We will, yes we will!

[This journal was inspired by the 68 students who just finished their first week of classes with me. Their blogs, journals and in-class comments provoked me to reexamine the prospects for humanity.]

Things don’t look too promising right now. Super hurricanes have just pummeled two regions of the U.S. and forest fires continue to burn millions of acres of land in another. These are just the most recent calamities that pervade our consciousness. Bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and bears (nearly everything beginning with a “b”) seem to be suffering greatly. Pick another letter and you will find some of the same depressing trends (how about “I”, ice sheets, icebergs, infectious diseases, islands, invasive species, etc.). However, these trends can be reversed and humanity can bring about peace within their own species and across the entire biosphere.

How in the face of all this disaster can I say something optimistic? Well, you definitely cannot claim the opposite of what I’ve said. Saying that you know that humans are incapable of reversing these trends requires a degree of self-righteousness (and clairvoyance) unimaginable. And if you can’t argue the opposite, then you are left with only two options. You can assert that you don’t know or you can, as I just did, assert that humanity can resolve these matters. Saying you don’t know if humans are able to (or will) reverse these ominous trends, while inherently true (we actually can know nothing of the future with certainty), is equivalent to being ambivalent (or “pleading ignorance”), and we frankly have no time for this; to claim ignorance is a cop out of the worst kind. Humanity must do something to reverse these trends and the time is now to do so. Logically, then, we are left asserting that humans can (and will) do this!

But there is more than mere logic that forces us to accept that we can. Consider two additional insights. First, the world we live in is so different from the worlds that humanity has lived in the past. In no time in the past has a human being in Venezuela been able to visually see and talk to a human being living in Indonesia (the exact opposite side of the planet; if you want to see what is directly on the other side from you, check out this website, link). In no time in the past have foods/materials been able to move from one place on the planet to any other place on the planet in less than 24 hours. Never in past worlds have all humans had the capacity to find out almost any known information at the click of the mouse. These three incredible “technologies” permit possibilities that are just as unlimited as they are unimaginable.

Second, consider how much we have learned about the world in the past 100 years, e.g., penicillin was discovered in 1928 and DNA’s helical structure became known in 1953. If we consider how few humans have been involved in this type of discovery, particularly with the existing underclass that pervades almost every modern nation, we should anticipate that unlimited insights from new knowledge await us. Furthermore, despite all that we currently know about how to reverse the “trends” (through research in the fields of environmental studies, ecology, biomimicry, engineering, medicine, horticulture, communication, renewable energy, sociology, computer science, atmospheric science, etc.), consider how few of us are actually engaging directly with this knowledge in practice, whether it be researching phenomena, disseminating/teaching findings, or implementing solutions. There is so much that could be shared and accomplished.

So, for all the above reasons, I look at the future with a confidence that humans will reverse these trends. I didn’t say it will be easy. However, I can promise you this. It will be incredibly satisfying and uplifting for those who were involved in doing so! And if you are wondering where to start, you are exactly where you need to be! Check out your local scene. There are probably many people already at work on reversing trends–whether they are doing urban farming, enhancing biodiversity, teaching/mentoring, engaging in grassroots politics, building social capital, et cetera. They would love more support and camaraderie and if more of us work together we can succeed in reversing the trends and building a sustainable society.

The Illusion of Poverty: The Age of Sharing Awaits Us

Huge caveat: The author fortunately has not suffered directly from impoverishment during his life. (We all suffer from it indirectly.) Thus, he contributes this piece, not as an expert on the “topic,” but as attempt to generate productive exchange.

People in the world, in fact most people in the world, suffer greatly because they are economically poor. (Many are spiritually and culturally rich and this should give many unfulfilled “Northerners” pause regarding the “civilized” nature of our lifestyle.) They go without food, water, housing, health care, education, etc., because they cannot purchase these necessities. Why? It is because these items, despite being core basic necessities for a fully actualized life, have all been commodified. (All resources are commodified, even air–you don’t pay a monthly fee for air yet but you suffer, and pay for medical treatment, from the reckless polluting of the atmosphere.) Commodification in our capitalist world dictates that these (all) resources are provided (or not) so as to maximize profits for the few. This is a terribly inhumane situation and one that will continue to bring great suffering to the world if not ultimately trigger the elimination of our species.

But hold on. There is something incredibly simple about this terrible situation. It is completely an artificial construction! It isn’t like we don’t have enough food, land, water, or shelter to provide every human sufficient resources to self-actualize. We do! Yet we don’t make this grand aim a priority and most of us are not yet willing to share. But we could change this, couldn’t we?

What is holding us back? I think three things are key. One, we accept inequality and selfishness as reasonable/normal and a natural outcome of human society. I see this point of view as a cop out/rationale which can be tackled by intentional efforts to share and redistribute resources so that every person is a “have” and no one is a “have not”. Two, we must change the economy from a profit-based one to an equity-based one. We need progressive taxes (not more regressive ones) and shared resources. One need look no further than the difference between health outcomes in the USA (where more and more hospitals are becoming privatized and costs are skyrocketing) and those in Europe (where socialized medicine reigns)–U.S.’s health system is ranked #37 by the WHO while 17 of the top 20 ranked are European (link) Similar benefits would come by making sure that all of us have true access to the best education possible, clean water, healthful food and safe housing. (Recent efforts to privatize these resources has resulted in worse conditions, not better.) Three, we should have more free time to give to our families, children, friendships, & communities; some European countries are moving in this direction. Capitalism has demanded more of our time (men and women) and not made us any happier or fulfilled. It is also destroying the planet due to its “rational” short-sightedness that dictates that an old-growth forest is worth more as a ream of paper now than a flourishing ecosystem for perpetuity.

So, some big changes in consciousness and structures are necessary, but we are closer than we think. Recall it was just 150 years ago that many thought slavery was necessary to deliver a good life. Some still do, but most do not and we are part of that most and we can make a better future for ourselves and the future.

seeds

Joe and his wife Alice were poor. Times were very tough and autumn had just begun. Things were so bad that families began rationing food. The stores were bare and all that one had to eat was what they had saved up. And much of that was spoiling by the day. Alice counted 400 portions left (assuming no spoilage) and since she had two children, this meant that there would only be enough food for 100 days. Things looked very bleak. Neither Joe nor Alice, nor any of their neighbors, saw a way out. Economic crashes on this scale had not be seen for several generations and memories of how their ancestors had survived hard times in the past were deeply faded. Understandably, psychological depression set in. The family ate enough each day to stay alive but that was about all.

Until.

Mary, the daughter, was looking out a window and noticed that a flock of birds had descended on to this group of weeds that had grown alongside their small abode. They all seemed to be delighting in the eating of the seeds that this plant produced. She wondered, would those seeds nourish humans too? Then, looking more closely, she noticed a grasshopper chewing on the plant’s leaves. It looked like a very healthy grasshopper. Could it be that the leaves would be edible for humans too?

Daniel, the son, simultaneously sitting on the other side of the house, peering out a different window, noticed a squirrel chomping on a green covered tennis ball-sized spherical object. He looked up and saw more of these objects hanging from a tree. Another squirrel appeared to be digging a hole with a sphere nearby. He wasn’t sure why those spheres existed but the squirrels seemed to know something he didn’t. Curious, Dan asked his dad to come check out the scene. Upon arrival at the window, Dan asked his dad, “What’s going on? Why is the squirrel eating the ball? What are those balls for anyway?” Joe wasn’t sure but he vaguely remembered his grandfather talking about how trees come to be and how these balls, if put into the ground, grow into new trees. Daniel, somewhat shocked, wondered if other plants did the same thing.

At dinner that night, the Jamesons were having the norm—a stew of beans with garlic and herbs. Looking down into his bowl, Daniel noticed that the beans looked like diminutive spheres, albeit a bit oblong. He asked his mom, “where did you get these beans?” Alice responded, “oh, they came in a big sack at the Big Box store, 20 lbs for $5. They were one of the last bags they had.” Mary, followed up, asking her dinner mates, “Aren’t they seeds?” Alice responded, “Yes, I guess you are right.” Daniel, followed with, “What are seeds?” Alice said, “Seeds, if planted, result in new plants.” Daniel, flummoxed a bit, “What do you mean? If we put these in the ground, we will get new plants and more seeds?” Joe spoke up, “Sure son. You didn’t know that?” Daniel responded, “Maybe. I guess I just hadn’t thought about it for a while.” Dinner continued, all feeling like the conversation was good despite the monotony of the taste. Ninety-nine more days, Alice thought. Times were tough.

Or were they?

vote, but

As mentioned in my last blog, I do think that people should vote. This may come as a “no brainer” to most reading this but it’s not as simple as it looks and a more detailed inspection highlights valuable insights.

Many who argue that we are obligated to vote remind us of the thousands (if not millions) that fought and died for their/our right to vote. In fact, this is no understatement. Our nation’s history does contain innumerable examples of tremendous struggle tied to obtaining “right to vote.” Women didn’t get this fundamental right until 1920!; so much for the “Land of the Free.” Many, many women were threatened, beaten, arrested and/or worse in their struggle for suffrage. To think it took our “enlightened” nation almost 150 years of existence to provide half the population this fundamental human right is astounding; and the US took longer than most Western nations–New Zealand was the first country in the world in 1893 (if interested in other nations, visit link). While African-American men were granted the right to vote in 1870 (15th Amendment), in practical terms, most were forbidden to do so because of racist “grandfather clauses,” literacy tests, and poll taxes that existed until 1965 (see link for historical timeline); thus, a significant component of our population has only been able to vote for ~50 years. Felons and others “being watched” by state are often not able to vote. This represents unfair disenfranchisement as our criminal justice system is extremely discriminatory (see Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”).

This is a strong argument for voting but it fails to consider exactly what voting means. Most elections are “majority rules” in our nation–to the winner goes all the spoils. This greatly disenfranchises minority groups. Sadly, even today, many voices of people overlooked and undervalued are ignored. The Native Americans struggling in the Dakotas (and elsewhere) are but one such example. Since these groups rarely have the ability to impact the outcome of an election, voting doesn’t help their cause(s). Other countries have governing bodies where representation is proportional. Then at least more voices are being heard (though, perhaps, not listened to).

Most of our elections (even many local ones) see two people vying to be the lone representative of “all.” So when one votes, one must decide between these two, and only these two, people. There are many shortcomings of this characteristic—-one true to the vast majority of our elections. First, typically the two people that reached the “top two” have been propelled there by corporate funded publicity, and, thus, have very pro-corporate mindsets. Let’s face it, it costs hundreds (if not thousands) of thousands of dollars to run even a statewide election. This severely limits candidates to those who are independently wealthy or “puppets” for those that have immense wealth. Second, the two people each typically represent one of the two major political parties. This is problematic because these two parties have become very pro-corporate and elitist; there are definitely exceptions to this but I am talking here about the vast majority of candidates representing these two parties. Third, having only “two” parties represented greatly limits the scope of what will be said/voiced and disseminated. We see how powerful this is in the current Presidential election. No “third party” representatives were invited to take part in the three debates (masquerades, might be a better word) that took place this year. If anyone watched the alternative debate organized by Jill Stein (it can be found online and at her Facebook page), you saw how significant having a third voice, particularly one not beholden to deep pockets and multinational corporations, can be. Interesting, there is sound evidence that the “two party” state was a natural outgrowth of the USA which was founded & organized by wealthy male landowners. These men understood the conservative nature of a “two party state,” one that gave them incredible power to control the policies and programs and any conversations held about them; see more on this in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The terrible lack of coverage of third parties by the mainstream media clarifies how culpable this potentially democratizing entity is in controlling/limiting the coverage. (As a side note, this is one major reason that the two parties spend so much of their campaigns discussing social issues (such as, abortion, drugs, crime, guns, etc.), as these issues don’t upset the apple cart of extreme economic inequality that continues to expand over the past 40+ years independent of what political party is in the White House or in control of either legislative chamber.) Fourth, having only two choices often means that there is no way to submit a protest vote (such as “None of the above”) or a “write-in” candidate. In my mind, there should always be both of these for every election. For these, and other reasons, some decide, “why vote if both candidates represent the ‘status quo’,” when real economic, environmental and health challenges only get worse.

All of this is to say, “yes, vote, but do a lot more!”; I focus on the “more” in many of my other blogs and I encourage commenters to speak their minds on this as well. I voted but I am under no illusion that by doing so I have somehow done my part to build a better world. It will take a lot of other contributions, today, tomorrow, and every day in the future; and not just by me, but by you as well. This, the illusion associated with voting, may be the greatest challenge we face. Whoever wins next month, we will have our plates full of things to do and ways to contribute. Why not start making those lists today. We definitely don’t want to be (nor do we have time to be) complacent.

proudly voted for Stein

[Note: I contribute this piece with the following caveat. The “media” has given 99% of the political coverage to the goings-on of only two presidential candidates. This is absurd in so many ways. The state in which I live is in very serious financial trouble and our media outlets should be spending at least as much time focusing on the many statewide races as they do on the national election. Also, all candidates and political parties should be given equal coverage in the media and in any debates that are held. To not do so greatly jeopardizes any sense of democracy that we supposedly have.]

Given the extremely limited media coverage given to third parties, it is important for those that think “outside the box” to express why they feel justified going against the grain and voting for a third party in this election (and in other elections). Yesterday, I proudly cast my vote for Jill Stein (& Ajamu Baraka) for president (& vice president). As there are many independent thinkers out there who may still be contemplating whom to vote for in this year’s presidential election, let me express my rationale.

In order of relevance:

(1) Jill Stein is the best candidate, hands-down. She is the best educated. She is the most rational. She has dedicated years to understanding the complexities of issues and her positions and argumentation demonstrate that she truthfully listens to the people! She came through my town nearly five years ago and she met with and dialogued with ~15 everyday people in a coffee shop for 2 hours.

(2) Jill Stein has real solutions to the many challenges we face as a nation. Let’s face it, our ways are destroying the planet, causing enormous pain and suffering on people here and abroad, and the super rich continue to steal from everyone else. This has to change. Really, it has to change and soon. To do otherwise is to continue the plunder and suffering. Hillary’s positions on energy, sustainable agriculture, and the environment are much too tempered (by the elite mindset that she existentially represents). Please read Jill Stein’s plan, here, before dismissing it as unrealistic.

(3) Jill Stein is not beholden to multi-millionaires or multi-billionaires or corporations that largely own and operate most media outlets, TV networks and magazines. This is a HUGE deal. All other viable candidates (and virtually every currently elected senator and congressperson in the U.S.) have been on the doles of these very powerful interests since they first set foot into the “democratic” political process. We have to begin voting for real people, not stooges for special interests.

(4) Jill Stein understands race and poverty so much better than the other candidates. Watching the two mainstream presidential debates (primarily for their comedic value), one located just miles from Ferguson (MO), probably the most revealing thing was the absolute ignorance with which Hillary spoke about our current racial divide. Under her husband’s command, we put more people of color into prison than ever before. We led a “drug war” that did nothing but fill jails and further impoverish communities and displace children from their parents/guardians. This pattern continues. (Please read Michelle Alexander’s amazing book entitled, The New Jim Crow (link to website), to find out how pernicious our system is in this regard.) The lack of leadership at the top of our government on these matters should give anyone pause that Hillary will do anything different than what is being done today. We need a leader that is willing to get arrested to defend the rights of oppressed peoples, as Stein and Baraka were willing to do in the Dakotas (in protest of a “profit over people” pipeline).

(5) The Greens will get significant financial support if they get 5% of the vote (read the law here). Yes, there is a very practical reason to vote Green for President this year! Just think what the Greens could do with these resources to educate the public (using social media and alternative media) about the real options that exist. Think of what message would be sent to all voters if the Greens were to have a presence in the national discussions. To think that Mr. Johnson (Libertarian) will get these federal funds and not the Greens is very, very sad; apparently, libertarians have a stronger commitment to the positions which they hold than do progressive thinkers.

(6) Jill Stein is a woman. Yes, this is important. I’d love to have a woman running the White House, but I want a woman that will truly stand up for women’s rights and won’t be converted into a testosterone-laden man in order to prove how tough she can be. A “hawk” (regardless of sex) is definitely not what we need right now in this world. As Secretary of State, Hillary has failed to represent peaceful interests in places like Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Palestine. She certainly won’t do so as President of the US.

(7) Jill Stein chose a real crusader for human rights as her running mate. Ajamu Baraka has a long history of work in the arena of justice and peace; read about it here. Don’t we want a vice president that is a true advocate for such important causes, not some homophobe (i.e., Pence) or some centrist (to make the “pro-lifers” happy) (i.e., Kaine)? Dr. Stein shows her amazing insight and courage by selecting such a heroic and honorable person as her running mate!

(8) I live in a state that Hillary can’t lose. I don’t rank this as very high as I would vote for Jill in any state of the US but I can see how some people might feel uncomfortable if they live in Florida or Ohio or North Carolina. If you don’t live in one of these states, you have no excuse not to vote for Stein; if you live in one of these very few states, you must make a choice but given the collapse that Trump has begun, Hillary is probably very safe in your state as well.

(9) Lastly, I voted. I believe one should vote. It isn’t all one should do. In fact it is probably only 1/20 of what one should do, but it should be done. If there were no options but for Hillary or Trump (and no write-ins or “None of the Above”), then I think people should vote for Hillary but, again, this only represents 1/20 of the political and social work that each one of us should be doing in our communities.

Comments/reactions? As always, such input from others is very welcome!

A ‘Wall,” so passé, build a NASCAR track instead

There is all this talk about building a wall on the US/Mexico border, at least among one presidential candidate and many of his followers. Let’s inspect this idea for a minute.

Are we that lacking in scientific and technological know-how that we are looking for solutions that were deemed “state of the art” 220 years before Christ? Come on folks. If we want to keep “them” out, we can do better than a “Wall.” An electronic fence of high voltage wire would be cheaper and a more effective deterrent. We could put sophisticated mines along the border with signs “cross at your own risk” (knowing full well that the mine density and explosive capacity would leave “them” little hope of survival). We could advance science along the border and build an artificial moat filled with the most dangerous (and hungry) creatures who could be studied for their breeding and eating habits. And alas, we could make the entire stretch of the 1,933 mile border a continuous NASCAR event (eat your heart out Indianapolis 500) and crossers could test their quickness relative to 200+ mph souped up Chevys. This final idea would have the added bonus of improving our Olympic sprinting team in years to come.

But alas, even if we made our border with Mexico impermeable, wouldn’t we still have to contend with the ~6,000 miles of US coastline (neglecting Alaska & Hawaii—-oops, did I just leak a confidential secret on how to get here by less obvious means?)? Ah, but again, it would be cheaper to line all our coasts with high voltage (semi-exposed) wire than a “Wall.” This would work well now that our beaches are too polluted to swim in or too hot to enjoy (climate change is doing a doozy on sand).

Ah, but what about by air or tunnel? Couldn’t “they” come by hot air balloon, propeller planes, propulsion jet packs, or burrowing devices? Damn, this is going to be harder than I first thought. Maybe we can all just move to caves ourselves. They’ll never find us then. But, who wants to live in a cave. So, what if we nuked our entire border, land, air and water. I hear this candidate is pro-nuke so this might just be in the cards! This should keep “them” away for a very long time.

See, it just takes a little bit of ingenuity and thought and the solution to all our problems is merely at the tip of a “button.” If you still think a “Wall” will be enough to keep “them” out, think again. Get your head out of the sand. Realize you live in the 21st Century and there are a lot more scary and “sophisticated” ways to keep us safe. I mean, we certainly don’t want to blow all of our public resources on a simple-minded wall when we can spend less (we have more nukes than anyone else, don’t we?) and make it much more impressive and permanent. Just imagine what our descendants (full-fledged Americans) of the 22nd Century will think of us when they realize how visionary we were. Have more of an imagination America!

Author’s note: If you don’t see the ridiculous nature of the above, please stay away from the polls on Nov. 8th.

“The Media” and getting “outside the box”

[As always, this contribution is as much self-critical commentary as anything else.]

Watching the exposure of the indiscretions and hypocrisies of the two major party candidates and their committees over the past two weeks has only reaffirmed how flawed our media systems are and how easily they can get played by those that make an effort to do so. Rather than this evidence being used to engage in greater inquiry and scrutiny (as would be the result of truly independent investigative journalism), this otherwise condemning evidence only gets sensationalized and glamorized. Trump summed this up with his recent tweet, “all press is good press!” And, here is the rub, since there are enough citizens who are “independent” and responsive to these manipulations, and subsequent polls which amplify their wandering minds (and make for high ratings), our democracy’s future is at stake.

Our “boob tube” (a.k.a. TV for those too young to know this term) streams information into tens of millions of homes each day. Given the oversupply of channels (and the resulting “high” competition), we are lead to believe that what we hear on the TV is: (a) what is important or relevant; (b) what is known on an issue; and, (c) why “it” matters. Well, for those that believe these things, I caution you to think a bit more deeply about what is being said and why. Ask yourself, in whose interests are these promoted ideas? What are the sources of the information? What are alternative news agencies (such as therealnews.com, democracynow.org, or www.aljazeera.com) reporting? For those that don’t believe that our TV channels are reporting the “real” news, what efforts are you making to find out what is really happening? What role are you playing in disseminating these alternative viewpoints? Based on my circle of colleagues, I suggest that our efforts are failing because a critical number of our “neighbors” aren’t getting (or “buying”) these alternative messages. As long as the vast majority of our neighbors keep accepting the dominant memes sounded by the mainstream media, we will not make much progress. So what’s happening and why?

Our country’s people are in a serious bind. We have become so isolated from people who think differently than we do that we cannot fathom how our “opponents” conceive of their “wacky” ideas. And they can’t fathom how we can believe what we do. The media exploits this dichotomy and provides enough evidence supporting both sides that everyone feel empowered. There are many additional reasons for this critical disconnect.

First, and perhaps most importantly, we never admit when we are/were wrong. How long has it taken most liberals to admit that Obama’s presidency has been largely a failure? Some still haven’t. (Sure, we can blame Congress for many things over the past 8 years but Obama cannot skirt all responsibility for drones, criminal injustice, & continuation of regressive taxes and hypermilitarism; don’t forget that Obama has a Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress in his first two years as President.) How many in the state of IL are willing to state that the Democrats in IL (under the leadership of Governor Quinn and Rod Blagojevich) failed to deal with critical issues (such as pension reform, voter reform, the prison industrial complex, extreme tax regressiveness (among worst 5 in the US))? (I am not saying that Gov. Rauner is any better and certainly the 25 years of Republican Governors in IL, from 1977-2002, didn’t help much either. But, importantly, the Democrats had nearly full power in the Governorship, the Lieutenant Governorship, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General’s office, and both houses of Congress from 2003-2014 (12 years) and very little reform occurred. And everyone was surprised that a billionaire Tea Partier in Rauner beat Quinn by a few percentage points? If the major parties cannot be self-critical and realize why they have failed, they should now longer exist as parties. For those that submissively support either of these two parties, I urge you to stop doing so. And if you weren’t openly critical of the Blagojevich and Quinn administrations then you were submissively supporting them. Liberals and progressives are in the same situation vis-à-vis the current Democratic presidential candidate. Any informed person must honestly find many problems with electing Hillary Clinton but rather than talk about these, they feel any criticism of her will only improve the chances that Trump gets elected. However, our inability to be self-critical (purposely not just reactively) makes it nearly impossible for others outside of our “world view” to trust anything we say. This collective failing will likely lead to having millions of smart, well-meaning people, recognizing the rampant but unspoken failings of both candidates, fail to make it to the voting booths in November. And this is more than anything likely to lead to a Trump victory. Yet, despite our recognition of this outcome, we remain silent and ignore the obvious hypocrisies infecting candidates and their positions. The inability to admit failure or mistakes has both parties (who have both made innumerable horrific mistakes) unfit to rule. (Then we criticize third parties who have better platforms and a real desire for righting this sinking ship for taking votes away from “mainstream” candidates; and, we don’t even pause when their ideas aren’t shared in the media or at least represented in political “debates”.)

Second, we have allowed the media to frame all the issues. This is a critical and very understated problem. What are the major issues right now? Economic and social inequality would seemingly be #1. However, the media (and the two parties) talk endlessly about abortion, gun rights, and immigrants. Also, so much of the media is now (from before the first primaries even happened) entirely focused on two individuals (Hillary and Trump) as if the other 300+ million of us are irrelevant or at least someone else’s ideas deserved a hearing. How much attention has been paid to state elections? Almost none. This would be hilarious if it wasn’t so painfully said, especially in our “broken” state of Illinois. How much attention is being paid on the local elections in your community? In ours? None. Most people I speak to don’t even realize that in April 2017, there will be four local offices up for election (the Mayor, and three City Council seats). We act as if nothing matters but the presidency. Why do we think this way? Largely because The Media tells us to. Once again, we need to reject this and think and act “outside the box.”

Third, all of us seek comfort and security. This is a natural human reaction to stress and discomfort. Why are we so stressed out? Lots of reasons. Our TV’s (& Internet streams) are feeding us hyper-sensationalized doses of fear-mongering continually. A kidnapped child from a town 2,000 miles away makes us afraid to let our kids walk to school; have you noticed how many parents/grandparents now drive kids to and from school. A sexual predator in a neighborhood two hours away makes us fearful of our neighbors, to the point that we don’t speak to them and certain don’t invite them into our homes. We fear everything now. And, most of us respond to this fear directly. Either by fomenting it as one of the candidates is doing or saying, “you gotta support her….this is Trump we are talking about!” And, the mainstream media feeds this frenzy and these simplistic responses because they too profit from the enhanced viewerships that come with sensationalized reportage.

As a member of this culture, we have three choices given our predicament. We can continue to act as if the mainstream media is properly framing the issues that matter. Or, we can avoid the issues altogether and find calmness and serenity in the other non-news media programs (such as “reality” programs, mindless sitcoms/soap operas, or competitive sports); no wonder why these are increasingly popular the worse and worse things get. Or, we can explicitly reject these other two options and aggressively become alternative media sources of our own. This last option, which I believe to be the only real option to save our democracy, is extremely difficult for many of us because it requires that we step outside of “our comfort zones.” In addition to spreading fear, “The Media” does a marvelous job of promoting the value of “fitting in” and conforming. We see this in the clothes we buy, the shows we watch, the chain restaurants that we frequent. Getting “outside the box” forces us to abandon one of our most comforting pleasures, that which comes through the conformity of consumption. You don’t believe me? Try becoming an aggressive human rights advocate for one day (using Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) and see how people respond to you. If you try this, please communicate what happens to the rest of us. You can be a pioneer in this uncomfortable space that most of us refuse to inhabit. We’d prefer to remain in our comfort zones, hoping that somehow others will come to their senses and make things better. In this way, we are drugged by “The Media.” We choose not to pursue that which we know is moral and right. We need to stop injecting our bloodstream with the caustic and contaminated nonsense streams that proliferate The Media’s channels and websites. It will take lots of effort to withdraw from this drug, but humanity has conquered many things in the past and I am confident that with patience and courage we will tackle this one too.

Lastly, while I strongly urge all of us (myself included) to “get out of the box” in a very visible way, I also caution all of us to do so by advocating from a positive position and one that is open to constructive critique (and re-examination). There are real solutions that are possible. There are real alternatives to the ones being offered by the mainstream, typically disguised fluff for status-quo policies. (I examine these in previous blogs and will do so again in my next.) Being anti-everything isn’t going to solve our problems (though it might just get a buffoon elected). Promoting new and innovative ideas and supporting those that are pioneers in this effort locally will take effort and deliberate action. Yet, this effort might be a key to our survival.

the “efficiency” trap and RE’s benefits

Efficiency is an overused/misused concept. It is just a measure of the closeness to maximum energy exchange of a process. So when you burn coal, the best modern engineering can extract from this “burn” is ~33% (given conventional systems) because to get “electricity” (the energy we want) from the coal we have to create steam which then spins a turbine (and in each step there are losses in conversion). Geothermal systems are actually less efficient in converting heat to electricity (see article, ref 1; though much more efficient in extracting heat, as in, geothermal heat pumps which are much better than conventional gas-powered furnaces). And solar arrays are in the same ball park as geothermal systems with efficiencies of ~15-20%.

However, the big difference between the coal and the others is the fact that while the sun provides us light for free and the Earth provides us heat for free (24/7 as well), the coal comes by way of extraction from distant areas. (Solar photovoltaic panels and geothermal components require the extraction of materials from distant lands as well, but once this initial extraction is done and manufacturing is completed, they operate for 25+ years.) Also, sun and Earth heat will continue into the distant future while coal is limited in quantity (as it takes too long to replenish). Additionally, when one burns coal, waste products are produced, many which are quite toxic to humans and life, most notably, mercury, PAHs and sulfur dioxide (ref 2).

Thus, while efficiencies of renewable energy forms may be less efficient than fossil fuel forms, the key benefits derived from RE’s are:
(1) the pollution created in using them (over a 25-year cycle) is so much less;
(2) the RE energy sources are on-site (or close by) at the point of use;
(3) the RE sources are plentiful and renewable.

Additionally, and importantly, given the nature of geopolitics right now, RE resources also create more jobs (ref 3) and can be more decentralized (which allows people to have more control over their operation and production; I say “can” because this requires forethought and intentionality regarding democratic input and collective ownership, something still missing from most RE installations).

Given all of these benefits (here is the Union of Concerned Scientists’ take on these, ref 4), investors are finally taking notice in a big way and, as expressed best by a recent (April 2016) Bloomberg article, “Wind and Solar are Crushing Fossil Fuels” (ref 5). So, don’t be squeamish at all advocating vehemently for RE creation/expansion in your neighborhood/community. Everything is now on the side of RE (economics, environmental concerns, and social/health factors). The time is right, to “flip the switch.”

crying

Is it okay to cry? Obviously yes, right? Well, I am not talking about crying when you’ve lost someone close to you (sorrow) or you suffer some horrendous fall (pain), I am talking about crying in more mundane circumstances. Over the past 15+ years, I have noticed that when I speak about the Earth and its humans and the incredible opportunities for advancement that lay before us, I often tear up and have difficulty speaking. It also happens when I hear others speak about similar topics with passion and optimism. Is this okay?

Obviously yes, right? Well, not so fast. I have noticed that many of my male friends and even some female ones will criticize others when they see them becoming too emotional about things. LeBron James cried when he won the NBA Championship for Cleveland, Ohio last month. Impassioned mothers and fathers cry when they articulate a better future for their children and community. Aren’t these okay responses?

After some thought, I think I have decided that it is not only okay to cry but that we had better begin to do it more often. If we care about something, some of us may be brought to cry about it. This is okay, very okay. In fact, reason (mind) alone will not bring us to where we need to go as a culture. In fact, much of the “reason” out there today is only taking us backwards. We will need some emotion (heart) as well. We need a balance of the masculine and the feminine. (Nina Simons is one of the best at articulating this, link) We all have some of both in us. We can become fuller humans by opening up both elements within us. Let’s recognize this, within us and within others. Let’s shed a few tears together.

only two problems?

If we could solve only one problem, which problem should it be?
This is a question that I often get asked and it is one that I have pondered on my own as well. It presupposes that there is one problem that, if solved, could lead directly to the solution of other problems. Well, I haven’t figured what that one problem is, but I can tell you that if we solve two problems, we’d be well on our way to tackling most human challenges.

What must you do, each and every day? Eat food and drink water. So, assuming that these things were provided to you, you could get on with your “life.” What else would you need? Well, obviously, shelter of some kind. Would that be enough? Water, food and shelter may be enough to live, but there are other things that have become part of our “civilized” human condition. Most importantly among them is energy. We need energy to survive and to live a modern lifestyle requires quite a bit of it—to run our refrigerators, our computers, our water heaters, our cars and lawn mowers. Clearly, any future that looks anything like the present would require sufficient amounts of energy.
Here is the rub. Despite the fact that at least a billion people on Earth have sufficient access to food, water, and energy, many more do not. And while that is horrible situation (and how can we celebrate everyday things when so many go without, especially when there isn’t really any good reason why they don’t), the question I would like to examine here is, “How key are food and energy to our collective present and future?”

Clearly, if nearly a billion people on Earth suffer from chronic malnutrition (ref 1), “we have a problem Houston.” Obviously, every effort imaginable should be made to make sure that this problem is eradicated. A comparable but less recognized evil is the energy poverty that exists in the world today. Without basic allotments of energy, many people around the world cannot satisfy basic needs, such as, cooking food, heating/cooling their homes, or perform important tasks at night; consider that 1.4 Billion people do not have access to electricity (ref 2). Even in places where some energy is available for such things, it is often dangerous (e.g., kerosene) or detrimental to local environments (e.g., firewood). Without sufficient food or energy, more than 1,000,000,000 people suffer unduly.

Obtaining food and energy isn’t just an issue for those that don’t have much of them but also to those that live in areas where food and energy is plentifully produced but improperly distributed. How much current conflict in the world is due to “resource wars”? As these two sources indicate (ref 3, ref 4), many (if not most) of the conflicts occurring right now have strong drivers in resource shortages. And these shortages are not getting alleviated much because the current unbalanced distribution is due to the increased commodification (and profit obtained) of these resources. And sadly, the $1.4+ trillion dollars spent each year on militaries (largely to protect/secure these resources) creates a huge financial well that leaves very little left for other critical needs (such as education, health care, etc.).

In closing then, if we were able to tackle the food and energy problems, we would likely be on our way to solving most of the world’s current problems. We have enough (to be clarified in an upcoming BLOG), we just must begin to share what we have and look at each other as “brothers and sisters” rather than enemies.