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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All other countries except Israel had already divested from South Africa before we did

I believe that is factually incorrect, Mark.  And in any case, I don't think it changes the main point that the activist-led US divestment movement was pivotal.  Elections are important, but in my view (and many others here, I'll wager) they are NOT the only thing that matters!

I believe it is factual, Ben. After we divested, Israel was the only country left supporting the Apartheid regime.

You write: "And in any case, I don't think it changes the main point that the activist-led US divestment movement was pivotal." 

As long as the Sullivan Principles remained in place, Ben, the official U.S. government policy was that as abhorrent as Apartheid was, we had to support the legitimate government of South Africa. Individuals and NGOs were able to divest, but the government was not.

As the Declaration of Independence states, governments derive their just powers, their legitimacy, from the consent of the governed. They demonstrate that they have the consent of the governed by holding elections. If a substantial proportion of the electorate votes, the government can claim that it has the consent of the governed, is a legitimate government, and represents the will of the people.

If a substantial proportion of the electorate does not vote, the government holding the election cannot claim to have the consent of the governed, cannot claim to represent the will of the people, and cannot claim to be a legitimate government.

The U.S. government had admitted that Apartheid was abhorrent. The only basis for supporting the Apartheid regime, in spite of how abhorrent we admitted it was, was that it was the legitimate government of South Africa. Once the Apartheid regime lost its legitimacy through the election boycott, we no longer had any excuse for supporting an abhorrent regime.

You write: "Elections are important, but in my view (and many others here, I'll wager) they are NOT the only thing that matters!"

I never said that election were the only thing that matters. Please don't distort what I'm saying.

What I said was that if you vote to delegate your power and authority to the government, granting it your personal consent and conferring upon it the legitimacy of being able to claim the consent of the governed, and you give a government which clearly states that it does not allow public opinion to influence its policy decisions the sole power to make those policy decisions, then you can protest your vote all you want, but you've already given away the store.

As I explained above:

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.

It may not bother you that our government is currently engaged in eight wars of aggression, genocidal crimes against humanity, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Syria, but all those wars use enormous amounts of fossil fuels. Our military is one of the, if not the biggest consumers of fossil fuels on the planet, and is one of the main drivers of climate change. While it may not disturb you that we're killing other people, it seems to bother you that in order to do it, we're also killing the planet that you and I inhabit.

We're supposedly at war because the government claims that some Saudi Arabians hijacked some airplanes and flew them into the WTC on 9/11. But we didn't invade Saudi Arabia and the section dealing with Saudi Arabia was removed from the 9/11 Commission report. Immediately after 9/11, Bush said that going after Osama bin Laden was his highest priority. Six months later he said it wasn't a priority at all. The Bush family and the bin Laden family were very close. The US relies on Saudi Arabia for oil.

So we invaded Iran instead. Why? They had nothing to do with 9/11. And they didn't have WMDs, something our government knew when it "sexed up" the evidence (see the Downing Street memos) to convince our allies and the general public that it was a good idea to invade Iran. There were no Taliban, Al Qaedah, or Islamic fundamentalists in Iran (Sadaam Hussein was extremely opposed to them), but they did have oil.

And we invaded Afghanistan. Because Chevron wants an oil pipeline to go through Afghanistan.

And we invaded Libya. Libya has oil.

And we invaded several other African countries that have oil, uranium, coltan, and other resources we want.

But not Saudi Arabia, even though we know that the hijackers were Saudis and that some members of the royal family were supporting them.

Actually, as Hillary Clinton has admitted, we created Al Qaeda to fight the Russians. And they are now our allies in Syria--Hillary sent them over $40 million dollars recently. It was quite a scandal in the alternative press because we're still sending our troops to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while we're allied with and supporting Al Qaeda in Syria.

I don't know if you just ignore reality, find some way to reconcile what you want to believe with reality, or just don't really care, Ben, but I do care. I'm opposed to wars of aggression so even if we weren't destroying the planet in order to fuel those wars, I'd still oppose them.

It is not my civic duty to vote for a government that wages wars of aggression.

It is not my civic duty to vote for a government that is driving climate change.

Those who consider it their civic duty to cause the problems, and then expend their energy protesting their votes, have defeated themselves before they even start.

If you know your government is driving climate change and is resistant to doing anything to stop driving climate change, but you vote anyway, then you don't think climate change is very important, or at least not as important as voting.

Going after the little guys might make you feel good, but if you want to accomplish anything, you have to stop supporting the government doing the most to drive climate change.

You voted for Obama. You knew he was driving climate change. If it wasn't important to you in November, why is it suddenly important to you in December? Because the election is over and your climate change perpetrator won? So this month you can pretend to oppose what you voted for last month?

I keep telling people that if you don't like something, don't vote for it. But they say that they have to vote for it, but once they vote for it they can protest it. They can't stop voting for what they don't like because there might be a greater evil than destroying the planet. There might be a greater evil than somebody waging eight wars of aggression. And there might be pink elephants flying over the mountains with ballerinas perched on their backs.

I can't argue with beliefs, Ben. If you believe that it is important to vote because voting isn't as important as other things you do, you are entitled to your belief. If you believe that voting for a war criminal is a way to work towards peace on earth, you are entitled to your belief. If you believe that voting for somebody who is driving climate change can be a pivotal part of fighting climate change, you are entitled to your belief. It may give me a bad case of cognitive dissonance, but if it makes you happy, don't worry, be happy.

Doing a bit of research to refresh my memory here...

  1. We are both misinterpreting The Sullivan Principles, which were the policy supported by ANTI-Apartheid activists, as an alternative to the US policy of "constructive engagement."
  2. The US divestment campaign began in the '60s and gained momentum in the late 70s and into the 80s.

Again, I think you are confusing divestment, which was a private campaign of activists to change the way major institutions invested their money, with US (and other countries') foreign policy, which was a separate matter.

Finally, I am quite clear that Tutu credited the US divestiture movement as essential to the fall of Apartheid.  This doesn't mean that there weren't other factors of course--just that our actions were also key.

I'm going to stop arguing with you now, Mark! 

I did run for office once, Jerry, for that specific reason. I didn't campaign, but I used the publicity to get a message out when my city was about to allow a nuclear waste depot. I didn't succeed in convincing many people. The Navy sent one of its top people from Washington, D.C., and he promised the city that the depot was only temporary and would be removed in three years. That was more than twelve years ago and the depot is still there.

The problem is that in our winner-take-all electoral system, even those people who were opposed to the new toxic waste depot and voted for me on that basis, were electing the winner, and the winner made the decision to allow the depot.

The depot is located on a man-made artificial peninsula built on sand. When I was in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, we were told that we have no disaster plans for that area in the event of a tsunami, because it would no longer be there. It has two military bases and many multi-million dollar homes and condos. Even without a tsunami, it will be one of the first victims of climate change if the ocean rises, as it was built at sea level.

I do not see our political process as a viable avenue for change. It was designed by the Federalists to ensure that power was vested in the rich and that the "mob and rabble" of democracy would never have the final say. Several times in U.S. history the people have elected one President only to have the Electoral College, Congress, or the Supreme Court step in and install a different one. And if we adopted a new Constitutional Amendment, the President could simply issue a secret Executive Order nullifying it, and neither Congress nor the people would know about it.

Politics as usual is the problem, not part of the solution.

I wish you could join the live dialogue... Mark

Thank you, Dyck, but it is really better that I don't. My views don't conform to those of the majority on Occupy Cafe, so my contributions would be even more disruptive in a live dialogue than they are in a virtual forum.

The basic agenda of Occupy Cafe, as with many Occupy websites, is to get out the vote for the things that will anger people enough to join the protests against what they voted for. The concept is the old, familiar, "If you don't vote, you can't complain," and the pseudo-logic is that if you want the right to complain about something, first you have to vote for it.

I'm sure you can understand that it would not promote harmony for me to enter into a live chat with people who believe that you first have to create the problem before you have the right to complain about it, protest it, or resist it. Our views are not at all compatible.

It isn't playing very creative or interesting music that has a defined limited scope of superficial harmony.  To exclude discordant, non-harmonic tones, tension and the like fatally wounds the effort.  I'd rather have real, if hard-earned harmony... within that is a deep beauty.

Isn't part of our mutual responsibility as earth citizens, to listen to, and to care about one another?  And don't we all need to practice and learn how to do this... no matter how difficult?  Granted there are probably 30% or 40% who won't allow this.  And you may be one of them.  But, isn't this a place to extend our reality.

I want this for myself... I admit.  You are my challenge of engagement Mark. 

Yes, Dyck, there are many forms of creative art, like interesting music and literature, that are specifically designed to, and actually do, "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

It is impossible to comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable, because the suffering of the afflicted is caused by those inflicting that suffering on them and deriving their comforts from the suffering they inflict on others.

To the extent that this is a place where people should feel comfortable, it is not a place to try to extend their reality.

But thank you for trying.

Mark, I see 2 kinds of parties making major decisions about oil exploration and production: governments and corporations.  I have some slight influence on one of those governments by the votes I cast for candidates to represent me.  I have even less influence when I withhold my vote.  Not voting makes no sense.

Richard, I see the oil industry making donations in almost equal amounts to both parties. I see both parties allowing the oil industry to write legislation. I see both parties supporting the military which uses huge amounts of fossil fuels and is one of the biggest factors driving global climate change.

Have you ever read my essay, "You've Got to Stop Voting!"?

While you may believe that one party is less evil than the other party, I do not. For example, I do not think that the party that started five new wars of aggression is less evil than the party that only started two. I do not think that the party that gave bigger bailouts to the banksters is less evil than the party that gave smaller bailouts. I do not think that the party that broke the 30-year moratorium on new nuclear power plants is less evil than the party that didn't. Both parties united to push through GATT and NAFTA. Both parties united to push through the bailouts. And during the campaign, Obama and Romney admitted that they are in agreement on most fundamental issues.

After decades of voting, I got tired of getting out a micrometer during each campaign to try to determine which candidate or party was less evil. I'm not in a federal or university laboratory, so my micrometer wasn't able to measure such miniscule differences.

I don't know which party you feel has been representing you on climate change due to your votes, but I spent decades voting and neither party ever represented me on climate change. Some candidates talked a good game, but talk is cheap and energy isn't.

While it may not make sense to you to refuse to cast ballots that don't even have to be counted and that cannot be verified, for candidates that don't have to represent their constituents and cannot be held accountable during their terms of office (the only time that they are needed to represent their constituents), and are free to represent their big donors, their personal beliefs or ideologies, or whatever they wish, it makes sense to me.

If you are willing to vote in elections where the votes don't have to be counted and aren't verifiable, what incentive does the government have to allow free, fair, honest elections? If you are willing to vote for parties that haven't represented you in the past, what incentive is there for them to represent you in the future?

There's a book you might enjoy called, Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil, by Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett:

The same oil dynasty calling the shots in General Smedley Butler's time, is still calling the shots today.

Standard Oil may have been broken up into parts and renamed, but if you look at the loyalties of the boards of directors of the various corporations, they all trace back to the same family which still has a direct or indirect controlling interest in all of them, still controls the policy-making bodies that tell both political parties what agendas they are willing to fund, and can still get the US military to invade any country where it happens to be looking for oil or wants to build an oil pipeline.

General Butler's words in 1933 are still true today: "War is a racket."

Mark, I read your article.  The 3 cases you cite have a common characteristic.  In each case, the meaning of a low voter turnout was pre-established with the public.  Each boycott had a target goal.  In South Africa the goal was to discredit Apartheid, in Cuba to discredit Batista, in Haiti to discredit the military coup. 

Furthermore, in each case, there existed a follow-on goal.  In South Africa it was to end Apartheid.  In Cuba it was to install Castro.  In Haiti it was to install Aristride.

Until a set of goals is defined and accepted by the public, I see no reason to support an election boycott in the U.S.  If, in the next election, you could lower our voter turnout to 7%, who is to say how to interpret the turnout?  We would likely have one interpretation for each non-voter and one for each voter.

This year's election in Italy did not have a target goal or a follow-on goal, Richard. It consisted only of a 20% decrease in voter turnout, from 67% in the previous election to 47% in this one. There was no set of goals defined and accepted by the Italian public. Yet the New York Times; and the international press interpreted it as a loss of confidence in their government by Italian voters, and international lenders lowered Italy's credit rating.

In our two-party, winner-take-all electoral system, voter turnout can only be interpreted as meaning that voters have confidence that both party's candidates are qualified to run the country and consent to governance by whichever one wins.

Strangely, this is contradicted by Rasmussen polls, which have shown that most voters do not have confidence in our government but vote anyway. That can only be interpreted as apathy--voters do not have confidence in the available choices but don't really care if people they have no confidence in run the country in ways that voters don't approve of, and will vote anyway. During midterm elections, when the big corporations don't spend billions of dollars marketing the candidates, voter turnout here usually decreases sharply, sometimes to little more than 30%. Big corporations aren't philanthropical institutions and they wouldn't spend billions of dollars on campaign advertising if it wasn't effective in ensuring that no matter who wins, they will still control the political agenda for their own benefit.


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Regular Calls are no longer being held.  Below is the schedule that was maintained from the Fall of 2011 through Jan 10, 2013.

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