Archive for August, 2007

Dark Days in America

August 31st, 2007

This period will clearly be seen as one of the darkest in American history – if indeed there’s a future in which America’s history continues to matter.

Let’s consider why this is so, and what could lead to things getting better or worse – or both – in the post-Bush era.

George W. Bush was never cut out to be president. He was an ex-alcoholic, born again, C student – who just happened to be born into a family of wheeler-dealers and politicians with some highly dubious foreign connections. The fact that he got as close as he did during the 2000 election is a testament to how poor a campaign the Democrats and Al Gore ran, which was very poor indeed. He was then anointed by a Supreme Court the majority of whose members were from the Reagan and Bush Sr. eras, in a decision which the minority derided at the time as one of the worst the Supreme Court has ever made.

Still, no one knew much about “W” at the time, except that he liked to take a lot of vacations, and was busy rewarding his cronies with plum spots in the government. It seemed that he intended to keep a hands-off approach to all issues equally, except where it came to splitting fundamentalist doctrinal hairs, as in the matter of stem-cell research.

But the shocking and tragic events of 9/11 forced him into action, and predominantly into taking the wrong actions, and mainly for the wrong reasons. As the days wore on, after 9/11, it became clear that these would have bad consequences; it just wasn’t clear how bad. He vowed to go after “the people who attacked us,” and told the country to go back to the mall. He sent the army into Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban – which had previously been armed and supported by the U.S. during the Soviet occupation – but failed to get Bin Laden. This failure emboldened disgruntled Muslim men everywhere to join this “movement” and plan and carry out acts of spectacular violence aimed at disrupting the global hegemony of the West.

While Americans were out shopping, Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld plotted to invade Iraq – which had nothing to do with 9/11 but did not view it as a tragedy compared to what ten years of bombing and blockading by the U.S. had done to their country. Some estimates have suggested that an additional 500,000 Iraqi children died during that decade, from malnutrition and lack of adequate health care. The real reasons for invading Iraq are still a matter of conjecture, given that Saddam posed no real threat to the America or West, and that Cheney had earlier warned that going into Baghdad would lead the U.S. into a quagmire. But evidently the stakes were high enough to risk even that, and the equally great likelihood of creating more “terrorists” by reacting in exactly the way they intended.

At home, the Bush regime promoted fear, secrecy, and systematic disinformation – some of which they openly described as “creating our own reality” – and whipped the country into a state of hysteria, a pale shadow of the universal dread that accompanied the Cold War, but nonetheless powerful enough to allow them to abrogate the Constitution, hold people in indefinite detention, and torture people.

More to come…

The 11th Hour; or is already it much later than that?

August 23rd, 2007

The 11th Hour is clearly a movie that needed to be made – and needs to be widely seen – and Leonardo DiCaprio has done a creditable job in lending his talents and star presence to the effort. Yet in some ways, and perhaps not least in the marketing of it, it still pulls its punches; and leaves the audience reassured that we have the time, the will, and the know-how to make the change. The reality is that we probably have less time and political will than we think, and we certainly have not figured out yet all of the solutions.

DiCaprio also missed an opportunity to tell a dramatic, personal story – the way Laurie David did about Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth – relying instead on the purely didactic elements, dramatic music, and some spectacular footage, to get the adrenalin pumping, leading some reviewers to write it off as a lecture and weakening its long-term emotional resonance.

But DiCaprio makes the first and most fundamental case, that we need profound change, and on many levels. First, we need to realize that we are all in this together, and that if we do nothing to alter the global economic system we will most likely become extinct along with the thousands of species we are already extinguishing. This case needs to be stated again and again until humans are mobilized to action, for nothing else will be sufficient to ensure our collective survival.

Considering that we Americans are responsible for much of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing (or at any rate exacerbating) global warming, it is important that we hear the message and take action here – as the Europeans and even the Chinese have already started to do, to a much greater extent than our own current Administration.

DiCaprio has assembled an enormous number of experts from a variety of fields. Consider the following list, all of whom not only appear in the movie but are also profiled on the movie’s two web sites, http://11thhourfilm.com and http://11thhouraction.com:

Ideas & Experts

Air Pollution
* Tim Carmichael

Civil Society and Collapse of Civilization
* Joseph Tainter
* Nathan Gardels
* Oren Lyons

Climate Change
* Andy Revkin
* Bill McKibben
* Peter DeMenocal
* Sheila Watt-Cloutier
* Stephen Schneider

Consumerism and Media
* Betsy Taylor
* Jerry Mander

Economy and Corporations
* Herman Daly
* Leo Gerard
* Lester Brown
* Michel Gelobter
* Pierre Andre Senizergues
* Ray Anderson
* Tom Linzey

Environment and Ecoliteracy
* David Orr
* David Suzuki
* Homero Aridjis
* Kenny Ausubel
* Mikhail Gorbachev
* Paul Hawken
* Stephen Hawking

Environmental Justice
* Bill Gallegos
* Omar Freilla

Forests and Land
* Andy Lipkis
* Gloria Flora
* Jerry Franklin
* Tzeporah Berman
* U’wa Tribal Leader Berito Kuwaru’wa
* Wangari Maathai
* Wes Jackson

Fresh Water
* Brock Dolman
* Sandra Postel

Human Health
* Dr. Andrew Weil
* Theo Colborn

Human Thinking / Human Capacity
* Byron Katie
* Carolyn Raffenberger
* James Hillman
* Jeremy Narby
* Paolo Soleri
* Wade Davis

Individual Action
* Andy Lipkis
* Diane Wilson
* Matthew Petersen
* Nancy Jack Todd
* Tezozomoc

Oceans
* Diane Wilson
* Jeremy Jackson
* Sylvia Earle
* Wallace J. Nichols

Oil
* Matthew Simmons
* Richard Heinberg
* Thom Hartmann

Religious Perspectives
* Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
* Rabbi Michael Lerner
* Rev. James Parks Morton
* Steve McAusland

Renewable Energy
* Greg Watson
* James Woolsey
* Steven Strong
* Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran

Solutions from Nature
* Janine Benyus
* John Todd
* Paul Stamets

Species and Biodiversity
* Peter Warshall
* Stuart Pimm

Sustainable Desig
* Bruce Mau
* Rick Fedrizzi
* William McDonough

DiCaprio himself gives an effortlessly outstanding and yet low-key performance. Squinting as though into a blinding sun, he states what is both obvious and yet largely disregarded in the mainstream media: that the evidence is now clear, and yet our political leaders continue to disregard it; that the problem is us – too many of us, doing too many of the wrong things – and that the solution is also us, both individually and collectively, by taking action to achieve greater harmony with nature, or at the very least to merely avoid utter environmental catastrophe.

What is not clearly enough stated is what is most likely to occur under even the most rosy scenario. There will be significant global climatic changes; they are already occurring, and they will expand within our own lifetime. While we could apply technologies that would reduce our footprint by 90% on the planet, we are not likely to. What is most likely to occur is something better than we have now, but still falling far short of what is truly needed – leaving millions to die and millions more to be displaced as refugees, and the planet struggling for hundreds if not thousands of years to regain its equilibrium.

As James Lovelock, author of The Gaia Hypothesis – that the Earth behaves as a singular living organism – has recently stated:

Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence. It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth’s surface we have depleted to feed ourselves.

Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space. This “global dimming” is transient and could disappear in a few days like the smoke that it is, leaving us fully exposed to the heat of the global greenhouse. We are in a fool’s climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable. (http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article338830.ece)

“Her condition will worsen to a state like a coma”: to avoid this will take concerted human action on an almost unimaginable scale – much the same scale as the action we have taken to build cities, and superhighways, and power plants, and vast mining and drilling operations. If we are now to make these sustainable, we must “do them over” in really remarkable ways. If we are to imitate nature, as Janine Benyus describes in her book Biomimicry, we must

“seek sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes (e.g., solar cells that mimic leaves, agriculture that models a prairie, businesses that run like redwood forests).” (http://11thhouraction.com/node/86)

It’s not clear that any significant number of us even understand this, let alone know how to implement it, or will have the will to do so before a very large proportion of the human race and the entirety of many other species have been extinguished. This will be a world that is not only not the one we aspire to but is indeed greatly diminished. This is the most likely outcome, and this may be the one we need to keep in front of us in order to maintain our sense of urgency, of complexity, and of scale.

My concern with the movie is that even though it sees itself as (and in many ways is) a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, it will not get seen widely enough to have the kind of impact that Al Gore had. From New Jersey, we had to drive in to Manhattan to see it – albeit sporting our new “Drive 55″ bumper sticker – and it seems to be playing in no more than a dozen theaters around the country. I doubt if there were 30 people in the audience, though admittedly this was the late afternoon showing, and no doubt more showed up in the evening. But if this is being treated as an “art-house film” (as suggested by the FWD:Labs Collaborative) it will never get the audience it needs or deserves. We need to create a movement to get people to see this film, because it’s the next step in awakening people to the need for global action, and beginning to ask more meaningful questions about when, how, and to what extent we need to act in order to survive.

(Cross-posted at http://SustainableBusinessIncubator.com)