Saturday, January 23, 2010

For whom were you weeping?

For the past nine days as people were pulled alive or dead from the rubble following the devastating earthquake in Haiti and its aftermath, we have been unwilling to speak. It seemed the most respectful thing to do was to abandon the usual themes of this journal and simply be silent. 

We have ridden a roller coaster of emotions. We cried when watching the interview with the young nursing student who had to drink the blood of those who were dying nearby under rubble so she could stay alive despite her crushed skull. We were angry when we saw our government, in whom we had invested such hope only one year ago, repeat the same scenes we had witnessed in New Orleans, landing combat troops in the place of doctors, in fact, keeping planes with doctors and nurses circling over the airport, or diverted to the Dominican Republic 3 days distant by land, so that the United States could land 2000 troops to point their guns at poor black people who only want water.

“We have had five patients in Martissant health center die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for the MSF’s Choscal Hospital in Cite Soleil. “I have never seen anything like this.”

We had. It was a Superdome deja vú moment.

We were disgusted when we saw the stupid comments of newsers, pundits and bloggers that the real danger was rioting, the Devil, or convicts loose in the street, even though 80 percent of those imprisoned by the puppet government were never charged of a crime, many having been champions of democracy sent to rot in indefinite detention after the most-recent US organized coup d’etat in 2004. Why has Haiti rioted in the past? That’s why. This is a proud country, one in which survivors who are extracted from the rubble after a week with broken bones poking through their skin, or crushed skulls, sing joyfully as their stretchers are carried away.

Positive action is the best therapy for our emotions, much better than casting blame, and we have been supporting Jan Lundberg’s call to fast and donate the money saved from buying food, the music benefit being put on by The Farm and others for organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, and the efforts of small and nimble aid groups like Plenty to slide through bottlenecks and get the aid where it is most needed.

In our silence, meditating on the depths of horror, and what it may foretell of the kind of a world we are leaving to our grandchildren, we were taken back to a Joseph-Campbell-like lecture by Alan Watts on the mythology of Hinduism that we first heard in 1966 (now released on CD and podcast). Alan Watts:

When Narada came to Vishnu and said, “What is the secret of your Maya (illusion of separateness)?” Vishnu took him and threw him into a pool. And the moment he fell under the pool he was born as a princess in a very great family, and went through all the experiences of childhood and being a little girl, finally married to a prince from another kingdom and she went to live with him in his kingdom.

And they were in tremendous prosperity, and palaces and peacocks and all that sort of thing, then suddenly there was a war, and their kingdom was attacked and utterly destroyed, and the prince himself was killed in battle. And so he was cremated, and she, as a dutiful wife, was about to throw herself, weeping, on the funeral pyre and burn herself, an act of sadhi or self-sacrifice, when suddenly, Narada woke to find himself being pulled out of the pool by his hair.

And Vishnu said, “For whom were you weeping?”

Put slightly differently, by that ol’ Hindu scholar Garth Brooks,

“Yes my life is better left to chance;
I could have missed the pain but I'd have had to miss the dance”

This does not mean that we should ignore suffering, or cease in our efforts to alleviate it, only that we should recognize that suffering exists, is unavoidable, and this, too, will pass. How we behave, in this knowledge, matters. That is a lesson we all can learn from those victims, pulled from the rubble, singing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Collapsing Consensus

"Responsible officials can discuss none of this in public lest investors lose their nerve and head for the exits. But a conversation that excludes such essential realities is delusional."
— Richard Heinberg, MuseLetter

Mark Twain famously wrote that "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts." We started out our talk at the Church of Scientology in Nashville Tuesday night by noting that it was more difficult to talk about climate issues in the United States because the matrix was so thick here. That was also the point our first questioner returned to, so we knew we had struck a nerve.

Trying to describe what information flow is like outside the full-surround sound of American media (and here we include our Latin half, because, apart from some islands of free speech, it is all controlled by the same business interests) is like trying to describe to an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea what the internet is. They have no reference.

When we said that CNN in Europe gave a completely different side of the news than CNN in the US, we saw nods from those who had been to Europe recently. We saw skepticism on the faces of many others. But it’s true. CNN in Europe actually covers climate change as an ongoing story. They actually mention the conviction of 11 CIA agents in Italy for illegal rendition flights. They do features on peak oil, peak water, and peak coal. And CNN is not even the best at reporting these stories; there are many others who do a better job, like Al-Jazeera and The Guardian.

One has to wonder what happens when a story like the CIA convictions reaches the home bureau on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. Who has the kill switch? Well, actually, that switch is now in the Time Warner building on Columbus Circle in New York (something poetic there) because Ted Turner sold CNN to Time many years ago (donating the profits to the United Nations Foundation).

Getting back to the fog around climate, we have to conclude that probably 99 percent of USAnians simply don’t get it. They don’t get the existential threat. Polls suggest that over the past year, the public opinion meter in the US is actually moving in the opposite direction. At the Copenhagen Summit, we couldn’t say that everyone gets it, but a very high percentage did, more outside the Bella Center than inside. In Europe the portion of the population that gets it is less than a majority, but high enough to affect the calculus of anyone thinking of public office.

A conversation that excludes such essential realities is delusional, and without that conversation — which took place outside the Bella Center in the final days of Brokenhagen, not inside — there will not be the margin needed to build-out a renewable energy infrastructure at top speed, or provide a basic safety net for food, ocean-level coastal cities, or halting spreading deserts, all of which were needed like… yesterday.

As nonrenewable resources deplete, people in Tennessee, like most places, will involuntarily give up their energy-dense, import-dependent, over-consumptive standard of living for a modest way of life supported entirely by local resources and local arrangements. There could be an anarchic transition, but a local economy will be the end result in any event. Glocalization is the new word for it.

Even a more pastoral future, however, could be gone by the time our children have grandchildren. Imagine Nashville with an average summer temperature of 100, and daily highs of 140. Nashville with no trees, no rain, scant air conditioning, and the Cumberland River run dry.

In the meeting at the church, several people warned us that climate change was a plot to bring about world government, and the UN would be the vessel. This is the Lyndon LaRouche frame. We said that Nashville hardly needs to worry about world government, it will be lucky if its fire department still works in ten years. We are headed for civilizational collapse, and if the global economic system has reached its Peter Principle of complexity and is imploding to a lower level of incompetence, nothing so complicated as World Government stands a chance. As for the United Nations, the Church of Scientology probably has more money, more employees and better buildings. The UN infrastructure is smaller than the combined dealerships for Saturn, and look what happened to them.

Congressman Marsha Blackburn is on the House Select Committee on Climate Change. She says any plans to deal with climate change would “destroy millions of American jobs and damage our economic competitiveness for decades.” She called the Copenhagen outcome “unilateral action” “to pile more regulation on the backs of families and small businesses in the name of combating global warming.”

Senator Lamar Alexander said the “Climategate” scandal has been harmful to the scientific community and could complicate the already-difficult task of getting climate change legislation through Congress. “If you want to give scientists the approximate credibility of politicians, this is the way to do it,” he said. He has voted against every climate measure of any consequence.

Senator Jim Corker presents himself as not a climate denier, but merely raising concerns about climate legislation. He wants a “more informed conversation” about the cap and trade bill, so as to get “a better product.” In this way he doesn’t associate himself with the sunspot fringe, but he gets to vote against every climate bill anyway. Hmmm, sounds like Jim Cooper.

Congressman Cooper’s only piece of legislation on climate was a bill he introduced to honor Al Gore and the IPCC on receipt of the Nobel Prize. In fact, most of Cooper’s legislative acts begin with words like Commending, Encouraging, Honoring, Congratulating. As in Congratulating the University of Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt on her 1000th victory. Cooper does about 100 of these bills every session. He keeps his head down and takes the PAC money.

In Tennessee, the sunspot advocates have no need for Corker or Cooper as long as they have Zach Wamp. When he is not dialing around to help his friends at the C-street house get out of legal or marital financial troubles, or defending The Family, as the C-street Children of God group is known, Wamp is busy ramping up his gubernatorial campaign. As in “Goober-natorial.” Wamp doesn’t believe warming is man-made, or in peak oil (he thinks it is 150 years away). He is a “Drill Baby Drill” kind of guy, a candidate Sarah Palin might turn to as a running mate. Wamp is all a-gush over GMO cellulosic ethanol, fuel cells, “Next Generation Nuclear Power,” fusion, and electric cars. He doesn’t get it yet that “Next Generation Nuclear” is the sun. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the former TVA director gets to waste more billions pursuing these dead-end futures. And he could be the next Governor of our state.

Texas Congressman Joe Barton said in Copenhagen, “We're not going to let jobs be destroyed in America for some esoteric environmental benefit 100 years from now.” He is the epitome of those who did not get the picture, who crashed the conference at the end, and who wrecked all the work that had gone before, including the UN process. Considering that the US currently spends five times more every year on the war in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Yemen/Iran/Iraq than it proposed for the whole world to spend on mitigation and adaptation by 2020, it would be easy to put Barton’s sentiment into the mouth of Barack Obama:
“We're not going to be distracted from the War on Terror for some esoteric environmental benefit 100 years from now.”
Put another way, and perhaps more realistically, is to say “We're not going to be distracted from the War on Terror in order to prevent the extinction of life on Earth.”

But then, to be able to say that, you actually have to get that right now there is an existential choice. One hundred years from now, there will be no choice. So far, we are not having that conversation. To get into it, you have to travel.




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