Category Archives: Environment

Will Organized Human Life Survive?

Professor Noam Chomsky’s lecture at St. Olaf College on 4 May 2018. This lecture continued with lots of questions and answers, and is available on Youtube, in case anyone wants to continue the transcription. It’s a very detailed but depressing summary of where he thinks we are with respect to the threat of nuclear war and the collapse of the environment. What 20-year-old students thought of this monotone and pessimistic soon-to-be 90-year-old professor talking about “two minutes to midnight” I have no idea! How much doom and gloom can a young person absorb and still want to continue with life and struggle?
Transcribed by Felton Davis, c/o Catholic Worker

*****

Quite a number of interesting and important topics were raised by the students who invited me here, and I wish that there were time to talk about all of them. I hope you will feel free to bring them up in discussion, but I thought what I would try to do rather than trying to review those briefly is to focus on just one question, the most important question that’s ever been asked in human history, a question that should be uppermost in everyone’s mind. It’s been hanging over our heads like a “sword of Damocles” for many years, becoming more urgent every year, and it has now reached the point where the question will be answered in this generation.

It’s your challenge to answer it, it can’t be delayed. The question is whether organized human life will indeed survive, and not in the distant future. The question was raised clearly to everyone with eyes open on August 6, 1945. I was then roughly your age. I happened to be at a summer camp, where I was a counselor. In the morning an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that the United States had obliterated the city of Hiroshima with a single bomb, the atom bomb. People listened, a few expressions of relief, and then everyone went on to their next activity: a baseball game, swimming, whatever it might be.

I was horrified, both by the news, and also by the casual reaction. I was so utterly horrified that I just took off and went off into the woods for a couple of hours to think about it. It was perfectly obvious if you thought about it for a second, not only about the horror of the event, but that humans in their glory had achieved the capacity to destroy everything. Not quite at that time, but it was clear that once the technology was established it would only develop further and escalate and reach the point of becoming what Dan Ellsberg in his recent book — central reading incidentally — calls “the doomsday machine,” an automatic system set up so that everything becomes annihilated, and as he points out, we have indeed constructed such a machine and we’re living with it.

Coming forward until today, leading specialists in these topics echo much the same double concern, but now in more stark and urgent terms than 1945. One of the leading nuclear specialists, former defense secretary William Perry, has been touring the country recently, with the message that he is, as he puts it, doubly terrified, terrified by the severe and mounting threat of nuclear war, and even more so by the lack of concern about the possible termination of organized human life.

And he’s not alone. Among others, General Lee Butler — formerly head of the US Strategic Command, which controls nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons policy — he recently reflected with deep remorse on his many years of service, in implementing plans for what is sometimes called “omnicide,” a crime far surpassing genocide, the crime of wiping out every living organism. He writes that “We have so far survived the nuclear age by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

And he adds a haunting question, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? And most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly, and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”

And again, Ellsberg in his most recent book — and I urge that you read it, if you haven’t already — describes the record that he reviews, mostly from inside the government at the highest planning level for many years, he describes it as a chronicle of human madness, and that’s accurate enough. Repeatedly, we have come very close, ominously close, to terminal disaster. The record should really be studied carefully, it’s shocking. Sometimes it is due to the reckless acts of leaders, sometimes our leaders, very often through sheer accident. I’ll give you a couple of examples, there are actually hundreds, literally.

Take one in 1960, when it was discovered that the Russians might soon have missiles, the first early warning system was set up to detect a missile attack. The first day it went into operation it provided to high leaders the information that the Russians had launched a missile attack, with 99.9 percent certainty. Fortunately, people did not react the way they were instructed to react, and it turned out that there had been some miscalculations, and the radar had hit the Moon and bounced back, when it wasn’t expected to bounce back. That’s one case.

A couple of years later, in 1962, during what’s been called rightly the most dangerous moment in history — the Cuban Missile Crisis — the background is worth studying. I won’t have time to go into it, but it is reckless acts of leaders, including our own leaders. At the peak moment of threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis — which came extremely close to terminal disaster — at that moment there were Russian submarines outside the quarantine area that [President] Kennedy had established, and they were under attack by US destroyers that were dropping depth bombs on them. The conditions in the submarines were such that the crew could not really survive much longer, [because] they were not designed for service in the Caribbean , they were designed for the far north. The US did not know it at the time, but they had missiles with nuclear warheads, and the crew at some point decided, “Look, since they’re dropping bombs on us…” — they had no contact with anyone else, and thought there must be a nuclear war — “we might as well send off the ultimate weapon.” That would have been the end. There would have been a retaliation, and then we’re finished. To send off the missiles required the agreement of three submarine commanders. Two agreed, and one refused — Vasili Arkhipov — one of the reasons why we’re still here.

Many other cases. In 1979, the national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was literally on the phone ready to call President Carter, saying that there was definite information of a massive Russian missile attack, when he got a call saying there was an error. So he didn’t call him.

A year later, [President] Ronald Reagan came into office, and one of his first acts was to start a program to probe Russian defenses. The objective was to determine what kind of defenses the Russians had against our attack, if we had one. The official wording was “to practice command and staff procedures with particular emphasis on the transition from conventional to non-conventional operations, use of nuclear weapons.” The idea was to simulate air and naval attacks on Russia , with all of this made as public as possible to the Russians, because they wanted to see how they would react, including simulated nuclear attacks.

At the time it was thought that the Russians would probably figure out that it was simulated and would not react. Now that the Russian archives came out, it turns out that they took it pretty seriously, just as we would certainly have done. In fact one of the leading US intelligence analyses that recently appeared concludes from the record — it’s title is “The War Scare Was For Real” — that they took it extremely seriously. Right in the midst of this — the Russian detection systems which were far more primitive than ours — they did detect an ongoing US missile attack. The protocol is for the human being who receives it — his name happened to be [Stanislav] Petrov — he’s supposed to take that information and send it up to the Russian high command, and then they decide whether to release a totally destructive missile attack on us. He just decided not to do it. He decided it was probably wasn’t serious — another reason why we’re alive. You can add him to the roll of honor.

This goes on time after time. There have been literally hundreds of cases that came very close. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as you probably know, established what they call “the doomsday clock” shortly after the atomic bombing. What they do is that every year a group of physicists, nuclear specialists, political and strategic analysts, get together and try to assess the state of the world and threats to the world, and set the minute hand of the doomsday clock a certain number of minutes before midnight. “Midnight” means say goodbye, we’re finished. The first setting, in 1947, was seven minutes to midnight. It reached the most frightening setting, just two minutes to midnight, in 1953, when what was easy to anticipate in 1945, had happened. First the United States, and then the Soviet Union, carried out tests of hydrogen bombs, vastly more destructive than atom bombs. In fact, an atom bomb is just used as a trigger to set it off, with huge destructive capacity.

That meant that human intelligence had reached the point where we could easily destroy all life, no problem. And the minute hand reached two minutes then. Since then it has oscillated, but in recent years it’s been approaching midnight again. In January 2017, right after President Trump’s inauguration, the minute hand was advanced to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. Last January [2018], after a year of Trump in office, it was advanced another half minute, to two minutes to midnight. That’s a sign that we have now matched the closest point to terminal disaster in the nuclear age, ominously close. That was January. A couple months later, President Trump’s nuclear posture review was released, and raises the dangers further. I presume that if the clock were set now, it might be moved another half minute to midnight.

I will return to current crises, which are very real, how they are being handled, and what we might do about them, to avoid disaster. But first something else. Since 1945, we have been somehow surviving the nuclear age, actually miraculously, and we can’t count on miracles going on forever. What we didn’t know in 1945 was that humans were entering into another epoch, a new one, which is no less ominous. It’s what geologists call the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which human activity is destroying the environment.

There have been debates among scientists about when to date the onset of the Anthropocene [epoch]. But last year the World Geological Society determined that a proper time to set it is right after World War II, the same time as the nuclear age. The reason is because of the sharp escalation at that point in human activities which were significantly damaging and will soon destroy the environment for organized life. We might add that the Anthropocene carries with it automatically a third major epoch which is called “the sixth extinction.” If you look through millions of year of history there have been periods in which some event caused a mass extinction of animal life. The last one was [65 million] years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth, and destroyed about 75 percent of animal life, ending the age of the dinosaurs, and actually opened the way for small mammals to survive. They ultimately became us, and we are determined to become another asteroid, intent on destroying all or most animal life on Earth, and we’re well advanced in that process.

So there are three major epochs that we’ve been living with: the nuclear age, the Anthropocene, and the sixth extinction, all accelerating. So let’s just ask how dangerous is the Anthropocene? I’ll give you a couple of illustrations from some of the leading scientific journals, and recent articles, starting with Nature, a British journal, the leading scientific article. The title of the article is “Global Warming’s Worst Case Projections Look Increasingly Likely.”

[Reading from the article]: “A new study based on satellite observations finds that temperatures could rise nearly five degrees centigrade by the end of this century. The odds that temperatures could increase more than four degrees by 2010, in the current scenario, increased from 62 percent to 93 percent.”

In other words, pretty near certain. If you go back to the Paris negotiations of December 2015, the hope was in the international negotiations that the temperature rise could be kept to 1.5 degrees centigrade rise, and they considered that maybe 2 percent would be tolerable. Instead we’re heading to 4 or 5 percent, with very high confidence.

Here’s one from a recent World Meteorological Organization: “Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016” — the last figures they have — “to the highest level in 800,000 years. The abrupt changes in atmosphere witnessed in the past 70 years” — the Anthropocene — “are without precedent in the geological record. Globally averaged concentrations of CO2 reached over [410?] parts per million, up from just 400 parts per million in 2015,” which has been considered the upper tolerable limit, so we’re now beyond it.

“The concentrations of CO2 are now 150 percent above the pre-industrial level. Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems, leading to severe ecological and economic destruction.”

The last time the Earth experience a comparable concentration of CO2 was somewhere around 3 to 5 million years ago. At that point the temperature was 2 to 3 degrees centigrade above now, and the sea level was 30 to 60 feet higher than it is now. That’s what we’re moving to in the near future. In fact we’re going beyond because the prediction is 4 to 5 degrees centigrade. Well, I’ll leave the effects to your imagination.

Here’s a final example, from Science, one of the leading American science journals: “Even slightly warmer temperatures, less than anticipated, in coming years, can start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice. There’s twice as much carbon in permafrost as in the atmosphere. This will release huge amounts of methane which is actually far more lethal than CO2, although of shorter persistence. And that accelerates other processes that are already underway, like the rapid melting of polar ice. Polar ice, as it melts, reduces the reflective surface for the Sun’s rays, and creates more absorbent surfaces than dark seas. So that accelerates warming, and could lead to a non-linear process in which everything blows up. It’s leading among other things to the breaking up and melting of huge Antarctic ice caps. One of them, West Antarctica , contains enough ice to raise sea level more than 10 feet.

Pretty easy to continue… In brief the prospects are extremely serious, in fact they’re really awesome, which raises an obvious question: what are we going about it, how are we reacting? Well, the world is actually taking some steps, inadequate, but at least something, there’s a commitment. And states and localities in the United States are also taking steps, which is quite important. But what is of prime importance, of course, is the federal government, the most powerful institution in human history.

So what is it doing? It’s withdrawing from the international efforts, but beyond that, it’s committed to increasing the use of the most destructive fossil fuels. So our federal government, for which we are responsible, is dramatically leading our race to destruction, while we sit and watch. That’s pretty astounding. That ought to be the screaming headline in every day’s newspaper, ought to be the main topic you study in every class. There’s never been anything like it. And it is astounding, as is the lack of attention, another doubly terrifying phenomenon. We should be asking, among other things, what this tells us about our society, and about our culture, what we are immersed in. And remember, all of this is imminent, we’re approaching this rapidly, this century, your task is to do something about it, and we’re ignoring it. We’re racing towards it, and we’re ignoring it.

Meanwhile our chief competitor in destroying the planet, the Saudi Arabian dictatorship, has just announced plans to spend 7 billion dollars this year, for 7 new solar plants, and a big wind farm. That’s part of an effort on its part to move from oil, which destroys everything, to solar, renewable energy. This is Saudi Arabia. And that highlights how lonely we are in our race to destruction. Even the extreme reactionary dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, which lives on oil, refuses to join us in our unique insanity, which is dedicated to destroying organized human life.

And it’s not just the current administration. The entire Republican Party leadership agrees. If you go back to the 2016 primaries, every single candidate denied that what was happening is happening, with the exception of those who were called “sensible moderates.” Jeb Bush, who said it’s all kind of uncertain, but we don’t have to do anything about it, because we’re producing more natural gas, thanks to fracking, in other words making it worse. The other sensible moderate, an adult in the womb as he was called, was John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, he’s the one person who agreed that anthropogenic global warming is taking place, but he added, “We’re going to burn coal in Ohio , and we’re not going to apologize for it.” On ethical grounds, that’s the worst of all, when you think about it.

Well, what about the media? They totally ignored this spectacle. Every crazy thing you can imagine was discussed extensively in the massive coverage of the primaries, but not the fact that the entire leadership of the party was saying, “Let’s quickly destroy ourselves.” Nothing — go back and check. Almost no comment about it. The denialism of the leadership is having an effect on public opinion.

So Republican voters have been climate change skeptics for a long time, way beyond anything in the world, but it’s gotten far more extreme since Trump took office. And the numbers are pretty shocking. So by now, half of Republican voters deny that global warming is taking place at all. And only 30 percent think humans may be contributing to global warming. I don’t think you can find anything like that among any significant part of the population, anywhere in the world. And it should tell us something. One thing it should tell us is that there’s a lot to do for those who hope that maybe organized human life will survive. We’re not talking about a remote future. Just think about the numbers I gave you before. We’re talking about something imminent.

Well let’s put [climate crisis] aside for a moment and go back to the growing threat of nuclear war. Are these ominous developments inexorable? So should we just throw up our hands in despair, and say okay, we’re finished, have a nice time, good-bye? That’s not at all true. There are very plausible answers in every single case that exists: diplomatic options are always open, and there are straightforward general principles that can be quite effective.

One principle is quite simple: obey the law. Not a particularly radical idea. Almost unheard of, but it could have some consequences. So what is the law? Well there is something called the US Constitution which people are supposed to honor and revere. The Constitution has parts, Article Six for example. Article Six of the Constitution says that valid treaties are the supreme law of the land, and every elected official is required to observe them.

What’s the most important treaty of the modern period? Unquestionably it’s the United Nations Charter. Article One of the Charter requires us to keep to peaceful means to resolve international tensions and disputes, and to refrain from the threat or use of force in international affairs. And I stress “threat” because that is violated all the time by every president and every high political leader. Every time you hear the phrase “all options are open,” that’s violating the supreme law of the land, if anyone cares.

Let’s take a couple of examples. Let’s take Iran, an important example. A good deal of the talk about the possibility that Iran may be violating the joint comprehensive agreement — the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the “Iran deal” — there’s absolutely no evidence for that. US intelligence says they’re observing it, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] that carries out repeated inspections says they’re observing it completely.

There’s a lot of discussion about it, but there’s no talk about something else: is the US violating the agreement? Try to check to see if anybody’s talked about that. The answer to that is pretty simple: the US is radically violating the agreement and has been all along. The agreement states that all participants — meaning us — are not permitted to impede in any way Iran’s re-integration into the global economy, particularly the global financial system, which we pretty much control, since everything works through New York. We are not permitted to interfere in any way with the normalization — I’m quoting it — the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran. We’re doing that all the time, and in fact are proud of it. All violations of the agreement. But it’s ignored on a principle that’s kind of interesting, the prevailing tacit assumption that the United States just stands above the law, including its own laws. So we don’t have to observe our laws, or any other laws, because we’re just unique, we do what we like.

See if you can find an exception to that in the discourse on this topic. Well, in a couple of days as you know President Trump will probably withdraw from the treaty, possibly. That’s a gift to the hard-liners in Iran , it tells them that maybe they should return to nuclear programs. That’s an opening for the new national security advisor John Bolton, or Binyamin Netanyahu, both of whom have called for bombing Iran right away, even while they fully respect the terms of the agreement that we’ve already violated quite publicly, there’s no secret about it. And the consequences could be horrendous. But there happens to be a way of blocking those consequences, namely, by the very simple device of respecting our own law, in fact the supreme law of the land. Again, see if you can find the suggestion to that effect.

Are there peaceful options? Pretty obviously, in this case, we could join the rest of the world, and permit the agreement to continue to function. Or better, we might turn to improvement of the agreement. That’s one thing that Trump has vociferously demanded. And there’s good ways to do that. One obvious proposal for improving the agreement, which is ignored entirely, is to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons free zone in the region. There are such agreements in various parts of the world, in Latin America, for example, and it’s a step towards mitigating the threat of disaster.

So what about a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East? If that were established, it would end any conceivable Iranian threat that you could imagine. So is there a problem of establishing it? Actually there is one problem, but it’s not the one that comes to mind. There’s certainly no problem convincing Iran because they have been calling for this for years, vociferously. Certainly not any problem with the Arab world, they’re the ones who initiated the proposal 25 years ago. And the rest of the world agrees as well. There’s one exception: the United States refuses to allow this, and it comes up every couple of years in the annual review meetings of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, countries in which it’s continually brought up, and continually vetoed by the United States , most recently by President Obama in 2015.

And the reasons are perfectly clear to everyone. The US will not permit Israeli nuclear weapons even to be examined by the International Agency [IAEA], let alone be dismantled. So therefore we can’t proceed with this very simple way of eliminating any nuclear threat from Iran or anyone else in the region.

And also not discussed is that the United States and Britain have a special obligation, a unique obligation to pursue a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. The reason is United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 — you can look it up on the internet — which was initiated by the US. This was the resolution that was initiated when the US and Britain, back in 1991, a resolution which called on Iraq to terminate any nuclear weapons programs. The US and Britain relied on this resolution in 2003 when they were trying to concoct some pretext for their planned invasion of Iraq. So they appealed to this resolution and said, we think Iraq is violating it, which in fact they weren’t, and they knew they weren’t.

But if you read that resolution and go to Article Fourteen, it commits the signers to work for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. So the US and Britain are uniquely committed to working for this by the Security Council resolution that they initiated. Again, check to see if it ever discussed.

So in short, US willingness to observe US law could bring this crisis to a very quick end, and could even move on to a better solution. For example, if we were willing to observe Security Council resolutions that we ourselves have instituted to end the illegal threats of force by every recent president and other high officials, and to end our constant violations of the Iran nuclear agreement.

So there’s an easy answer to this crisis, really simple: obey the law. Okay? That would end the crisis. Again, I would advise you to search to see how often this is discussed, and what that implies about our educational system, our culture, our media, our universities, and so on.

Well, let’s turn to the other major threat, North Korea. There has been a proposal on the table for some years about how to reduce the threat in northeast Asia. It’s called a double-freeze. It was initiated by China, supported by North Korea, supported by Russia, general support throughout the world. The idea is that North Korea should freeze its weapons and nuclear programs, and in return the United States should call off the threatening military maneuvers that the US constantly carries out on North Korea’s border, including flights on the border by our most advanced nuclear-capable bombers, warning of the threat of total obliteration of North Korea, constantly happening.

It’s no joke for the North Koreans — they have a little memory that we may want to forget, but at the end of the Korean War when it was more or less settled, US bombing was so intensive that there was nothing left to bomb, literally. So the Air Force General MacArthur started destroying dams, major dams, and if you read the Air Force history they exult about this. It happens to be a crime for which people were hanged at Nuremberg, but again, we’re above the law. But the North Koreans can remember, and when these advanced nuclear-capable bombers are flying they evoke some memory.

So double-freeze is one possibility. Double-freeze could easily open the way to further negotiations, and at this point, the record becomes important, and you can find it, in the scholarly record, not in the press, but in the scholarly record. There have been successes in negotiations. The major one was in 2005. The Bush administration was pressured by international pressure to return to negotiations, and the negotiations were extremely successful. North Korea agreed — I’m quoting the final document — agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs, and to allow international inspections. In return for that the US agreed to establish a consortium that would provide North Korea with a light-water reactor for medical use. The US would also issue a non-aggression pledge and an agreement that the two sides would respect each others’ sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize relations.

Instantly, the Bush administration renewed the threat of force, froze North Korean funds that were in foreign banks, and disbanded the consortium that was to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. The leading US Korea scholar, Bruce Cummings, writes that the sanctions were specifically designed to destroy the September pledges, and to head off an accommodation between Washington and Pyongyang. That was 2005, and I’ve been searching the press for some time to see if these facts could even be reported, breaking the constant refrain that North Korea has broken all agreements and so can’t be trusted. We can’t review it now, but I urge you to try, you’ll learn a lot.

That path could be pursued again, but as we know, there are even better options, and it’s worth taking a close look at them. On April 27 [2018], North and South Korea signed a remarkable historic document — the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, Unification of the Korean Peninsula — and it’s worth reading carefully. I urge you to do that. Not the commentary, the actual words. In this declaration, the two Koreas “affirm the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord.” On their own accord. Continuing, “to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, to actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, to carry out disarmament on a phased level manner, to achieve the common goal of realizing through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, to strengthen the positive momentum towards continuous advancement of inter-Korean relations, as well as peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean Peninsula.” And they further agreed “to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community,” which means the United States, “for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

It’s important to read those words, their import is very clear. What they’re saying is, the US should back off and allow the two Koreas to achieve peace, disarmament, unification and complete denuclearization on their own, “on their own accord,” in the words of the declaration. So we, the United States, should accept the call for support and cooperation in this endeavor by the two parts of the Korean nation to determine their destiny “on their own accord.” To put it more simply, the declaration is a polite letter saying, “Dear Mr. Trump, declare victory if you want to prance around in public, but please go away and let us move towards peace, disarmament, and unification without disrupting the process.”

That plea could hardly be more clear, and the general interpretation here is quite revealing. The general interpretation is that this complicates Washington ‘s strategy. As the New York Times explains, “Mr. Trump will find it hard to threaten military action against a country that is extending an olive branch.” Okay? That’s the liberal side. It’s entirely true that threatening military action, which happens to be a criminal act, us hard when the target is extending an olive branch, so we have some problems.

Well, case after case — and I won’t go through other cases — we find that there are peaceful diplomatic options. We can’t ever be certain that they will work, but they should always be prioritized, in accordance with our international obligations, in fact, in accord with the supreme law of the land. Is this hopeless? No, far from it, we have plenty of evidence for that.

So let’s go back to that very important date in modern history, November 8, [2016]. Huge coverage of that date, and several events happened that are significant. The least significant of those was the one that gets most of the coverage, the election of Donald Trump. It’s a little bit unusual, but not that far out of the norm, that a billionaire with a huge amount of campaign spending and huge media support wins the presidency. That’s kind of within the norm. But something really surprising did happen, the Sanders campaign broke with nearly all of American political history. For well over a century, American elections have been mainly bought, literally. You can predict the outcome of an election with almost complete certainty by just looking at campaign funding — there’s extensive, detailed, academic study of this, both for president and congress. What happened in November 2016 was different. For the first time, a candidate came very close to winning the nomination, and would have won the nomination, probably, if the Democratic Party managers hadn’t manipulated affairs to keep him out and he did it without any campaign funding from any of the major sources. No corporate funding, no wealth, no media support — he was either ignored, or denigrated in the media. That’s a real breakthrough. What’s more he ended up by becoming by far the most popular political candidate in the country. Take a look at the polls. You can see it on Fox News in fact, well above any other figure in popularity.

In a democratic society the most popular political figure in the country just carried off a remarkable break in well over a century of political history, you’d hear him once in a while. Okay, I urge to you to take a look and make your own decisions. That’s a more important event that took place on November 8, 2016 .

There’s another one that doesn’t get covered, but should. At that time the world was carrying out the successor negotiations to the Paris negotiations on climate change of December 2015, aimed at a verifiable treaty to do something about this ominous threat. They couldn’t reach a treaty, for one reason, the Republican Party would not permit it. So they couldn’t have a treaty, it was a voluntary agreement. The following year, 2016, they were meeting again to try to put some teeth into the treaty. On November 8th, the day of the American elections, the World Meteorological Organization — this was taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco — where the World Meteorological Organization released a study on the very dire state of the climate, the kind of thing that I gave a couple of samples of before. Then the election results came in, and the meeting basically stopped. The question before the international world is: can the world survive when the most powerful county in history is taken over by a political party that not only denies that what is happening is happening, but is committed to accelerate the race to destruction?

And they kind of hoped that maybe China would save the world from disaster. Just think about that for a moment: maybe China will save the world from the disaster that the Republican Party is bringing to the world. I’ll let you think about that. But the fact is that there are plenty of things that can be done, and the success of the Sanders campaign and particularly in the aftermath, lots of things are going on that fed from it that could make a difference. But it doesn’t happen on its own — it takes serious engagement.

Well, to go back to the beginning, your generation — that’s you — is facing the most awesome question that has ever arisen in human history. The question is: will organized human life survive? And we’re talking about the near future, can’t escape it. There are plenty of opportunities, but like it or not, it’s up to you to determine the fate of the human species. It’s an awesome responsibility, one that cannot be evaded. Thanks.

The Woes of Climate Change States

As Australia’s tattered yet new government, led by the increasingly oafish and amateurish Scott Morrison trundled into its post-climate phase, states which see their existence as dependent on the cutting of carbon emissions have been more than a touch concerned. Their reality remains divorced from the paper clip conspiracies of Canberra and the energy cliques obsessed with cutting prices.

Morrison’s ascension to power was yet another, existentially imposed headache in the aftermath of US President Donald J. Trump’s announcement that the United States would be making a dash from any obligations and aspirations associated with the Paris Climate Agreement. Pacific Island states were starting to write up their wills.

When the decision by Trump was made in the middle of last year, such states as Samoa and Fiji felt a shudder.  “His decision,” came the press release from an assortment of Pacific Island Civil Society Organisations, “is a clear sign of his continued support of the fossil fuel industry which directly threatens the lives of communities living in the Pacific Islands.”

The Australian response, ever mindful of the wishes of its obese cousin and all powerful defender, has reflected a certain bipolar conditioning on matters ecological and climactic.  Canberra takes the position, when convenient to its neighbours, that climate change is genuine, dangerous and in need of serious consideration.  When necessary, amnesia takes hold.

In the aftermath of Morrison’s replacement of sitting Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama sent a salutary reminder to the new Australian leader couched in a disarming note of congratulation.  “I look forward to working with you across a broad front, including the global campaign for action on climate change, the greatest threat facing Australia and all of your neighbours in the Pacific.”

This, to a man who had coarsely brandished a lump of coal in the Australian parliament in February last year, supplied by the good offices of the Minerals Council of Australia. “This is coal,” he guffawed to his opponents, caressing the inert item in his hand with a fetishist’s resolve. “Don’t be afraid; don’t be scared.”

Morrison ought to be suffering jitters from such figures as Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, who has made it clear how climate change laggards should be treated.  “We all know the problem, we all know the solutions,” he explained to the Lowy Institute at the end of last month, “and all that is left would be some political courage, some political guts, to tell people of your country there is a certainty of disaster.”

Then came the delicious blow, landed between the gizzards.  “So any leader of any country who believes that there is no climate change, I think he ought to be taken to mental confinement.  He is utterly stupid.  And I say the same thing to any leader here.”

Despite such cataclysmic promises, Australia’s politicians remain resilient before the inconveniences of reality, and warm to the enticements of stupidity.  The big god coal, and associate demigod fossil fuels, call the tune.

The new Foreign Minister, Marise Payne, made the necessary, paternalistic adjustments for her audience earlier this month ahead of the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru.  This line waxes and wanes along the issue of aid, the condescending drip aid designed to influence more than change.  The angle on Australian generosity was pushed (daddy with deep pockets cares), as much to counter the phantom of Chinese influence in the region as anything else. “The largest development assistance in the region is overwhelmingly coming from Australia; in fact, it will hit the largest contribution ever during 2018-19 at $1.3 billion.”

Payne also busied herself bribing regional neighbours with such reassurances as employment, a tribute to an old legacy of enticing black labour to an economy short of staffing.  Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, she said with soothing corruption, would be added to Australia’s Pacific Labour Scheme, nothing less than a traditional, extracting incentive for the Australian economy.  As ever, the benefit would be for Australia more than anybody else: citizens from those countries would be able to fill the necessary jobs in rural and regional Australia.  (Well and good – they might, in time, have no country to return to.)

Despite the issue of climate change making its inevitable appearance on the agenda, Payne preferred to see it as one of the items for discussion, rather than the main show.  “We really recognise that our Pacific Island neighbours are particularly vulnerable to climate change.”  Australia had been purportedly “working hard” towards climate change commitments, though Payne failed to spell out any coherent steps of late.

The internal politics of the governing coalition in Australia remains intimately related to the fossil fuel industries and climate change sceptics.  The schismatic Tony Abbott remains convinced that Australia should go the way of Trump, and more than a sprinkling of his colleagues think the same.  Central to this is not environmental degradation so much as cheaper energy prices, which has become the holy of holies, the El Dorado of policy makers.  Such is the thinking that accompanies the short term aspirations of shop keeping types even as it dooms island states to watery oblivion.

Homespun Terrorism

For years now NSA and the Pentagon have feared foreign terrorists poisoning aquifers and municipal water supplies.

Come to find out, forget those foreign terrorists!  The poisoning is already happening, internally, homespun! ISIS and al Qaeda are not needed. We’re poisoning our own people without the assistance of professional terrorists.

It’s homespun terrorism, right here in the good ole US-of-A, and the Trump administration is turbo-charging that terrorism by hacking apart the EPA.

Want proof: Ask any long-standing EPA employee about it: They’re aghast!

Trump’s motto: “Make EPA Ineffective Again.”

The Trump administration, after heavy lobbying by the chemical industry, is scaling back the way the federal government determines health and safety risks associated with the most dangerous chemicals on the market.1

Here’s what citizens need to know about Trump’s EPA Wrecking Crew: The new mandate at EPA is to focus on “possible harm caused by direct contact with a chemical in the workplace or elsewhere,” meaning that once disposal of chemicals takes place there is no longer a cause for restricting or banning the toxic chemical.

According to the New York Times’ article:

The E.P.A. has in most cases decided to exclude from its calculations any potential exposure caused by the substances’ presence in the air, the ground or water.

Or, here’s another way to look at it: If toxic chemicals happen to show up in your drinking water, well, too bad!

In that regard, it just so happens that a North Carolina resident named Emily Donovan recently appeared before a congressional subcommittee EPA hearing and asked this revealing question: “Who in authority can tell me if the 16 mystery PFASs I found in the tap water at my children’s public school are safe to drink?”2

The answer to Ms Donovan’s question: Nobody knows for sure if the water at her child’s school is safe to drink, but it does contain 16 different alliterations of base chemicals PFAS.

Wow! “Sixteen mystery PFAS chemical compounds,” and nobody knows if that drinking water is safe for children… It’s not!

Emily Donovan lives near Cape Fear, NC where discharges from chemical plants are responsible for high levels of PFAS or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluorralkyl chemical substances. Recent government testing shows PFAS to be dangerous to health “at much lower doses than previously thought,” as well as linked to cancer. But not to worry, Trump (cough, cough) is in charge now.

In point of fact, PFAS is one of the biggest emerging health threats to public water systems throughout America. Whew, not to worry, Trump is in charge now! And because of its pervasiveness, it’s now a bipartisan issue in Congress. That’s an unbelievable accomplishment!

For example, in a Congressional subcommittee meeting about the EPA’s handling of toxic chemicals, the following was said by a representative: “What is the timeline?’ asked Republican Rep. Tom Upton of Michigan, who spoke of one community in his state ordered not to drink its contaminated water for nearly a month this summer.”3

Imagine no faucet water for a month… think about it! Who’d want to drink it thereafter, forever thereafter?

Republican Congressman Upton also released a report showing groundwater at the military base in Battle Creek, Michigan with PFAS levels “up to 757 xs higher” than EPA safety standards. That’s enormous: Multiply 757 times a salary of $25,000; it equals $19 million in salary; 757xs anything is big, especially when it comes to toxic chemicals! That’s a disaster-plus-plus scenario!

Not only that, peer-reviewed studies of tens of thousands (10s of 1,000s) of people in the Ohio River Valley exposed to PFAS found “probable links to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension and high cholesterol.”3

But not to worry, Trump’s (ahem!) in charge now.

According to Peter Grevatt, head of the EPA’s water division, the EPA is considering formal declaration that the specific PFAS, although no longer manufactured, be classified as hazardous substances. Really?

That’s the good news!

Here’s the bad news: Mr. Grevatt claims the aforementioned PFAS compounds are not… “the no. 1 challenge we face.”

A much bigger problem exists: Tens of thousands (10s of 1,000s) of versions of PFAS exist actively today, widespread throughout the country. In other words, the toxic chemical juggernaut is totally out of control, dispersed throughout the USA, similar to turning armies of ISIS lose on American communities, but in this case Made in America.

Not only, but according to the Environmental Working Group, the EPA itself, on an internal basis, piles danger upon danger: “The Scariest Trump Appointee You’ve Never Heard Of” is Nancy Beck straight out of the American Chemistry Council ($9 million lobbying, mostly to Republicans) to serve as Deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA to: “Protect you, your family, and the environment from potential risks from pesticides and toxic chemicals.”4  You’ve gotta be kidding!

Ms Toxicity Nancy’s career includes: (1) crafting political agendas for the chemical industry for years; (2) reprimanded by a congressional committee for “very disturbing attempts to undermine EPA science”; (3) serving as a vocal critic of EPA safety findings in the face of “her own fundamentally flawed approach to chemical safety issues.”3

During the G.W. Bush administration, she was criticized by the National Academy of Sciences for her “fundamentally flawed approach to chemical science.”  Now, she’s in charge!

“Beck has been described as a “powerful critic” of EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS program, which researches chemical toxicity. IRIS assessments have traditionally played a big role in informing the rules that EPA and state governments adopt to protect people from toxic chemicals.”3

Well, well, well… now that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have finally started to wise-up as to the depth and breadth of America’s toxic chemical problems, poisoning its own citizens, the Trump administration installs the archenemy of the “strongest and best EPA rulings.”

Good gracious! People should assemble in the streets and demand a recall! After all, it is known that EPA career-employees have expressed “concern,” actually “deep concern” about changes in implementation rules since Beck arrived.5

Not only is Toxic Nancy in charge but also timeliness now becomes a critical issue as school officials wonder about toxic water at fountains in school hallways. The new school year just started.

“How do we create that sense of urgency?” Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, asked Peter Grevatt, head of the EPA’s office of drinking water. ‘PFAS in Michigan is scaring people more than the Flint water crisis.”3

Maybe Trump should hold one of his infamous political rallies in Flint. He could have those life-sized poster boards of supporters in the background standing behind him (many of the supporters standing behind him are cutout poster boards of people) hold up signs saying, “Trump for Clean Water.”

Wonder if Michael Moore could be convinced to stand amongst the cutout poster boards of people in the background behind Trump? That would be special and, of course, very convincing of Trump’s sincerity.

A smiling Michael Moore (maybe a poster board cutout of him, maybe not) standing behind Trump, holding up a sign: “Trump for Clean Water.”

Postscript:

Unacceptable levels is powerful. It tells the story of toxic chemicals in just about every aspect of our lives, and the egregious lack of regulation. Our ability to protect our families is at stake.

— Joan Blades, Progressive Political Activist

  1. Eric Lipton, “The Chemical Industry Scores a Big Win at the E.P.A.”, The New York Times, June 7, 2018.
  2. “Congress Wants EPA to More Quickly Regulate Unsafe Chemicals”, AP News, September 6, 2018.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Melaine Benesh, Legislative Attorney, Environmental Working Group, May 2, 2017.
  5. Politico.

As World Burns, Half US Population Chronically Ill . . .

Stealing Life with the Big Bad Retail King — One-third of All Buying Transactions 

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

— Iago, Shakespeare’s Othello

It’s more than disconcerting to hear the blathering now, September 2018, about Jeff Bezos. About Amazon dot com as richest company ever. To hear the fawning love of the rich guy, now, when we were predicting a slave master killing publishing, killing independence; news reports and tribute after tribute for this full-fledged Midas of tax cheating, our homegrown monopolist of the highest order, anti-American who gives a shit about main street America, a misanthropic fake news purveyor, a full-bore felonious PT Barnum and smoke and mirrors double shuffle guy who thinks of his tens upon tens of thousands of warehouse workers as spindles, interchangeable parts, and to hell with their precarity, their one nose-bleed from homelessness.

This is a time of same sides of the coin of the realm: the conservative and the liberal, the War-Mongering Democratic Party drooling at the McCain fiasco and the Sycophantic Zio-Christo Republicans confused about who is going to own what while scampering away like rats into the alleys as the headlights of their narcissist-in-chief blowtorches the world.

The most important characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are grandiosity, seeking excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy. These identifying features can result in a negative impact on an individual’s interpersonal affairs and life general. In most cases, on the exterior, these patients act with an air of right and control, dismissing others, and frequently showcasing condescending or denigrating attitudes. Nevertheless, internally, these patients battle with strong feelings of low self esteem issues and inadequacy. Even though the typical NPD patient may achieve great achievements, ultimately their functioning in society can be affected as these characteristics interfere with both personal and professional relationships. A large part of this is as result of the NPD patient being incapable of receiving disapproval or rebuff of any kind, in addition to the fact that the NPD patient typically exhibits lack of empathy and overall disrespect for others.**

** Note that NPD runs through the DNA of these ministers like Jimmy Swaggart or Billy-Franklin Graham, through the family RNA of so-called royalty of the world, in the brain chemistry of the likes of a Henry Kissinger or Adolph Hitler, in the hypothalamus of fruit-salad bedecked generals and in the frontal cortex of all great and not-so-great thespians, from politicos to actors.

Moreover, this Bezos, our great Albuquerque-born plumbing showroom huckster peddling absolutely all the stuff we do not need piled up in his fulfillment centers, represents those two sides of the same coin: powerful, libertarian, ruthless and spirit-less, driven to conquer/distribute/hawk all the stuff in any sort of catalog that exists out there to fulfill the needs and mostly not so necessary junk of obsolescence and consumer addiction. A cold anti-philanthropy multi-billionaire, whose net worth of $160.7 billion is headline news now as the TV clowns present the Top Five, Top Ten/Twenty diligently, Bezos is the top of the dung heap according to another rag with all the news unfit (for humanity) to print . . .

. . . Who is the richest person in the world? While Forbes updates their list of the world’s billionaires in real time as markets fluctuate, the magazine also releases a more static list each year. The total net worth of these money-makers when the 2018 list was released in March was $7.67 trillion. Click through to see 2018’s top 20 richest billionaires on the planet.

forbes-cover-03-31-2018.jpg

With his company — which epitomizes the heights of death star techie logic, next gen robotics, drones, massive crisscrossing of products through a digital satellite-fed network of Prime Time orders — Bezos has continually kicked out with the help of Seattle PD we protesters with one share of his shit stock at shareholder meetings protesting his sadism around refusing to air condition fulfillment centers while instead putting rent-an-ambulances outside the doors! Oh, this economic disruptor of small and large businesses, all part of that gift of unfettered homicidal capitalism a la retail conglomeration, is reviled, hated, but will be the big section in those econ books from many years to come.

Bernie Sanders wants a special tax on this white shark-eyed Jeff Bezos? Funny follies of the political kind. Imagine, justifying all the tax evasion and felonies of the billionaires and millionaires and banks and hedge funders and the rest of the elites — that’s the cool truth of our state of misrepresentation in Washington. Never political cries of “tax them all for their externalities — all the damage capital and capitalists have done to the world.”  Major and minor municipalities and entire states fall over themselves with money dripping tongues out of their mouths while courting this company with so many freebies in the billions to get another load of office buildings or fulfillment centers or even another headquarters/campus or pod of fulfillment centers. At any cost.

Image result for fulfillment center

Walmartization of the world, or was it McDonaldization first, or Fordization, but now Amazonization of the culture outstrips anything up to this point in this country’s lunacy. You can get anything anytime anywhere for anyone from this five and dime on steroids.

Or,

The Details About the CIA’s Deal With Amazon: A $600 million computing cloud built by an outside company is a “radical departure” for the risk-averse intelligence community

Just in Time Employment, 11th Hour appointments, Permanent Temp, a Precarity defined as the New Almost Slavery Gig gigs — Coulda Been HuffPost Slave

Yet, on Democracy Now, again, in September 2018, we are led to believe we now have to be aghast about those fulfillment centers and those Americans being worked to the bone, worked down to the shredded screws in their hip replacement hardware, worked to confusion and exhaustion and then discarded for not working hard enough for this Master Blaster of the Retail Monopoly.

Juan Gonzalez of DN tells us about these “cutting edge” stories from his Rutgers University Department of Journalism and Media Studies students working on this “breaking news,” while Juan laughs and smirks at the reality of “us” (not me) ordering everything on Amazon.

Here, the DN reports:

As Amazon Hits $1 Trillion in Value, Its Warehouse Workers Denounce “Slavery” Conditions

Exposed: Undercover Reporter at Amazon Warehouse Found Abusive Conditions & No Bathroom Breaks

Ahh, but we over at DV have been printing these stories for more than six years:

Nichole Gracely / May 21st, 2012

Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley (LV) is a distribution hub, and many fellow Amazon associates and Integrity Staffing Solutions temps had previously worked in other local warehouses.

I have and I can say that they’re typically rough workplaces.

At first glance, Amazon’s LV fulfillment center appears benign.

Primary red, yellow, green and blue splashes of color brighten the place, and motivational posters and friendly educational signs that feature cute characters provide guidance. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of workers populate the warehouse at once, diligently taking direction from hand-held scanners or computers, and the place is enormous so it doesn’t appear cramped. Seriously, the place could house a small city.

Physical strength is not a necessary qualification to perform any of their warehouse job functions, and management is ostensibly concerned with worker safety. Just about anyone could staff Amazon’s FC, especially since it only takes a couple of hours to train workers to perform any specific job function. It’s safe to say that anyone laboring in an Amazon FC has fallen into hard times, and many of my former coworkers’ resumes featured distinguished past titles, impressive demonstrations of manual skill and ability, and/or lofty educational attainment.

Many never thought they’d wind up in a warehouse and so, yes, this was all foreign for many. Other workers who staffed other warehouses in the past didn’t know what to make of the place because there is something different about Amazon, something alien.

“Chairman” Bezos once said that Amazon workers don’t need a union because we own the company. “Chairman” Bezos has zero tolerance for union activity and several Amazon unionization attempts were summarily squashed.

After two years on the job an Amazon FC associate is entitled to eight shares of stock. If Amazon is trading at, say, $250 a share, that’s $2,000. Ownership? $250 per share is a generous projection. Seasoned investors are baffled by AMZN’s current overvaluation because of its unhealthy 188:1 (fluctuates, yet always unhealthy) price to earnings ratio, and they’re waiting for the bubble to burst.

Nichole went on to write a piece in the Guardian: Amazon Seasonal Work  And the Guardian published another one, more than four years ago: Being homeless is better than working for Amazon

Bread and Roses — 106 Years Ago, Back to Now: Strike Amazon, Strike US Correctional Institutions, Boycott

I got this from a friend, Andy Piascik, a long-time activist and award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion. He can be reached at ###.

In the end, in the face of the state militia, U.S. Marines, Pinkerton infiltrators and hundreds of local police, the strikers prevailed. They achieved a settlement close to their original demands, including significant pay raises and time-and-a-quarter for overtime, which previously had been paid at the straight hourly rate. Workers in Lowell and New Bedford struck successfully a short while later, and mill owners throughout New England soon granted significant pay raises rather than risk repeats of Lawrence. When the trials of Ettor, Giovannitti and a third defendant commenced in the fall, workers in Lawrence’s mills pulled a work stoppage to show that a miscarriage of justice would not be tolerated. The three were subsequently acquitted.

More than a century ago and it’s rabbit-holed history . . . and what do we fight for in this country now? We have fear of unions, we embrace the gig economy/outsourcing on Kratom (called near slavery by socio-economists), and the unimaginable bullshit and shit jobs have generated aimlessness, screen addiction, be mean to thy neighbor mentality, cold hearts and Homo Retailipithecus. Bullshit jobs, as Graeber states:

A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble. But it’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.

Shit jobs tend to be blue collar and pay by the hour, whereas bullshit jobs tend to be white collar and salaried. We have become a civilization based on work—not even “productive work” but work as an end and meaning in itself.

What is Labor Day or May Day now in a world of Marvel comics and infantilization of every intercourse we have with every sort of humanity? Do we care about solidarity? Do we know how to build communities? Do we see neighbors and people in and on the streets as equals, people, us? What is the value of work when it is drudgery, dog-eat-dog, king of the hill and top of the dung heap relationships? We have to go beyond now this simpleton way of seeing the world from the bifurcated Groucho Marx eyeglasses. This is a great time of upheaval, splintering, hot house planet, Sixth Mass Extinction, a world of capital making more capital off of war, resource theft, thievery of other nations’ and cultures’ futures.

Jobs, Who Doesn’t Choose to Collapse, Hothouse Planet, People

As I continually teach young people to think, you are what you eat, what you do, what you think, what your read, what you say, what you believe, what you aspire to, what you hope for, what you do or not do to be one with humanity. If your life is one of toil, what is inside the heart, and what do you do with those beliefs and philosophies while slogging away? Are you a believer in exceptionalism, Zionist or Christian superiority? Is the white shade of skin the defining element in your life? Do you have passions that are your own, or are they manufactured, designed, and cajoled by the money changers and propagandists?

 The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.

This line was from a speech by Rose Schneiderman, Polish-born socialist and feminist and prominent labor union leaders in America. It’s a phrase embodying everything today we workers need to utilize as a galvanizing force upon our souls to break away from these people like Bezos and the entire master crafters of our pain, poverty and penury. When I say “our,” I mean the world’s collective pain in the form of billions of people, for whom Western Culture (sic) has set loose a wildfire of forced displacement, murder, resource extraction, war and disease of the mind and body.

It was also a successful textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, during January–March 1912, which is pretty much universally referred to as the “Bread and Roses” strike. Pairing bread and roses not as counter-balances — fair wages and dignified conditions. Defining “the sometimes tedious struggles for marginal economic advances in the light of labor struggles as based on striving for dignity and respect,” as Robert J. S. Ross wrote in 2013.

I imagine the Bezos types wanting every last penny from every last $2-a-day inhabitant on earth, and I imagine this fellow is as steely-hearted as any in an Upton Sinclair book — and note this first quote by Sinclair is for me about men and women working today, even though Sinclair was writing about a living livestock animal torn from life:

One could not stand and watch very long without being philosophical, without beginning to deal in symbols and similes, and to hear the hog-squeal of the universe…. Each of them had an individuality of his own, a will of his own, a hope and a heart’s desire; each was full of self-confidence, of self-importance, and a sense of dignity. And trusting and strong in faith he had gone about his business, the while a black shadow hung over him, and a horrid Fate in his pathway. Now suddenly it had swooped upon him, and had seized him by the leg. Relentless, remorseless, all his protests, his screams were nothing to it. It did its cruel will with him, as if his wishes, his feelings, had simply no existence at all; it cut his throat and watched him gasp out his life.

― Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

Delusions  of Terra-Forming and Mickey Mouse Grabbing Adults’ Attention

So what do we do with these Titans of idiocy, with their billions and their algorithms, with their broken telescopes peering into the black hole of humanity?

What about the 150,000 chemicals in human cells created by the industrialists, those synergistic variant effects we have zero knowledge about, which have helped push our American society into a chronically ill species of over 50 percent of a population cycled through Western (Un-)Medicine. Children with autism or on the spectrum — count that as possibly 30 percent of all births by 2040. Diabetes 1 and 2, more than 15 percent or more of the population by 2040.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a really important concept that is difficult to teach the public, and when I say the public, I include my clinical colleagues.

Still, atrazine is not the only human hormone-altering chemical in the environment. Dr. Winchester tested nearly 20 different chemicals and all demonstrated epigenetic effects, for example, all of the chemicals reduced fertility, even in the 3rd generation.

Still, why do 150,000,000 Americans have chronic diseases?

Researchers believe that every adult disease extant is linked to epigenetic origins. If confirmed over time with additional research, the study is a blockbuster that goes to the heart of public health and attendant government regulations.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a huge thing that is going to change how we understand the origin of disease. But a big part of that is that it will change our interpretation of what chemicals are safe. In medicine I can’t give a drug to somebody unless it has gone through a huge amount of testing. But all these chemicals haven’t gone through anything like that. We’ve been experimented on for the last 70 years, and there’s not one study on multi-generational effects.

Environmental Working Group tested more than a dozen brands of oat-based foods to give Americans information about dietary exposures that government regulators are keeping secret. In April, internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the Food and Drug Administration has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and has found “a fair amount,” but the FDA has not released the findings.

Ahh, the melting planet, the water cycle’s disrupted, the entire mess of planetary re-shifting is on a collision course with Homo Sapiens. Everyday I get more and more notifications from friends and thinkers about the impending collapses, the impending peak this and peak that (Peak Everything).

Globalization makes it impossible for modern societies to collapse in isolation, as did Easter Island and the Greenland Norse in the past. Any society in turmoil today, no matter how remote … can cause trouble for prosperous societies on other continents and is also subject to their influence (whether helpful or destabilizing). For the first time in history, we face the risk of a global decline. But we also are the first to enjoy the opportunity of learning quickly from developments in societies anywhere else in the world today, and from what has unfolded in societies at any time in the past. That’s why I wrote this book.”

― Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Feudal Factories of Propaganda and Propagating .001 Percenters — Water, Man, Water

We trust ourselves, far more than our ancestors did… The root of our predicament lies in the simple fact that, though we remain a flawed and unstable species, plagued now as in the past by a thousand weaknesses, we have insisted on both unlimited freedom and unlimited power. It would now seem clear that, if we want to stop the devastation of the earth, the growing threats to our food, water, air, and fellow creatures, we must find some way to limit both.

― Donald Worster, Under Western Skies: Nature and History in the American West

We are seeing this circling of the billionaires’ wagons (vultures circling the 7.8 billion marks, us), this Bezos and Musk lust for space, for some planetary gated-armed-Utopian community. These fellows and dames are something else, and the conjurers of news unfit to consume fall over them, recording and publishing story after story about their wisdom and foresight and shamanistic ways of predicting the future.

Remember George W. Bush and his big ranch buy in Paraguay? That was 12 years ago, readers, yet, back to the future, with news (sic) report after news report (sic) keeps tracking the next billionaire economic ejaculation. W, and we thought he was only painting pets!

Image result for george bush painting pets

Image result for george bush painting pets

The Chaco is a semiarid, sparsely populated area known — to the extent that it’s known at all — for its abundant wildlife, rapid deforestation, nothing in particular… and what lies beneath it…

Our Real Wealth Trader and Outstanding Investments contributor Jody Chudley thinks he knows the true gen about the Bush land grab.

Jody says he has a “secret” about the Bushes. And he adds, “It has to do with an investment idea that’s hardly on anyone’s radar.”

The real reason Jody thinks Bush 43 and family snapped up nearly 300,000 acres in those semiarid, sparsely populated wastes of Paraguay?

Water.

That’s right, blue gold. Bush bought the rights to a veritable ocean of fresh, clear-as-glass, Grade A water.

His land rests atop one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world: Acuifero Guarani, by name.

According to Jody, “Acuifero Guarani covers roughly 460,000 square miles under parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. It is estimated to contain about 8,900 cubic miles of water.”

If you can’t quite imagine 8,900 miles of water, picture a pool nearly three times the size of California. That should give you a decent idea.

A fair amount when you consider that 98% of this planet’s water is salt water.

Of the other 2%, almost 87% of it is trapped within glaciers, hence inaccessible. Jody’s “trusty calculator” informs him that only 0.25% of the water on this cosmic ball is fresh (underground, or in rivers and lakes). Just a drop in the figurative bucket…

Now, we knew this sort of stuff was going on with the elites, who look at us all as easy marks, broken money bags, the fat cows or broken pigs of their global stockades.

What’s happened is this trickle-down lust-love-longing for these people who get plastered in the headlines as being grand and philanthropists, deserving of every cent and every billion made on the back of people, earth, cultures.

Their trans-capital and monopolies  and viral presence like Google, Facebook, Walmart, and on and on sucks the revolution out of revolutionary, since we are now shackled to their ways of doing things. The goal of the capitalists is to harmonize their theft with our survival, whatever it takes to put five to a studio apartment (of course, sneaking the other four into the room in the dead of night), whatever it takes to just float through a gridlocked urban and suburban world. So, from Bush and Paraguay, to this Gawker Killer Thiel, we have enough evidence of their feudal ways, their slippery snake eyes methods of shitting on we underlings:

Here is Robert Hunziker:

Peter Thiel, the PayPal billionaire and renowned super-super-super libertarian and unapologetic Trumpster love-fester achieved New Zealand citizenship in only 12 days and bought not only his citizenship but a $13.8 M estate in Wanaka, a lakeside community.

According to a phone interview with the former PM of New Zealand John Key, “If you’re the sort of person that says I’m going to have an alternative plan when Armageddon strikes, then you would pick the farthest location and the safest environment – and that equals New Zealand if you Google it… It’s known as the last bus stop on the planet before you hit Antarctica. I’ve had a lot of people say to me that they would like to own a property in New Zealand if the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.

USA-TRUMP/

Hell in a hand-basket, from the former prime minister of New Zealand — 1935 Book, quote:

If the average white New Zealander takes the Maori seriously as a human being, he is usually rather too ready to blame him for characteristics which more careful study will show not to be inherent at all but actually the result of the coming of the Europeans themselves, the extensive destruction of Maori life and the virtual dispossession of the Maori people. Little attempt is commonly made to understand the causes which produced, for a time at any rate (for they are passing) those Maori characteristics which have become almost proverbial amongst us. To put it frankly, we blame the Maori for becoming what we have made him. It is interesting to realise that similar circumstances of the contact of peoples have occurred before, and in view of the people referred to there is one instance which it seems particularly fitting that we should bear in mind. The instance comes down to us from the days when another great Empire, an ancient one, was civilizing native peoples. There is on record a letter from a wealthy Roman landowner to his agent in Britain telling him to ship no more British slaves “as they are so lazy and cannot be trusted to work.” Similar causes produce similar effects; we should be less ready with hasty judgment and hasty blame. There is a widespread belief, and it is one certainly cherished by the average white New Zealander, that no native people have ever been so fairly treated by Europeans as have the Maori people. As a matter of fact, if it is fully and frankly told, the story of the contact of Europeans with native peoples is much the same everywhere. What we have are so many varieties of what a leading anthropologist has recently termed “the tragic mess which invariably results from the impact of white upon aboriginal culture.” It is true that the Maori people have survived, but this, on careful analysis, proves to be very largely due to their own qualities and their own efforts rather than to any specially favourable mode of treatment. If we are honest there is little ground for pakeha self-congratulation.

Ahh, the evidence of climate change (global warming–hot planet) was there in 1896 researched, formulated and discoursed by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius (and then later, amateur G. S. Callendar ramified the greenhouse effect of burning fossil fuels, and then later, C. D. Keeling measured the rising CO2 levels tying that to the greenhouse hot house effect), but for which has been swept into confusion by those marketers and mad men. Imagine, average planetary temps going up from  2.5–11°F by 2100. Imagine that!

The more civilizations evolve, the more energy dependent they become, so it’s possible that trillions of civilizations in the great continuum of space evolved, rose, fell and disappeared.

If you develop an industrial civilization like ours, the route is going to be the same. You’re going to have a hard time not triggering climate change. For a civilization to destroy itself through nuclear war, it has to have certain emotional characteristics. You can imagine certain civilizations saying, ‘I’m not building those [nuclear weapons]. Those are crazy.’ But climate change, you can’t get away from. If you build a civilization, you’re using huge amounts of energy. The energy feeds back on the planet, and you’re going to push yourself into a kind of Anthropocene. It’s probably universal.

—  Adam Frank, astrophysicist

Interlude, Interglacial Periods, Working for the Homeless — Flailing at Windmills

 

Comparison between summer ice coverage from 18,000 years BP and modern day.

Yeah, these big ideas I broach with homeless veterans and their attendant family members, and while the Gates-Kochs-Zuckerbergs-Bloombergs-Adelsons-et al have zero concern about us, the proles, the  detritus of their Capital, I believe working to change one life at a time — even if it’s a life riddled with evictions, felonies, relapses, epigenetic familial hell, PTSD, trauma, spiritlessness, physical decay — has meaning since in that process I have incredible interchanges with people who sort of want the same thing — paradigm shifts and de-industrialization and ecosocialism a la Marx 3.0.

I try to find peace in writing, even these polemics at DV or LA Progressive; and in my own world of fiction-poetry-creative nonfiction, the windmills abound because of a rarefied culture of the M-F-A (masters in fine arts) elite — those gatekeepers of the small literary kind, or even the National Book Award kind. This country is not big on real outliers in anything tied to the arts, and I am one of those round pegs looking to splinter the quintessential square hole.

Short story collection? Who the hell would read that? Well, try out a project of mine to get the stories —  thematically (sort of) threaded (sort of) to the “Vietnam experience” — as a hard copy from a small press, Cirque. You can read one of the stories, “Bloody Sheets,” here, starting on page 115.

The collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, is a gathering of fiction, much of which has been published in literary journals. I have succumbed to a Go Fund Me “deal” to help balance-offset the costs of printing a book on paper with ink.

I have no idea if a Go Fund Me will even take off. The first and only donation is from filmmaker Brian Lindstrom. Amazing, a struggling documentarian throwing in FIRST.

But we are in a new normal of shitting on writers, expecting us to have our day and then our night jobs and then write-write-write for free.

That is the question, really, who wants to spend their time reading short stories, outside the very narrow readership of Masters of Fine Arts aficionados who in many regards can be pedantic and puffery artists?

Vietnam, no less, in a time of Tim Burns rotting the foundation of the war we committed, or the Obama administration’s scrubbing of the war in his effort to commemorate it (Obama gives killer Kissinger awards).

Vietnam. One of my short journalist pieces for an old weekly I worked for in Spokane.

How many died in Vietnam and Indochina? 3.8 million? Oh, that Nobel Cause (War) myth I run into daily at a homeless veterans shelter, that is was winnable and worthy. Killing farmers, man, in their rice paddies! Whew, only a Zionist could write that script.

Read my short story collection for a different way to frame creativity and that time period, that narrative framing, that time in history that has defined and redefined the ugly wars of today. I am going to give this a shot in a time of blatant skepticism and group-think/act/do.

Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam. Be part of the creative impetus. The energy. The publication of a short story collection. With that “ask” of the reader who then gives will receive another book of mine, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber.

In my view [Dan Kovalik], this Noble Cause myth may be the most powerful and enduring propaganda trick ever perpetrated. And, it works so well because the audience for the trick — the U.S. people — are such willing and eager participants in the charade.

To explain the power of the Noble Cause myth, Marciano quotes from Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize lecture.  I set forth a larger quote from the lecture than appears in the book because it is so profound:

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

John Steppling, my fellow writer who studies intersections of culture-mimesis-art-politics (My review of his book,  Aesthetic Resistence and Dis-interest. That Which Will Not Allow Itself to be Said, here at DV) discusses the MFA phenomenon, a true watering down and controlled form of check and balances fiction:

So, the fact that The Rockefeller Foundation underwrote (and still underwrites) a good many MFA programs (and not just in literature, but in theatre and fine arts) is both relevant, and not. Or maybe a better way to address this is see The Rockefeller Foundation as symptom. I received a Rockefeller fellowship, which I hadn’t applied for. But, the very fact that creative writing programs boomed after WW2, and permeated the academic landscape is without question linked to the patronage of institutions like The Rockefeller Foundation (and the MacArthur Foundation, and…). And to deny that the tacit influence of these institutions is idiotic.

Now, it’s also true that what John Crowe Ransom and Stegner and Burrows preached is correct. Or it’s correct up to a point. It is revealing that Melville was derided, because Melville wrote a lot of ideas, and additionally observed the ways those ideas and that knowledge existed in the world. But it is equally true that you do not observe those harpoons so closely, or closely in a particular way, that all you get is a harpoon description. And a so described harpoon that never participates in riots or social unrest, and whose production is unexamined and the harpoon company that distributes it is left blank…the better to describe the fluted morning dew that bifurcates my tabby cat’s shadow on the harpoon handle, and etc etc etc is only a individual’s sensory observation. The harpoon must be known, not just observed.

The real point here is that what Iowa started, and many other University programs followed, was to narrow down the definition of “fiction”. Dante would not be considered fiction today. While there is a point in demanding a concrete description, and not a generality, the exclusive focus on the concrete meant that ideas were being eliminated in fiction. The world is not abstract… but that includes History and politics and tensions of daily life. Those offices in New York, or those bad marriages, are not separate from the Chinese Revolution, or U.S. Imperialism, or the blockade of Cuba or the present two million men and women in prison in the United States. ‘Greatness’, whatever that means, and I have no problem with that word, or the ideas behind it, is in discovering both what that connection is, and ..and this is important I believe…how our own personal emotional and psychic formation, and development are related to both Mao and our failed marriages (or, even the successful ones).

The emphasis on observation, on brute description, however eclipsed ideas as a subject for fiction. You may not sit down to write ideas, per se, but you certainly have an idea of what a harpoon is. You have to know certain things, and, in fact, the best writing is that which tells you what you don’t know, not describes nicely what you already do know. And there is a tendency in young writers to generalize. So on the one hand it’s natural to emphasize the concrete, but the result, perhaps intentional, or partly so (given the Rockefeller project) was the elimination of ideas in prose, and the narrowing of the definition of what constituted “fiction”

We Can No Longer Afford A Fossil Fuel Economy

#WeRiseForClimate protest in San Francisco, September 8, 2018 from 350.org flickr

The Global #RiseForClimate actions are just one example of many that the climate justice movement is building the power needed to transform the economy and put in place policies to confront climate change.  The ingredients exist for the climate justice movement to rapidly succeed. A challenge is not knowing how much time we have. Scientists have been conservative in their estimates, and feedback loops could rapidly increase the impacts of climate change.

The costs of not acting are high. The benefits of investing in a clean energy economy would be widespread. We need to keep building the movement.

Source: New Climate Economy

The Climate Crisis Is Already Devastating

The urgency of the climate crisis is obvious and cannot be reasonably denied. ABC News reported about the horrific California wildfires, saying there is an “undeniable link to climate change.” They wrote, “Experts have said that rising temperatures linked to climate change are making the fires larger, more dangerous and more expensive to fight.” This year’s fires broke records set by last year’s fires, leading Governor Jerry Brown to describe them as the “new normal” caused by years of drought and rising temperatures.

Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Idaho reported in 2017 that human-caused warming was drying out forests, causing peak fire seasons across the West to expand every year by an average of nine days since 2000. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the 2017 fire season cost more than $2 billion, making it the most expensive fire season on record.

Extreme heat is becoming more common because of climate change. Since 2001, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have occurred. Records were broken all over the world this year. Record heat is also contributing to more ferocious stormsStorms with heavy rain and high winds are increasing, as the Union of Concerned Scientists warns.

Michael Mann, an atmospheric science professor at Penn State University, clarifies the science:

What we can conclude with a great deal of confidence now is that climate change is making these events more extreme. And its not rocket science, you warm the atmosphere it’s going to hold more moisture, you get larger flooding events, you get more rainfall. You warm the planet, you’re going to get more frequent and intense heat waves. You warm the soils, you dry them out, you get worse drought. You bring all that together and those are all the ingredients for unprecedented wildfires.

Our Lives Matter from #RiseOnClimate Flickr

Economic Cost of Climate Impacts Is Rising

Global warming will hit the US economy hard, particularly in the South. The Richmond branch of the Federal Reserve Bank cites a study that finds refusing to combat climate change could utterly devastate the South’s entire economy. The Fed notes, “higher summer temperatures could reduce overall U.S. economic growth by as much as one-third over the next century, with Southern states accounting for a disproportionate share of that potential reduction.”

There is a correlation between higher temperatures and lower factory production, lower worker productivity and lower economic growth. An August 2018 report found:

The occurrence of six or more days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit reduces the weekly production of U.S. automobile manufacturing plants by an average of 8 percent.

Ironically, the oil and gas industry, which is accused of undermining climate science, is now asking government to protect it from the impacts of climate change. When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, swamping Houston, it caused an immediate 28 cents per gallon increase in the price of oil. After Harvey a Texas commission report sought $61 billion from Congress to protect Texas from future storms. Joel N. Myers, of AccuWeather, predicted in 2017 that the total losses from Harvey would reach “$190 billion or one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.” The cost of a 60 mile seawall along the Texas coast is initially projected to be $12 billion.

Harvey broke the record set by Hurricane Katrina, which cost $160 billion.  The 10 most destructive hurricanes caused an estimated $442 billion in losses. Out of 27 extreme weather events in 2016, researchers for the American Meteorological Society have correlated 21 of them to human-caused climate change.

A 2018 Climate Change Assessment report for California estimated climate change:

could soon cost us $200 million a year in increased energy bills to keep homes air conditioned, $3 billion from the effects of a long drought and $18 billion to replace buildings inundated by rising seas, just to cite a few projections. Not to mention the loss of life from killer heat waves, which could add more than 11,000 heat-related deaths a year by 2050 in California, and carry an estimated $50 billion annual price tag.

Impacts are seen throughout the United States. A report found that “since 2005, Virginia has lost $280 million in home values because of sea-level rise.” A 2018 study found coastal properties in five Southeastern states have lost $7.4 billion in potential value since 2005. The 2017 Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report estimates the lost value of flooded structures and land at over $19 billion. Additionally, Hawaii’s roadways, bridges and infrastructure will cost $15 billion to repair and replace. The National Flood Insurance Program is losing $1.4 billion annually largely due to claims in 284 coastal counties. The Congressional Budget Office finds the program is already $20.5 billion in the red even after the government forgave $16 billion in debt last fall.

These are just some of the many costs — food, agriculture, fishing, oceans, storms, fires, droughts, heat, flooding and more are going to worsen significantly.

Climate change could be the cause of the next economic collapse due to the cost of climate damage, an insurance industry crisis, or stranded assets, as over-investing in carbon energy has caused a fragile carbon bubble.

Equity, Justice, #WeRiseForClimate from Flickr

The US Can Transform To A Climate Justice Economy Now

While there has been progress on clean energy, it is inadequate and sporadic compared to the urgent needs. We need dramatic escalation with clear goals — keep fossil fue ls in the ground, use agriculture and wetlands to sequester carbon, deploy renewable energy, build climate justice infrastructure and transition to a new economy based on sustainability, democracy and equity.

This week, the world’s largest wind farm opened. It can power 590,000 homes in the UK. Another planned wind farm could provide the power for 2 million homes. The world is only scratching the surface of the potential of wind and solar.

We can no longer afford the old carbon energy economy. A new climate economy would add $26 trillion to the global economy by 2030, a conservative estimate. It will create 65 million new jobs and prevent 700,000 premature deaths. This transformation provides an opportunity to create the future we want based on economic, racial and environmental justice.

Just as we are underestimating the high costs of climate change, we have also “grossly underestimated the benefits and opportunities unlocked by smart, connected, distributed energy technologies,” David Roberts writes in Vox. We will look back after the transition and wonder why we waited as we will see “the benefit of quieter, safer, more livable cities and better respiratory health, we’ll wonder why we ever put up with anything else — why we nickel-and-dimed the transition to electric buses, long-haul trucks, and passenger vehicles; why we fought over every bike lane and rail line.” We can also implement Solutionary Rail – a network of electrified railroads that also serves as an energy grid serving rural areas and relieving roads of trucks.

The 2018 New Climate Economy Report reports time is running out; extreme damage from climate change is being locked in. We need a sustainable trajectory by 2030. The developing world needs infrastructure and much of the developed world’s infrastructure is failing. The report finds, “The world is expected to spend about US$90 trillion on infrastructure in the period up to 2030, more than the entire current stock today. Much of this investment will be programmed in the next few years.” We need to spend this on creating a new sustainable economy.

Adele Peters quotes Helen Mountford, lead author of the Global Commission project:

If we get that infrastructure right, we’re going to put ourselves on the right path. If we get it wrong, we’ll be very much stuck on that wrong pathway.

The report examined five areas: cities, energy, food and land use, water, and industry. Building sustainable, efficient, clean energy infrastructure will reduce health costs, and increase productivity and innovation. This requires policy based on equity, cutting fossil fuel subsidies while increasing the price of carbon, and investing in sustainable infrastructure.

The good news is we have the ability and technology to make the transition. We know what works. We lack the leadership, but this leadership void can be filled by the people. When we lead, the leaders will follow.

As the crisis hits and national consensus solidifies, people will need to demand a new economy based on equity, fairness, democratized energy and serving the necessities of the people and planet. This new democratized economy could include a federal buyout of the top US-based, publicly-traded fossil fuel companies. It could include the reversal of disastrous privatization with nationalization of key industries and public ownership of energy utilities to serve the public interest, rather than private interests.

Polling on risks of climate change. Yale Program on Climate Communication, 2018

National Consensus Is Solidifying For Climate Action

Despite mis-leadership by power holders and lack of commercial media coverage, people know climate change is having major negative impacts and want to action taken to confront it. Yale reports that polls show 83% want research funded on alternative energy, 77% want CO2 regulated as a pollutant, 70% want strict limits on CO2 from coal-fired power plants, and 68% even favor a carbon tax on polluters.

Obama’s policies on climate were inadequate, and he led massive building of oil and gas infrastructure. The current administration denies climate change exists, hides research on climateis reversing Obama’s positive steps and opposes the national consensus. This is going to lead to a climate justice boomerang. More storms and the cost of climate change will cause people to rebel and demand the transformation political elites have refused.

There is an impressive mobilized movement; not just the Global #RiseForClimate, but people putting their bodies on the line and risking arrest to stop carbon infrastructure. Activists are successfully delaying the approval of pipelines, often with Indigenous leadership as their rights are crucial for climate justice. Activists are arguing their resistance against polluters is being done out of climate necessity and are sometimes succeeding.

Oil companies are being sued for hiding the truth about climate change – former scientists are exposing them – and are now being forced to disclose climate change risks to shareholders.  Activists are confronting investors of carbon infrastructure and insurance companies on coal. Workers are confronting unions on the issue. Youth are suing for a livable climate future.

The movement is building power. The path needed is clear, but escalation is urgent.

The Fires This Time

This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.

— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The wildfires may be out of the headlines, but they are not out. Visual images seem the only way to comprehend the scope. The cluster of little flaming circles indicating active fires, crowded over interactive maps of the Western U.S. and Canada, covering their landmasses like an infestation of cartoon bugs, and with NASA’s hallucinatory satellite imagery color-coding them among all the atmospheric wildness in Gaia’s Revenge this summer: smoke, fire, dust, deluge, typhoon. However, the sheer acreage burned requires a return to the numerical: there’s no way to capture it in a single image. And yet whatever those numbers are, they still seem utterly disconnected from the Dow Jones, or the price of eggs at the supermarket, or flights to Spain, and so they are still inadequate.

But in Canada, with 550 fires burning last month in British Columbia alone, and smoke coating the west from border to border and beyond, someone thought to write about the mental and physical anguish of being surrounded by wildfire and its consequences, watching a familiar landscape, once vibrant, benevolent, be transformed into something fearful and toxic, in which you are trapped. When the suffocating smoke covers a thousand miles for weeks on end, where is there to run?

The article mentions the concept of “solastalgia,” a word coined to describe the experience of longing for a lost place when you are still in it—when you haven’t changed location, but it has changed character, for the worse. Uprootings, migration, exile: these, and the trauma they cause, have been endemic to civilization from the get-go, because civilization has been sustained by warfare. But to see your home place transmogrified by chthonic forces into an alien and hostile environment even as it still surrounds you—this is a sea change. (Literally, for some communities.) It means, among other things, that something is happening on a scale whereby the privilege of not being uprooted by merely human imbalances of power is no longer worth much.

There is a fearful sense that “thinking globally” will always require solastalgia now. That we are, Big Yellow Taxi-style, discovering the importance of places in our lives, and of the biosphere we grew up in, even as we lose them, forever.

The Meaning of 1968

It is also exactly half a century since the “fateful fork” year of 1968. We have just passed the anniversary of the bloody police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are already assassinated, Paris’ May uprising quelled and its energy disintegrating, the Prague Spring crushed. The final phase of the Tet offensive ends with no general revolt and staggering Viet Cong casualties, preparing the way for years of mass slaughter in a military deadlock, the U.S. defeat already inevitable, the Vietnamese victory Pyrrhic. Still ahead that year: the murder of hundreds of student protesters and fellow marchers in Mexico City in October, to make Mexico safe for the Olympics. In November: the triumph of Richard Nixon, successfully playing on the fears of Southern racists to get them to abandon the Democratic Party.

We have never escaped the shadow of that year of disenchantment. Not with the formal decolonization of Africa, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the election of a neoliberal black man as U.S. President. In the ensuing 50 years, only one revolution has had the kind of cumulative, irreversible, touching-all-lives effect that we used to mean when we used the term: the technological one. Information, communication, and the means of production have been revolutionized, without in any way diminishing alienation, systemic violence, or exploitation. “Everything has changed, except the mind of man [sic],” said Einstein after the atom was split. The second half of that sentence ought to be tagged on every time the first is used nowadays as well.

James Baldwin’s rhetoric was already apocalyptic in 1962 when the essays in The Fire Next Time were published. By 1968 he had seen too much of it, too much of “kill the best and buy the rest,” (as Bruce Cockburn sang twenty years later, when the utopian hopes that had been razed in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia rose briefly in Latin America, only to be crushed again.) Ed Pavlic, Baldwin scholar, says in one of a group of excellent articles in the Boston Review: “Baldwin described the journey from 1955 to 1969 as a ‘terrible descent.’” It’s interesting how differently white progressives and radicals saw that same arc. But history bears Baldwin out as the more prescient—he knew that if race relations in the U.S. could not be transformed, there would be no meaningful social progress of any kind. The rest of the “two-thirds” world, and now, we clearly see, the world of nature, are simply other foci of systemically reinforced objectification.

Baldwin, America’s greatest essayist, perhaps the 20th century’s best from any land, suffered himself to vibrate in every nerve and capture with every word the horror of a society in complete denial of just about everything that could redeem it: its past, the blood on its hands; its fears: of blackness, sensuality and sexuality, honesty, complexity, intellect, love. Its servile and now centuries-long acceptance of the constructed notion that “the concept of Property was more important—and more real—than the possibilities of the human being.”

For a time, he used his formidable skills to try to wake white people from the zombie-like trance of their parsimonious privilege to see that the richness of a real life would only be possible—for them—if all were free. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, as an old order seemed to be breaking down around the world, his central question was: How much can Americans truly stand of this nightmare before we shake it off? Surely, now we must begin to wake. But with the murder of King, he realized without question that whiteness would not be dissolved on his watch. The collective capacity to go along to get along, to refuse to know what was profoundly evident, to ignore or even defend lies, torture and killing, turned out to be every bit as great as he had feared, and infinitely greater than he might once have dared to hope. He went on speaking out for two more decades, but with the bitter knowledge that his words were without agency against the Biggest American Lie.

Beyond the Fateful Fork

That privileged capacity for denial, accommodation and selective blindness is as pronounced as ever, now that the world is burning and flooding. Fifty years on from 1968, a global consumer society now exists that has not resolved a single fundamental question that the 20th century posed of how we ought to live, in the way Baldwin construed it, one which has only deepened its contradictions (“incoherence,” Pavlic says, was Baldwin’s chosen word, for both the personal and the political miasma) at electronically accelerated speed. This, now that the teleological ideologies of the 20th century have all dissolved in blood, is a civilization with no vision beyond immediate perpetuation, become nothing more than a Brobdingnagian game of Jenga.

Lerone Bennett, historian of slavery, coined the phrase “fateful fork.” When he reviewed the history of European civilization on this continent, he identified missed opportunity after missed opportunity to create a society that did not depend upon the objectification of some by others in order to function.

A nation is a choice. It chooses itself at fateful forks in the road by turning left or right, by giving up something or taking something — and in the giving up and the taking, in the deciding and not deciding, the nation becomes. And ever afterwards, the nation and the people who make up the nation are defined by the fork and by the decision that was made there, as well as by the decision that was not made there. For the decision, once made, engraves itself into the landscape, engraves itself into things, into institutions, nerves, muscles, tendons; and the first decision requires a second decision, and the second decision requires a third, and it goes on and on, spiraling in an inexorable process which distorts everything and alienates everybody.1

With the utmost respect for those uncounted millions who have valiantly tried to rescue civilization from itself—to create, out of the torrents of blood that have gushed down the millennia like those in the elevator scene from The Shining, the first civilization that was not also “a document of barbarism,” as Walter Benjamin wrote—perhaps the notion of missed opportunity isn’t really salient here. Perhaps there’s something more fundamental at work. In fact, what Bennett seems to be describing is more like what scientists call a feedback loop. Once a collective choice is inscribed it is reified, making its unmaking impossible, and even its overturning increasingly difficult. The idea that revolution would represent a tabula rasa, a total reboot, was the ultimate logical fallacy. We need to revise our notion of progress, because the old Enlightenment view of an inevitably upward trajectory for humanity, as unidirectional as the timeline, is patently wrong.

And now a revolution is happening, on a scale larger than humans have ever seen. But it is nature’s revolt, not humanity’s. We have never lived in a world warming as quickly (and thus as chaotically) as the one we are entering. We have never witnessed a Great Extinction, never mind perpetuated one. At the same time, human society has never been a single global entity, so populous, so vastly complex, and therefore so vulnerable to reverberating effects from seemingly minor events as it is now. And our civilization’s response so far is to double down on the behaviors that unleashed the revolution—but that is because hierarchical civilization is the very definition of a feedback loop, one that has been reifying its precepts for thousands of years to attain this global reach.

Energy and systems theorist Richard Heinberg says our contemporary hierarchies, our systemic inequalities, are stark enough to be analogous to predator-prey relationships. While he rightly qualifies the metaphor repeatedly in order to avoid pernicious social Darwinism (like predators being somehow “superior” to prey species), he uses it to show how extreme inequality (over-predation) is a feature of a particular phase in both natural ecosystems and human societies. That phase generally heralds a rapid reduction in energy consumption, levels of complexity and population size. In the context of an integrated global society, however, it becomes a question of impacts that stretch beyond a single generation:

To the extent that we are today eroding the carrying capacity on which future generations would otherwise depend, our way of life could be characterized as intergenerational “predation;” to put it crudely, the old are “eating” the young.

Reinventing the Futureand the Present

What to do with such a time? Many conscientious collective responses are possible; many are already in motion; none is likely on its own to be transformative. But since you can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it, maybe one meaningful place to start is in re-conceptualizing the real, and then re-imagining the possible.

In an essay for The Dark Mountain Project, ecologist Tim Fox asks us to flip our conceptual script. Imagine that there is not a final cataclysm somewhere on the horizon (nor is there some kind of anthropo-topia, technocratic socialist or otherwise), but that you are already living in an apocalypse that has been unfolding for generations, like a volcanic eruption in slow motion. This is what civilization looks like from the perspective of the planet’s biodiversity, and the diversity of its indigenous cultures. Then begin to imagine that the post-apocalypse, instead of being a dreaded wasteland, is the time when a different human presence emerges: multiform, circumscribed, integrated—like the non-human species in a healthy ecosystem. A revivification and re-diversification, such as have followed previous mass extinctions. As Fox says:

So long as the prevailing stories continue to paint the Apocalypse as a nightmarish tomorrow rather than as a current event, we’ll continue to prolong and worsen the very thing we are trying, with increasing desperation, to avoid. We will also continue to miss the opportunity before us: a better world.

And that is where words come in, and images, and agency. For our narratives have only one kind of agency, and that is to enable the survival of ideas that can inspire broadly collective behaviors at some confluence of events that we can try to facilitate but cannot foresee.

L’imagination au pouvoir! comes echoing through the clouds of tear gas down the decades since May 1968. And somewhere a picture of John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics is circulating right now. The survival of such memes is as important for our cognitive and social evolution as genes are for our physical evolution. As long as they remain in our collective memory, however faintly, they have a chance to find expression in the culture we create, down the eons or in the next instant. We are both shaper and shaped, and the stories we tell ourselves are as important to the shaping as anything else we do. If they appropriate our imaginations instead of stimulating them, that’s a sure sign they are not the narratives that will help us thrive in a thriving world.

In his introduction to the 1984 edition of Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin quotes Doris Lessing: “…while the cruelties of the white man toward the black man are among the heaviest counts in the indictment against humanity, colour prejudice is not our original fault, but only one aspect of the atrophy of the imagination that prevents us from seeing ourselves in every creature that breathes under the sun.” (emphasis mine)

If we are faithful to that conception, then we will recognize that our new pietá is the image of an orca mother in the Salish Sea carrying her dead calf for 17 days. We won’t worship death, or despise our own humanity, but we will allow ourselves to grieve a lost ecosystem, a species gone extinct, and we will understand how we are implicated in them. We won’t wait for a future cataclysm and some eschatological redemption; we will recognize that the post-apocalypse begins now, with us. Rather than conjuring up the classic post-apocalyptic wasteland, we will conjure up an Enlivenment, our stunted political imaginations revivified by biophilia, regeneration, belonging.

Baldwin, knowing exactly how bad things were by 1984, how miserabilist American society was, and how much human possibility had been betrayed since the fateful fork of 1968, responds to Lessing’s words:

“Amen. En avant.”

  1. Lerone Bennett, “The Road Not Taken,” from The Shaping of Black America. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1975, pp. 61-82. Originally published in Ebony, vol. 25 (August, 1970), pp. 71- 77).

Chemically Induced Frankenstein-Humans

One of the biggest open questions of the 21st century is whether 144,000 different chemicals swirling throughout the world are properly tested and analyzed for toxicity. By almost all accounts, the scale of toxic risk is unknown. This may be the biggest tragedy of all time, a black eye of enormous proportions.

Correspondingly and very likely, not yet 100% proven but probably 99%, as a result of ubiquitous chemical presence, one hundred fifty million (150,000,000) Americans have chronic disease, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia, cancer, stroke, asthma, cystic fibrosis, obesity, and osteoporosis.1  Why?

According to Dr. Paul Winchester, who discovered the link between chemicals, like pesticides atrazine and glyphosate aka Roundup and epigenetic human alteration, the findings are:

The most important next discovery in all of medicine.2

Dr. Winchester was one of the researchers/authors of “Atrazine Induced Epigenetic Transgenerational Inheritance of Disease, Lean Phenotype and Sperm Epimutation Pathology Biomarkers,” PLOS, published September 20, 2017.

The grisly underlying message of that study is as clear as a bell: Chemicals found far and wide throughout America alter human hormones as well as human DNA, which passes along generation-to-generation known as transgenerational inheritance.

Frankly, nothing more should need to be said to spur outrage and pissed-off people all across the land because, if that seminal study is correct in its analysis that chemicals mess up/distort/disrupt human hormones and alter human DNA in a destructive manner, then the streets of America should be filled with people wielding pots and pans, probably pitchforks, and ready for the fight of a lifetime because, by any account, there has been massive failure of ethical standards and regulations of chemicals for decades and decades. Who’s to blame?

The primary targets are (1) the EPA and (2) FDA and (3) pesticide/chemical manufacturers, like Monsanto, and ultimately the U.S. Congress.

The chemicals in the aforementioned study include the herbicide atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the country and commonly detected in drinking water. The study demonstrated that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that negatively alters human hormonal systems, as chronic diseases overwhelm American society.

The European Union (EU) banned atrazine in 2003 because of persistent groundwater contamination. However, as for the EPA in America, it’s okay, no problem. But, doubtlessly one of those jurisdictions is dead wrong because it’s a black and white matter. Either toxic chemicals horribly messes up DNA and cause chronic diseases or not, no middle ground. As for America, chronic disease is at epidemic levels at 60% of the population. Where, why, and how if not from environmental sources?

Yet, the most disturbing issue is the epigenetic impact, meaning that environmental factors impact the health of people and also their descendants. It stays with and passes along the human genome generation-by-generation-by-generation.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a really important concept that is difficult to teach the public, and when I say the public, I include my clinical colleagues.3

Still, atrazine is not the only human hormone-altering chemical in the environment. Dr. Winchester tested nearly 20 different chemicals and all demonstrated epigenetic effects, for example, all of the chemicals reduced fertility, even in the 3rd generation.

Still, why do 150,000,000 Americans have chronic diseases?

Researchers believe that every adult disease extant is linked to epigenetic origins. If confirmed over time with additional research, the study is a blockbuster that goes to the heart of public health and attendant government regulations.

According to Dr. Winchester:

This is a huge thing that is going to change how we understand the origin of disease. But a big part of that is that it will change our interpretation of what chemicals are safe. In medicine I can’t give a drug to somebody unless it has gone through a huge amount of testing. But all these chemicals haven’t gone through anything like that. We’ve been experimented on for the last 70 years, and there’s not one study on multigenerational effects.4

The U.S. Congress passed a new chemical safety law for the first time in 40 years with the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act in 2016, but the provisions for regulation are totally overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.  For starters, more than 60,000 chemicals came to the market without safety testing, and the burden of proof for regulators previously was so burdensome that the EPA wasn’t able to ban asbestos when necessary.

As for the effectiveness of the new law, consider this statement in the following article, “It Could Take Centuries for EPA to Test all the Unregulated Chemicals Under a New Landmark Bill,” PBS SoCal, June 22, 2016:

The new law requires EPA to test tens of thousands of unregulated chemicals currently on the market, and the roughly 2,000 new chemicals introduced each year, but quite slowly. The EPA will review a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time, and each has a seven-year deadline. Industry may then have five years to comply after the new rule is made. At that pace it could take centuries for the agency to finish its review.

If that’s the best Congress can do to protect its citizens from toxic chemicals, they should be run out of town tarred and feathered on a rail. One more reason to abandon America’s socio-economic-politico scenario; maybe socialism would work better at protecting citizens.

Meantime, children are caught up smack dab in the middle of this 70-year experiment of untested and poorly/ill-tested chemicals.

Roundup (glyphosate) for breakfast? Yes, independent lab tests by Eurofins Analytical Laboratories found hefty doses of the weed-killer Roundup in oat cereals, oatmeal, granola, and snack bars:

EWG tested more than a dozen brands of oat-based foods to give Americans information about dietary exposures that government regulators are keeping secret. In April, internal emails obtained by the nonprofit US Right to Know revealed that the Food and Drug Administration has been testing food for glyphosate for two years and has found ‘a fair amount,’ but the FDA has not released the findings.5

California state scientists and the World Health Organization have linked glyphosate to cancer. Yet, the chemical is pervasively found in products. Yes, on regular ole grocery store shelves.

EWG found the chemical in several cereals such as Back to Nature Classic Granola, Quaker Simply Granola Oats, Honey, Raisins & Almonds, Great Value Original Instant Oatmeal, Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls Original, Quaker Old Fashioned Oats, etc.

Ironically, they all sound so very very healthy.

Postscript:

Earth, and all life on it, are being saturated with man-made chemicals…For the first time in the Earth’s history a single species – ourselves – is poisoning the entire planet… It is arguably the most under-rated, under-investigated and poorly understood of all the existential threats that humans face in the twenty-first century.6

  1. Rand Corporation Review 2017.
  2. EcoWatch, August 16, 2018.
  3. EcoWatch.
  4. EcoWatch.
  5. Alexis Temkin, Ph.D. Toxicologist, “Breakfast With a Dose of Roundup?” Environmental Working Group (EWG), August 15, 2018.
  6. Julian Cribb, Surviving the 21st Century, Springer Publishing/Switzerland, p. 106.

What Future Awaits the Babies of 2018?

Some of you will hate me for what I am about to write.

I’m quite accustomed to it.

It used to be acceptable to ask questions about what future can be expected for children brought into our world now, this world with its increasingly grim environmental prognosis. At one time the bleak forecasts were mostly about extreme heat and pollution. Present projections involve far more: oceans acidifying at dizzying speed and full of microplastics which have now entered the food chain, possible massive methane eruptions from underneath polar ice caps which are melting at a phenomenal rate, water wars driving mass migration which in the future will dwarf anything we have seen so far, the list goes on. But instead of making the debate about children and population growth more relevant than ever: oddly, most of what was once known as “The Left” now considers the subject taboo. Lefties galore, just like right-wingers, will now tell you that everyone has the right to have children and no one should be “shamed” about it. Many also assert that our planet can easily support two or three times its current number of humans … “if we only (do such-and-such, all pitch in to do this or that)…” … which we will certainly NOT all do. As if we had the right, anyway, to keep wiping out other species faster and faster to make that even theoretically possible.

The truth – from my perspective, obviously — is that, however horrifying the forecast for our planetary future becomes, almost no one wants to admit that it is THAT bad. The decision to have children is widely considered to be a Human Right. Even many of us who accept the likelihood of these dire environmental scenarios want to believe that “it will all work out somehow”, that technological solutions will be developed, that humans can adapt to anything.

But above all, many of us who don’t yet have children consider a life without children somewhere in our future to be a tragic and horrifying thing to contemplate. Our genetic and cultural programming is so strong that we will go to almost any lengths to convince ourselves that things are “not that bad” yet, and that whatever horrors are headed our way, they are far enough in the future to make such a grim decision unnecessary.

Full disclosure: I have two grown daughters. I love them more than anything else that has come along in my long life. And when we were pregnant with Honourable Daughter Number 1, I was already having this debate with myself and with her mother. That was in 1987. At that time the Ozone Hole was the growing threat.

That was more than 30 years ago.

I have told both of my daughters that I would not make the same decision today that I made in 1987 and again in 1992. It hurts them to hear it, and it hurts me deeply to say it to them.

Here in Germany where I live as an American Refugee, the population has shrunk from 88 million at the time I first moved here (1987) to 80 million today. Germans are afraid of becoming extinct as a national group. The German government pays people to have children through a generous program of financial support for young parents called “Kindergeld”. This is a government which appears, in some ways, to be pretty concerned about our planet’s future. But it has obviously not connected the dots when it comes to actual humans dealing with actual environmental disaster, in a future that may not be so far off. The governing coalition’s most powerful political party, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), places great value on “family-friendly” politics. The party and the government it led at the time moved to abandon nuclear energy and develop renewables after Fukushima; the CDU and the succeeding governments it has led since then have done some relatively progressive things in the environmental arena, although the current edition is backsliding badly at the moment.

But to admit that the world may be a terrifying place by the time these babies are adults is simply out of the question for them. And it certainly will not help them, or any other political party, to win elections.

Every day, I see happy young women proudly pushing their new babies around our peaceful little village here in baby carriages and strollers. Some of them are Germans. Some of them are refugees and immigrants who appear to feel that they have finally found a safe place to live a normal life. And to a great many in both groups, “a normal life” means having babies. It is what they have always wanted. I look into the faces of these innocent new arrivals and I try to imagine what they will face in 30 years, even if Germany remains the island of relative affluence and economic stability which it is today. But for a vast number of Germans and Americans and people all over the world, a life without children would be incomplete.

And therein lies the crux. Most of us who make that decision are thinking less about that new baby’s future than about our own futures … our own happiness … our own sense of fulfillment. Of course, we plan to do everything within our power to give that child a good life.

Unfortunately, it no longer lies within our power to give those babies a secure future, as I see it. No amount of money in the bank or property amassed, no expensive education, will keep plastic out of the food chain or prevent the planet from overheating drastically. If such a thing were even possible at this late date, it would require a worldwide consensus and fast, decisive, emergency mandatory action. Governments which routinely compete and make war or proxy war against one another would have to drop their jockeying for power and cooperate rapidly to save the planet.

It is, of course, true that a great many young people are largely unaware of the alarming new scientific forecasts which have recently been published, along with urgent appeals from groups of major scientists urging world leaders to take corresponding action. All of this is far beyond the extremely limited imaginative capacity of a great many of our fellow humans. Many of them (especially in the USA) tend, in any case, to be highly skeptical of this whole thing, if they do not label it outright as a “hoax”.

What would it take to make such prospective parents see that the danger is real, urgent, and unparalleled in human history? to convince them that a baby born now – or if not that baby, the next generation — is increasingly likely to face a terrible future?

It would take governments and media and authority figures willing to speak what they now know to be the truth, about what is highly likely and growing more so.

It would require these governments and elites and their presstitute media to take off the Happy-Face Mask, and make the real news the headline story, every day. It’s time.

Energy: Missing from the Nuclear Story

One of my first memories of watching TV during the early 1950s was ads promoting leaded gasoline for reducing engine knock.  Little did I suspect the strange history of that gas.  By the beginning of World War I, it became clear that the internal combustion automobile was edging out its rival steam cars and electric cars.  Shortly afterwards, Thomas Midgley began researching how to remove the knocking “ping” sound from gasoline-powered cars.

Midgley devoted no fewer than six years of his life searching for a fuel additive that would have a “no-knock” effect.  He found that corn alcohol would be too expensive.  Benzene would also be effective, but it would be impossible to manufacture enough.  Both oxygen and chlorine increased knock.  Aniline, selenium oxychloride and tellerium worked, but produced an awful smell.  Examining one element after another in a periodic table of the time, he finally found a gasoline additive: tetraethyl lead. Since poisonous effects of lead were well known, the product was labeled “ethyl gasoline.”

Multiple states banned sale of ethyl gasoline, prompting a retort from Midgley that car exhaust contained far too little lead to cause concern.  A vice-president of a new gas company proclaimed that leaded motor fuel was a “gift of God” as Midgley told his partner that they could make 3¢ from each gallon of leaded gasoline in the 20% of the market they could corner.  During the next few decades, leaded gasoline caused immeasurable damage to human organ systems as well as causing violent behavior from neurological impairment.

This is the most dramatic story from Richard Rhodes’ (2018) Energy: A Human History.  Much of Energy is a hodgepodge of personality sketches of those having a role in scientific discoveries. Some of the anecdotes are fascinating.  When the power of steam was being harnessed to move people and things, a contest determined that a steam locomotive attached to the object it was pulling was more efficient than the then popular method of having a stationary engine pull freight uphill with a rope.

Other accounts illustrate how technological changes affected workers.  James Watt used nitrous oxide to rid natural gas of its smoke and smell so it could be employed for night-time lighting.  Mill owners then lengthened the working day to 14 hours.

The shock of the book comes after the author completes 18 of his 20 chapters. As Rhodes delves into the most recent of technologies, nuclear power, the reader finds Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader, and Helen Caldicott being compared to misanthropes such as Thomas Malthus, Paul Ehrlich and followers of Adolf Hitler. This bizarre connection is based on the writings of one obscure author who predated Carson with a description of destruction caused by the over-reproduction of “undesirable people.”

Rhodes claims that the environmental movement unknowingly brought “anti-humanist” ideology into its visions of a simpler world.  By advocating a society less dependent on complex technology, environmentalists are ostensibly condemning untold millions of impoverished humans to disease and starvation.

The author insists that only nuclear power can save humanity from energy poverty and, thus, rejection of nuclear power is elitist.  What about nuclear radiation poisoning, which is critical to nuclear dangers?  Rhodes presents a case which may well become the next generation of pro-nuclear apologies.  Reviewing theories of 1926, he accuses Herman Muller of committing the original sin of radiation theory after his discovery that low doses of radiation caused genetic mutation in fruit flies. Muller developed the critically important “linear no-threshold” (LNT) model which postulates a “linear” relationship between the quantity of radiation received and the likelihood of cell damage, or, that there is no dose of radiation so small that it is without negative effects.

Rhodes’ attempts to discredit Muller have three disturbing characteristics. First, he bases his arguments on character attacks against scientists and environmentalists. Next, he minimizes or ignores large bodies of data.

Third, his arguments lack internal consistency as he repeatedly contradicts information from different parts of the book.  For example, on p. 324 he claims nuclear power is “carbon-free energy” but on p. 332 says nuclear power creates greenhouse gases during “construction, mining, fuel-processing, maintenance, and decommissioning.”

Rhodes borrows his denunciations of Muller from an article by Edward Calabrese, who brags to have unearthed evidence that Muller suppressed research in 1946.  During his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Muller did not acknowledge that he had received a paper that Calabrese thinks contradicted the LNT theory.  Calabrese’ charge, repeated by Rhodes, is absurd, both because it is ridiculous to think that a Nobel Prize speech would be changed due to one unreplicated finding and because Muller was later instrumental in ensuring the publication of that paper.

It is currently Calabrese, rather than Muller, who is discredited, largely due to his increasingly weird assertions that acceptance of the LNT theory was due to “falsifying and fabricating the research record.”  Calabrese’s objectivity is also called into question by his funding from the nuclear industry and companies such as ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical, and General Electric.

Calabrese’s hostility could also be due to the near-universal rejection of his “hormesis” theory that small levels of radiation benefit human health.  In 2006, Calabrese made arguments for hormesis to the international Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation which rejected them in favor of the LNT model. The LNT model is accepted by a long list of agencies and health organizations.

Many researchers have documented effects of low level radiation (LLR) from the various stages of nuclear power production, background radiation, X-rays and CT scans.  Since Muller’s first experiments on fruit flies, other studies show these insects being susceptible to radiation levels 50 times lower than found then.  As fruit fly research faded away, by the 1970s it was replicated with mice.

Recent research on over 110,000 workers cleaning up after the Chernobyl disaster found significant leukemia increases, even at low doses.  Another study of 300,000 nuclear workers in the US, UK and France also showed leukemia increases with extremely low radiation exposure.  Parallel investigations in the UK, France, Switzerland and Germany demonstrated 30% to 40% increases of childhood leukemia for those living close to nuclear power plants.  An estimated 20% of childhood leukemia in Great Britain is due to background radiation.

Children are particularly susceptible to radiation damage because their tissue is growing rapidly.  Chronic exposure to radiation is also linked to multiple myeloma, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, skin cancer and cancer of the breast and stomach.

The many agencies and scientific societies scrutinizing these and vastly more studies are well aware that accepting Rhodes’ belief that LLR causes no harm or Calabrese’s belief that it is good for you could be very bad for humanity and particularly disastrous for children and nuclear industry workers.  It could lead to the elimination of regulations that many argue are already too weak and irregularly enforced.  One point rarely addressed is that each study tends to focus on a single source of radiation.  Relaxing rules could result in increased poisoning from multiple sources.

This brings up the “Precautionary Principle.”  It says that if there is doubt about the safety of a substance, the burden of proof that it is safe lies with those who advocate it, rather than burdening those who question it with the responsibility to prove its harm.  In other words, “Better safe than sorry.”  The phrase “Precautionary Principle” is not even included in the index of Energy, much less discussed.  Rhodes’ approach suggests a “Throw-caution-to-the-wind Principle.”

Rhodes glibly dismisses Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima as accidents that need not have happened had people been more careful.  In other words, if humans did not behave as humans, there would be no nuclear disasters.

The author is either ignorant of the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 or deliberately chose to sidestep it.  That legislation was passed to encourage private companies to build nuclear power plants by limiting total liability.  Many currently worry that a plant near them might melt down, causing damage far into the billions, with the company not having to fully compensate its victims.  If Rhodes truly believed his own claims regarding the safety of nuclear plants, he would advocate the repeal of Price-Anderson as unnecessary.  “Price-Anderson” also does not appear in the book’s index.

Rhodes belittles concerns regarding nuclear waste, proposing to bury it for 1000 years and let our descendants cope with it.  Rational people do not want to encumber their grandchildren with the legacy of leukemia. Again, the author forgets what he wrote in a previous chapter, that the half life of U238 is 4.5 billion years.  Most people who made it through middle school realize that this time period exceeds 1000 years.

Rhodes seems unaware that some types of radwaste can actually become more radioactive with the passage of time, due to the production of daughter atoms with short half lives.  Radioactivity can initially increase for thousands of years before activity declines – the dangerous interval can persist much longer than the lapse between the building of Egypt’s pyramids and today.

Nor does he seem aware that every nuclear plant must discharge enormous quantities of hot water into an adjacent river or ocean, whose aquatic life is seriously harmed.  Nor does he recognize that earth itself is unstable, subject to earthquakes, floods and other calamities, which is a problematic issue for St. Louis dumps that house some of the original wastes from the Manhattan Project.  That waste, and waste from a conventional dump which is now smoldering, are inching their way towards each other, which is a burning issue for those living nearby.

Many, many people for many different reasons and living in different times (including the future) do and will take issue with the irresponsible claim that nuclear waste is not dangerous.

It never occurs to Rhodes to contrast the potential horror from someone dropping a bomb on a nuclear power plant to bombing a solar panel or wind installation.  Worse, he advocates global proliferation of nuclear power to states vastly less capable of protecting themselves than are the current nuclear powers.  Rhodes seems to forget what he wrote in earlier chapters directly linking the Atoms for Peace program of the Eisenhower era to the expansion of nuclear weapons.  Nor does he remember his earlier discussion of the need to use a form of uranium fuel at that time which would “reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation.”

The difference between Rhodes’ early warning against nuclear proliferation and his ringing endorsement of the same in the last two chapters is just one of the ways he contradicts himself.  More serious is the contrast in tone, style and conceptualization in the two portions of the book.  In the major portion of his work, Rhodes repeatedly describes government agencies’ covering up evidence that threatens corporate profits.  But in the final portions of the book, government agencies are recast as an interlocking conspiracy to block the nuclear industry from completing its humanitarian goal of providing cheap, clean energy to the world’s poor.

More subtle is the way Rhodes hints at energy conservation before ditching the idea in his conclusion.  He describes the way that James Watt improved the steam engine by moving the condensation process in order to save energy.  Later, he seems about to expand the idea of conserving energy when he notes that many “began to question if growth was good.”

This question would challenge the corporate assumption that a quality life comes from possessing an increasing number of objects and propose that energy abundance best be resolved by using energy more efficiently to produce goods (including housing) that endure.  Rhodes never follows this dream and, instead, concludes his book by swallowing the “Happiness = More Stuff” model hook, line and sinker.

Failing to explore the potential of conserving energy, Rhodes accepts that increasing energy can only be provided with nuclear power and follows in the footsteps, not only of Edward Calabrese but also of those he criticizes.  Like Thomas Midgley’s portrayal of “fanatical health cranks,” he describes icons of the environmental movement as “extremists.”  Mimicking Calabrese’ characterization of consensus on the LNT radiation theory as “not real but faked,” he describes the “disingenuousness” of antinuclear activists.  Rather than pointing to a solution for climate change, his radiation denial mirrors Donald Trump’s climate denial in its derogation of scientific research and its personality attacks.

The great environmental challenge of our time it to understand that the many sources of biodestruction are all interconnected and must be confronted simultaneously, rather than disparaging one danger to focus on another.  Addressing species extinction could not move forward by ridiculing concern with toxic pollution.  The extreme threat of climate change will not move closer to resolution by trivializing the menace of nuclear power.  Rhodes’ book on Energy epitomizes what environmentalists should avoid – it does not chart the path that humanity should tread.

Capitalism’s Rough and Tumble Climate Affaire

It’s entirely possible that capitalism and climate change are not compatible. They just cannot seem to live together, kinda like a marriage on the rocks. Assuming the planet is headed for a 2C climate event in the not so distant future, some kind of separation is probably necessary to avoid planetary dystopia and chaos.

A solution of sorts is often whispered in the hallowed halls of academia, and it is scribbled in obscure blogs, suggesting the abolishment of capitalism as the best way to help rid the planet of an existential threat of RGW (runaway global warming). But, that is kinda outrageous and silly and, well, it just doesn’t seem possible.

Still, capitalism plays too rough for the sensitive planet. In reality, Earth doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of capitalism. What to do?

In point of fact, the world order is deeply ingrained in unabashed capitalism, the pandering, plundering type that chews up and spits out any form of interference as quickly as one can say Milton ‘laissez-faire’ Friedman: Slash taxes, throw-out regulations, transfer public assets into private hands, cut welfare benefits, degrade schools, and infinite growth as the universal fixit.

But, it’s worth noting as for Friedman’s long-standing position that government should not interfere with private biz, Allen Sinai chief global economist for Decision Economics, Inc, discussing Friedman’s free-market dogma vis a vis the 2008 economic meltdown: “The free market is not geared to take care of the casualties, because there’s no profit motive.”

When things go bad, capitalism puts its tail between its legs and heads for the hills as the free market doctrine turns into a wet limp rag. FDR understood this only too well and did something about it.

Whereas the global warming challenge cannot risk dependence upon a socio-economic-politico order that shirks responsibility when the going gets tough, especially because of a simple lack of profit motive. As such, capitalism does not seem like a good candidate to help fight the global warming leviathan.

Making matters worse, as well as a more compelling argument for some kind of change of the socio-economic-political order, America, a hotbed of capitalism, shows utter disdain for the threat of global warming, rejecting the Paris agreement of 2015 and re-invigorating fossil fuels at the expense of renewable energy. That kind of behavior by a country responsible for 25% of global CO2 is reason enough to call for a major change of some kind.

Along those lines, recent climate studies of significance, with powerful names involved, “allude” to the need to change the world socio-economic order to achieve a “Stabilized Earth Pathway.”

For example, suggestions are alluded to within “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 6, 2018, which suggests a deep transformation, to wit:

The present dominant socioeconomic system, however, is based on high-carbon economic growth and exploitative resource use. Attempts to modify this system have met with some success locally but little success globally in reducing greenhouse gas emissions or building more effective stewardship of the biosphere. Incremental linear changes to the present socioeconomic system are not enough to stabilize the Earth System. Widespread, rapid, and fundamental transformations will likely be required to reduce the risk of crossing the threshold and locking in the Hot- house Earth pathway; these include changes in behavior, technology and innovation, governance, and values… We suggest that a deep transformation based on a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behavior, institutions, economies, and technologies is required.

A “deep transformation” based upon a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behavior, institutions, economies, and technologies is brainiac talk for throw out the existing order and start over. Deep transformation doesn’t just mean passing new legislation. It means deep-sixing the body politic.

Accordingly, is it time for change? After all, the world is filling up with billionaires and millionaires aka: transnationalists so rapidly that it’s a wonder there’s enough room on the planet, buying islands, offshore ocean cities, multiple homes in order to have at least one residence in a no-tax state, gobs and gobs of offshore bank accounts to avoid federal taxes and keep regulators off balance, gas-guzzling private jets, maybe 2 or 3 and 10-car garages, and that’s only for starters.

Along the way, plutocrats don’t do anything to help the biosphere. But they do use it!

It’s no mystery and certainly no secret that rampant CO2, produced by the bucketful by transnationalists and their assorted interests blankets, and heats up, the atmosphere as an unintended consequence of capitalism’s massive infinite growth paradigm, whilst producing billionaires and millionaires like rabbits in heat as the planet turns red hot.

Similar to a final show-of-shows miserably failing, the capitalist bandwagon has turned into a freakish sideshow that only pays lip service to helping the planet. Solution: Maybe they could help via a wealth tax (no problem getting 99% approval) that plows their excesses into renewable energy and scientific studies aimed at correcting 200+ years of capitalistic blissfulness cruising alongside denigration of the only known biosphere in the universe that supports life.

Give me my planet or give me death!

Wait a moment; didn’t America’s founding fathers say something similar to that when the Revolution of the Wealthy (1775) took place in a ground war between America’s landed gentry (George Washington) and the British crown (George III).  (As an aside: Patrick “give me liberty or give me death” Henry, similar to General Washington, owned big estates and slaves.)

Sloganeering worked just fine back in those revolutionary days! But, back then sloganeering had the backing of the rich landed gentry that also controlled all of the news.

Nowadays it’s unlikely that a silly slogan like “give me my planet or give me death,” which refers to a defaced planet that nobody can buy or own, will survive this polemic. Fat chance!