11 12 2009

I am amazed and dismayed at how difficult it can be to get some people to cut loose of a bad idea.  Sometimes it’s local–like the May family’s recent hiring of a notorious  zoning attorney to work on getting their “Maytown Center” fantasyland approved.  Sometimes it’s national–like all the people who project their liberal expectations on Barack Obama and keep urging him to stand up and roar, when the reality is that he’s just a pussycat in Wall Street’s lap, and no more likely to pounce on Wall Street, the insurance/pharmaceutical establishment, the military establishment, or America’s carbon- and credit happy way of life than your cat is likely to pounce on you and eat you for breakfast.

And that brings us to the climate talks in Copenhagen.  Prospects do not look good for a serious, binding treaty, and why?  Two main reasons: the first is that big corporations are addicted to short-term profits and have the political clout to make sure that nothing interferes with their money fix.  The second is that we, the people of the United States, or “estamos jodidos“, as they say in Mexico, are  addicted to our petroleum-inflated, corporate-backed standard of living, and will happily vote out of office or ignore any politician who attempts to interfere with our comfort fix.  Ask Jimmy Carter, Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, or Cynthia McKinney.

Thus, we have the irony that many of those who excoriated the Bush junta for dissing “the reality-based community” are now themselves out of touch with hard, physical reality.  The hard, physical reality is that the climate is changing much faster than the IPCC predicted it would.  The hard, physical reality is that the planet’s carbon dioxide level passed the threshold of safety at 350 parts per million, and agreements that “hold” us to 450 ppm will not prevent massive, catastrophic changes to the only planet we have to live on.  Nature bats last, she doesn’t negotiate, and she doesn’t care how much some pundits fume about East Anglian emails.

But the wealthy elite who dominate our political system don’t seem to get this.  They think that the “political reality” that serious climate change legislation won’t fly trumps the “physical reality” of impending disaster, so if we can’t shut down every coal plant in the US and China in the next three years, if we don’t stop deforesting the tropics for grazing land and Canada for tar sand, if we don’t stop acidifying the oceans before we kill off the phytoplankton that provide 70% of our oxygen, it’s OK.

It’s not OK.  Maybe the plutocrats who run the big businesses of the world think their wealth will permanently insulate them from the consequences of their inaction.  In the long run, they are very, very wrong.

But in the short run, which unfortunately is all that counts for most people, it has been true.  Those who are suffering the most from climate change, or who are about to suffer the most from climate change, live in the third world, while it is we in the first world, with our material addictions, who have triggered  the catastrophe.  Geography insulates us from them.  Hurricane Katrina was an early warning, a reminder that calamity can strike America, too, and we should not let the fact that the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since then lull us into a false sense of security.

If, as seems likely, there is neither an agreement nor even an agreement to come to agreement as a result of Copenhagen, there is one deus ex machina that might derail catastrophic climate change, and that is economic collapse, which has already idled thousands of oceangoing cargo vessels worldwide, and at least slowed down that once fast-growing source of carbon emissions, which along with international airlines, was exempted from control under the so-called Kyoto accords.

Economic collapse has all but shut down urban sprawl in the US.  Home construction was the last big domestic industry possible in this country, since you can’t readily build homes in China and ship them here, and even building materials imported from China turn out to be suspect, as the recent flap over weird sheetrock demonstrates.

And, if the Chinese and Indians try to keep their economies (and carbon emissions) strong by developing their domestic economies, they will first find themselves up against the hard reality of spiraling oil prices and diminishing oil supplies, and then they will have to deal with their countries becoming uninhabitable as the Himalayan glaciers melt off over the next thirty years, drying up the sources of all of both countries’ major rivers.  Ooops….where’s a sixth of the world’s population gonna go when they get thirsty?   And, considering how much the US owes China, are we gonna be able to tell them no, they can’t come here?  Yes, the stage is set for chaos, boys and girls….

And the US government is gridlocked.  The “solutions” they pass in Congress are pitiful.  It’s not about what the Repugs won’t let the Dims do.  That’s a puppet show, and the puppet master has a Repug puppet on his right hand and a Dim puppet on his left, and we’re supposed to believe they’re really different.  The gridlock is that the wealthy, who are creating and benefitting from the mess the planet is in, won’t let the government do anything that is against their interest.  Forget “We, the people.”  It’s “We, the rich people, ” and they are determined to keep their priviliges no matter what.

“Green corporations” are a crock.   Walmarts with “green roofs” and massive energy conservaton systems and recycling, even if they’re full of “green products” are still part of the problem, not part of the solution, because they are still designed to pump money out of communities and into the hands of shareholders. It’s not just about changing content, it’s about changing form.  Once upon a time, the dinosaurs were so big and ferocious that  us mammals could barely hang on. Then the planet went through some sudden changes, and the dinosaurs’ size and inflexibility worked against their ability to adapt.   We’re approaching a similar point, but the dinosaurs of this age are the legal fictions of giant corporations and national governments.

What this means for you and me is that it’s time to take things into our own hands.  No, I don’t mean let’s go burn down Brentwood,  Temporarily thrilling as that might be, it would create a lot more problems than it would solve.  I mean let’s get together with our friends and neighbors and figure out what we can do together to get ready for the  excrement that’s already hit the fan.  Let’s turn our lawns into gardens and build henhouses and keep milk cows, let’s learn to make, make do, and do without.

This is going to seem terribly futile from a certain perspective.  BIg changes are afoot, and I’m telling you to grow beans?  And to that, I can only reply with trite maxims like “Start where you are,”  or “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  Trite, but true.

I know it’s short notice, but I’ll be getting together with some old and new friends Monday night here in Nashville, 7:30 to 9,  to continue the discussion of what we can actually do…..go to and send a “contact” email to rsvp, and you’ll get directions.  Thinking globally, acting locally, y’know?

Ah, this just in–according to our Copenhagen correspondent Albert Bates, US EPA administrator Carol Jackson has announced that, no matter what Congress does or doesn’t do, the EPA will regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and that US emissions will be going down.  A bold move, or at least a bold gesture.  Call me cynical, but I have to wonder how long it will take the Congressional coal&oil caucus to muzzle her efforts, and maybe even give her the Van Jones treatment.  Stay tuned….

music:  Jefferson Airplane, “Crown of Creation”


6 04 2008

Just as the failure of the Basra offensive may signal the beginning of the end for US involvement in Iraq, so Walmart’s decision to cut back on new store openings may signal the beginning of the end for our stupid consumer economy. From Huffpost:

According to a list released this week, Wal-Mart Stores has abandoned a record-shattering 45 proposed projects over the past 10 months — often leaving local officials dejected and confused. Another 19 Wal-Mart projects have been killed by local citizen’s groups. In total, the world’s largest retailer has suffered an historic loss of 64 projects.


and here, from the pen of Frank Rich, is the New Yawk Times Official Announcement that the pooch has been screwed in Iraq:

In Mr. Bush’s telling, Basra was a “defining moment in the history of a free Iraq.” He praised the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and boasted repeatedly that the Iraqi forces were fighting “in the lead.” The Pentagon spokesman declared that this splendid engagement was “a byproduct of the success of the surge.”

It was a defining moment all right. Mr. Maliki’s impulsive and ill-planned attempt to vanquish the militias in southern Iraq loyal to his Shiite rival, the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, was a failure that left Mr. Sadr more secure than before. Though some Iraqi armed forces were briefly in the lead, others mutinied. Eventually American and British forces and air power had to ride to the rescue in both Basra and Baghdad. Even then, the result was at best a standoff, with huge casualties. The battle ended only when Mr. Maliki’s own political minions sought a cease-fire.



3 02 2008

from the story, entitled, “An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton”:

Since the late 1990s (about when industrial agriculture took hold in India),166,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide and 8 million have left the land.

Farmers in Europe, Asia, Africa, Indonesia,South America, Central
America and here, have protested Monsanto and genetic engineering for years.

What does this have to do with you?

You have connections to Monsanto through the Rose Law Firm where you worked and through Bill who hired Monsanto people for central food-related roles. Your Orwellian-named “Rural Americans for Hillary” was planned withTroutman Sanders, Monsanto’s lobbyists.

Genetic engineering and industrialized food and animal production all come together at the Rose Law Firm, which represents the world’s largest GE corporation (Monsanto), GE’s most controversial project (DP&L’s – now Monsanto’s – terminator genes), the world’s largest meat producer (Tyson), the world’s largest retailer and a dominant food retailer (Walmart)

So that’s what we’re voting for if we elect Ms. Clinton. Get it?


6 10 2006

William McDonough, the renowned advocate of sustainable development, paid a visit to Nashville recently. I wish I’d been there, but I’m having to settle for a friend’s account of what he said—many Nashville publications announced his talk, but none of them reported on the talk itself. My friend said he does his best to stay technical and avoid any kind of politics—he mentioned that for a mere four billion dollars (which we’re burning up in a blink of an eye in Iraq) China could be set up to manufacture solar panels at a rate and price that would make them highly attractive to U.S. buyers, creating four jobs installing and maintaining solar panels in the U.S. for every job making solar panels in China. He didn’t address the question of what we’re going to use for money to buy solar panels from China or to hire Americans to install them after we totally blow our wad on Iraq.

He pointed out that China’s growth rate is going to demand housing for another four hundred million people—more than the entire population of the United States—in just the next seven years, and that’s why forests all over the world are going bye-bye. That question was of serious concern to him, and he is attempting to address it.

Mr. McDonough is trying to do what he can to make China’s expansion sustainable. Technological sustainability is his thing, and I agree that it’s very important. He not only believes that everything should be recycled, he finds ways to change manufacturing processes and ingredients so it can happen. This is a good thing. But I think he’s leaving an important component of sustainability out of the equation—the human element.

A reporter from the Sydney, Australia, Morning Herald visited the Chinese “model village” McDonough has helped create, and found a great deal lacking in the execution of McDonough’s wonderful plan. Home building was being done by a private contractor who had changed the construction material from straw bale to cinder blocks made from coal dust, which may create indoor air pollution. The contractor was building the houses without solar orientation, solar panels, or insulation, all of which McDonough had called for, and they all lacked the garden space that Chinese peasants traditionally appreciate having around their dwellings. Beats a run to the supermarket, y’know? Speaking of runs to the supermarket, the homes were all equipped with attached garages, although nobody in the village owns, or can afford, an automobile, and the homes were priced well out of reach of the local villagers, who all complained that the houses were not appropriate for their lifestyle and that nobody involved with the project had consulted them about their needs and wishes.

The contracor’s response to the local community’s criticism of his project, and lack of investment in it, has been, according to the Herald, to start lobbying local authorities to force the villagers to move into the houses he’s building. Hey, that’s how they do things in China. Mr. McDonough’s projects here in the states seem to have worked a little better than this Chinese boondoggle, but his work over here involves only the wealthy and the willing, so far.

Mr. McDonough said in an interview that his goal is to create, “a delightfully diverse, safe, healthy, and just world, with clean air, soil, water, and power — economically, equitably, ecologically, and elegantly enjoyed, period. What’s not to like?” Well, from the way the China project is going, a little more justice and a healthy helping of democracy wouldn’t hurt—and, by the way, in all the research I did on him, this was the only time I heard him mention the word “justice”–and it was in Business Week Magazine.

Speaking of democracy, it’s also the element lacking in the continuing Walmart makeover, which is leading the company to do everything from cutting the amount of packaging it uses to selling only sustainably harvested fish to offering low-cost prescription drugs in its pharmacies—which will pull business away from its competitors and make life a little easier for Walmart employees who need prescription medication, since the company’s health plan has a pretty high deductible.

Meanwhile, Walmart continues to treat its employees unfairly just about any way it can, and has decided to increase its percentage of part-time employees so it won’t have to offer benefits to so many people—gee, Scrooge is going green, but he’s still Scrooge. He’s just looking out for his bottom line.

We like to say that we live in a democracy in this country, but democracy ends at the workplace door for most of us. Employers are the moral equivalent of kings—you can only argue with them very gingerly. Your job, your wages, your hours, your working conditions, benefits, vacations—all of that is at their discretion, and we all accept that as a given, unless we are in a union, in which case our union, which is at least theoretically a democracy, has standing to negotiate with the boss. Thus we see that those who advocate against unions are, essentially, advocating feudalism, which is the status quo for the 7/8ths of the American workforce that is not unionised at this point.

Of course, Walmart is not alone in their cavalier treatment of their employees and the communities they invade. They’re just the biggest player in the game. Many environmentalists are excited by Walmart’s move toward green technology because whatever the biggest player in the game does tends to set the standard for how the game gets played. Maybe Walmart’s awakening will extend to respectful relations with its workforce and the communities in which it does business. Sustainable technology without workplace democracy just creates green prisons. W here’s Lech Walesa when we need him?

Music: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, “When the Lie’s So Big


10 02 2006

Governor Bredesen gave his “State of the State” address recently. Compared to W’s recent remarks, Phil’s presentation was the very model of honesty and vision, but there was much he merely put a good face on, and much that he ignored.

Tenncare is, of course, the bull elephant in Tennessee’s parlor, and it was good to hear the Guv tie lifestyle counseling in as part of his health care reform package, but the fact remains that, as a health care millionaire, Bredesen is as responsible for skyrocketing health care costs as anyone. Is Dracula really going to curb the vampire problem?

Bredesen, like Bill Frist, has grown fat by profiting from others’ misfortune. Speaking of ethics reform, how ’bout giving up your ill-gotten gains, Phil? They’d help a lot of poor people stay alive. Phil says he will be proposing major health-care reforms soon, and has proposed a way to cover all the uninsured children in the state, but he’s not getting to the deep issue here—we are caught in the clutches of a for-profit medical system that is geared towards wealth accumulation, not promoting human health.

For example, over the last seven years, four diabetes lifestyle clinics along the line of what Gov. Bredesen seems to be proposing have opened in New York City, but three of them have closed because they lost literally millions of dollars, even though they were doing wonders for the patients who used their services. Healthier diabetics do not need to spend so much money on pills and procedures, and that, in our current economic regime, is not a good thing—it lowers the GNP! Ah, the religion of economics….put wealth before health, kiddies… Insurance companies balk at taking on diabetics, because they are obvious losers from the for-profit company’s point of view. For-profit hospitals must make the best-paying use of their time, and people pay more for kidney dialysis, amputations, and stomach-shrinking operations than they do for diet and exercise counseling.

And people who receive and apply that counseling, not only are lowering the GNP by not consuming so many expensive pills and procedures, they’re weakening the country by not buying the foods that contribute so much to the American economy—pizza, ice cream, cheeseburgers, french fries—excuse me, freedom fries—red meat, wonderbread—all the big contributors to the GOP—I mean GNP –are gonna get hurt if too many people change their diet. And if people are out exercising instead of watching TV, how will we control what they think and how they vote?

The exercise thing must have been a sop, like Bush’s “alcohol from switch grass” line—the very next day, Shrub cut the alternative fuels r&d budget. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Phil’s lifestyle counseling centers. And will health insurance for all of Tennessee’s uninsured kids be insurance that lots of them get put on Ritalin? Stay tuned.

An issue that Gov. Bredesen didn’t touch was the continuing deterioration of small-town life in Tennessee as Walmart continues to suck money out of the state. Sure, they’ve got the lowest prices around, partly because they have such a big, efficient distribution system, and partially because they underpay their employees. And sure, those low prices are a boon to low-income people, but if Walmart wasn’t driving wages down and driving out owner-run retail business, there would be a lot fewer low-income people who need to take advantage of Walmart’s low prices to stretch their shrinking food stamps.

But…what could the State of Tennessee do about Walmart, especially now that it’s ubiquitous?

The most obvious step relates back to the health care question—Gov. Bredesen could ask for legislation requiring all companies over a certain size to provide affordable, comprehensive health care plans to their employees. Yeah, I know that doesn’t establish not-for profit health care, but you gotta start somewhere. For another thing, he could ask for legislation that would, through zoning and tax incentives, work to preserve open land and discourage sprawl, so that the Walmart/strip mall plague doesn’t get any worse.

I think another big/little step would be to use the power, organization, and communication ability of the state government to foster community economic organizing—rather than bringing in outside corporations to provide services and employment in Tennessee’s dying country towns, we need to bring people together in those towns and help them realize their own strengths and their ability to provide for themselves. The Mondragon movement in Spain provides a template for this kind of worker-owned co-operative business. Neighborhood food, clothing, and shelter providers need to become the order of the day, because, as our Junkie-in-Chief put it in his speech, “America is addicted to oil,” and we need to break that addiction before it gets broken for us by crashing oil supplies and skyrocketing prices. When that day comes, Tennessee will, if current trends continue, find itself with an excellent network of four-lane footpaths, at least until the rivers change course and wash out the bridges. Then there will be some job opportunities for ferrypersons.

Phil spoke not a word about peak oil or global warming, nor did he offer anything that even remotely seemed like a way to meet these crises, crises that will turn low high school graduation rates and the so-called “meth epidemic” into the worst problems we wish we had. P.S. to Phil, if you want people to quit screwing around with amphetamines, you could try legalizing marihuana—or even legalizing amphetamine, which was an over-the-counter, cheap, nonprescription drug from its invention in the thirties until the mid-fifties, without producing any noticeable crime wave–not that I’d use it even if it was legal.  But, I digress.

Governor Bredesen could have showed some vision by asking the state legislature to endorse the Kyoto Protocols, or some courage by denouncing the war in Iraq (which, after all, has as much legal basis as the Nazi invasion of Poland!) and announcing that he will no longer allow Tennessee National Guard Troops to be sent over there to get their asses shot off to keep our fear factor government happening. He could have just shown common sense by proposing an initiative to cut Tennessee’s electrical consumption, or to encourage more solar design in all the development that’s eating what’s left of the countryside in this state, but he didn’t do any of those. He gave a nice, business-as-usual, nothing extraordinary about to happen around here speech—but business is not as usual and extraordinary things are coming to pass, and he will go down in history as a man who did nothing to prepare us for it. Sorry, Phil, you flunked.

music:  James McMurtry, “Candyland”


12 12 2005

About 35 years ago, my friends and I came to Tennessee from all around America. We landed in a little place called Lewis County, where nothing much had ever happened—Hohenwald, the county seat, hadn’t even been founded ’till after the Civil War. The lay of the land was steep, narrow ridges and steep, narrow hollows with clear running creeks in them, and oak trees covered everything.

We felt as if we had done the next best thing to leaving the country—we were isolated enough, physically and politically, to be left alone to work out our lives as we saw fit. We delivered, raised, and educated our own children, grew most of our own food (and sometimes didn’t eat all that well). Hohenwald was happy to leave us alone—they didn’t want the burden of extra children in school and an extra culture to deal with. No social workers came knocking on our doors, concerned about what we were doing, and for the most part no law enforcement officers came to investigate the funny smelling smoke that sometimes hung around us and brought a twinkle to our reddened eyes. We were as far back in the woods as a person could get in Tennessee, and we felt mighty, mighty happy about it. Over in Hohenwald, life went on as it always had. Small town merchants, small town banks, a community of people who knew each other and knew each others’ daddies and mommas and children.

Much of the land in Lewis County was owned by these old-time, long-time families. Old people lived on the land and with the land and had the skills they needed to live in a world where you couldn’t just run to the store for everything. We learned a lot from them.

All this started to change in the 1980’s. The old folks died off and their children sold their land to timber companies, who started in clearcutting. The big farmers in the county went under, and their flat, open land was sold for subdivisions and industrial parks. Our 1700 acres was no longer a drop in a sea of green. It became an island in a sea of stumps. Walmart moved into Hohenwald, and sucked the downtown dry. Our friendly banker, who had always been so relaxed about whether we made our monthly payments, was arrested just before boarding a flight to Brazil, and I believe he is in prison still. The bank was taken over by the FDIC, and suddenly our relaxed way of life evaporated and we had to hustle to make payments to keep our land, had to find ways to work with the system we had once aspired to replace.

Now Hohenwald is an outlying suburb of Nashville. There is no food to speak of grown in Lewis County anymore, no local sawmills cutting local trees for local housing. Since NAFTA, the industrial park has emptied out, and there are no jobs outside of the deadend Walmart type. It could be argued that there never were that many jobs to begin with, but there was a community and a culture and a way of life, and all that has been swept aside by pursuit of the almighty dollar. And they call this progress.

If we ever get serious about corporate crime, some corporate persons are going to be put away for the murder of rural America. Lewis County is only one example of a string of serial killings. I would like to break through people’s established patterns of thinking, that cause them to persist in this downward corporate spiral, and give them the Green tools they need to create a truly better future for everyone on this small and limited planet. Sustainability, responsibility, and community can only be created one relationship, one day, at a time. Compared to the rate at which the world is degenerating, it can seem like an agonizingly slow process. But it’s the only thing that will work.

music: Joan Baez, “Children of Darkness”


Hey sweetie, net time is really expensive here in McLeod Ganj so I haven’t read your entry properly. But India is hell bent on going the same way as the US, in half the time, with about 100 times the population. They are embracing slash and burn consumerism so fast, and complain that we’re hypocrites for criticizing them. However, there’s 1 BILLION of them so even half that many people consuming on a US level will be devastating. Already the # of individually owned vehicles is skyrocketing thanks to the new prosperity, with very few emissions laws to protect the lungs of ordinary people riding bicycles through the smoggy streets. Just went to Delhi and the smog was unbearable. Thirty years ago a lot of these folks didn’t know what money was. I guess I am a condescending neocolonial for thinking that in some ways they were better off. love, CM
Posted by sirensongs on 12/24/2005 08:10:59 AM

one way or another, the human population of the planet WILL decline….
Posted by brothermartin on 12/24/2005 10:24:38 PM

%d bloggers like this: