Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

October 5 – 11

Posted by Trey Smith on October 4, 2009

Greener Times for the Week of October 5 – 11
Volume 4 No. 25
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
* The Meat of the Problem
* Societal Challenges for Eco-Conscious Living
* Thoughts By the Way: Pipelineistan
* Our Climate Crisis: (Duff is Taking a WELL-EARNED Vacation)
* Un-Spinning the Spin: Progressives, We Are Mainstream After All
* This Week in History
* Pencil Shavings: Part III of My Comments on “Third Party Folly”
* News You May Have Missed

The Meat of the Problem
by Ezra Klein, posted at Raw Info

The debate over climate change has reached a rarefied level of policy abstraction in recent months. Carbon tax or cap-and-trade? Upstream or downstream? Should we auction permits? Head-scratching is, at this point, permitted. But at base, these policies aim to do a simple thing, in a simple way: persuade us to undertake fewer activities that are bad for the atmosphere by making those activities more expensive. Driving an SUV would become pricier. So would heating a giant house with coal and buying electricity from an inefficient power plant. But there’s one activity that’s not on the list and should be: eating a hamburger.

If it’s any consolation, I didn’t like writing that sentence any more than you liked reading it. But the evidence is strong. It’s not simply that meat is a contributor to global warming; it’s that it is a huge contributor. Larger, by a significant margin, than the global transportation sector.

According to a 2006 United Nations report, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Some of meat’s contribution to climate change is intuitive. It’s more energy efficient to grow grain and feed it to people than it is to grow grain and turn it into feed that we give to calves until they become adults that we then slaughter to feed to people. Some of the contribution is gross. “Manure lagoons,” for instance, is the oddly evocative name for the acres of animal excrement that sit in the sun steaming nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. And some of it would make Bart Simpson chuckle. Cow gas — interestingly, it’s mainly burps, not farts — is a real player.

But the result isn’t funny at all: Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week. That prompted Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to recommend that people give up meat one day a week to take pressure off the atmosphere. The response was quick and vicious. “How convenient for him,” was the inexplicable reply from a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “He’s a vegetarian.”

The visceral reaction against anyone questioning our God-given right to bathe in bacon has been enough to scare many in the environmental movement away from this issue. The National Resources Defense Council has a long page of suggestions for how you, too, can “fight global warming.” As you’d expect, “Drive Less” is in bold letters. There’s also an endorsement for “high-mileage cars such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids.” They advise that you weatherize your home, upgrade to more efficient appliances and even buy carbon offsets. The word “meat” is nowhere to be found.

That’s not an oversight. Telling people to give up burgers doesn’t poll well. Ben Adler, an urban policy writer, explored that in a December 2008 article for the American Prospect. He called environmental groups and asked them for their policy on meat consumption. “The Sierra Club isn’t opposed to eating meat,” was the clipped reply from a Sierra Club spokesman. “So that’s sort of the long and short of it.” And without pressure to address the costs of meat, politicians predictably are whiffing on the issue. The Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, for instance, does nothing to address the emissions from livestock.

The pity of it is that compared with cars or appliances or heating your house, eating pasta on a night when you’d otherwise have made fajitas is easy. It doesn’t require a long commute on the bus or the disposable income to trade up to a Prius. It doesn’t mean you have to scrounge for change to buy a carbon offset. In fact, it saves money. It’s healthful. And it can be done immediately. A Montanan who drives 40 miles to work might not have the option to take public transportation. But he or she can probably pull off a veggie stew. A cash-strapped family might not be able buy a new dishwasher. But it might be able to replace meatballs with mac-and-cheese. That is the whole point behind the cheery PB&J Campaign, which reminds that “you can fight global warming by having a PB&J for lunch.” Given that PB&J is delicious, it’s not the world’s most onerous commitment.

It’s also worth saying that this is not a call for asceticism. It’s not a value judgment on anyone’s choices. Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it’s better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.

I’ve not had the willpower to eliminate bacon from my life entirely, and so I eliminated it from breakfast and lunch, and when that grew easier, pulled back further to allow myself five meat-based meals a month. And believe me, I enjoy the hell out of those five meals. But if we’re going to take global warming seriously, if we’re going to make crude oil more expensive and tank-size cars less practical, there’s no reason to ignore the impact of what we put on our plates.

Societal Challenges for Eco-Conscious Living
by Adam Bink in Open Left

There is a good piece in this month’s edition of Atlantic Magazine in which Witold Rybczynski, a professor of urbanism at UPenn, argues the case for “returning to cities” if we really want to fight climate change. In it, he argues that our response to climate change has been too oriented towards “accessorizing” green features and less towards behavioral, systemic change. He also argues what we know- that living in cities creates a far smaller carbon footprint, and that a skyscraper with zero green features beats a suburban office park with solar panels, because of the people working in it and how they get to the office.

I think it’s a very good point. The attitude towards “green”, in my experience, has become more an attempt to impress your peers through accessorizing than actual change. Telling your neighbors you drive a hybrid, bragging about slapping a solar panel on your suburban roof, etc. are common things I hear among my friends and back home. But what I’ve never heard is anyone saying that in the name of battling climate change, they’re going to move from their free-standing suburban house that consumes an immense amount of energy, complete with water and chemical-guzzling lawn, and give up the other trappings of suburban life. That is Rybczynski’s central argument- if we’re really going to take a bite out of climate change, we need (a) more buildings like multi-family walkups that can be dense enough to support public transit nearby (b) people willing to change their already set-in lifestyles.

Two points I want to make. The first is that (a) can always be done- more zoning for multi-family walkups, etc. Incentivizing it is another story. My boyfriend got a tax credit for purchasing his Prius- why shouldn’t there be something similar for those who live in environments in which it is more likely to exert a low-carbon footprint (walking to the convenience store, using public transit to get to work, etc.)? It will take a whole new style of thinking for legislators and the general public. The popular approach to climate change is to accessorize, not to completely change where you live and how to get from points A to points B. And making an argument for rewarding people for living in cities via tax credits could raise a fair amount of opposition.

I also think there’s a challenge of the audience for this, which brings me to (b). My parents have lived in the same Buffalo suburban 3-bedroom home with a gorgeous veggie garden for over 25 years, like living there, like driving their own cars, etc. Asking them, at their age, to sell their home and move to a hi-rise in the city of Buffalo (which has had negative population growth since 1960 for a reason), give up the backyard garden, take the bus to work when they’ve always driven, etc. just isn’t happening. Nor should every suburbanite be asked to. I doubt my parents are the only ones who feel this way.

I think people just out of college and deciding where to live are one market. For instance, I have two friends (a couple) from college who are now finishing med school. They both are getting jobs in DC proper, but contemplating buying a house out in Virginia, not near a Metrorail stop. I’m trying to convince them to buy one of the many unsold condos here in DC instead, and be able to walk to most of the places they need to go. This kind of audience is one target to commit to a low-carbon lifestyle.

In other words, incentivize and target an audience from the very start instead of having to ask them to give up their lifestyle 40 years later. I think older families are the ones you can get to buy more locally-grown produce and switch off lights more- useful, but small, steps. Recent graduates and similar audiences are the ones to go after to make the big changes Rybczynski is arguing are critical.

Thoughts By the Way: Pipelineistan
Tom Herring is a former Vashon Island Community Council member, but now chooses to sort nails in his shop. Catch more of Tom’s thoughts on his blog.

Seen on high definition digital television, the World is dozens of performance stages each depicting occasional glimpses of reality mortised into an otherwise seamless script written by corporate America. Seen in my e- mail the World is one stage depicting ramifications of the saga of energy. That’s a slightly exaggerated way to announce that Pepe Escobar has once again rescued this column from its customary sophomoric essays.

Customarily I save up a week’s worth of e-mail, sort the pile for useful nails, then do the column. This week I looked at the pile and panicked. Here’s the pile:

  • Jon Krakauer lays bare the lies around NFL star Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan.
  • BC Government buries the fact that logging blows its CO2 emissions target.
  • The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation may take the unprecedented step of ordering banks to prepay about $36 billion in premiums to shore up the shrinking deposit insurance fund.
  • During last week’s G-20 protests an arsenal of crowd control munitions was deployed by a massive, overpowering police presence in Pittsburgh.
  • The Obama administration is laying the groundwork to isolate Iran economically from the rest of the world.
  • When Cheney said waterboarding was only used on detainees of the highest intelligence value, he lied.
  • Dean Baker says the budget situation today looks hugely worse than it did two years ago.
  • ACORN was at the center of the so-called ‘prosecutor-gate’ scandal, when the Bush administration fired prosecutors who resisted its partisan strategy.
  • The World Trade Organization has long advanced extreme financial deregulation under the guise of trade agreements.
  • Mexicans are now motivated to leave home not by the lure of higher wages but by fears for their safety.
  • The Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) was a flop, if not a scam.
  • The New York Air National Guard Base at Hancock Airport soon will be able to control drones over Afghanistan.
  • US Nukes Agency Pushes New Bomb Production.
  • Forget the solar panels and the rain barrels—if you want to save energy, leave the suburbs: Daniel Sunjata.
  • Dems kill public option health care in senate committee.
  • Goldman Sachs & J.P. Morgan are quietly buying up the media.
  • The most dangerous nuclear facility in the Middle East is Israel’s.
  • Representative Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan said he had commitments from 40 Democrats to block the health care bill unless it restricted funding abortions.
  • Lakotah is the only state using their own gold backed currency, the others still use the Federal Reserve note, which will keep them in a state of perpetual debt.
  • Annually the state of California pays $49,000 per prison inmate and less than $14,000 per UC student.
  • G-20: draconian security measures were a response not to a real threat but to fear gripping the established centers of power. . . . rebellion will no longer be a foreign concept.
  • This October a group of internationally known speakers headed by Noam Chomsky will join academics, activists, and visionary thinkers from the Northwest region in Portland, Oregon to explore the way forward out of the twin crises challenging humanity.
  • Obama will travel to Denmark to support Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
  • Dorli Rainey says: It is a fact that idiocy in the United States is growing in direct proportion to the escalating military expenditures and the resulting cuts in education and human services.
  • Americans cannot get any truth out of their government about anything: Paul Craig Roberts.
  • Structural changes are needed in our system of government to rein in both the imperial presidency and the presidential empire: David Swanson’s new book.
  • Southwest Air will require passengers to register with the TSA
  • African-American motorists are three to four times more likely to be stopped by police on Maryland roads than other drivers.
  • Afghanistan: ‘Like Vietnam without the napalm.’ Spc. Nicholas Gojekian, 21, of Katy, Texas.
  • Israel has reportedly received an assurance by US President Barack Obama that it would not be pressured into accounting for its alleged nuclear arsenal or signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

That’s the pile as of Wednesday, a hemorrhoid of nails, and I could not sort it into a column. Then on Thursday, Pepe Escobar fired off the third in his series on Asia pipelines.

Pepe Escobar – Iran and the Pipelineistan Opera
Pepe Escobar, Tomdispatch.com: “Oil and natural gas prices may be relatively low right now, but don’t be fooled. The New Great Game of the twenty-first century is always over energy and it’s taking place on an immense chessboard called Eurasia. Its squares are defined by the networks of pipelines being laid across the oil heartlands of the planet. Call it Pipelineistan. If, in Asia, the stakes in this game are already impossibly high, the same applies to the ‘Euro’ part of the great Eurasian landmass – the richest industrial area on the planet. Think of this as the real political thriller of our time.”

The story of oil and natural gas in Asia is the Rosetta Stone of global pushing and shoving, for without understanding this story nothing makes sense. Okay, smarty pants, what’s the value your column will add to Pepe’s masterful storytelling? Well, not much, just some gas, carbon dioxide.

I’ll explain. But it’s difficult to add anything to his story. For example, let’s steal from it the origin of the name of one of the pipelines, the one favored by the US, “Nabucco”:

“Why, you might ask, is the pipeline meant to save Europe named for a Verdi opera? Well, Austrian and Turkish energy executives happened to see the opera together in Vienna in 2002 while discussing their energy dilemmas, and the biblical plight of the Jews exiled by King Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), a love story set amid a ferocious struggle for freedom and power, swept them away.”

Ah, history. You have to sympathize with the Jews, but do they have to take it out on the Palestinians? Well, actually it’s not the Jewish Jews, it’s the Zionists, a big difference. Zionism is Judaism contaminated by blown back Christianism. Anyway, the point of the column is that fighting for carbon while knowing that if it is all burned it will end civilization is a drama par excellence.

I’ve never read the Bible. Do you suppose there’s much to it?

PS: Read Tom Englehardt’s great introduction to Pepe’s essay.

Un-Spinning the Spin: Progressives, We Are Mainstream After All
Maryrose Asher is a former Chair of the Green Party of Washington State and a tireless activist of many causes.

The co-founder of the After Downing Street Coalition, David Swanson, has just written a book, Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, which I will review for next week’s column. Swanson uses a reference to a Yes! Magazine article, “Our Own Agenda to Policies for a Better America” by Sarah van Gelder (August 2008), and, for this week’s column, I thought it would be encouraging to report on the compilation of several polls as reported in Gelder’s article.

Below is a list of progressive policies favored by the majority of Americans:

  • 67% favor public works projects to create jobs.
  • 73% say corporations don’t pay a fair share of taxes.
  • 76% support tax cuts for lower- and middle-income people.
  • 80% support increasing the federal minimum wage.
  • 70% support habeas corpus rights for detainees at Guantanamo.
  • 58% believe a court warrant should be required to listen to telephone calls.
  • 68% believe a president should not act alone to fight terrorism without checks and balances of courts and Congress
  • 79% favor mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 90%  favor higher auto fuel efficiency standards.
  • 75%  favor clean electricity, even with higher rates.
  • 72% support more funding for mass transit.
  • 64% believe the government should provide national health insurance coverage for all, even if it would raise taxes.
  • 73% favor abolishing nuclear weapons, with verification.
  • 80% favor banning weapons in space.
  • 81% oppose torture and support following the Geneva conventions.
  • 85% say the United States should not initiate military action without support from allies.
  • 79% say the United Nations should be strengthened.
  • 63% wanted US forces home from Iraq within a year.
  • 7% [not a typo, just 7%] favor military action against Iran
  • 69%  favor using diplomatic and economic means to fight terrorism, not the military.
  • 86% say big companies have too much power.
  • 74% favor voluntary public financing of campaigns.
  • 66% believe intentional acts are likely to cause significant voting machine errors.
  • 80% say ex-felons should have their voting rights restored.
  • 65% believe attacking social problems is a better cure for crime than more law enforcement.
  • 87% support rehabilitation rather than a “punishment-only” system.
  • 80% favor allowing undocumented immigrants living in the United States to stay and apply for citizenship if they have a job and pay back taxes.

Clearly, the President and Congress are out of touch with what Americans want.

However, this raises the question as to why the Progressive Movement cannot get more Americans involved in confronting current government policies which clearly are in opposition to the policies the majority of Americans would like to see implemented.

Part of the answer may lie in the fact that the media paints a picture of a very conservative America. In addition, this era of political “bipartisanship” is also a ploy used by the corporate political parties as a way to convince Americans that only “centrist” or what we know to be “right-of-centrist” policies have any possibility of getting enough votes to pass.

Although many in the Progressive Movement feel the fight is an uphill battle, with no significant “wins” of late, the data above should give hope that left-of-center policies are alive and well.

The challenge for the Progressives Movement is to find a way to connect to the majority of Americans and bridge the differences in order to demand a change, a real change, in the way our country is being run and who is running it.

Resources
Our Own Agenda: An Economy Policy for a Better America

Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union, by David Swanson, Seven Stories Press, NY, 2009.

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 http://www.peacebuttons.info/E-News/thisweek.htm.

October 5, 1887: Chief Joseph, leader of the Nez Perce Indians, surrendered to the American Army, ending a desperate struggle by his people for self-determination, and to maintain their traditional homeland in the Wallowa Valley of Northeastern Oregon. “I have carried a heavy load on my back ever since I was a boy. I realized then that we could not hold our own with the white men. We were like deer. They were like grizzly bears. We had small country. Their country was large. We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit Chief made them. They were not, and would change the rivers and mountains if they did not suit them.”

October 6, 1998: Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, robbed and left tied to a wooden fence post outside Laramie, Wyoming; he died five days later. His death helped awaken the nation to the persecution of homosexuals and their victimization as objects of hate crimes. A play about the incident, and later an HBO movie, “The Laramie Project,” has been performed all over the country.

October 9, 1919: The International Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded in Bilthoven, the Netherlands. Its members have since been active in promoting programs and activities for reconciliation, peace-building, active nonviolence, and conflict resolution. Learn more about FOR: http://www.forusa.org/.

Pencil Shavings: Part III of My Comments on “Third Party Folly”
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.

For years, third party activists (me included) have laid the blame for many of our societal woes at the feet of our two-party political system. If only we had proportional representation and/or campaign finance reform, we could get more traction to make a difference, we opine. Others lay the blame squarely on our capitalist system. People before profits is that mantra. While I do not disagree with any of these critiques, I think our basic societal problem goes far deeper. From my perspective, the biggest stumbling block we face time and time again is that the American ethos is predominated by a “Me-First” mentality. Whatever the issue, the initial question on almost everybody’s mind is: What’s in it for me?

This individualistic mentality is borne of our Judeo-Christian heritage. In the very first book of the Old Testament or Torah, humans are told that we are estranged from each other and the rest of existence. We’re given carte blanche permission to dominate and subjugate the rest of the planet for our own individualistic needs and desires. Whether one is a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, pagan or a philosophical Taoist, this message has become ingrained in our collective consciousness. Consequently, in my view, it really doesn’t matter all that much if our electoral system magically changed tomorrow or we wake up next week to find that capitalism has been dismantled; as long as the majority of Americans approach life from the aspect of “What’s in it for me?”, any system is bound to engender many of the same problems we face right now!

So, I think our greatest challenge is to turn the tide away from this “Me-First” attitude toward the ideal of communitarian values. But how do we accomplish this?

For starters, the person we must first convince is the one we see in the mirror everyday. It is the height of hypocrisy to urge others to change their way of thinking if we don’t commit to this change first! The last thing we need is to adopt a “Do as I say, not as I do” strategy. Employ that kind of methodology and you can be assured nothing will change for the better!!

In essence, what I’m suggesting here is that we each need to become ROLE MODELS for the changes we seek.

As a group, Greens have indeed made many important lifestyle commitments. Many have eschewed the consumption of meat or have opted for a car-free lifestyle. Quite a number only purchase fair trade goods. Many Greens choose solely nontoxic, earth-friendly products. And most of us are ardent recyclers. Unfortunately, while we have committed to communitarian ideals in selected sectors of our lives, we behave just as individualistically in other areas. So, we need to quit making a half-ass commitment. If we hope to convince others that communitarian ideals can be incorporated into their lives, we have to become full-fledged role models.

To provide two examples of our schizophrenic commitment to Green ideals, consider the following. For years, GPoWS held two state conventions per year. And how did most members travel to these group meetings? In single or double occupancy personal vehicles! Few people carpooled and even fewer people used public transportation. (I am VERY guilty of this!!!) How on earth can we talk to people about lessening their carbon footprints when we’re modeling the exact opposite?

Example #2: Greens and other progressive groups participate in lots of marches, rallies and demonstrations. How do we share our message with attendees? Too often with reams and reams of paper! We make flyers, brochures and other assorted handouts — most of which are thrown away by the attendees themselves or by the organizers. Even worse, a lot of this wordage isn’t even placed on recycled paper. Once again, we’re not modeling the ideals we say we are committed to.

Once we do commit to these ideals, we need to model them in our communities. We need actively to show others how individual behavior impacts the health and well-being of the community at large. If we exemplify peace, kindness, simplicity, respect and contentment, others will want to know how they too can simplify their lives and find the same kind of contentment.

One of the best ways to share our values is through community education and community projects. Rather than always being on the defensive — protest activities — we need to adopt more positive approaches. We need to show people what they CAN do to make their lives more sustainable and fulfilling, not spend so much time attacking people’s attitudes by telling them what they shouldn’t be doing. When we attack, the natural initial response is defensive. People dig in their heals and quit listening. The old adage — you can get more with honey than vinegar — rings more true than a lot of us care to admit.

In my view, it is ONLY when we can start to turn the tide toward communitarian values in people’s minds that we should even think of pursuing electoral politics. Doing it the other way around — what we’ve been trying to do for decades — is placing the cart before the horse!! Trotting out Green, progressive and leftist candidates to a public immersed in a “Me-First” mentality won’t change anything. This is not something that can be legislated! It is something that each person and each community must commit to on their own in their own time.

I realize that some of you will think this is a utopian strategy. My response is that it may well be utopian, but all the strategies we’ve been trying for the last decade or two aren’t working and, from my perspective, they can’t work until we infuse this society with a new ethos. Others will say that we don’t have enough time to see this through. While I realize that time is an important variable, beating our heads against a brick wall hasn’t sped up the process in the least. If we want to see change post haste, then we need to change the ways WE think and live post haste.

In the end, if we truly desire to see our species and our world survive, we need to come to grips with the fact that this can ONLY be done by working together. As my friend Tom Herring states it, the real crux of the issue is mutual dependence. No man, woman nor child is an island. We’re all connected to each other and everything else in this wonderful experience we call life.

News You May Have Missed

5 Ways the Government Used Our Money to Save Big Banks and Screw Us
As we mark the end of the first year of the financial bailout, the public seems to regard the government’s actions with a toxic combination of rage and confusion. People are pissed off but too bewildered to know what to do with that anger. The confusion isn’t an accident. The government hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about how it’s made buckets of money available to the banking sector. When it does disclose some information — such as in July’s SIGTARP report from the Treasury or the Federal Reserve’s weekly balance sheet — it’s in the form of intimidating descriptions, accounting mumbo jumbo and technical reports that do little to illuminate just what the hell is going on. What’s worse, banks and the establishment press have portrayed TARP as the sum of the banking industry’s federal subsidies…

“Socialism” and Sham in the Senate
Listening closely to the politicians with the most clout in the debate over health care, it is startling to discover how little they actually seem to know about the subject. Ignorance rules, even among the bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Six,” who supposedly have immersed themselves in the details of this life-and-death issue for many months. If they understood even the most basic facts about how the United States and other advanced countries provide and finance medical care, they simply could not utter the stupid comments that regularly emanate from their lips…

Are New Probiotic Foods Really Good for You?
As headlines swirl about who-knows-what being found in our food supply, another ingredient continues to make the news: probiotics. PRObiotics are increasingly added to the food supply to help replace what the ANTIbiotics are taking away: health-promoting bacteria, the healthy little critters in our digestive tracts that are essential to the digestive process. In today’s New York Times, Tara Parker Pope highlights the increasing use of these PRObiotics in our food supply. In her smart column, she suggests that Buyer Beware: plenty of manufacturers appear to be exploiting the increasing popularity of these ingredients, as a way to promote their products…

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