Confronting Climate Change: theme for the week of 12/9/12

What is the climate conversation we most need to have now?

Our podcast is now up for the Monday Cafe Call

A lot has been happening recently on the climate front.  Hurricane Sandy put the issue front and center after it was virtually ignored during the elections.  Echoing the anti-apartheid efforts of the 1980's, has started the new Go Fossil Free campaign, which calls on students to demand that university endowment funds divest from the coal, oil and gas industries.  And the COP18 talks just finished up with another round of failed negotiations, highlighted by a tearful delegate from the storm-ravaged Philippines pleading for action on behalf of the seven billion people on this planet.

Join us this week in the Cafe for a conversation on the varied dimensions of this crisis.  What is moving in the world?  How might this online community participate? What are the personal challenges this subject brings up for you?  Explore these questions together here on our forum, and on each of the three Cafe Calls we will be hosting.  Monday's Vital Conversation will start us off with an overview, Connect2012 on Tuesday will focus on what this community might do and Thursday's Occupy Heart will address the inner struggles a crisis like this evokes.  See the schedule on the right side of this page for times and registration links.

We will be testing out MaestroConference's new "social webinar" feature this week, which allows you to see who else is in your breakouts with you.  Click here to access this feature once you are on a Cafe Call (note: you will need your call-in and PIN handy to sign up).

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The NY Times gave prominent coverage to Go Fossil Free in the 12/5 edition.  An excerpt:

In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coaloil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.

“We’ve reached this point of intense urgency that we need to act on climate change now, but the situation is bleaker than it’s ever been from a political perspective,” said William Lawrence, a Swarthmore senior from East Lansing, Mich.

Students who have signed on see it as a conscious imitation of the successful effort in the 1980s to pressure colleges and other institutions to divest themselves of the stocks of companies doing business in South Africa under apartheid.

Ben, I have an intense interest in this subject.  The headline in our local newspaper this morning was: “County under high drought alert.”  We’ve had a severe drought for 2 years, along with record high temperatures.  Many cattle ranchers are going out of business.  We’ve had scores of wildfires during the past summer.  In one fire, over 100 homes were lost.  About 100 miles east of here in May 2011, a monster tornado destroyed about a third of Joplin, Missouri, a city of about 50,000.  I’m convinced these conditions are due to global climate change.  I fear for my grandchildren.

 One thing about student demands is confusing.  I’m wondering whether by “gas” they include “natural gas.”  They should support investments in natural gas.  Pollution is much less from burning natural gas than from other petroleum products.

 In the interest of full disclosure, I worked for Phillips Petroleum Company for about 20 years as an operations research (management science) analyst.  I also worked for several years for the University of Tulsa under a contract with the department of energy. 


Natural gas is definitely included, Richard.  Here are the terms from the Go Fossil Free FAQ:

We want College and University Presidents and Boards (as well as Religious and Pension funds) to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years.

200 publicly-traded companies hold the vast majority of the world’s proven coal, oil and gas reserves. Those are the companies we’re asking our institutions to divest from. Our demands to these companies are simple, because they reflect the stark truth of climate science:

  • They need immediately to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons.
  • They need to stop lobbying in Washington and state capitols across the country to preserve their special breaks.
  • Most importantly, they need to pledge to keep 80% of their current reserves underground forever.

Here's the video referred to above of the Filipino delegate to COP18 breaking down:

I encountered this "hurricane Sandy image" while searching for something suitable as our main graphic.  It was too subtle for the main spot, but it totally kills me!  (Sorry I can't figure out who to give credit to).

Waiting for Sandy...

The economic and military policies of the United States government are the biggest single factor creating and driving climate change on the planet.

As long as we continue to vote, to give our personal consent of the governed, to authorize the United States government to make economic and military policy decisions in our name, and to be our official representative, representing the will of the people, at climate talks, all other actions will be futile.

If everyone on Occupy Cafe voted to give me the sole power to decide what topics would or would not be discussed, it wouldn't matter if 99% of those who voted didn't like my decisions and posted comments criticizing my choices. Until and unless they took away my power, I'd still make the decisions, whether they liked them or not.

The people of the United States have spoken. 57% turned out in an election where the only two possible winners were determined to continue the same economic and military policies driving global climate change. 57% of the electorate authorized whoever won to make policy and to represent us at climate change talks.

About 2% cast what they thought were "protest votes," although in a winner-take-all electoral system like ours, there is no such thing--the winner takes all the votes, including the so-called "protest votes." But the majority voted for one of the major party candidates, indicating their satisfaction with the way things are going and their personal consent to continue on the same path.

They knew what they were voting for. Pretending that they're unhappy with the results is sheer hypocrisy. I don't think that the US government should be making the economy and military policies driving climate change, and I don't want the US government representing me at climate change talks, so I didn't vote. But I'm in a minority and the majority rules, so climate change will continue, in their name, no matter what they say or do to bemoan or protest the results of their votes. You voted for it, you got it, and if you don't like it, maybe next time you won't vote for it again. But I'm absolutely sure that you will. You voted for what you wanted, you got what you wanted, and you'll vote for it again. The hopey-changey blather is just a way to draw people in so that you can get out the vote for the next election. Between elections, most progressive websites oppose climate change. But at election time, they support the candidates responsible for climate change. If they don't, the Supreme Court steps in and decides who the winner will be, ignoring the popular vote entirely.

As long as it can get the people to vote, to grant their consent of the governed, the US government will continue to drive global climate change and to oppose global reforms. Eliminating fossil fuels would eliminate our military, one of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels on the planet (except for those sectors powered by nuclear fission). No President is going to do that. As long as there are defense contracts to be handed out, the wars for oil will continue, even when it takes more oil to get the oil in any given place, than there is oil to be gotten. Similarly, technologies that use more energy to obtain oil than can be derived from the oil thus obtained, will also continue.

What's driving climate change? Drivers are driving climate change. And drivers care only about the price of gas at the pump, not the price of delivering that gas to the pump, which happens to be the destruction of the planet.

Well said, Mark.  So, let's say for the most part, this is reality.

So, what will start a fundamentally different attitude about everything about governance?  What has the power to change human nature and is it within anyone's grasp?

Is it to TELL people repeatedly & loudly what's important?  Or to TELL people what to think or what to do?  Is it getting a large number of people to protest or get clubbed to draw attention to THEIR cause?  What about using advertizing to brainwash the public in favor of what we want them to do?

My hope, Dyck, perhaps a futile hope, is that if people realized what they were doing, they might stop doing it.

I know better, of course. Gurdjieff said that if people understood what they were doing, they'd just go right on beating one another's heads in anyway. People act out of habit, belief, peer pressure, socialization, etc., and not out of rational thought. In fact, people act, and then rationalize their acts.

A friend of mine, a voter who happens to keep chickens, just wrote to tell me that voting isn't as important as actions like protests. So I asked if it would be okay for me to vote to make it legal for people to kill other people's chickens, as long as I went out to her place every day with a big sign protesting the killing of chickens, because the vote wasn't as important as the action. She changed the subject and didn't answer.

What is amazing me is that there are now thousands of people who have begun to wake up and stop voting just from reading my articles. I never expected that. I thought I might convince one or two people a year, but not thousands. For there to be change I'd have to convince millions, and that obviously isn't going to happen. But since the alternatives are all ineffective or dangerous, I keep trying.

What we call human nature is shaped by our socialization. In cultures that reward competitiveness, most people are competitive. In cultures that reward cooperation, most people are cooperative.

But competition has to be enforced through violence, whereas cooperation is natural and instinctive. I'm reading John Curl's book, For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America. As US capitalism continues its boom and bust cycles, the patterns have become clear. During the busts, when economic times are hard, the people band together and find ways to cooperate in order to survive. During the booms, the government co-opts or quashes such efforts and capitalism continues the cycle.

So we don't have to change human nature, we just have to stop granting government the power to suppress it. Voters don't seem to know that's what they're doing when they vote. Telling them what they're doing doesn't seem to penetrate. I really wish I knew the answers to your questions, Dyck, but I don't.

I've heard you say. Mark, that a voting boycott was instrumental in delegitimizing the Apartheid government in South Africa.  Another key factor, of course, was the Divestment Movement here in the US.  Bishop Tutu has said that the pressure generated by this initiative played a crucial role in the people's victory--that it would not have been possible without it.  Now we have a similar movement starting around the fossil fuel industry.  

Yes, Ben. The United States was the second to last country in the world to stop supporting the Apartheid regime of South Africa. We had something called the Sullivan Principles. We said that while we abhorred Apartheid, we had to support the legitimate government of South Africa, which was the Apartheid regime. After the election boycott, it was clear that the Apartheid regime did not have the consent of the governed and therefore was not a legitimate government, so that excuse was no longer valid and we were forced to divest.

Many people seem to want to attribute things to protest movements incorrectly. For example, I was just reading John Curl's statement that, "In the 1960s and '70s, groups opposed to the Vietnam war used nonviolence to radicalize public opinion and force American withdrawal, including sit-ins, blocking induction centers, draft card burnings, draft file destruction, draft and tax resistance, and mass marches and demonstrations." But there was no withdrawal. We withdrew in panic when the North Vietnamese overran Saigon and penetrated the US embassy. Remember the helicopters leaving the roof with people clinging to the struts, and the one that crashed with children aboard? That was not a planned withdrawal due to public opinion, that was a desperate withdrawal due to a military loss.

The United States government, as both the Bush and Obama administrations have explicitly and publicly stated, does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions. When people vote, they are delegating their power to the government, that is, delegating to the government the sole right to make policy decisions. On the next page, Curl says, with regard to an anti-nuclear protest, "With 1,475 arrested, it was one of the largest mass arrests at a political protest in U.S. history. It was also a high-water mark for the organization." The movement did manage to get a 30-year moratorium on new nuclear plants, until Obama broke it by licensing two new ones, but the old ones, aging and unsafe as they are, are still operating on extended licenses well past their planned safe decommissioning dates. As long as they are profitable, they won't be shut down, which means that they won't be shut down before they melt down.

Voting to delegate decisions that can destroy the planet, to a government which prioritizes profits over people, is reckless and irresponsible. But once you've delegated that power, you can get as many people arrested as you want, and our government now has facilities built and staffed that can hold millions of people in the US, and it still won't change policy. If you want a voice in policy, you have to stop delegating policy-making power to a government that does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions.

What part of that don't people understand?

Mark--I think your laser focus on voting may have caused you to miss the point I made.  Yes, the US government followed the Sullivan Principles.  But US activists protested that and pushed for divestment anyway. In the end, the growing prospect of major pools of capital moving their money out of South Africa was credited by Tutu as being an essential part of the process that led to the fall of Apartheid.

Maybe you missed my point also, Ben. All other countries except Israel had already divested from South Africa before we did. US activists protested, and Bishop Tutu is grateful for their acts of conscience, but the US government, as always, did not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions.

Only when it became clear due to the election boycott, that the Apartheid regime was NOT the legitimate government of South Africa, because it did not have the consent of the governed and did not represent the will of the people, was the U.S. government unable to continue to pretend that the Sullivan Principles had any principled basis, and since it couldn't come up with any other excuse to continue to support Apartheid, that was the end. You can't say you're supporting a regime you abhor because as horrid as it is, it is still the legitimate government, once it has been proven NOT to be a legitimate government, and that's what an election boycott, and only an election boycott can accomplish.

Public opinion pushed divestment successfully in every other country in the world, except for Israel, which continued to support the Apartheid regime, even offering to sell them nuclear weapons, but in the U.S. public opinion had no impact on policy decisions. It never does. Is Bishop Tutu claiming that divestment by every other country in the world except the U.S. and Israel, was NOT an essential part of the process?

It would be interesting if we see a repeat with fossil fuel divestment, with every other country in the world divesting except for the U.S. and Israel. Oh, and Palau, of course, the only other country in the world that consistently votes with the U.S. and Israel in the United Nations, but they're such a small, poor island that they probably don't have any investments to divest.


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