Sunday, May 18, 2008

Can’t Get No Respect

Imagine my surprise when I browsed a news rack and came across this cover of Time magazine:

The image called up memories of working at the light table, charcoal pencil in hand, on a mid-November night in 1989, when I drew this:

The charcoal drawing appeared as the cover of the Natural Rights Center annual report, published just before Thanksgiving in 1989 (and incidentally, copyrighted to the Natural Rights Center), and later in the first printing of Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What You Can Do (1990, also copyrighted). I used it in posters for speaking events, book flyers and other places. Apologies to the late Joe Rosenthal, who won a Pulitzer and a Marine Corps medal for posing the original photo.

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I guess I should be flattered, but as I read the Bryan Walsh story that accompanied the image, I was disappointed.

To their credit, I have to say Time is getting better. We have come a long way from 1989, when Time was still calling the greenhouse effect the greenhouse “theory,” as if higher life-forms could exist on Earth without it.

Here is some of what Time is saying in 2008:
“The steady deterioration of the very climate of our very planet is becoming a war of the first order, and by any measure, the U.S. is losing. … Forget precedents like the Manhattan Project, which developed the atom bomb, or the Apollo program that put men on the moon — single-focus programs both, however hard they were to pull off. Think instead of the overnight conversion of the World War II era industrial sector into a vast machine capable of churning out 60,000 tanks and 300,000 planes, an effort that not only didn't bankrupt the nation but instead made it rich and powerful beyond its imagining and — oh, yes — won the war in the process.

“Halting climate change will be far harder than even that. ... No one yet has a comprehensive plan for how we could do so again….”
The whole business about reducing carbon pollution hurting the environment is a Red Scare concocted by right wing think tanks and championed by Blue Dog Democrats. It is ridiculous on its face, as Jonathan Rowe told Senate Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce on March 12,
“We hear, for example, that efforts to address climate change will hurt ‘the economy.’ Does that mean that if we clean up the air we will spend less money treating asthma in young kids? The atmosphere is part of the economy too — the real economy, that is, not the artificial construct portrayed by the GDP. It does real work, as we would discover quickly if it were to collapse. … [I]f we burn less gas, and thus maintain the crucial functions of the atmosphere, we say ‘the economy’ has suffered, even though the real economy has been enhanced.”
And yet, here is Time’s enviro-editor Walsh, parroting the party line, which is embodied in the Lieberman-Warner bill, a profligate piece of polluter pork that would raise taxes to bribe industries to reduce their carbon footprint, rather than just capping emissions and charging those who sully the commons. Reports Walsh:
“A new study by the National Association of Manufacturers, an industry trade group, estimates that Lieberman-Warner would cost the U.S. up to 4 million jobs by 2030 while eroding GDP by up to $669 billion per year.
“If we took all the steps outlined here—a national cap-and-trade system with teeth, coupled with tougher energy-efficiency mandates and significant new public and private investment in green technologies—where would that get us? We'd be a little poorer—a sustained battle against climate change will hit our wallets hard, absorbing perhaps 2% to 3% of GDP a year for some time….”
This thing we call the Gross Domestic Product doesn’t care if money is being spent on good things like renewables (5 billion) or bad things like the War in Iraq (3 trillion and counting). It measures throughput, and the more that zips through, for whatever purpose, GDP goes up. So why wouldn’t re-tooling Detroit to make solar cars make GDP go up? Why wouldn’t a program to rebuild the rail and barge infrastructure? Well of course they would.

Next to the image of the Marines raising the tree, on that November 1989 cover, I wrote this passage, lifted from the galleys of my book, Climate in Crisis:
"The defense of Europe, the amount spent by both NATO and the Warsaw Pact to guard against aggression by the other, is now $600 billion per year. According to studies by the Worldwatch Institute, the World Resources Institute, and others, the total needed to turn the world's environmental crisis around — to reduce topsoil loss, reforest the earth, raise energy efficiency, reduce population growth, and move towards a sustainable supply of food and water — is only slightly more than one tenth of that amount. About $ 774 billion will be needed to be spent during the decade of the 1990s. If $7.74 of every one hundred dollars spent on international arms and militarism were sequestered and the revenue directed to more productive purposes, the climate crisis could be abated. Seven percent is roughly the same amount as a typical state's sales tax."

To put this more into context, only a week before I wrote that, the East German government announced that visits between East and West Germany would be permitted, and as Natural Rights went to press, the Berlin Wall was beginning to be chipped for souvenirs. A year later, there was only one Germany.

So, what did we do with the “peace dividend” — reduce topsoil loss, reforest the earth, raise energy efficiency, reduce population growth? No. Bush, Sr. went to the Earth Summit and told the rest of the world to take a hike: climate change is hooey. And in the following two decades, we may have sealed the fate of the Earth, Bill Clinton no less than the two Bushes.

So if imitation is the highest form of flattery, then imitate this, Mr. Walsh. A few years after that annual report, I retired from the practice of law and took up permaculture, full time. I started the Ecovillage Training Center, and the people we've trained here in the past dozen or more years have now started training centers of their own in Brazil, Palestine, Canada, Africa, and many other places. Those centers are reducing topsoil loss, reforesting the earth, raising energy awareness, and reducing population growth. Personally, I planted a garden, got a solar-electric car, and rode a bicycle.

You want to imitate, Mr. Walsh? Do that. Ride a bicycle. It will stimulate the economy.

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