Thursday, February 26, 2015

Pathway to Prosperity

One of my favorite thinkers/doers in the world today is British science writer and now activist, Colin Tudge.
 Image result for colin tudge
In a recent blog post on Groundhogs' Day, Tudge comes out to show us there is a sane way out of the madness of  what he calls Neoliberal-Industrial (NI) agriculture "The Keys Ideas of Enlightened Agriculture". In his straight forward way Tudge pulls it all together showing how making the right changes in our food system will bring us closer to the society well-being we yearn for.Tudge thinks big and connected, but also observes the little points in between. And he does it with a verve that is compelling in its own way.

He offers three key 'nuts and bolts' principles of Enlightened Agriculture:
  • Agroecology
  • Food Sovereignty
  • Economic Democracy
 But he offers so much more in this approximately ten page essay. What resonates with me most is the wholeness of both his analysis and his solution. And he's not sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to lead the way. He has started in his native British home what he calls:

How soon we see our own Colleges of Agriculture become enlightened is a good question, not that there aren't many in those colleges that are doing their part to bring us back down to earth. MSU's Student Organic Farm being just one example.

I also finished this morning Randall Amster's Peace Ecology ( Paradigm Publishers, 2015).

Amster is professor and president of the United States Peace and Justice Studies Association. Like Tudge, but looking through a different lens, he shines the light on the connections between peace and our relationship with nature. Extending the importance of the human-human relationship to the human-nature relationship, he offers another path towards prosperity and away from the violence that seems to permeate the world we share.

In reviewing recently some old files from our local Peace Education Center (PEC), I was truck by the broad array of issues the PEC had been involved in since it's beginnings more than four decades ago.

I also noted that some of the same folks who were there at the beginning have not turned their backs on those idealistic efforts to build a better world to hand off to our children and grandchildren. My hats off to those to push on regardless.

As the late, great Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai said in her acceptance speech for the award.


“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now. Those of us who have been privileged to receive education, skills, and experiences and even power must be role models for the next generation of leadership."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Put Down the Guns

If "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity," it seems, to this observer, that nowhere is this more evident than in the use of violence to end violence.

I attended an impassioned and respectful discussion at a community meeting last night  over the best response to the violence perpetrated by the so called ISIL/ISIS  forces. President Obama is asking Congress for authorization to send troops to battle wherever Terror strikes and is deemed a threat to U.S. interests. Typically that would mean at  a minimum where we have troops stationed. Given that we have military bases with US personnel on them in all regions of the world, this essentially means anywhere.

 In terms of constraining the so-called ISIL/ISIS threat Middle East expert, Prof. Juan Cole (University of Michigan) wrote  about "Today's Top 7 Myths About Daesh/ISIL". Item No. 6 on his list is perhaps most pertinent here, but all are worth considering.

        Myth 6. Only US ground troops can defeat Daesh and the USA must commit to a third Iraq War. 
    The US had 150,000 troops or so in Iraq for 8 1/2 years! But they left the country a mess. Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work, given the disaster that was the last one? A whole civil war was fought between Sunnis and Shiites that displaced a million people and left 3000 civilians dead a month in 2006-2007, right under the noses of US commanders.

The U.S. is also a major provider of armaments in the world (US firms make up 7 of the top 10 manufacturers including the top 6) and Obama's new budget calls for even more money for a military that spends more than the next ten countries combined. Congress, under the influence of some Dark Age mentality, that more force is better, has contrived a game to elevate patriotism to a simple bidding game on who can pile more money on the military budget than the other side. Einstein, Eisenhower, and numerous others would tell us we're nuts.

Where is the new thinking that can lead us out of this ongoing, if not deepening morass? Certainly nothing portrayed in our mass media which seems to thrive on building fear in the population - it is more visually stimulating to watch buildings being blown up, than diplomats trying to find common ground. This feeds dreams of American exceptionalism and our military responses to violence anywhere, especially those with high tech wizardry. And of course there is ample funding for university research to develop more lethal forms of military hardware. Where is the research funding for other forms of disarmament that won't be profitable to corporations designing clever technological tools of destruction?

A Different Approach

From where I sit we need a major overall of consciousness and action. Some of the principles I would advocate in moving forward include the following:

1)    The U.S. is not the only nation state on earth - wouldn't each of the other 49 states balk at California deciding to take action in our state just because they are the biggest? It thus behooves us to build multi-nation efforts to end violence. If the structure of the UN prevents that effort from going forward, then  nation states that believe that wars cost too much, should either rework the rules of the UN to remove those barriers or create a new global intergovernmental entity. The entity should be designed with shared power (no veto power given to any single nation) and where consensus is the goal. But in its absence a vote of two-thirds or more of nation states could authorize international peacekeeper deployment to protect citizens, cultural and environmental landmarks. If the U.S. simply redirected funds the President is asking for "modernizing" our nuclear arsenal (a really counter-productive idea I'd suggest) towards this effort it would be highly more sustainable.

2)   Stricter arms control should be adopted and not just for nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, but for all military hardware. A global tax on production of weapons should be collected and deposited with funds being used to support global peacekeeping forces. Gun buyback programs should be monitored by an international intergovernmental entity, like the UN, and should be funded by states that export/profit from arms  sales beyond their border.

3)   The global community should be doing much more to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals they agreed to more than a decade ago.

 United Nations Millennium Development Goals

  A good portion of what gets classified as terrorism by government and media arises from the seeds of inequality and injustice. The U.S. and any nation state would be more effective fighting terrorism if they addressed the underlying causes, not just the symptoms. Turn more of the defense budget towards development.

 4)   Employ nonviolent training using examples like the recent Nonviolent Peaceforce project in Syria and related projects with civil society organizations throughout the world. 

 Nonviolent Peaceforce
Support efforts of local residents resisting violence like that of Suad Nofel of Syria who has been leading resistance to ISIS since 2013.

Nofel .

And perhaps most importantly start fostering the teaching of conflict resolution and dialogue processes in the schools, so that we graduate citizens who learn how to solve conflicts without weapons.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Global Divestment Day

Are we performing an exercise in futility here? Is this a further saga in David vs. Goliath?

Preparing for a talk on divestment from fossil fuels for today I've been reading much on the pro's and cons of the debate. Almost all of the negative writing  I have found comes from sources funded by the fossil fuel industry - e.g. Exxon, Koch Brothers, etc.. It's one thing to lobby - Exxon spent $27.5 million alone lobbying against climate change in 2009. but the activity of some of the big players in the fossil fuel industry has gone well beyond lobbying.

Scientific American reported on a study out of Drexel University in late 2013 that showed that between 2003-2010 more than 100 foundations have unloaded $558 million to climate denial organizations through untraceable third party foundations.Those numbers have escalated in recent years while the traceable funds from the likes of Exxon and Koch brothers have dried up.

If this wasn't troubling enough, Mother Jones reported this week that Koch Brothers (Koch Industries is huge player in fossil fuel industry) are in the process of collecting and spending $889 million in the 2016 elections. In one of the recent donor gatherings they already raised $249 million. If you don't believe money is corrupting our democracy you might want to check your pulse!

In almost every anti-divestment article I've read in the last month, there is rarely any mention of concerns about climate change. Often the authors raise canards about how divesting from fossil fuels will hurt the poorest of the poor - as if these generous benefactors have ever shown any real concern for our brethren as they line the pockets of the executives with more and more of the profits. Exxon's CEO only made $40 million in 2012, but had to take a cut to $27 million in 2013.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, champion of the the anti-apartheid movement and the divestment movement that helped turn the world away from support for apartheid, has made a more compelling moral case for divestment from fossil fuels.

"Just as we argued in the 1980s that those who conducted business with apartheid South Africa were aiding and abetting an immoral system, today we say nobody should profit from the rising temperatures, seas and human suffering caused by the burning of fossil fuels." 

Or watch this compelling three minute video of him discussing the issue in more length. Likewise leaders like Ban Ki Moon and  Christina Figueres, UN Climate chief have made similar appeals.
     ‘The continued and dangerous rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is in large part the direct result of past investments in energy and mobility systems based on the use of fossil fuels. New investments must now assist in reversing this unsustainable trend, and quickly if the world is to have a chance of staying under a 20C temperature rise.’(Figueres)
 Despite the floods of money backing the attacks on the divestment movement, globally churches, local governments and universities are joining the cause. Just this  week the faculty at the University of British Columbia voted 62% in favor of divestment. David Green, an  economics professor there made perhaps one of the tightest arguments in support of that action.
     "As I see it, we have two choices. The first is to continue with business as usual and count ourselves as blameless because we have played within the current set of rules.
The second is to question those rules; to step back and look for a way to change the rules; to change the social norm. This, to me, is part of the role of a university. If we don’t ask the big questions about what is really driving our problems and how to get society to change, who will?"

PhD resource economist, Dr. Julie Gorte, Vice President for Sustainable Investing at Pax World Fund wrote cogently in their September 2013 newsletter, ESG Matters

     "Climate change isn’t a wolf at the door, it’s more like termites in the woodwork; it unfolds in episodes named Katrina or Sandy or the long-term drought in the Sahel, it is the foundation for nine western cities’ impending water crises. It is also a crisis in which the perpetrators and the victims are not necessarily the same people, nor even in the same generation. It’s not something that accommodates quick, cheap fixes; to solve it will take millions of people, thousands of government entities, and tens of thousands of companies acting toward more or less the same end for a considerable period of time. "

One's take on this issue, assuming you align with the near consensus that climate change is on and it's human induced, seems to mostly correlate with how urgent one sees the need for response.The most recent study in Nature shows the basic math that scientists are using,
      “Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C. We show that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 °C.” (Nature 517, 187–190  (08 January 2015)

Professor James Engell of Harvard writes
     “The fossil-fuel companies are decent investments only under two assumptions: first, the oil and gas and coal they own in the ground shall be sold and burned. Second, they shall continue to find more oil and gas and coal and shall sell that to be burned, too. Any investor in them must want this to happen, and any investor is putting up money to make this happen with all deliberate speed.”

Image result for al bartlett

If one needs a reason to reconsider their complacency on this issue I would refer them to the enlightening explanation of growth by the late University of Colorado physics professor, Al Bartlett, who believed that "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."  
This three minute video explanation from his classroom should have some who think the push towards divestment is misplaced, understand how some of us feel the urgency that propels us to call for divestment from fossil fuels and to rapidly re-invest in energy conservation, efficiency, and renewable forms of power.