Greener Times

Promoting a sustainable society…one day at a time.

January 11 – 17

Posted by Trey Smith on January 10, 2010

Greener Times for the Week of January 11 – 17
Volume 4 No. 39
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
* For Your Consideration…
* Thoughts By the Way: Culture
* Our Climate Crisis: Compromise from an Uncompromising Man
* From Where I Stand: Philosophy at the End of Humanity (as We Know It)
* This Week in History

For Your Consideration…
Use of Potentially Harmful Chemicals Kept Secret Under Law

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision. The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to…

Behind Mass Die-Offs, Pesticides Lurk as Culprit
In the past dozen years, three new diseases have decimated populations of amphibians, honeybees, and — most recently — bats. Increasingly, scientists suspect that low-level exposure to pesticides could be contributing to this rash of epidemics…

The 2010 Political Timebomb Is Unemployment
American employers eliminated 4.2 million jobs in 2009 and sent unemployment soaring into double digits for the first time in more than a quarter century. Since the fall of last year, the official jobless rate has been over ten percent, while the unofficial rate (taking in the severely underemployed and those who have given up looking) has been over 17 percent. And, despite the ridiculous “green-shoots” speculation of the Obama administration and overblown “recovery” fantasies of the financial media that has blown every major economic story of recent years, the situation is getting worse. Analysts had predicted that December layoffs would number around 8,000. Instead, the figure was more than ten times higher: 85,000…

Science Confirms that Blowing Up Mountains Harms Mountains
Let’s say you trundle a bunch of enormous industrial equipment into North America’s oldest mountains (an intact temperate ecosystem boasting rich biodiversity, including a number of endangered species), clear-cut the forests, blow millions of tons off the top of the mountains, dump the rubble into the pristine streams below, and carry out the coal you find on enormous trucks, at high speeds, on narrow roads, through some of America’s oldest communities. Think that would cause any ecological or human damage? Hmm …It might seem obvious, but as the media will tell you, “opinions on shape of earth differ,” so it’s helpful that a group of scientists has come along to assess the existing body of research on the subject. And what does Science say? Yes, blowing up mountains causes environmental and health damage! Who woulda thunk it? In fact, the evidence is so clear that the scientists have taken the extraordinary further step of calling for an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal mining permits…

Thoughts By the Way: Culture
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.

In the context of a senate health care bill written by the insurance industry and of F-16’s firing on northern Gaza, a one sentence letter turns up in my email box asking whether progressives are stodgy or just plain stupid. Fair question, but let me up the ante with some perennial context, such as we torture people, are about to attack Venezuela, and have 450 nuclear intercontinental missiles ensiled in the “amber waves of grain”, and then ask a simpler question, are we breathing.

With the advent of 2010 the moment has come to stand in front of a mirror and breathe deeply. Gradually, in step with our breathing, US atrocities will appear and fade, appear and fade, accompanied by waves of pain that will grow worse each time until, following a scene from Abu Ghraib a brutal creature appears who is unmistakably us, and we fall to our knees screaming.

We point with disapproval to the brutality of other cultures, but we send bombers over Vietnam and honor the pilots. We point with pride to the soldier justly memorialized by the great Bill Mauldin, but we also honor those in uniform trained to be killers. Valor in war is manly, certainly it is, but where’s the valor in torturing prisoners, in napalm, or in pushing a button? The flag draped over a coffin sanctifies any action by the military. And here’s a nice question: When the government decides on war and asks for men to fight it, why does the public go along?

Human nature does not change. The DNA for cruelty is always there, just as for wonder and generosity. What gets expressed depends on the dominant culture. And just what is our culture, mirror, mirror, on the wall? We bought black slaves, cheated on treaty obligations with the Indians, wasted the Buffalo, enslaved factory workers, sent miners into dangerous mines, and picked false flag fights all over the world, all this camouflaged under a façade of faith in god, country, and individual worth, a facade nurtured at the start by an abundance of rich land. This facade is our dominant culture. It’s evident in phrases like the war on terror. It has abetted expression of our capacity for cruelty, as evident in a recent poll showing bipartisan support for torture.  (Courtesy of Maryrose.)

Our dominant culture instills reverence for war, flag, and a uniform. Every time we stand with hand over heart and sing about bombs bursting in air, we prove it. Francis Scott Key wrote The Star-Spangled Banner during the bombardment of Fort McHenry in the war of 1812. He was a good guy, and stuffed those lines into that given octave and a half with admirable skill. He is not to be held responsible for it becoming our national anthem. That choice was made later, in 1931, by us, you and me, the public, the well-washed war lovers of America.. The moment has come, gentle readers, to renounce a culture we never really believed in, and to stop letting the government do unspeakable things in our name. A good place to start would be to get rid of the title and lyrics of our national anthem. The tune can stay, as it’s traditional and goes well with a pint or two.

Our Climate Crisis: Compromise from an Uncompromising Man
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.

The prosecutor for my N30 nonviolent civil disobedience arrest surprised me Monday — he offered me a bargain I could, and did, accept.

But I had a moment in front of the judge when I stared hard at the consequences of compromise, swallowed hard, and embraced them. I will serve no jail time, have no conviction on my record, and have my criminal trespass charges withdrawn if:

1. I refrain from criminal activity for 6 months and;

2. Perform 24 hours of community service for a local environmental group and;

3. Don’t enter the branch of Chase Bank in Seattle where on N30 I chained myself to the front door with my CHASE BANK, CLIMATE CRIMINALS sign flying.

These terms were discussed in backrooms among the prosecutor, my attorney and me. I knew the judge in open courtroom had to approve them, or modify them.

My moment of compromise in front of the judge came when she explained to me what my acceptance of these terms would mean to my legal rights.

“Do you understand, Mr. Badgley, “she said, “that if you violate any of these conditions, your case will be referred directly back to me for judgment. You will waive your right to a trial and waive your right to present witnesses in your defense.”

I stared silently at her. My good deal seemed suddenly not so good. Wasn’t one of my most basic constitutional rights my ‘right to a fair trial’? Isn’t this right the cornerstone of Anglo-American law — at least it had been until 9/11? In a flash, I felt stripped of something vital and dear. Here I was standing a few feet in front of the judge, flanked by the prosecutor and my attorney. What was I going to do? Was I going to accept the deal?

The judge was looking at me. My attorney had explained to her I was profoundly hard of hearing. That’s why we were standing so close to her — so I could hear.

The judge asked me, “Mr. Badgley, can you hear me?”
“Yes, I can hear you.”
“Do you understand you will waive your right to a trial?”
“I do.”
“Do you accept these conditions?”
“I do.”

It was over. I compromised. I took the pragmatic way out. I walked away from the judge’s bench feeling, well, compromised. Not relieved, not elated.
So, for the first time in a year, I am not planning NVCD on behalf of Our Shared Earth. It feels different, like NVCD is an old friend who is taking a trip — but promises to return.

But another part of the courtroom experience for me was joyous. Nine activist friends came out to support me. I think they counted for about half of all the courtroom onlookers Monday. Their presence lifted me and held me steady.

After I told my lawyer I’d take the deal, I asked all of my friends to come out of the courtroom into the hall where I could speak to them. I told them I had just agreed to the “best deal next to outright dismissal”. I thanked each one for coming.

Those activist friends in my courtroom showed me my NVCD had worked — at least at the local level. My arrest had become a reason to gather, to share stories, to build community and to plot for the future.

I will not forget those nine. I salute them!

From Where I Stand: Philosophy at the End of Humanity (as We Know It)
“From Where I Stand” is a revolving column currently featuring the writings of Swaneagle Harijan and Dr. Richard Curtis. If you’d like to get in on the act and contribute to this feature, contact editor Trey Smith.

Philosophy at the End of Humanity (as We Know It)
by Dr. Richard Curtis

“If you woke me up at two in the morning and gave me truth serum I would probably say, ‘It’s a long shot [the survival of humanity].’ But then as I looked up and saw the photographs of my two daughters I would attempt to regain some hope.” – A Climate Scientist (whose name I lost), from the History Channel show, “Earth 2100”

My specialty is religion. In that context, “the end” is an apocalyptic concept. Religions and religious people have told as many stories about the end as the beginning, probably more (especially in unofficial circles). My concern with the end is not of that type.

For those with sufficient sense to notice the world around them, the term “tipping point” has become familiar. I know this is debated by reasonable people (unreasonable people deny any concern), but I have become convinced that we have passed the most relevant of tipping points. We cannot save humanity at this point and it is now only a matter of time.

We are all going to die. That is just the nature of life. It comes to an end. The French Existentialists tried to teach us how to think about this. People often get confused and think existentialism is about despair or hopelessness. Nothing could be further from the truth, although Albert Camus started with what he called, “The Absurd.”

Camus’ point was that our desire for meaning and the universe’s refusal to offer any is a giant absurdity. That is our life. OK, that can sound bad, but it is just the start. He said life is absurd, and it is. The point, however, is what one does with life. The great hope (or curse) in existentialism is that we choose how to live. We cannot change “the absurd” but we can, in fact, must choose how to live. Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out this causes anxiety. It is not easy to be free because being free is also to be responsible, so most people hide from the responsibility (thus our present predicament).

We face a different absurd now (at least that is my starting point). The scientist quoted above wants to hope in spite of the evidence, and that is normal. I fear it is not helpful. We want to project ourselves into the universe, but are failing. Even Camus and Sartre assumed that humanity would continue on for some vast time. We all have assumed that, but now we must think about our kind differently. Humanity is in question. Of course, the species will survive for some vast time, but humanity (that is our social worlds) will end sooner than expected. This is The New Absurd.

The response is much the same, however. We have the genius of the existentialists to help us think about The New Absurd. What is the goal? To live! Has that changed? No! Some basic assumptions about continuity have been called into question. We still must choose how to live, choose what we will do.

What does it mean for humanity to end? One leading activist confessed to me that we know this is true but that this is the wrong question. It is anthropocentric. We are a self-centered species. Life will go on. The late, great George Carlin once said that the planet will just “shake us off like a bad case of fleas” and go on fine without us. When he said that I did not really take him seriously, and he was talking about viruses at the time. He was right, just not in the details, but that is The New Absurd.

How are we to live? It is the same question. How are we to live at the end of humanity? Well, it is a slightly different question. It is much more complex. The first response must be to stop reproducing. The fewer people there are on the planet as the end comes to our kind the fewer will suffer. But if we actually did that we might solve the problem! We won’t. We ought to though. There is much we ought to do.

The details are still murky and so determining how to live well is difficult. I can say this: We have to live conscious of The New Absurd even if our lives, for now, don’t change much. We still must live well and part of that is acting to prevent the worst from happening (in some sense the moral imperative here is stronger for facing the end). This New Absurd tells us to try harder, because that is living well, though it might seem bleak at first blush.

How are we to live well? That is the question that matters. It is mostly an individual question, the existentialists taught. There are some things that must be social, but at the core we all have to choose for ourselves. Yet we all live together; that is humanity is a collective (if failing) enterprise. We choose alone but live together. And now it is becoming clear we have to live with an awareness of our individual and collective end. Perhaps the model is Hospice care for humanity?

I don’t have the answer, but I know it is time to ask the question: How are we to live well at the end of humanity (as we know it)?

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.

January 12, 1957: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other African-American clergymen who wanted to press for civil rights long denied members of their community. Sixty black ministers from ten states went to Atlanta, Georgia, to set up the coordinating group. They elected King as its first president, with the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy as treasurer.

January 14, 1942: President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Presidential Proclamation No. 2537, which required aliens from World War II enemy countries – Italy, Germany and Japan – to register with the United States Department of Justice. Registered persons received a “Certificate of Identification for Aliens of Enemy Nationality.” This proclamation facilitated the beginning of large-scale internment of Japanese Americans the following month.

January 15, 1969: Janet McCloud, her husband Don and four others from the Tulalip Indian tribe were tried for one of their “fish-ins” on the Nisqually River in Washington state. The Nisqually empties into Puget sound on the Tulalip reservation. Despite century-old treaties granting them half the salmon catch in their ancestral waters, state game officials harassed and arrested Indian fishermen. However, all were found not guilty. In a decision not reached for five years, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled in favor of 14 treaty tribes, including the Tulalip, upholding the language of their treaties.

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