Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

June 15 -21

Posted by Trey Smith on June 14, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of June 15 – 21
Volume 4 No. 9
an e-publication for Greens anywhere and everywhere

Greener Times Collective: Maryrose Asher, Duff Badgley, Tom Herring and Trey Smith (Editor)

In This Week’s Issue
* New York Times: China-US Climate Talks are New Cold War
* Globesity: How Climate Change & Obesity Draw From the Same Roots
* Thoughts By the Way: (On Vacation)
* Our Climate Crisis: Redux — Prosperity Still the Problem
* Un-Spinning the Spin: The Overton Window & Health Care Reform
* This Week in History
* Pencil Shavings: The Other Side of the Story
* News You May Have Missed

New York Times: China-US Climate Talks are New Cold War
by Alex Paternack for Treehugger

Cold War II: Warm War

Near the top of a recent New York Times piece on negotiations between Chinese and American climate negotiators in Beijing, the authors compare a climate treaty between the two countries to such a treaty between the U.S. and Russia, “with gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions replacing megatons of nuclear might as a looming risk for people across the globe.”

By some estimates, the two threats are connected: a nuclear war would unleash 700 million tons of carbon dioxide. And last week, the introduction of an “environmental crime” hotline in China led us to speculate on a Beijing-Washington “green phone” that would replace the old Moscow-Washington “red phone.”

The dangers of not lowering emissions now are huge. But is it correct to compare discussions between the US and China over climate change to the standoff between the US and Russia over nuclear weapons?

On a general level, overplaying the danger of climate change, as the Times’ Andy Revkin has noted, has a tendency to fatigue the public, or numb them into apathy.

Here’s one similarity: the secrecy and ambiguousness on both sides. The public behavior of climate officials indicates that both sides are keeping their cards as close to their chest as possible up until talks in Copenhagen.

But unlike nuclear war, the risk on the climate front is that the U.S. and China will choose inaction over action, a business-as-usual approach over something more visionary.

And the comparison gets something bigger wrong: climate change may mean mutually assured destruction, (just like a nuclear war!), but addressing it isn’t a matter of a war at all. Even calling it a game seems too pat, too smug.

Instead, forming an agreement on climate change emissions depends on both sides to work together, because greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. have as much of an impact in the U.S. as they do in China. If one country suffers, so does the other. If one benefits, so does the other.

Well, in theory. China and other developing nations are more likely to suffer from climate change than are developed countries. In this sense, China might have a greater incentive to act on emissions. But as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter, it also faces a bigger challenge than the U.S., and may have less money than it needs to tackle that challenge.

That’s where the U.S. and other developed countries can step in: by providing aid to China and other developing countries that would be spent on building green technologies, both the US and China benefit.

Also dubious: what the Times says the outcome will be if the two sides can’t agree. In the background, says the article, “hover threats of great retaliation in the form of tariffs or other trade barriers if one nation does not agree to ceilings on emissions.” While those threats have been tossed around by people like energy secretary Chu, it seems unlikely that the US will be able to do very much at all if China doesn’t agree to caps, especially given the intractable trade relationship between the two countries.

If there is no agreement on emissions, however, perhaps the impacts of climate change could start to earn that Times comparison.

How Climate Change & Obesity Draw From the Same Roots
by Jonathan Hiskes for Grist

You’ve heard all the reasons before: We drive too much. We eat too much meat and processed food. We spend too much time with plugged-in devices—computers, TVs, air conditioners.

But what problem are we talking about—climate change, or the worldwide rise in obesity?

Both, according to Globesity: A Planet Out of Control?, a book by four public-health researchers who show how climate change and obesity draw from a shared web of roots. Both problems worsen as car culture spreads, desk jobs replace manual jobs, and carbon-intensive foods (including meat) become available to more and more eaters, according to the book, published first in French and this spring in English.

The two issues spread across the planet in similar ways. Those paying attention to climate change know the planet can’t afford for the developing world to emit carbon dioxide at the same levels as the industrialized world. Public-health workers, too, foresee enormous trouble if developing countries adopt the worst dietary and lifestyle habits of rich countries. That shift is well underway, according to Michelle Holdsworth, Globesity’s lead author and a nutritionist with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Montpellier, France.

“A lot of people think of [obesity] as something that’s only in the United States, which we now know is a complete myth,” she said in an interview. “It may have started there, but we now know that one in six people in the whole world are overweight, one in 12 is obese, and there are more obese people in developing, poor countries than there are in developed westernized countries.”

“That’s obviously a matter of concern, because those countries can’t afford to deal with the health consequences of obesity.”

Rates of obesity—defined by the WHO as a body mass index of 30 or higher—are now higher in Germany, Finland, and the Czech Republic than in the U.S., according to data from the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF). The same is true in some Mediterranean countries famed for their healthy diets: Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus. Traditional olive oil-centric diets have become too high in fat for populations that are less active than they used to be, said Holdsworth. And traditional diets are losing ground.

“This has been a shock to people in [the Mediterranean] region who are very proud of their traditional cuisine,” she said. “They’ve just seen a huge transition in what food is available, with processed convenience food replacing their traditional diet.”

Childhood rates

Even more disturbing is the rise in childhood obesity. Again, America was a trailblazer, and again, much of the world is catching up quickly. Childhood obesity rates doubled in the U.S. from 1975 (15 percent) to 1995 (30 percent), according to the IOTF. England’s childhood obesity rate caught up in half the time, from 15 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2005. More from the book: “Mediterranean countries are among the worse hit, so that in Spain, Italy, Albania or Greece, we find the numbers of overweight children already climbing to between 30 and 40 percent.”

Exposing this trend was a crucial goal for Holdsworth, who wrote Globesity with Francis Delpauch and Bernard Maire, colleagues at the WHO Collaborating Centre for Human Nutrition in southern France, and Emmanuel Monnier, a science journalist.

“There’s this huge myth, or social stigma, associated with obesity: that it’s just about people overeating, or being greedy, lazy, and not able to control their eating,” said Holdsworth, who taught public health at the University of Nottingham before moving to Montpellier this spring. “So much research shows that’s just not the case. Yes, people do eat more than they need, but the reason why they’re eating more is what we really need to look at. Our argument, and there’s lots of scientific consensus to this, is that it’s more about the environment people live in.”

Globesity‘s message is somewhat at odds with research published in April that concludes overweight people, by requiring more food and energy to transport, produce more greenhouse gases. “Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler,” one of the two London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine authors told the U.K. Sun, which ran the thoroughly lame headline “Fatties Cause Global Warming.”

Blaming overweight people isn’t helpful, said Holdsworth, because it masks the bigger story of why more people are gaining weight. She describes “obesidemic environments,” in which schools and workplace cafeterias offer only high-calorie foods; in which urban design discourages walking; in which government subsidies make fresh produce more expensive than potato chips.

In some sense, this is a classic issue on which the left and the right talk past each other, with liberals emphasizing structural social problems where conservatives see an issue of individual responsibility. For Holdsworth, childhood rates are the crucial distinction.

“Society’s attitudes toward children are not the same as they are toward adults,” she said. “It’s not so easy to blame children who are overweight and say they’re weak-willed. Children are only eating what they’re given, or what’s made available to them.”

Two birds, one stone

So here’s some good news: The problems of obesity and climate change may be connected, but so are many solutions. Rethinking neighborhoods to encourage bicycling and walking (and walking school buses), for example, would help on both fronts. Junk food requires more energy to produce than healthy food, so “junk food taxes,” limits on advertising to children, and clear labeling standards would also help both problems. Simply cutting subsidies that give a cost advantage to junk-food staples like corn syrup could do a great deal. But that requires political courage.

“We’re finding a lot of governments are taking the safe option of saying, ‘We need to educate people so they know what they should do.’ That completely ignores the causes of why people eat what they eat and why they aren’t very active,” said Holdsworth.

Education campaigns on their own rarely change people’s habits, she said. But bans on smoking in public places across Europe have convinced her there is political space for strong actions with public-health benefits.

“It shows that you can really take a radical action—taking away a choice from people—and even smokers are saying how pleased they are,” she said.

All smokers? Of course not.

Globesity‘s enthusiasm for top-down regulation isn’t its strongest point. Smoking restrictions aside, Americans will refuse some measures that might be accepted more readily in Europe, and many developing countries don’t have the infrastructure to execute strict food-labeling standards or other bureaucratic fixes. Still, the book’s strengths—its exploration of how massive, swelling problems feed on countless small sources, its moral vision about children becoming innocent victims—have much to say to the debate on climate change.

Our Climate Crisis: Redux — Prosperity Still the Problem
Duff Badgley is the leader of the One Earth Climate Action Group and was a candidate for Governor as a Green in 2008. He can be reached at 206-283-0621.

Prosperity is still killing our Livable Planet. Our cars, our homes, our electronic toys and appliances—and our factories spewing all of these Industrial World goodies—are murdering our kids’ and grandkids’ chances for a future on a sustainable and sustaining Earth.

Kofi Anan, former U.N. Secretary General, says climate change is already murdering 300,000 people around the globe each year. Murdering them now.

And the primary cause of climate change: our endlessly redundant material so-called ‘wealth’.

Here’s Fred Pearce, noted climate author.

“Carbon dioxide emissions (are) a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world’s richest half-billion people — that’s about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for 50 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions.”

Take in those stats:

(1) The rich 7% of the world produce 50% of global CO2 emissions.
(2) The poor 50% of the world produce 7% of CO2 emissions.

Oh, and the United States makes up 5% of the world’s population. And the U.S. is tied with the United Arab Emirates for the largest per capita resource consumption in the world.

Everyone who drives—that includes 250,000,000 Americans– carries a heavy burden of responsibility for this mass killing of people, creatures of all kinds, and our chances for a Livable Planet. Of course the tailpipe emissions are hideous.

But, in addition, each new car—electric, hybrid, compact, or gas guzzler—emits 6-12 tons of CO2 during resource extraction/processing and manufacture before the car arrives at the showroom. Multiply that by 70,000,000 motor vehicles made each year and you get 630,000,000 tons of CO2 emitted each year by those cars we love to drive.

So, get out of your car. Get out of your car as if the lives of your kids depended on it. They do.

Please get out of your car now. I did it four years ago. My life has been transformed—for the better.

Join me.

Un-Spinning the Spin: The Overton Window & Health Care Reform
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

The Far Right knows the political concept of the Overton Window and has used it to their advantage. The feckless Democrats seem to be clueless.

From Wikipedia:

The Overton Window is a means of visualizing which ideas define that range of acceptance by where they fall in it, and adding new ideas that can push the old ideas towards acceptance merely by making the limits more extreme.

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and the like, are integral parts of the Far Right. They are not in business to entertain but for cold, calculated political purposes. Their aim is to push the Far Right agenda to its most extreme in order to pull government policy to the right of center and they have done a very good job of doing so.

The Overton Window, Illustrated:

The Overton Window

Let’s use the current health care reform debate as an example of how Republicans have set the parameters of the debate.

The single-payer health care plan is being presented as the “Far Left.” So much so that the majority of Democrats and President Obama are afraid to embrace it, despite Obama’s campaign promises to do so.

In reality, even the single-payer health care plan, as being presented, is NOT a political construct of the Far Left. The Far Left would be more apt to embrace socialized medicine not a national health insurance policy.

From Single-Payer FAQ – Physicians for a National Health Program

Is national health insurance ‘socialized medicine’?

No. Socialized medicine is a system in which doctors and hospitals work for and draw salaries from the government. Doctors in the Veterans Administration and the Armed Services are paid this way. The health systems in Great Britain and Spain are other examples. But in most European countries, Canada, Australia and Japan they have socialized health insurance, not socialized medicine. The government pays for care that is delivered in the private (mostly not-for-profit) sector. This is similar to how Medicare works in this country. Doctors are in private practice and are paid on a fee-for-service basis from government funds. The government does not own or manage medical practices or hospitals.

The term socialized medicine is often used to conjure up images of government bureaucratic interference in medical care. That does not describe what happens in countries with national health insurance where doctors and patients often have more clinical freedom than in the U.S., where bureaucrats attempt to direct care.

On May 30, 2009, Joshua Holland, editor and senior writer for AlterNet, posted “The Results Are In: Americans Are Now More Closely Aligned With Progressive Ideas Than at Any Time in Memory”.

A majority (55-70 percent, depending on how the question is worded) believes it’s the government’s responsibility to provide health care to all Americans; fewer than a third of those responding to a CBS/New York Times poll thought health insurance should be “left only to private enterprise.”

Holland goes on to state,

Progressives have long begun the legislative process in the middle and then moved to the center-right, when the reality is that the country is looking for bold changes, not incremental tinkering.

To illustrate this legislative process, below is a statement from Conyers as quoted in an article for Common Dreams, “Conyers Rips Rangel, Waxman for Backing Off Single Payer”

Conyers also gave the back of his hand to President Obama.

“I’ve finally persuaded my favorite president in life to – not put single payer on the table – but to at least let me in the room,” Conyers said. “That was a great complement I suppose.”

“How are you going to have a transformational health care program that has been vaunted and touted for so long if you take the most popular remedy for it off the table to begin the negotiations?” Conyers asked. “You won’t get it.”

“The reason is elementary Dear Watson,” Conyers said. “The corporate health care people, the insurance people don’t want to leave the room. And they are not leaving the room. And as long as they are there, you are going to have some sad version of the same crap you were supposed to be fixing in the first place.”

On the basis of the Overton Windown concept, the Democrats should by aggressively pursuing the single-payer health plan AND they should have their pundits in place speaking about socialized medicine in order to push the discussion more to the left. As mentioned above, polls show Americans to be the left of center. Obama should use his “political capital” to take charge of the agenda and not let the Republicans, and certainly not the Far Right, do so. The Democrats as the only opposing political party must focus on what is important to this country and treat the Limbaughs, Coulters, and O’Reillys as the lunatic fringe, along with their Republican counterparts in Congress, certainly not those who should set the agenda or public policy as they are now doing.

It is time for the Democrats to step up to the plate and stop making excuses for their failure to do so. They now have the majority of seats in the House and Senate, they have a Democratic president, and they have the majority of the American public left of center, as shown by the polls. We need bold steps not waffling with “bipartisanship” and “working with both sides of the aisle.” How about working for the American People?

For the rest of us, we cannot let the Overton Window shift any further to the right than it already has. Vote any incumbent out of office, whether Republican or Democrat, who does not vote in line with our principles.

We are running out of time.

This Week in History
This Week in History, published by Carl Bunin and edited by Al Frank, is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice. Find more info at

June 15, 1943: The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in Chicago by a group of students including James Farmer and Bayard Rustin. They found inspiration in Gandhi, and his nonviolent victory over British colonial rule of India, for their struggle to achieve full rights for African Americans.

June 17, 1972: In the early morning five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. They had been hired by President Richard Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) to install bugging devices and copy documents. The abuse of power and obstruction of justice involved in the cover-up of this crime eventually led to the resignation of the President, at the time on the verge of impeachment by the House or Representatives.

June 19, 1987: U.S. Supreme Court ruled teaching of creationism in public schools to be a violation of the U.S. constitution’s prohibition on establishment of religion by the government [Edwards v. Aguillard]. Students, parents and teachers had contested the Louisiana “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction” act (Creationism Act). It required schools that taught evolution to also teach creation science. “The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind,” concluded Justice William Brennan in his majority opinion.

Pencil Shavings: The Other Side of the Story
Pencil Shavings appears in this space most weeks and solely represents the opinions of the publisher. If you’d like to read more of Trey’s ruminations, visit The Rambling Taoist.

Last week I shared with you one of the reasons I chose to drop out of progressive activism. While there is no question that I tired of trying to motivate far too many people who didn’t seem to want to be motivated at all, if truth be told, this wasn’t the primary reason. So, here’s the other side of the story.

For the last year I’ve been receiving mental health services for Asperger’s Syndrome and Schizotypal Personality Disorder (links provided at the end of this column). One agency has determined I have one of the conditions and another agency leans toward the other. In the end, it doesn’t really matter that much which of the two is used because both share a lot of the same pathology. For my purposes, I tend to go with Asperger’s (high functioning autism) simply because I think it’s a better fit with my personality.

In essence, I suffer from social avoidance, among other things. People make me uncomfortable and crowds, in particular, make me excessively anxious. Part of the reason for this is that I have a neurological inability to understand inferences, body language and I too often understand conversations differently than anyone else in the room or online. This last characteristic often leads to conflict as I and others are communicating with each other on different planes that, unfortunately, rarely intersect.

For those of you who have interacted with me via phone or email with GPoWS or who have met me at party conventions or retreats, I’m fairly sure this revelation comes as no surprise to you at all. I’m certain most of you recognized that something was decidedly odd about me, but maybe you simply couldn’t put your finger on it.

I was the guy at conventions and retreats who you first met upon checking in. Yet, once the official proceedings commenced, I was generally nowhere to be found. I stayed outside of the meeting area waiting to register folks long after the time anyone would show up to register! When a lot of you went off to lunch or dinner to share a meal and network, I was again AWOL. It’s interesting that, despite the fact I almost single-handedly organized the winter convention/retreat held on Whidbey Island, I did not participate fully in any one meeting or seminar. I always found something else to do far away from the crowd. (Note: I followed the very same pattern when I organized the conventions for Oregon’s Green Party.)

And so, the number one factor in my decision to drop out is social avoidance. I simply couldn’t handle the anxiety created by being an organizer of progressive events. I grew tired of trying to be someone that I’m not. I’m much better equipped to publish an online ezine because I can do so without ever leaving the sanctity of my home office.

Learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome and Schizotypal Personality Disorder.

News You May Have Missed

Indigenous Peoples: ‘We Are Fighting for Our Lives and Our Dignity’
It has been called the world’s second “oil war”, but the only similarity between Iraq and events in the jungles of northern Peru over the last few weeks has been the mismatch of force. On one side have been the police armed with automatic weapons, teargas, helicopter gunships and armoured cars. On the other are several thousand Awajun and Wambis Indians, many of them in war paint and armed with bows and arrows and spears…

Auto Task Force Outsources Jobs
As rescue attempts go, the Obama administration and its Auto Task Force are pursuing a peculiar course: They seem intent on keeping General Motors and Chrysler afloat as corporate entities by tossing more U.S. workers overboard. Even as unemployment rates soar in longtime GM-centered communities hit by shutdowns, such as Janesville, Wis. (14.7 percent), and Flint, Mich. (15.3 percent), Obama and his task force pressed GM and Chrysler for more cuts. GM plans to shut down at least 14 factories and discard some 21,000 workers. Chrysler is closing eight U.S. plants, though it claims that somehow its merger with Fiat will result in a new increase of 5,000 jobs. In a telling observation that carried unsettling echoes of Bill Clinton’s push for NAFTA, the New York Times called the job cuts and other worker sacrifices “steps that most analysts thought could never be pushed through by a Democratic president allied with organized labor…”

Rahm Emanuel Is the Definition of Unprincipled
I was reading the cover story of the New York Times Sunday Magazinethe other day—the one about Obama’s team taking Capitol Hill—and I came upon the following quote from Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. “The only nonnegotiable principle here,” he said, “is success. Everything else is negotiable.” That’s the problem I have with Emanuel—and with Obama. There’s no principle they’re willing to go to the mat for…


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