s the “flower revolution” or Michel Foucault, trends and ideas are often delayed, and seem almost cutely anachronistic by the time they make landfall down under.  Wedded to the insatiable urge to reap, rent and remove from the earth, and you have the ultimate myopic: Australia, the exceptional country, outside the stream of history and, dare it be said, the inconveniences of science.

With some 11,000 scientists warning that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency”, some sense of it was registered on the Australian political scene, if only barely.  The “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published in BioScience does not shy away from the language of catastrophe and emergency.  “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations… we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.”  Climate change had not merely arrived but bulldozed itself into recognition, “accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The authors and signatories suggest that, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.”  Public debates on the subject of climate change had mostly focused on global surface temperature, a clearly inadequate approach that avoids “the breath of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet.”

Areas of urgent redress were also suggested.  Energy efficiency and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels are high on the list.  “We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly.”  The call for a change of language is encouraged: rhetoric of GDP growth and affluence needs to be replaced by sustainability “and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.”  Not exactly music for the muscular fossil fuel lobby.

Another song sheet that would not have impressed the fossil fuel industries was an event that barely disturbed the press releases.  This month, the National Electricity Market in Australia received a contribution from wind, solar and hydro energy amounting to half of the total energy production.  Rooftop solar contributions came in at 23.7 percent, with wind (15.7 percent), large-scale solar (8.8 percent) and hydro (1.9 percent) bringing up the rear.

With the release of the report, Australia braced itself for the incinerating fury of bush fires that have arrived earlier this season.  The state of New South Wales is anticipating what the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons describes as “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.

The warnings were already pressing through the policy pipeline in the last decade.  The National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management’s 2004 report to the Council of Australian Government warned that, “Fires’ frequency, intensity and size are expected to increase under climate change as temperatures rise, rainfall variability increases, droughts become more severe and ecosystem dynamics alter, resulting in changed biomass fuel loads and types.”

The authors of the report go on to suggest that “projected hotter, drier and windier conditions associated with climate change caused by greenhouse warming would extend the period of fuel drying and increase rates of fire spread.”

Earlier this year, former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other emergency honchos warned Prime Minister Morrison of the dangers that would face Australia this summer, suggesting that the government meet to discuss some form of action against risks of conflagration.  The meeting has yet to take place, leaving such politicians as Adam Bandt, the Greens MP for Melbourne, certain that Morrison “bears some responsibility and must apologise to the communities impacted”.

Various Australian politicians, as then, were having none of it.  Charged with the task of keeping a plunderer’s lifestyle in perpetuity, the well-fed pigs in clover, the following words of the BioScience report sit uncomfortably with members of the Morrison government.  “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.  The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis.  “They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.”

McCormack’s primary target was the Green party itself, which he accused of fiddling politically while Australia burned.  “That’s what Adam Bandt, and the Greens, and Richard Di Natale, and all those other inner-city raving lunatics – and quite frankly, that’s how he was carrying on yesterday – that’s what they want, we’re not going to go down that path.”

Other politicians have adopted a similar approach: the now is what matters, and never mind previous failings and future disasters.  NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian provided the stellar example.  “For any of us on the ground, speaking to people traumatised, speaking to people fighting fires for weeks… know exactly what the priorities should be, and that is saving life and property”.  Climate change, in other words, was something for another day, another slot in the packed meeting schedule.

Morrison reiterated the position.  He was “focused on the needs of the people”.  He spoke of having “firefighters out there saving someone else’s house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of situation, that is where attention must be.”

Mayors from the areas most affected by the recent conflagration have been crankily unimpressed by the platitudes.  Climate change literature, they surmise, is being assiduously avoided by the government.  The unfortunately named Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes, site of two deaths over the weekend, suggested that McCormack needed “to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science.” Forget, suggested the mayor, the politics here.  Science had imposed its cold, objective hand on the matter.  Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin was similarly riled, notably by suggestions that fires were the staple of Australian life and landscape.  “We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen.”

There are few incentives for humanity to adapt than through the infliction of catastrophic conditions.  Pandemics, world wars and existential risk have done their bit in propelling change.  But luxury produces complacency; well fed bellies induce sloth.  Come the writing of humanity’s extensive biography of preying on the planet, Australia and its political classes will have much to answer for.

In the Eye of the Eagle: From Strict Catholic School to Adventures in Rainforests

A slow, tacking flight: float then flap. Then a pirouette and it has swung on to a different tack, following another seam through the moor as if it is tracking a scent. It is like a disembodied spirit searching for its host…” — description of the strongest of all harriers, the goshawk, by James Macdonald Lockhart in his book, Raptor: A Journey Through Birds

We’re watching a female red-tail hawk rejecting the smaller male’s romantic overtures barely 50 yards overhead.

There it is. Ahh, the male has full extension. So does his girlfriend. I see this every day from here. This courting ritual . . . testing each other’s loyalty. Watching them in a talon lock, spiraling down, now that’s an amazing sight.

I’m with Chris Hatten on his 10 acres overlooking the Siletz estuary along a gravel road. Saying he lives for that typical red-tail hawk behavior would be an understatement. His passion for raptors has taken him to many parts of the globe, and those trips involved exhilaration, danger, risks to his life, and the trials and tribulations of living primitively in tropical zones which Westerners sometimes deridingly call undeveloped countries or third world nations.

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 Wild Harpy eagle being recaptured and treated after being shot in leg, northern Guatemala.

We are traipsing around his property where Chris is ninety percent finished with a two-story 1,400 square foot home, a modern efficient house he’s been building for two years from a kit out of Lynnwood, Washington.

He told me he’ll never do that again – building a full-sized house.

The 42-year-old Hatten got a hold of my name when he found out I write about Oregon coastal people with compellingly interesting lives. He is in the midst of witnessing adjoining land (more than a hundred acres) to his property about to be clear-cut – forested hillside owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group, part of John Hancock Insurance (now owned by a Canadian group, Manulife Financial).

When he first bought the land eight years ago, representatives of Hancock told him that the company had so much timberland it would take years, maybe a decade, to get to this piece of property.

We discuss how Lincoln City and Lincoln County might prevent a clear cut from the side of the hill all the way down to Highway 101. “It’s amazing to witness in this coastal area — that depends on tourism — all this land clear-cut as far as the eye can see.”

The red-tail hawk pair circles above us again, while a Merlin flits about alighting on a big Doug fir.

When he first saw the property — an old homestead which was once a producing dairy farm — Chris said two eagles cawed above where he was standing, which for a bird-man is a positive omen and spiritual sign of good health. He calls his place “The Double-Eagle.”

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Hands on bio blitz Northern Brazil.

Non-Traditional Student Backpacks into Jungles

He’s not living in the house, per se, but rather he has a tent he calls home. “I feel suffocated inside four walls. I want to hear animals, hear the wind, be on the ground.” He’s hoping to rent out the house.

His current kip is set up near a black bear den, where mother bruin and her two cubs share an area he is willing to stay away from. “The mother bear and I have an understanding. We don’t bother each other.”

He’s part Doctor Dolittle, part Jim Fowler (from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom), and part John Muir. My own intersections with blokes and women around the world like him have put me eye-to-eye with pygmy elephants in Vietnam, great hammerheads off Baja, king cobras in Thailand, schools of barracudas off Honduras, and a pack of 20 javelina chasing me along the Arizona-Mexico border.

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Jaguar rescue northern Belize.

Hatten’s wildlife adventures indeed take it up a few notches.

“When I finished high school, I wanted to follow my dreams.” That was at Saint Mary’s in Salem, a school that was so constricting to Chris he had already been saving up dollars for a one-way ticket out of the country.

He had started working young – aged 8 – picking zucchini and broccoli in fields near where his family of six lived. “You feel invincible when you are young. You’re also more adaptable and more resilient.”

He ended up in Malaysia which then turned into trekking throughout Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, East Timor, and even down south to Darwin, Australia.

Those two years, from age 17 to 19, are enough to fill two thick memoirs. Upon returning to Salem, he applied to the National Park service and bought a one-way ticket to Alaska, working the trails in small groups who lived in tents and cleared trails with 19-Century equipment – saws, shovels, picks, pry bars.

With his cash stake growing, he headed back south, by mountain bike, along the Prudhoe-Dalton Highway. He hit Prince George, Vancouver Island, and stopped in the Olympics.

He then worked summers and attended Chemeketa College in Salem.

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Finding small spot fire Colombia River Gorge, Oregon, working for U.S.F.S.

Homeless-but-inspired at Evergreen State College

He wanted to study temperature rainforests, so he showed up unannounced hoping for an audience with a well-known scientist and faculty member — Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, who is an expert in temperate forests and sap maples. Chris had read the book she co-authored, Forest Canopies.

Before showing up to Evergreen, Chris had developed a sling-shot contraption to propel ropes into forest canopy. He barged into Nadkarni’s office with his invention. She was surprised Chris wasn’t already student, but she quickly made sure he enrolled in the environmental studies program.

Spending his last dollar on tuition, Chris resorted to sleeping in a tent and inside his 1988 Honda Civic while using campus rec department showers. He told me he received free produce on Tuesdays when the farmer’s market would pass out vegetables and fruit after a day’s sales.

Another faculty member, Dr. Steve Herman, motivated Chris to really delve into ornithology. Chris recalls coastal dune ecology trips, from Olympia in motor pool vans, all the way into the southern reaches of Baja. “We looked at every dune system from Baja all the way back north to Florence.”

The ornithologist Herman was also a tango aficionado, and Chris recalled the professor announcing to his students many times, in the middle of dunes in Mexico, it was time for some tango lessons. “He told us there was more to life than just science.”

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Educational Harpy eagle to take into classrooms Panama city, Panama, has one blind eye, could not be released into wild.

Adventures and Misadventures of a Bird Fanatic

My life’s work has been to produce scientists who will seek to protect wildness. But I also just really enjoy teaching people about birds. I’ve been lucky to get to do that for a very long time.

— Steve Herman, Evergreen State College faculty emeritus Steve Herman, 2017

Chris laments the lack of real stretches of wilderness in Oregon, most notably along our coast. These are postage stamp areas, he emphasizes, around Drift Creek, Rock Creek, Cape Perpetua, but “it’s abysmal.”

We have the Cascades in Washington and the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, and lots of wilderness in Alaska. But really, nothing along the Pacific in Oregon.

After camping in the forest around Evergreen College, Chris still had the travel bug bad. On one foray, he went to Thailand, studying the mangrove forests there. He traveled with Thai army anti-poaching teams who went after poachers. He came across poachers’ camps, witnessed firefights and saw a few poachers laid out dead. “The captain gave me a pistol and one bullet. He said the torture would be so bad if I got captured by tiger poachers that I’d beg for a bullet.”

He’s worked on the island of Hawaii with the USGS focusing on a biocomplexity project looking at how mosquitoes are moving higher and higher because of global warming. The consequences are pretty connected to other invasives – pigs introduced to the islands several centuries ago – disturbing the entire natural ecosystem.

Pigs chew down the ferns, and places that have never seen pooled water before are now wet troughs where mosquitoes can now breed.

Those insects carry avian malaria, and alas, endangered honey creepers can’t adjust to the mosquitoes like their cousins elsewhere who have evolved over millennia to just rub off the insects. The honey creeper is being decimated by this minor but monumental change.

Peregrine Fund

Right after matriculating from Evergreen with a bachelor’s of science, Chris ended up in Panama, working throughout Central America rehabilitating, breeding and introducing Harpy Eagles – the biggest forest eagle in the world with a wingspan of six and a half feet – into their native jungle habitat.

These are massive birds. They dwarf our American bald eagle, for sure. My job was to follow them when the fledglings were grown and released.

He acted like an adult Harpy who catches prey and puts it in the trees for the youngster to eat and learn some hunting skills. Frozen rats, GPS backpack transmitter fashioned on the birds, and orienteering throughout Belize and Southern Mexico were his tools.

It sort of blew me away that here I was living the dream of studying birds in a rainforest.

Territorial ranges for these birds spread into Honduras and south to Colombia. Wild Harpies eat sloth, aunt eaters, howler monkeys, even giant Military Macaws.

He ended up in the Petén, Tikal (originally dating back 2000 years), one of Central America’s premier Mayan archeological and tourist sites.

His role was to study the orange-breasted falcon, a tropical raptor which is both endangered and stealth. “We got to live on top of pyramids off limits to anyone else,” he says, since the bird was using the pyramids as nesting and breeding grounds.

He recalled tiring of the tourists down below repeating the fact that one of the Star Wars movies was filmed here – “I got tired of hearing, ‘Wow, is this really where Yavin 4,  A New Hope, was filmed? We’re really here.’”

Imagine respecting this ancient Mayan capital, and studying amazing raptors as the antithesis of goofy tourista comments.

No 9 to 5 Working Stiff

He tells me that his idols are people like Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. While he went to school in a conservative Catholic setting where his peers were mostly farm kids —  and some were already pregnant and married (before graduation), his family was not of the same stripe.

“We were like the people in the movie ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’’ he says with a laugh. His parents took the brood to the Oregon Coast a lot, and that 1976 yellow VW van’s starter was always going out. “I remember we had my sister and mom blocking the intersections in places like Lincoln City while we pushed the van to get it started.”

He’s got a brother, Steve, an RN in Portland, and another Portland-based brother, Mark, owner of a micro-car shop. His older sister, Amy, is a newspaper journalist in Grand Junction, Colorado – a real lifer, with the written word coursing through her blood. She’s encouraged Chris to write down his story.

Their mother went to UC-Berkley, and has been a public education teacher for over 25 years. Their father (divorced when he was 12) got into real estate but is now living in New Zealand.

That one-way ticket to Singapore that got him into Southeast Asia, ended with him running out of money after a year, but he was able to get to Darwin, Australia, by paying a fishing boat in East Timor to get him down under illegally. He spent time picking Aussie Chardonnay grapes to stake himself in order to see that continent.

He was blown away by the kangaroo migration, a scene that involved a few million ‘roos kicking up great clouds of red dust. He ended up going through Alice Springs to see the sacred Uluru (formally known as Ayers Rock). He met undocumented immigrants from El Salvador and Greece while making money picking oranges.

We talk about some frightening times in our travels, and per usual, the worst incidents involved criminals or bad hombres, not with wildlife. For Chris, his close call with death occurred in Guatemala where he, his female supervisor (a Panamanian) and another raptor specialist were confronted by men on horses, brandishing machetes and leading tracker dogs.

“’We’ll let you live if you give us the woman.’ That’s what they gave us as our option.” The bird team went back into the jungle, the two male researchers buried their female companion with leaves, and then Chris and the other guy took off running all night long.

The banditos chased them through the jungle. He laughed saying they ran virtually blind in places where eyelash vipers (one bite, and three steps and you’re dead), coral snakes and tropical rattlesnakes lived in abundance.

“It’s a very creepy feeling being hunted by men with dogs.” Luckily, the female team member headed out the opposite direction, with a radio. All in a day’s work for environmentalists.

That’s saying, “all in a day’s work,” is ominous since we both talk about how most indigenous and local environmental leaders in so many countries have been murdered by loggers, miners, oil men, ranchers, and coca processors (many times executed by paid-for military soldiers).

Never Return or There Will Be Tears

Two telling quotes from world-renown traveler and writer, Paul Theroux, strike me as apropos for a story about Chris Hatten:

Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.

You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.

We talk about a crackling campfire being the original TV, and how being out in wilderness with 5 or 10 people for an extended period gets one really connected to working with people and counting on them to be friends and support.

“It’s tough going back to places I’ve been,” he says with great lamentation. In Borneo, a return trip years later discombobulated him. “The rainforest is being plowed over daily. I couldn’t tell where I was walking miles and miles through palm oil plantations. It was as if the jungle had been swallowed up.”

What once was a vibrant, multilayered super rich and diverse place of amazing flora and fauna has been turned into a virtual desert of a monocrop.

This reality is some of the once most abundant and ecologically distinct places on earth are no longer that. “This is the problem with any wildlife reintroduction program. You can breed captive animals like, for instance, the orangutan but there’s nowhere to release them. Everywhere is stripped of jungle, healthy habitat.”

The concept of rewilding any place is becoming more and more theoretical.

We climb the hill where the clear-cut will occur. Chris and I talk about a serious outdoor education center – a place where Lincoln County students could show up for one, two or three days of outdoor learning. We’re serious about reframing the role of schools and what youth need to have in order to be engaged and desirous of learning.

That theoretical school could be right here, with Chris as the lead outdoor/ecological instructor.

All those trees, terrestrial animals, avian creatures, smack dab on an estuary leading to a bay which leads to the Pacific is highly unique – and a perfect place from which to really get hands on learning as the core curriculum.

We imagine young people learning the history, geology, biology, and ecology of where they live. Elders in the woods teaching them how to smoke salmon, how to build a lean-to, how to see outside the frame of consumption/purchasing/screen-time.

Interestingly, while Chris has no desire to have children, he has taught tropical biology/ecology to an international student body at the Richmond Vale Academy on the island of Saint Vincent (part of the Grenadines).

Koreans, Russians, Venezuelans, Peruvians and Vincennes learned organic farming, bio-fuel production, solar power design, how to grow passion and star fruit. There is even a little horse program in the school, founded by two Danes.

Chris said that the local population is taught about medicinal plants, recycling and responsible waste disposal. “Everything used to be wrapped in banana leaves in their grandparents’ time. Now there is all this single-use plastic waste littering the island.

Like the dynamic rainforest that once carpeted the Central Coast – with herds of elk, wolves, grizzlies and myriad other species – much of the world is being bulldozed over, dammed and mined. Wildlife leave, stop breeding, never repopulate fractured areas where human activities are the norm.

But given that, when I asked Chris where he might like to go now, he mentioned Croatia, his mother’s side of the family roots. He may have swum with 60-foot-long whale sharks and kayaked over orcas, but Chris is still jazzed up about raptors – maybe he’d end up on the Croatian island of Cres which is a refuge for the spectacular griffon vulture.

“Nature has a purpose beyond anything an extraction-based society puts its monetary value on trees. We have to show young people there is value to natural ecosystems beyond extracting everything for a profit.”

One-Minute Q and A

Paul Haeder: What is your life philosophy?

Chris Hatten: Make the best use of your time. Time is short.

PH: How do we fix this extractive “resources” system that is so rapacious?

CH: We need to value forests for the many multitude of services they provide, not just quick rotations. Forests are not the same as fields of crops.

PH: Give any young person currently in high school, say, in Lincoln County, advice on what they might get out of life if they took your advice? What’s that advice?

CH: Get off your phone, lift up your head, see the world for yourself as it really is, then make necessary changes to it and yourself.

PH: What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve experienced — what, where, when, why, how?

CH: I have had very poor people offer to give me all they had in several different countries. Strangers have come to my aid with no thought of reward.

PH: In a nutshell, define the Timber Unity movement to say someone new to Oregon.

CH: They are people who mostly work in rural Oregon in resource extraction industries and believe they are forgotten.

PH: If you were to have a tombstone, what would be on it once you kick the bucket?

CH: “Lived.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 2013-03-15-the-free-horse_0409.jpg

Running in step, at sunset on the beach with horse St. Vincent and Grenadines

Decimation of the Rainforests and the Money Men

During August thousands of fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia. Some are still burning. In the wet ecosystem of the rainforest fires are not a natural phenomenon, they are started by people, mostly well-organized criminal gangs that profit from illegal logging and land clearance.

Brazil’s right-wing President, Jain Bolsanaro, took office in January; since then deforestation in the country has doubled, there have been 87,000 fires in the Amazon, the highest number since 2010. Funding to Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, IBAMA, has been cut by 25%, including monies allocated for prevention and control of fires, which was slashed by 23%, he has publicly attacked organizations working to protect the rainforest, like Guardians of the Forest (made up of indigenous people), and turned a blind eye to environmental crimes.

By dismantling “all the state organs that enforce environmental protection,” Alfredo Sirkis, director of the Brazil Climate Center, says Bolsonaro is inciting environmental crimes and facilitating deforestation; through his words and deeds he is complicit in the environmental crimes being perpetrated. A spokesman for Guardians of the Forest told Human Rights Watch, “If we were to wait for the authorities to act there will be nothing left.”

80,000 acres a day

The World’s rainforests are the lungs of the planet. They soak up greenhouse gas emissions, affect wind currents and rainfall patterns and produce the oxygen we need to survive. They provide habitat for hundreds of animals, thousands of birds and tens of thousands of plants: around 25% of modern pharmaceuticals are derived from ingredients found in rainforests.

In 1950 they covered around 15% of the earth’s land surface.  Now, due to intensive deforestation, it’s down to just 6%. According to Scientific American, “most experts agree that we are losing upwards of 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest daily, and significantly degrading another 80,000 acres every day on top of that. Along with this loss and degradation, 135 plant, animal and insect species are disappearing every day………as the forests fall.”

In 2015 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) claimed that “over the past 25 years the rate of net global deforestation has slowed down by more than 50 percent”.  However, according to the World Resources Institute, that trend has reversed; 2018 “was the second-highest on record for tree cover loss, down just slightly from 2016. The tropics lost an area of forest the size of Vietnam in just the last two years.” If this unimaginable level of carnage continues unabated it is feared that in less than 40 years there will be none left.

The consequences of a world bereft of rainforests are too horrific to contemplate, but one thing is clear: it would then be too late to do anything meaningful about climate change and the environmental calamity more broadly. Currently, deforestation and forest degradation rank as the second highest cause of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, producing around 15% of the total. As the children of the world have been rightly demanding, radical action is needed now, not in twenty-five or thirty years’ time, but now.

The causes of deforestation

There are various causes of deforestation; while logging is an issue, particularly in Indonesia where 80 percent of timber exports are illegal, the major cause is animal agriculture. Huge tracts of land are cleared to graze cattle, grow feed for animals and for biofuels. Animal agriculture is a principle cause of greenhouse gas emissions – producing, the UNFAO say, 14.5% of the anthropogenic GHG emissions that are driving climate change. It also uses approximately 70% of all agricultural land, and is the primary cause of biodiversity loss, animal extinction and water pollution. If deforestation and climate change are to be tackled, reducing consumption of animal produce needs to be a priority. This is something we can all do; it just requires commitment and a sense of social/environmental responsibility.

A recent study into the impact of farming on the planet concluded that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae], land use and water use…it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” it states, “as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

The research, which is the most comprehensive to date, found that “beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture,” and states that producing 100g of beef “results in up to 105kg of greenhouse gases, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.” Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by 75% (an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined), the study states, and we could still feed everyone.

In response to this summer’s fires in the Amazon a coalition of environmental groups came together, which included Friends of the Earth, Action Network, Rainforest and Amazon Watch. They called for a Global Day of Action for the Amazon and issued a damning statement to those responsible for the destruction.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro is, they made clear, primarily to blame for the fires and the increase in deforestation since he took office, due to his “regressive, and racist policies and his explicit encouragement to ‘open the Amazon for business’.” But, it is multinational companies that have created the “conditions for profiteering at the expense of the lungs of the earth – and these same companies are poised to profit further as today’s fires open up the door for tomorrow’s plantations and ranches.” Behind deforestation is big business and the multinational banks.

Global commodity traders are the “key drivers of deforestation in the Amazon”; companies like Cargill, a US based agriculture corporation, or JBS, an American food processing company, or Marfrig Global Foods, a Brazilian beef producer, and, according to their website, “one of the world leaders in the production of hamburgers, with processing capacity of 232.000 tons per year”.

The products these companies make are sold by large-scale retailers all over the world: E. Lecrerc has over 500 shops in France and 112 outside the country; Stop & Shop (the name says it all), a US supermarket chain with 415 outlets; Costco, another American conglomerate, and US mega corporation, Walmart, which has 11,389 stores. Behind these corporations sit the money men. The key players are BlackRock (an American investment management corporation); US investment bank, JPMorgan Chase; Santander (Spanish Bank); BNP Paribas (French Bank); HSBC (UK-based bank) and others. “These financiers not only enable the destruction of our forests – they profit from it.”

The driving force

Behind the banks and corporate traders is the Neo-Liberal socio-economic model; these powerful organizations operate within, and are determined to uphold, the confines of its doctrine, they are driven by the values and motives inherent in the Ideology of Money, and demonstrate no concern for the natural world, or human well-being.

Together with the consumer society that it relentlessly promotes and depends on, Neo-Liberalism, sits at the polluting heart of deforestation and the wider interconnected environmental catastrophe. Under its profit-bound ethos, everything is regarded as a commodity, everyone seen as a consumer. Competition and division are inherent, selfishness and greed, the antithesis to what is needed, are fostered.

Within the present construct and modes of living it is hard to see how the necessary action to curb deforestation could be initiated. In an attempt to halt the carnage in 2008 the UN set up Redd (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). A mechanism through which developing countries are encouraged to improve forest management and developed nations can contribute to a fund to facilitate and support such schemes. It may contribute to encouraging conservation and places a degree of responsibility, albeit voluntarily accepted, on rich nations, but it will not stop deforestation.

A completely new approach to so-called development as part of far reaching systemic change is urgently needed, together with a shift in public attitudes: away from self-centered activity, competition, and the aggrandizement of the individual and/or the nation state. Humanity is one, individual but united. This essential fact needs to be recognized and acted upon. Not as a vague philosophical or psychological catchphrase, but as a principle of truth from which a new socio-economic model can be created; one that serves the needs of all through sharing, encourages simplicity of living, harmlessness and social/environmental responsibility.

Amazonia in Flames

On 28 October 2018, Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil with 55.1% of the vote and with a gigantic help from Cambridge Analytica.

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2019 in Davos Switzerland, Bolsonaro made a sumptuous presentation, “We Are Building a New Brazil”. He outlined a program that put literally Brazil up for sale, and especially the Brazilian part of Amazonia. He was talking particularly about Brazil’s water resources, the world’s largest, and the rain forest – offering a huge potential for agricultural development and mining.

None of the world leaders present at the WEF, precisely those that regularly meet pretending to save the planet, reacted to Bolsonaro’s statement on the Amazon region. They all knew who Bolsonaro was and is. They knew that the man had no scruples and would destroy – literally – the world’s lungs. They did nothing. They stayed silent in words and deeds, applauding the neonazi for his openness to international business and globalization.

Today, on the occasion of another similar world event, the meeting of the G7 in Biarritz, France, French President Macron accused Bolsonaro of lying when he talked and pledged environmental consciousness after taking office, about protecting the Amazon area. Macron was joined by Germany in threatening Brazil with canceling the trade agreement with Mercosur, if he would not immediately undertake to stop the “wildfires”. They have most likely nothing to do with ‘wild’ as they, according to all circumstantial evidence, were planted in a concerted effort to rid the rich Amazon territory of the life-sustaining jungle, so as to make the newly gained flame-deforested land accessible for private agri-business and mining.

Mind you, the G7 is another self-appointed totally illegal group of industrialized, rich countries (similar to the G20); illegal, because they have been approved by nobody, not by the UN or any international body. They became rich mostly on the back of poor developing nations that were and are still colonized for hundreds of years. The G7 count today about 10% of the world population and are controlling 40% of the globe’s GDP.

Despite the fact that nobody, other than themselves, ratified their existence and their machinations, they believe they can call the shots of how the world should turn and function. They have no official backing by anybody, especially not the people across the globe, who, with a vast majority are fighting globalization. It’s a useless structure – RT refers to them as “The Unbearable Pointlessness of G7” – but their power lays in the rest of the world’s silence, their silent acceptance of the G7’s arrogant wielding of the scepter of power.

So, would Bolsonaro take them seriously, knowing that he is one of them and they are fully sharing his ideology of profit first, shoving environmental and social values down the muddy waters of the Amazon River? Hardly. He knows they are hypocrites. He knows that they make a bit of noise, because they have to. It makes for good public relation and propaganda – so people don’t go on the barricades. He knows that starting this coming Monday, 26 August, when the G7 summit will be history, that anything the Macrons of this world so impressively said, will fade away. The media will concentrate on other ‘news’ – and the forest fires will burn the life stream of Amazonia away – to make room for corporate profit-making by the elite few.

Never mind the Constitutional protection of indigenous people and their land. Bolsonaro backed by evangelists and his military junta will rapidly dismantle any remaining protection for the ecosystem and native communities. His argument goes that the native people’s land is sitting on huge reserves of natural resources that belong to Brazil and may be concessioned to private corporations for mining, exploitation of agriculture and lumber.

The indigenous folks are people who have for thousands of years made a peaceful living in the Amazon. They are the gatekeepers of Amazonia; they are the people who may carry our genes from the present killer civilization to the next, hopefully less of a killer one, when mankind has finally managed to destroy itself. It will not destroy the planet. Never. The planet will just get rid of the nefarious elements of annihilation – mankind – and renew itself. As has happened many times in the past – a new civilization will eventually be born – and, yes, the world’s indigenous people, the likely only survivors, may carry on our DNA, possibly to the next attempt at humanity.

The fires have so far in about 20 days since they were discovered, consumed at least 74,000 ha of tropical rain forest. The smoke is already trespassing the border to Argentina and affecting the provinces of Formosa, Jujuy, Corrientes, Catamarca, La Rioja, Santa Fe and may have already reached Buenos Aires. NASA reports that about 3.2 million square kilometers of South America are covered by smoke.

The flames are massive and are devastating the jungle at a rapid pace. Amazonia comprises one of the world’s largest rainforests, also known as Mother Earth’s lungs – without which humanity – and fauna and flora might not survive.

According to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the fires increased by 83% – almost double – from what they were last year, and, not coincidentally, at least 68% of protected areas have been affected. The Brazilian Space Research spotted 72,000 fires, of which 9,000 last week alone. The Amazon is home to 34 million people, including over 350 indigenous groups.

At the onset of the G7 conference, Mr. Macron twittered:

“Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let’s discuss this emergency first order in two days!”

The destruction of the Amazon is indeed a crime of first degree. Accordingly, there are protests around the world against Bolsonaro’s “free for all” mining, lumbering, land and water grabbing policies. The eco-warriors Extinction Rebellion (XR) organize widespread protests, and in front of London’s Brazilian Embassy protesters chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Bolsonaro’s got to go!”.

While the Brazil fires catch world attention, there are jungle fires even larger than those in Amazonia burning down other parts of the world’s oxygen-generating lungs. Bloomberg cites NASA data, according to which last Thursday and Friday, 22 and 23 August – in two days alone – more than 6,900 fires were recorded in Angola and about 3,400 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about 5 times as many as in the same two days in the Brazilian Amazon region. The destruction of the jungle in Africa progresses virtually unnoticed and is hardly reported in western media. Bloomberg is an exception. Why is that?

Could it be that the same globalized corporations interested in Brazil’s natural resources underlaying the Amazon forests are also interested in those enormous reserves of minerals and hydrocarbon resources of Central Africa? Have they – DRC, Angola and possibly others been encouraged tacitly or directly by Bolsonaro and his clan to let the jungle burn? There are plenty of Brazilian corporations which have a vivid interest in Angola, another former Portuguese colony.

Despite the G7 apparent concern to protect the world’s lungs in Amazonia, they seem to be oblivious about the Central African rain forest devastation. The massive African fires too advance rapidly and extinguish another part of the world’s lungs. But these fires are not on the G7 radar or agenda for discussion, and nobody is threatened with sanctioning if the respective governments remain hapless onlookers.

In 2008, a so-called Amazon Fund, the first UN REDD+ initiative for the protection, preservation and monitoring of the Amazon region was created (UN REDD+ = reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and foster conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks).

Germany and Norway – and others – have accused Brazil for not having properly invested their contribution into the Fund. Norway has recently blocked a payment of US$ 30 million destined for the Fund. Germany had blocked already in early August the equivalent of US$ 39 million for different Amazon protection programs to be financed by the Fund. But Bolsonaro, in a nonchalant manner, dismissed the blocked payments, suggesting that Germany should use the funds for reforestation of Germany.

In the case of Brazil, the threats by the Macron-Merkel duo – and others – seem to have had at least at the outset the effect that Bolsonaro is mobilizing the military to help extinguish the fires. Will he succeed? Does he want to succeed? In any case will the media continue reporting on progress once the G7 have gone home?  Will the world’s outcry be loud enough to force a concerted effort, possibly UN led to fight and extinguish these fires that are menacing not only to destroy a key oxygen generator for life on mother earth, but also a UNESCO protected world heritage?