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Please help us foster dialog in our communities

October 21, 2017

Dear friends,

Early tomorrow morning I fly to Washington DC for a week, where we have some traction on some nuclear weapons, safety, and waste issues.

It is always heartening to be welcomed by senior people there, where decisions are actually made. It is always a scramble for us to be adequately prepared.

For the past decade it has been much easier to arrange meetings, often fruitful, with powerful people in dysfunctional Washington, than it is to meet with supposedly-sympathetic New Mexicans -- especially in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

In New Mexico there is a great deal of silence -- from citizens, environmentalists, progressives, and churches. Silence, and taboo topics, discussion of which would require (and enable) actual change in our politics.

We would like you to help deepen dialogue in our communities, by inviting us to speak and discuss with you, your friends, your churches, your environmental groups, your political groups (in all parties).

To take one example, in the "progressive" community and among Democrats generally, and in environmental groups, there is a telling silence about militarism, war, and nuclear weapons -- the latter being New Mexico's special responsibility -- even though there is no chance whatsoever that any significant progressive gains can be made without dethroning the war machine from the apex of American society. Martin Luther King
calledit a "demonic, destructive suction tube" of war, which draws "men and skills and money" (it certainly does in New Mexico) -- "an enemy of the poor." By 1967, King understood that "America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor" as long as its military adventures continued.

Is this not self-evident? If so, why is it not discussed? Why is there not more impatience with militarism? Supporting nuclear weapons and war is not a "lesser evil." These are gateway evils.

Is it just because there is no draft other than the "poverty draft," that New Mexico progressives cannot find the gumption to oppose the two nuclear weapons enthusiasts we have sent to the Senate, who never saw a nuclear bomb they didn't like?

Bernie Sanders and his ilk are certainly no help. Quoting now from an October 20 article by Paul Street, "The Not-So-Radical “Socialist” From Vermont,"

Sadly and predictably enough,  Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution says nothing – and I really mean nothing – about the giant U.S. Pentagon System, which carries the world’s single largest institutional carbon footprint while paying for  at least 800 military bases spread across more than 80 foreign countries and  keeping (in David Vine’s words) “troops or other military personnel in about 160 foreign countries and territories.”  You will search the book’s index and text in vain for the following words and phrases: “Pentagon,” “Pentagon System,” “Empire,” “imperialism,” “military,” “militarism,” “military-industrial complex,” or even just “foreign policy” (also absent, by the way, is “capitalism”). And here’s a missing term from the Guide’s “Glossary of Economic Terms”: “Military Keynesianism.”

These are all-too predictable if major deletions.  Bernie “F-35” Sanders (the epically wasteful F-35 was a “job creator” in his home state) remains dysfunctionally wedded to the U.S. Empire, which accounts for more than 40 percent of homo sapiens’ blood-drenched military budget. The Empire attachment is a huge mistake, both morally and practically.  As the leading and unabashedly radical writer, speaker and activist Glen Ford noted on Black Agenda Report last June:

“The United States does not have a national health care system worthy of the name, because it is in the war business, not the health business or the social equality business. … In the U.S., progress is defined by global dominance of the U.S. State—chiefly in military terms—rather than domestic social development. … War is not a side issue in the United States; it is the central political issue, on which all the others turn. War mania is the enemy of all social progress—especially so, when it unites disparate social forces, in opposition to their own interests, in the service of an imperialist state that is the tool of a rapacious white capitalist elite.” (emphasis added)

But why pick on Bernie? This continent-wide blind spot is nearly universal among Democrats, if the blog posts, platform outlines, etc. I see are any indication. The Democratic Party is very much a war party now. Not one Democrat in either house voted against the Russia/Iran/North Korea sanctions bill. Are there any doves left?

In the "environmental" and "climate" community, meanwhile, ecological thinking has grown rare. We get more political thinking, and especially on climate and energy, more wishful thinking (which is not thinking at all). Science somehow got lost on the way to the bulk mailing center, or the latest Facebook post.

Most of our incomplete thinking can be traced to insufficient dialogue. We are socially atomized -- in large part by the same technologies that are destroying the planet. We aren't thinking together, which is necessary to develop con-science, what we know together.

With regard to ecological thinking, I would like to quote at length from an essay by Erik Lindberg from a few days ago ("Transition Sacred," October 16, 2017).

The goal of environmentalism is of course to “save the Earth” or “save Humanity.”  These are not bad goals, per se, but in the hands of liberal environmentalists they are misguided in a number of ways.  The most critical error is the almost-never-questioned belief that saving humanity or the Earth actually means preserving our high-energy way of life, hopefully without destroying our common home’s current ecological balance in the process.  This will be done, we are told, by trading in our coal-powered electrical generation for wind and solar, while swapping-out our internal combustion engines for the electric ones we might plug into our new carbon-free energy system.  Add in some Silicon Valley wizardry, and (so the story goes) we can make this all operate at a level of efficiency that will presumably also help us manage forests, stop soil erosion, preserve biodiversity and habitat, while we continue to grow the economy so that free-market democracy (one without any rationing or reinstitution of virtues such as temperance or moderation) can continue on its merry way, offering us a future that looks like the present, only in real-time higher resolution.

I can’t help but wonder whether I should laugh or cry when I hear or read about the so-called people’s climate march or about most[ii] environmental protesters in general — the sort who might follow the increasingly misguided (and misleading) false prophecy of the likes of Bill McKibben, Al Gore, or Leonardo Di Caprio.  For at root, they are in effect protesting one form of energy collection and delivery in favor of a different one.  It is presented as a great struggle over values and vision, though it is not.  If there is faith at stake in the prevailing struggle (and I believe there is) it is a fully shared faith in progress struggling only over esoteric theological details, practical differences between fossil fuels and renewable energy notwithstanding.  True each side draws upon differing versions of capitalism and Liberal democracy and some (not entirely unimportant) symbolic and aesthetic differences. And it is also true that many environmentalists love and cherish nature in some way or another and would like to see it preserved.  But unquestioned in mainstream environmental movements are the more fundamental values surrounding the quest for mastery and domination over the Earth’s natural systems; the pursuit of comfort, entertainment, and novelty; the securing of safety and convenience in the face of all the ravages of time and, ultimately, death.  All we see are slightly differing versions of salvation through conquest and mastery.

Neither “side,” then, is interested in questioning the values of instrumental reason as the ultimate guide for most life-choices, nor in questioning whether fundamental life-choices might be more than a matter of “style.”  No one, here, questions whether one should be allowed to buy and corner as much of the world’s bounty as he or she can.  You never hear any murmurs of discontent at climate marches over the fact that Americans make up about 6% of the world’s population but use about a quarter of the Earth’s energy and natural resources.  These marchers are the global 1%[iii] and they have every intention of remaining so.  They certainly are not there to protest against themselves.  Many so-called progressives may say they would never be so selfish and shortsighted as to blow the tops off mountains just so that they can keep their Netflix up and running; but, I suspect, this is mainly because they are so utterly convinced that there is an alternative way to high-energy salvation.   Renewable energy, Thoreau would say, provides “an improved means to an unimproved end.”

Liberal environmentalism, then, is not really directed towards “saving humanity” in any of many ways this phrase might be used.[iv]  Rather, it is geared towards saving the liberal, capitalist, and consumerist world order; it hopes to preserve our freedom to consume[v] as we currently do.  The argument is only how we might best do that.  For this reason, the “debate” between the fossil fuel Cornucopians and the wind and solar Cornucopians is about as interesting and relevant as the “less filling/tastes great” mock argument of actors and celebrities pretending to be Miller Lite drinkers a few decades ago.  The swilling will continue either way.  The contest between environmentalists and their foes is, in other words, hardly a battle over values.  It is a pragmatic and instrumental contest over the best way to maintain our current way of life. The debate focusses mainly on our choice of delivery systems[vi] in a world where people believe that love makes a Subaru, as the advertisement preaches.

Speaking of wishful thinking, sometimes we hear about somebody's plan for a "100% renewable" future. Nearly always this refers to electricity, only. Even this isn't really possible at anything approaching present overall consumption rates, far less the transformation of 100% of the other forms of energy Americans use domestically (see this), while also replacing the embodied energy in the imported stuff we buy (and/or the stuff itself).

Don't get me wrong. "We" -- but not you and I -- will certainly get to a 100% renewable way of life all right, assuming anyone is still alive. 

Wishful thinking doesn't work, you see. It hurts us. It hurts the world. It hurts vulnerable species. It hurts the poor. It keeps us from the commitment we need. Jason Hickel:

A recent paper in the journal Nature estimates that our chances of keeping global warming below the danger threshold of 2 degrees is now vanishingly small: only about 5 per cent. It’s more likely that we’re headed for around 3.2 degrees of warming, and possibly as much as 4.9 degrees. If scientists are clear about anything, it’s that this level of climate change will be nothing short of catastrophic. Indeed, there’s a good chance that it would render large-scale civilization impossible.

Why are our prospects so bleak? According to the paper’s authors, it’s because the cuts we’re making to greenhouse gas emissions are being more than cancelled out by economic growth. In the coming decades, we’ll be able to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2 per unit of GDP) of the global economy by about 1.9 per cent per year, they say, if we make heavy investments in clean energy and efficient technology. That’s a lot. But as long as the economy keeps growing by more than that, total emissions are still going to rise. Right now we’re ratcheting up global GDP by 3 per cent per year. At that rate, the maths is not in our favour; on the contrary, it’s slapping us in the face.

In fact, according to new models published last year, with a background rate of 3 per cent GDP growth it’s not possible to achieve any level of emissions reductions at all, even under best-case-scenario conditions. Study after study shows the same thing: keeping global warming below 2 degrees is simply not compatible with continued economic growth.

This is a tough pill to swallow. After all, right now GDP growth is the primary policy objective of virtually every government on Earth. Over in Silicon Valley, tech-optimists are hoping that a miracle of artificial intelligence might allow us to decarbonise the economy by 3 per cent or more per year, so we can continue growing the GDP while reducing emissions. It sounds wonderful. But remember, the goal is not just to reduce carbon emissions – the goal is to reduce them dramatically, and fast. How fast, exactly? Climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows say that if we want to have even a mere 50 per cent chance of staying under 2 degrees, rich nations are going to have to cut emissions by 8-10 per cent per year, beginning in 2015.  Keep in mind we’re already two years in, and so far our emissions reductions have been zero.

Why aren't there more conversations about this? In churches, in the public squares, in the newspapers? We want to be part of those conversations.

None of it is really all that new. Ted Trainer's 1985 analysis still stands up well. We've been discussing this stuff in the Study Group for more than a decade. Me, for nearly five decades in one way or another.

We all need to talk. To listen. To have difficult conversations. To awaken our churches. To throw off the passivity and despair that lurks underneath all the wishful thinking. To get past the purity trips, the virtue signaling, the classism. We are in this together.

To do that, and to do other rewarding things as well, we need serious volunteers. So do other organizations. To work on the outer layers of the policy onion -- which are almost easy, if one is patient and persistent.

Thank you for reading.


Greg, for the Study Group

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