Sunday, August 6, 2023

Lest We Forget

Seventy-eight years ago today the US launched a new world with the dropping of an atomic bomb on the residents of Hiroshima Japan. That legacy is pulsing today as the nuclear weapon states – US, Russia, France, Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea fail to discuss steps to reduce the number of weapons and threaten their use. The newly released film “Oppenheimer” gives a hint at some of the deliberations that went into developing and using the bomb, but if you want a real ring side seat, there is nothing better than Gar Alperovitz’ The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb. In the three-hour film, there are few minutes devoted to that decision and all the players involved in it, but one who reads Alperovitz account will see the seeds of current global affairs germinating in that decision.

One might hope that the popularity of “Oppenheimer” combined with the increasing threats posed by the Russia vs. Ukraine/NATO conflict, might trigger more sane minds to work to reducing the nuclear arsenals and the conditions that might even inadvertently spark their use. That’s surely at the forefront of the Veterans for Peace restoration of the ship “The Golden Rule”, which attempted to disrupt testing of nuclear weapons in the Pacific during the 1950s. Actions like this Quaker nonviolent direct action did eventually lead to the halting of atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Nonviolent direct action works!!

The current crew of the Golden Rule that has sailed up the Mississippi into the Great Lakes will be in Michigan this week with a stop at the Quaker’s Red Cedar Friends Meeting House in Lansing on August 15th at 6:30p.m. to help us consider how we could work to meet the goals of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) – their elimination. While we’ve have been lucky to date that these weapons of mass destruction have not been unleashed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago, they continue to rob our treasuries of billions of dollars that might be used to address hunger, health care, climate change or any of the other threats to our prosperity. The U.S. alone, under both Republican and Democratic administrations plans to spend nearly $1 TRILLION on the weapons over the next decade. What a huge waste of our resources –financial, human, and environmental.

There is barely a pittance spent on negotiating arms control or elimination of the weapons and rarely do we hear anything from our Washington officials even calling for more efforts to reduce the weapons, only more money to build more and newer weapons. This has just played out again in the recent National Defense Authorization Act passed in different versions by each house of Congress. But they both believe in shoveling more money for building and maintaining these scourges of humanity.

Just at the brave crew of the original Golden Rule attempted to sail into the testing zone in the Pacific to halt the testing of these hideous weapons, we must find the courage to speak out and make the abolition of these weapons a focus for the U.S. government that is responsible for unleashing this sword of Damocles on the life of our planet. Silence is not an option. Please urge your members of Congress to support H. Res. 77 “Embracing the Goals and Provisions of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.


Saturday, June 3, 2023

Ideas coverging


The blending of ideas. Three things read this morning coalesce into this brief thought. The final chapter of a book by German climate scientist Friederike Otto, Angry Weather:  Heat Waves, Floods, Storms and the New Science of Climate Change(2020), An essay by Greek  scientist and author George Tsakraklides “The Never, Never, Neverland of Degrowth”, and the introduction to a new book I stumbled on to at MSU library, Geoff Mulgan’s Another World is Possible: How to Reignite Social and Political Imagination(2022).


I suspect the chances of another human being having read all three of these is so remote as to approach zero. And even the happenstance that brought all of them to me today would be hard to describe. But each is worthy of review. I won’t even attempt o adequately summarize them, although the essay by Tsakraklides is short enough you can read in a few spare minutes. Let me just cite a few sentences that captured me this morning to give you a flavor of what you might expect and then jump to what they collectively suggest to me.

            The Lucifer heat wave that transformed the Mediterranean into a veritable furnace in summer 2017 would have been extremely rare in a world without climate change; today however, we cqn expect a summer like that almost every eight years. If the global temperature were to increase by another 0.5 °C, making it 1.5 °C warmer overall, a heat wave of this magnitude would occur every four years. If it were to rise by 2 °C, we would experience these extreme temperatures almost every second summer – and those are the most conservative estimates from all of our model calculations. With a 3 °C increase, most summers would be even hotter: 2017 would feel cool in comparison. (Otto, 2020; pp. 199-200)

            The problem therefore is profit itself, the very notion of money, and an economic system which keeps humanity hostage to its own incoming Armageddon. We are addicted to profit.  At every turn, this civilization consciously opts for meaningless short-term lifestyle benefits, at the expense of existentially disastrous future consequences. These are the exact same priorities as those of a drug addict.  Our system of necrocapitalism is indeed the thief, the oligarch who still operates at large, and who never got caught.  It has been running a negative balance for centuries, living on credit from the BOE. Humanity aggressively took over the formerly sustainable company called Earth, ascending into CEO with the sole purpose of devouring capital, ripping off stakeholders, and liquidating what’s left. The Leadership Board, composed entirely of humans, is a criminal organization. (Tsakraklides, 2023)


            I’m convinced that we’re suffering from an ‘imaginary crisis’. By this I don’t mean that the various crises around us aren’t real, but rather that there’s a deep malaise affecting our capacity for imagination, whether social or political. We can more easily imagine the end of the world than a better future. The places that once were sources of exciting new ideas – universities, think tanks, and political parties – for the most part no longer produce them. A sullen depression has swept over elites, commentators and much of the public, and you are more likely to get a hearing if you try to explain why progress is so difficult, or why decay, collapse and decline are likely, than if you attempt the opposite. (Mulgan, 2022; p.5)

These thinkers have resurrected for me three key intersecting realities. First, that we don’t recognize the enormous threat of climate change can have in the not too distant future. And that most of what we non-scientists don’t grasp is that the consensus models of climate change are ‘conservative’ – it could be much worse (Otto’s book was translated into English in 2020 with data only through 2018). Global greenhouse gas emissions were still going up in 2022, not down as agreed to by the Paris Agreement!!!

Second, even many of those who grasp the seriousness of the ecological overshoot and what it portends, tend to have a technological optimism that we will invent our way out of this dystopian future, with little to no thought that we may have to reduce our overall consumption. This faith in progress through growth of renewable energies is the magic ticket to a utopian future underlines the third reality.

Third, our inability to ‘imagine’ a better world through different social, political, and economic arrangements limits our chances of thriving together and certainly passing on a habitable home for our children and grandchildren.

When I started this blog almost a decade ago under the title of ‘Possibilitator’ it was with the hope that we could imagine possibilities that would lead us to what my friend, Sir Richard Bawden calls, ‘Betterment’ or Getting to Better Together). I have written on the power of imagination a few times including for example here in 2014 and again in 2019 when triggered by other thoughtful thinkers and authors. While I’m only a few chapters into Mulgan’s recent work, the combination of his erudite base of knowledge, thinking, writing and possibilities, has been the most inspiring new read of this year. I look forward each morning to sitting with him and letting his ideas inspire my own. You may, too.

Inspired by a thoughtful piece sent to me by a good friend I read after writing this I want to share the following poem by Denise Levertov that continues to reverberate in me over decades. As the article my friend sent me notes, perhaps we should look again to poets for the wisdom to steer us toward betterment.

 Beginners — Denise Levertov

A poem by Denise Levertov,that echoes themes from Laudato Si’

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea—“

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

~ Denise Levertov ~






Wednesday, April 12, 2023

A Sobering Reflection

I’m clearly not a linguist. But I do wonder about words and their meaning, especially when I’m trying to share a thought I have with someone else. One word I keep bouncing around is “sacrifice”. It’s a possible word to describe what I feel is an essential component of addressing justice in the climate crisis. By “sacrifice” I’m not thinking of offering up animals on an altar for homage to some supreme being. Rather the sense of relinquishing something so that others might benefit.

I find it a bit ironic, that the idea of “sacrifice” is embedded in the Christian and other religious traditions, and yet politically in our culture, the concept is an anathema to personal freedom and the supreme right of the individual or “the market”. One has to wonder which god those pledgers of allegiance to the American flag are acknowledging in their recitation of it.

I’ve been catapulted into this concept of sacrifice because I see no way for the human family to achieve climate justice in my lifetime, or any time before mid-Century, without the “developed” world curtailing its consumptive appetites. Yes, Christians often “give up” something for the season of Lent and Muslims go without food and beverage during sunlight hours during Ramadan. Both of these, and many other faith traditions, use seasons of sacrifice to have the follower reflect on all that we have and consume and the relationships with the rest of the community of life we share the planet with. I suspect many followers do so reflect, and some continue aspects of their seasonal sacrifice after the season ends.

But the nature of the wholesale shifts that our best science tells us we need in reducing greenhouse gases in now less than 81 months. This means that we who have been blessed with so much, must look at where we can reduce our material and energy consumption and push for larger systemic reductions. When Jimmy Carter asked folks to put on a sweater during an earlier energy crisis, he has been ridiculed as performing political suicide. Maybe that’s why there appears no one in political leadership today (please correct me if I’m mistaken) suggesting we make any sacrifices for the common good. Is there absolutely nothing we are willing to give up?

I wrote a short piece not long ago entitled “When is Enough, Enough” that addressed a similar addiction, but more narrowly focused on guns and violence. I’m echoing the same feeling here again, because our culture’s penchant for “more”, “bigger”, “faster” infuses our advertising and permeates our lives. It is quickly pushing us and the community of life we are part of, towards an unknown calamity. In our highly revered individualism, we have denied our essential social realities. We need to quickly understand our deep connectedness to each other and all of our natural world that has made our singular existence possible. Are we willing to “sacrifice” a livable future for our offspring for our own consumptive pleasures? As I write this, just yesterday UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres visited Somalia where he noted although Somalis make virtually no contribution to climate change - as a matter of fact, Somalia contributes 0.003 percent to the emissions that cause climate change - although Somalis make virtually no contribution to climate change, the Somalis are among the greatest victims. Nearly five million people are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity.”

The climate crisis that becomes more visible everyday affects all of us, and especially all living beings that collectively make this planet habitable. We in the developed West are more responsible for its demise than our neighbors in the developing world who generally have so much less. Can we justify our current lifestyles given this reality? Is it enough to simply reduce our own footprint, without trying to change the system that drives this consumption focused frenzy? Should the wealthiest amongst us who have the largest footprint, pay reparations? Tough questions no doubt. But they must be asked and be answered by each of us.

Let me close this meager attempt to address our crises with this passage from a book I was reading this week.

This is not to say that the environmental crisis is not a situation from which some people benefit. Clearly there is a great deal of money to be gotten from selling pesticides, even if they are carcinogens and degrade the soil. Building weapons may lead to enormous pollution, from waste products of building nuclear weapons to the toxic chemicals used to protect tanks and airplanes from rust; but weapons provide power. On a more individual level, non-organic produce is cheaper, non-hybrid cars have more storage space, and some people really do like their thermostats set to toasty in the winter and chilling in the summer. There are a lot of short-term, self-interested reasons to contribute to our non-sustainable way of life.

This is also not to say that everyone’s responsibility for the environmental crisis is equal. The peasants who deforest hillsides to cook dinner are not the same as executives of oil companies who obstruct governmental action on global warming. The woman who has to commute many miles to work to support her children is not the same as the lobbyists who convince legislators to keep car fuel efficiency standards pathetically low. The migrant workers who die from pesticide poisons are not the same as their manufacturers.

…When all of us, the author of this essay no less than any of its readers, more or less continue more or less as usual, turning our minds to all the other Very Important Things we have to do, and allow governments, schools, businesses, TV weathermen, universities, churches and synagogues and mosques, the PTA, and the Knights of Columbus to act as if this isn’t happening, or as if enough is being done about it, or as if some mystical “They” (the EPA, the U.N., clever engineers, brilliant scientists, and –God help us—“the market”) will take care of it—might we not reflect and see that we, no less than any junkie on the corner, have been led by addiction to our “way of life” into a kind of madness? (Roger Gottleib, Political and Spiritual: Essays on Religion, Environment, Disability, and Justice. 2015 pp. 198-9.)

            During his visit to Somalia this week, UN Secretary-General Gutteres, accompanied by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, who also serves as his Deputy Special Representative for the country, met some of the Somalis affected by the country’s humanitarian crisis during a visit to a camp for internally displaced people in Baidoa, the largest city in Somalia’s South West state. 

He met with two different families there. The first had travelled 105 kilometres by foot and donkey cart, to seek refuge in Baidoa last year, after all of its livestock perished during the ongoing drought. The second family had done the same after its livestock died and travelled some 70 kilometres to seek aid. Are we willing to sacrifice nothing for our fellow brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters?