Friday, April 19, 2013

A Proposed Fix

Just watched Chasing Ice on the small screen – showing on the big screen in Wells Hall next Thursday, 25th. I turn off the tv come upstairs and stumble into this report . All this after listening to campus leaders on radio and webcasts this week assuring us that our pace at addressing climate is fine. I think I need a vacation! Luckily I'm going soon...

Meanwhile the constant weather fluctuations are threatening our agricultural systems with growing unpredictable floods, droughts, storms, freezes, etc – all of which are predicted to increase as the CO2 we keep pumping into the atmosphere accumulates. We continue to add more buildings to heat and cool and light and otherwise power from power that is primarily from fossil fuels. It's as if we in higher education feel that our work is so essential that we can defy the laws of thermodynamics. That somehow we are bequeathed with some moral hegemony that allows us to forgo controls on growth on a finite planet. Where is the sanity in that? Are the feedback loops to slow?

And if that isn't loony enough, we'll actually keep investing in those fossil fuel companies as long as we think we'll be enriched over the next quarter or year.Even as the report above suggests the lunacy of such efforts.

There are ways out of this insanity, but you don't see leadership coming from higher education leaders or politicians, partly because they have been captured by the way the rules of the game have been rigged to favor greed and power. 

Here’s a brief doable plan (if politics wasn't in such a horrid state) that allows us to move a lot faster and brings more equality, creates jobs, and reduces our consumption of fossil fuels.More people would benefit more, for a longer term than the current approach our leaders(?) want us to believe.

1)      Reinstall our income tax strata from the 1950s; tax short-term speculative investments - shorter they are held the more they are taxed; and tax capital gains at same rate as regular income. Reduce work week to 32 hours - we have a labor surplus people - not a ,labor shortage!
2)      Launch a new CCC that focuses on energy conservation and efficiency
3)      Launch and or support neighborhood centers that build and strengthen local food systems
4)      Remove subsidies for large commodities - we create more mayhem in the developing world by chasing people off the land
5)      Reduce defense spending, increase peace spending – more on trained negotiators with knowledge of the regions, more training on democratic group processes to be used for effective community conversations.
6)      Support young people who want to be global peacekeepers with the same level of training and benefits as we do soldiers for war. They are both risking their lives.

 It tries to reflect in spirit the beautiful systemic approach for which John Todd was awarded the inaugural 2008 Buckminster Fuller Award for his Comprehensive Design for a Carbon Neutral World: The Challenge of Appalachia

buckminster fuller challenge winner, buckminster fuller challenge award, buckminster fuller challenge, restoring the Appalachia, appalachians, apallachians coal mines, what to do with the apallachian mines, global warming solution, bfc2.jpg

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Is There a Bigger Issue Before Us

In the last 72 hours I've been stimulated by the opportunity to listen to seven brilliant scientists Say It in Seven: what they are learning about our world that could help us all. From Dave Skole's path breaking work to connect carbon farming (agroforestry) with measurement and payments for small landholders anywhere on the planet, to Joan Rose's work on identifying water borne pathogen's before they reek havoc, to Ruby Ghosh's work at developing oxygen sensors and make them cheap enough they can be used anywhere in the world for all kinds of practical reasons. The others were equally thoughtful and inspiring.
I also was recipient of a link to a recent  and compelling TEDx talk by Allan Savory, an ecologist trying to prevent desertification of the globe's grasslands, a compelling if yet optimistic proposal to slow climate change.

I scurried to collect signatures from faculty and staff to support students who were beseeching the university to divest from fossil fuels on Friday and passed them along to university leaders. Yesterday I attended the annual meeting of the Greater Lansing Peace Education Center and listened to a number of preventable tragedies - around immigration, women's rights, military spending, etc. And of course there is the daily news of 13 oil spills totaling more than 1,000,000 gallons in the last 30 days, violence, injustice, unrelenting poverty, growing inequality, etc. It's enough to have you just pull the covers up over your head and go back to sleep.

But in the darkness of these stories is also the light - faculty/scientists trying to find solutions that could be used in many places. Students putting aside the pressures of approaching exams and term papers to organize around the issue of the time for them. Peacemakers who give hours every week to inform, to bear witness, and to model peace in their community. It's at once maddening and inspiring.

Recently I've been working with a small cabal of local individuals  organizing a community conversation around campaign financing. In the work developing the idea I stumbled upon a recent TEDx talk by professor Lawrence LessigLessig portrait.jpg that is compelling in trying to figure out which issues might our time best be spent at. While there are many places to join in, Lessig's point deserves serious reflection.

As I move towards to the end of Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone's book, Active Hope, there are pearls of wisdom for helping any of us who wrestle with how to make a difference. Regardless of what issue burns most brightly for you. I'll end with one that resonated with this writer. There's a reason I named this blog "Possibilitator" a belief that despite the late Margaret Thatcher's dictum, "There is no alternative", with imagination and inspiration "a better world is possible".

"Thinking in only short stretches of time also severely limits our sense of what can be achieved through us. To grow a project fruitful enough to be inspiring takes time. It is easy to ask, "What's the point?" if we're not seeing results after six months or a year. Imagine what would happen if we applied the same thinking after planting a tender young date palm or love tree. These trees can take decades to become fully productive, but once they do they remain so for more than a century."

What task do you think is to big to tackle but yet is necessary to steer us in a more sustainable direction? Maybe that's the one you should dedicate your energy to.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Therapy for Troubled Times

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone have crafted a highly touted work for those in the trenches of social change. Like Meg Wheatley's recent So Far From Home which I reviewed last fall here, this title, Active Hope: How to face the Mess We're In Without Going Crazy, recognizes that the size of the challenges we face are enough to discourage anyone from trying.ActiveHopeBookCover  
Macy, soon to be 84 years young has teamed up with Johnstone, a medical doctor, author, and coach who worked for nearly twenty years as an addictions specialist in the UK National Health Service.

Their approach is compelling, reaching inside each of us to that space that connects us to a wider sense of self. It is at once a work of self-actualization and planetary repair. It is not in search of heroic work, but rather feeding that notion that we need "to develop our inner resources and the outer community" simultaneously.

Rather than be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task the authors suggest that "We don't limit our choices to the outcomes that seem likely. Instead, we focus on what we truly, deeply long for, and then we proceed to take determined steps in that direction." 


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sustainable Citizenship

The pile of unfiled papers was beginning to shade out the light in my home office, so given the rather chilly windy weather today I decided to finally tackle it. Not only did I get everything either filed or recycled I also managed to shred old tax records for recycling. One gem I have overlooked since I had found it was Andrew Dobson's Sustainability Citizenship. Dobson  a professor of political science at Keele University (UK) in a nice concise manner tackles much of what I find fault with in many U.S. sustainability efforts in a pithy and readily digestible manner.

book cover Ironically, I authored a book chapter on the same topic Sustainable Citizenship: The Challenge for Students and Their Institutions in The Sustainable University: Green Goals and New Challenges for Higher Education Leaders at about the same time or I would have referenced it in my own work.

Dobson quickly dissects the error of market dominance. He feels that "it [market dominance] will fail in the long term because it doesn't engage people at the level of principle." He goes on to argue briefly for moving from the market to civil society involvement in deciding the ethical judgments that should guide us forward.

 This brief paper is one of several now posted at the Greenhouse Think Tank a UK focused non-profit with a strong set of beliefs (see below). Shorter pieces are entitled Greenhouse Gases.(cute) The think tank's philosophy is laid out below for your consideration.

This We Believe

We believe in the human race: we believe that we are wise and clever enough to think and act our way out of the terrible crisis that we as a species have created for ourselves.

We believe in the power of the people. We believe that one day our country and our world will see true demo-cracy: the rule of the people by the people for the people.

We believe in massive co-ordinated action on climate, in a just transition, in public services, in equality, in a dynamic-equilibrium economy, in restorative justice, in localisation, and in real care for the future.

We believe that the economy is more than just a machine to produce more and more trinkets and that the pie has to stop growing because the ingredients are running out.

We believe that the ownership of land is a historical mistake, and that animals cannot be our property.

We believe in the future and that the interests of future people carry as much weight as our own.

We believe that the time is right for a thinktank that is adequate to the challenges facing this country and this living planet of ours.

This we believe.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Swahili Proverb

In Kofi Annan's memoir, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, I just finished he shares a Swahili proverb worth reflecting on.

     You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.
I think the proverb might apply to any number of things (as proverbs do) but I'm thinking specifically of MSU students who have been urging the MSU administration to move away from coal and fossil fuels as the source of powering the university. While their earlier pushing to get off coal likely helped lead to a year long study that created an Energy Transition Plan, they don't see the progress moving at the speed they believe needs  to prevent their future from being fraught with ecological and economic challenges that make our current ones pale. The roughly 30 year lag in the impact of adding more carbon will be felt more by them than by our generation who will mostly be turning to dust by then.

So they have turned their sails to align with the global campus movement to get higher education off the investment side of the fossil fuel industry. The students were interviewed yesterday on public radio, held a press conference and organized a forum last night in hopes to raise the issue of the "mother of all inconsistencies" as Pax World President and CEO Joe Keefe named it in his Connections essay I received in my email yesterday.

Keefe notes earlier in the essay on the question of divesting from fossil fuels that

the flimsy rebuttal we sometimes hear, that an endowment's fiduciary duty means that its only obligation is to maximize return, regardless of the consequences or externalities, is utter nonsense. There is now a substantial body of research underscoring that companies with better environmental performance also tend to enjoy better financial performance. It is ignoring these issues, rather than integrating them, which most likely constitutes a breach of fiduciary duty.

It's worth noting that MSU's endowment of about $1.4 billion is slightly smaller than Pax World's funds under management $1.6 billion. Also that over the past year (2012) MSU's return was 0.5% (from NACUBO study of endowments) while Pax World's was 5.96% (Social Funds website of SRI mutual funds).

As the registered loony tune who has been researching and pushing alternatives to investing in things we don't believe in, I have made almost no progress on my campus in 30 years. We did manage to lobby hard enough nationally to get TIAA-CREF to create a Social  Choice fund alternative some 20+ years ago, but still we have not cracked the credos of finance...the same ones that drive our faltering economic system.
UNEP Finance Initiative

There are brighter signals that it is shifting. The UNEP Finance Initiative's Principles for Responsible Investment now has $32 TRILLION under management by signatories of the principles. Higher education endowments are woefully absent from the list of signatories. Yet some schools and major foundations are beginning to see the value in what is sometimes referred to as "mission-based investing".

Higher education leaders must be constructing concrete bunkers to shelter themselves from this global movement. Hopefully these committed students, now active on more than 200 campuses can do what we have so far been unsuccessful in doing thus far. MSU is proud of being a leader in the divestment campaign from businesses in apartheid South Africa. We're hoping we can once again be bold by design. But like that earlier effort, it is driven from the grassroots and we pull the campus leaders along. So be it....

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Doughnuts and Nonviolence

It's Easter morning, loaded with doughnuts from the night before (an annual tradition going back more than 20 years). We make these doughnuts from scratch deep frying them, rolling in sugar, then eating while they are still warm. Friends and family start rolling in around 7:00pm with the first doughnut ready to eat by 8:05pm. Of course there are other nibblies and beverages to accompany this annual calorie loader and egg decorating that follows.

But we're recovering, with fresh coffee, and another doughnut or two, as we return to Gandhi's Autobiography. He's back in India at this point, traveling the continent as he pledged to a friend before deciding whether to become involved in the Indian independence movement. Meanwhile he's struggling to align his inner aspirations with his performance on a daily basis. He shares his struggles with the dualities he faces - riding third class on trains, while disgusted with lack of sanitation; maintaining his fruit, nut and vegetable diet, etc.

I get up to take some of the doughnut pile over to my brother-in-law's and am immediately engaged with the radio. The NPR show "On Being" is on and the host, Krista Tippett, is in the midst of a long interview with Congressman and civil rights legend, John Lewis. I only catch this show if I happen to be driving somewhere and it pops on. But I am hooked, by the grace and strength in Lewis' voice as he recounts his life's journey and commitment to nonviolence.

Next day I receive this link to a TED talk from a local lawyer I recently met who does appellate work for the poor in Flint.. The TEDx speaker he's excited about is also a lawyer. Bryan Stevenson gives an amazing talk about injustice covering similar territory that my local lawyer's work takes him.

Fast forward to this morning when I finish the final chapters of Kofi Annan's Interventions:A Life in War and Peace. I'm especially caught up by his recitation of a discussion he hosted over lunch following Colin Powell's presentation of supposed evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the UN General Assembly. Attended by representatives to the Security Council , including Powell, Annan records French representative Dominique de Villepin' reaction to Powell's speech  "[deVillepin] launched into an extensive monologue about the alternatives to conflict and the fact that Iraq was but one of many proliferating countries, and noted that "we should find a different way than military action - we do not believe that military action can be so virtuous as to create democracy in the Middle East." He continued by stating that the UN had to be central to any next step, as "no country could win the war and win the peace as well. I do not believe we can go to war based upon suspicions and evasions. I am asked how long a delay should be acceptable in terms of the inspections. I ask how long will it be to regain the peace? I ask, how will this affect terrorism, how will this affect other proliferators? We are facing other issues: North Korea, Iran, Middle East."

But of course the US decided it had the right to subvert the UN. It resembles the same kind of talk I hear from the NRA folks now. That the suspicion of the threat of violence can only be met with more violence. Which leads me to an article linked from a blog shared with be by an old friend this week. The beautiful blog on building resilience refers to an article on violence in the media by the film critic from the San Francisco Chronicle. And I'll leave it there.