On Wednesday morning, May 29, 2013, the grassroots group that emerged from the Obama campaigns, Organizing for Action (OFA), held a press conference at the entrance to Reid Park Zoo here in Tucson, AZ. Congressman Raul Grijalva's team, a speaker from the Zoo's science education program, UA's Institute for the Environment, and alternative energy and social justice activists shared the podium for a small rally and public awareness raising event on global warming--although OFA insists on using the Republican talking point "climate change" to refer to it. I'd like to extend a personal thanks to Channel 9 (KGUN) for being the only mainstream media outlet caring enough to send a video crew. Bonus points for them being knowledgeable enough to ask intelligent questions.
As an Independent/Green, I'm not a member of OFA, but I am voluntarily on their mailing list--because we have more commonalities than differences. I'm a systems scientist whose specialities are ecology and psychology, although my academic background includes engineering, physics, and in computer science, very large scale distributed systems. Systems in general, and ecology in particular, deal with relationships. So, my professional life deals with connecting the dots. And there are some major dots the status quo fervently hopes we don't connect concerning some fundamental issues not mentioned at the OFA press conference.
The "debate" on global warming, such as it was, really is over. The history of climate science goes back to Baron Fourier's first paper on the topic in 1824, and the greenhouse effect was named in 1896 by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. Global warming is real, and we know that its current rate of increase is causing destabilizing climate changes that are best understood as catastrophic--if not for the continuation of life itself, at the very least for the continuation of industrial civilization.
However, OFA's current main tactic is to call out global warming deniers in Congress (whom they mistakenly assume are all Republicans, just because the vast majority of the more outlandish ones are) and asking supporters to sign a petition encouraging congressional deniers to embrace climate science.
Now, if this tactic had even a snowball's chance in a Tucson summer of working, I'd be all in favor. But wasting our limited time and energy on global warming deniers is a distraction from the real issues--and I don't like being so cynical as to think this was their whole point. Deniers (quite distinct from the rational skeptics necessary for science to function) are ideologues who have no interest in rational discussion; no interest in truth, facts, or evidence; no interest in--in fact are diametrically opposed to--honestly examining the underlying system responsible for our rapidly converging global crises, of which global warming is but one factor. Deniers' only interest is in maintaining that system because they very firmly believe that 1) market economies are the pinnacle of human evolution, 2) humans are separate from and can control the natural world without suffering the dire consequences of our actions, and 3) there is no alternative anyway--so we'd best just suck it up and deal with inequity, exploitation, degradation, and destruction as the necessary price of progress.
Of course, if we're going to pretend to be guided by science, we have to accept all of the science, not just those pieces that are convenient to support our own ideologies. Obama supporters seem dead set on keeping any discussion about banning fracking or stopping the Keystone toxic sands pipeline off the table. This seems to be because Obama himself refuses to deal with, or take a science based stance, on those issues. Political feasibility becomes the fallback position when it comes down to a clash of paradigms.
There is a science based connection between energy and global warming. Not only the current connection between burning fossil fuels and the global warming that comes about through increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but the fact that there is enough carbon in the known, already tapped fossil fuel reservoirs to fry the planet. There is no need whatsoever to ever again drill another hole anywhere on Earth or blow the top off another mountain. We have ready access and sufficient processing and distribution capabilities to end the experiment of humans on Earth. We need to leave the oil in the soil, not argue over the "best" way to extract even more of it, or build more pipelines so we can ship someone else's oil overseas and stick American taxpayers with any externalities--the economic term for saying the poisoner didn't intend the death of its victims.
A few of Wednesday's speakers might leave one believing that the only thing we have to worry about is replacing fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy alternatives and get serious about energy efficiency. And both of these are going to be important factors in a sustainable energy future. But if we're going to take the honesty tack and embrace the science, we must admit that global warming isn't just from burning fossil fuels: Other contributing factors are deforestation, ocean acidification, stripping topsoil and fisheries, ecosystem destruction from sprawl, roads and farming--and all these are also contributing to biodiversity loss (no food chain, no food), pollution, and the depletion of other natural resources, thanks to planned obsolescence and the manufacture of desire--both of which are integral to maintaining the economic growth that makes the rich even richer while the poor get poorer and our life support system continues degrading.
Industrial consumer society is cannibalistic, and it has created an economic system that exemplifies and magnifies this behavior. Believing in infinite growth on a finite planet is irrational at best, but actually provides a good working definition of insanity. And it is important to understand that on this point, there is no functional difference between whether the economic system follows the rules of capitalism or socialism. While the latter does have the capability (though examples are rare) of being kinder, they both believe in using production to reach nirvana--either for the sake of production itself or for the sake of workers. What people and planet actually want and need is never a topic under consideration.
Let's connect a couple of those dots I started off talking about that we're not supposed to think about. There are two major relevant factors. The first is the production side. One-third of the global population produces all the stuff consumed by the global population. This means we could all be working two-thirds less with full global employment. But, the vast majority of the stuff (Annie Leonard in "The Story of Stuff" says 99%) is landfill bound within six months. As one simple alternative, we could choose to make what we actually need to be built to last and be easily repairable. We could even go a step further and require that a 15 hour workweek with 8 weeks per year vacation pay a living wage. When people have time for what really matters, I strongly suspect that consumerism will be voluntarily removed from its pedestal. As John Kenneth Galbraith pointed out in the late 1950s, people don't desire more when their basic needs are being met.
When you combine how much less energy and natural resources are required to provide what we really need (and we haven't even touched on conservation, energy efficient buildings, decentralizing the grid, public transit, or...), with how much damage we're doing with the economic mysticism that believes Earth can be both an endless supply of resources and a bottomless pit for waste (the growth paradigm of Industrialism), a system that actually leads people to live lives of quiet desperation (to paraphrase Thoreau), the only logical conclusion is to ban fracking, tar sands extraction, and any new fossil fuel pipelines. We don't actually need the energy (except to maintain empire), and we don't need to create more jobs. We can alleviate unemployment and poverty today if we truly believe that to be a good idea. Considering how far into the overshoot range of planetary carrying capacity we already are, we couldn't do it for very long if one of our goals is to create a sustainable future, but there is a rational and humane alternative to this quandary as well.
And that's the main thing that's missing from the single-issue related press conferences hosted by the vast majority of environmental, peace, justice, and democracy organizations--they tend to leave out any viable and pragmatic alternative. We're not going to make anything better by slapping band-aids on symptoms or by pointing out how out of touch and/or intransigent the other side is.
As Buckminster Fuller said, don't fight the old. Create the new and make the old obsolete. I would amend this to, don't merely fight the old or allow ourselves to be reduced to applying dressings on the wounds of empire. The dominant paradigm must be stopped before it does more irreparable damage to both the planet and to our very souls.
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