climate change

What We Have In Common With Jeb

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush (Image (c) The Atlantic 2015)

Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush (Image (c) The Atlantic 2015)

By JT Haines — July 15, 2015

Presidential candidate Jeb Bush says we should work more hours. Fortunately, “Jeb!” has been appropriately chastened, with many pointing out (among other things) that Americans already work a ton of hours and productivity gains have gone to the 1%.

But while inartful and misguided, Jeb’s comments also reflect a sacred goal that is actually shared by most in American politics, including those doing the chastening: Growth.

The examples are everywhere. Minneapolis’ Democratic Mayor Betsy Hodges — the same mayor who has recently been invited to the Vatican to discuss climate change — had this to say at her inaugural address last year:

“To grow our city, and make it more than great, means above all that we must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis, with the greatest density along transit corridors.” [MinnPost]

The current population of Minneapolis is 400,000.

Twin Cities, MN, traffic. 5:08PM, today, July 14, 2015.

Twin Cities, MN, traffic. 5:08PM, July 14, 2015.

Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why mayors trumpet growth. The whole system relies on it, and Mayor Hodges still needs to show up for work in the morning.

But how does growth align with the real world in the broader sense? In addition to the increasing social pressures and infrastructure costs that accompany population growth — which seem to go under-appreciated by elected officials seeking to increase budgets — we are faced with a much larger problem as well.

By that I mean, it’s odd, to say the least, to receive the daily mythology about growth alongside the increasing number of articles about climate change, drought, and population overshoot.

The same day I read about Jeb’s comments, I also took note of Dahr Jamail’s article in Truthout entitled “Mass Extinction: It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The article is about University of Arizona Ecology Professor Guy McPherson and his research on the possibility/likelihood of near term human extinction. (Sorry, say again?) Prof. McPherson says “we’re in serious population overshoot,” and that “our version of civilization is the least sustainable of them all.”

Yet, the received political debate is whether poorer Americans should work more to achieve an extra two percentage points of GDP growth (and accompanying emissions), not whether growth itself.

The usefulness of Jeb’s “work more” comment, while idiotic on several levels, is that it exposes a fundamental contraction which we all perpetrate: Hard facts about the planet and prescriptions about growth simply do not align.

Of course, what to do about that is the question, but at the very least it’s time to blow the idea door wide open. The New Economics Foundation has proposed a 20-hour work week. That’s an idea. Unless you’re one of the saintly and indispensable among us who work 1 on 1 with real human beings every day, we could probably actually use less of what you’re selling. In today’s context, these things are not radical (more likely radically insufficient), Jeb is.

So slow down if you can manage. Do something close to home with the family. And as always, don’t believe the hype.

This piece also appeared in MinnPost on July 20, 2015.

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Showing Up (at the Keystone XL Rally)

By JT Haines, February 20, 2013

I went to 350.org’s Forward on Climate Rally in Washington DC on Sunday, the stated goal of which was to demand action from the White House on climate change and to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Yes to both! The pipeline is a disaster, and another glaring opportunity to start in earnest the magnificent course correct this moment requires. Taking that truth to be, as I do, overwhelmingly self-evident, this post is rather about reaction to the event.photo (2)

Predictably, it was met with a certain amount of criticism, including from folks who otherwise agree with the goals. Michael Swanson at warisacrime.org counts himself among the underwhelmed. To him, the rally was “packaged as a belated campaign event” and should have “simply demanded the protection of our climate.” (I don’t agree that it was the former, or that it did not do the latter, but I do share some of his concerns.) Here’s a sampling of some other criticisms: It was not “Gandhian” enough. It was too phony, or too partisan. It wasn’t disobedient enough. We should be protesting militarism instead. There weren’t enough people there (350.org asserts 40,000). Too few news outlets were covering the event. The President wasn’t even in town. (He was, according to HuffPo, playing golf with Tiger and “oil men.”)

Each of these concerns merits discussion. After all, whatever we choose to do or not do, we’re expending time, money and energy. And for my part, I certainly have moments — perhaps while plodding along a pre-approved march route with someone screaming “this is what democracy looks like” in my ear as if that’s doing much other than making it harder to enjoy participating in same — when I consider whether it’s worth it, or whether it will amount to anything more than a hill of beans.

That said, my thinking on this day was, I’m going to go stand with several thousand people (or as Casey Camp from the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma put it, her relatives…which I love) and demand action on climate change from a guy who was at that moment golfing, whatever the result. Would my time have been better spent volunteering somewhere, or staging a one-man sit-in on the street corner, or even resting up on the couch for the next one, or for nothing at all? Except for that last bit, I honestly don’t claim to know. Maybe, after some further discussion, a better option will present itself. And it’s clearly important to at least be aware of our own limits. But on this particular day, this is what I did, and that’s sort of that.

One day I asked my friend Joel — one of the more effective Battle-Ax Boomers I know — about his general approach, and he said, “I keep showing up.”

Indeed.

Post-script: I’d be remiss to not also mention that, while not perfect, the event was still quite good. And some of the speeches — especially from the First Nation and tribal elders — were excellent. Here’s a sampling of additional coverage from Salon, the Nation (which, unlike others, actually grasped the nuance of the re-appropriated campaign slogan and logo), Truthdig, Democracy Now, and War is a Crime. And here’s an article from my bus friends, in Westchester New York’s Rivertowns Patch.

Feb 17 Rally (photo credit Len Tsou from the Westchester Bus)

Feb 17 Rally (photo credit Len Tsou from the Westchester Bus)

On Liberalism’s Limits

Reinhold Niebuhr “knew that traditional liberalism was a useless force in moments of extremity. Liberalism, Niebuhr said, ‘lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. It is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history.'”

From Chris Hedges’ recent Truthdig column, “A Time for Sublime Madness.”

How much time?

How much time do we have? Is it too late?

“Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you’re done.”

One of the better responses to these questions I’ve seen.

(Paul Hawken via JNP, Authentic Hope, p. 48 )

Introduction

In 1984 I was 10. At night, in my light blue second floor bedroom, I sometimes thought about tornadoes and nuclear war. I liked the sound of the taconite train in the near distance. In summer, my bedtime was 9. But it stayed light later, and I could hear the kids still playing outside my window.

It was a simpler age, but I had an inkling. Among other things, I hated pollution. And I thought the president should reduce military spending since we already had enough missiles to blow up the world many times over – including my light blue bedroom. I thought, I’m 10.

Well here we are, almost thirty rapacious years later, and allow me to say goddammit. Goddammit I say. So, tiny apologies for the attitude. Welcome to whytheattitude.com.