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California declares drought emergency – World – CBC News

California declares drought emergency – World – CBC News.

Sprinklers water an orchard along Highway 32 east of Chico, Calif.Sprinklers water an orchard along Highway 32 east of Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/Chico Enterprise-Record/Associated Press)

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California Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Friday, a move that will allow the parched state to seek federal aid as it grapples with what could turn out to be the driest year in recorded state history for many areas.

The dry year California experienced in 2013 has left fresh water reservoirs with a fraction of their normal reserves and slowed the normally full American River so dramatically that brush and dry riverbed are showing through in areas normally teeming with fish.

“We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas,” Brown said in a statement.

“I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible,” he said, in a move that will allow him to call for conservation measures and provide flexibility in deciding state water priorities.

Speaking at a news conference in San Francisco, he said the drought threatens to leave farms and communities with dramatically less water and increases the risk of fires in both urban and rural areas.

On Friday, a fire burned out of control in the dry brush of the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County. And last year, the Rim Fire burned 402 square miles in and around Yosemite National Park, causing $127 million US in damage as of late October, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Forest Service.

He appealed to residents to keep a lid on water use with the aim of reducing overall consumption by 20 percent, telling them that “this takes everybody pitching in.” He warned that mandatory conservation programs may be initiated down the road.

Reservoirs at lowest levels in years

In a sign of the severity of the drought, some of the state’s reservoirs are at their lowest levels in years. The Folsom Reservoir near Sacramento is so low that the remains of a Gold Rush-era ghost town — flooded to create the lake in the 1950s — are visible for the first time in years.

The state’s mountain ranges, where runoff from melting snow provides much of the water for California’s thirsty cities and farms, have just 20 per cent of the snow they normally have at this time of year, officials noted.

Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in California, is down from its historical average by nearly half.

Other sources of water, including the massive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, are also affected, prompting cities to dip into reserves and forcing farmers to scramble. Some public agencies may be able to purchase just 5 per cent of the water that they contracted to buy from the state.

Adding to concerns, January and February are usually the wettest months in much of the state, but 2014 has so far been mostly dry, with little precipitation expected, according to the National Weather Service.

Federal funds sought

In declaring a drought emergency, Brown said he did not know if he would be successful in persuading the federal government to free up funds for drought relief but he would try his best.

“It’s important, first of all, to awaken all Californians to the serious matter of drought,” he said, also warning of upcoming “conflicts and different perceptions on how water is to be allocated.”

Water has long been a contentious issue in California, where it has been diverted from mountain lakes and streams to irrigate farms and slake the thirst of metropolitan areas.

Many of the state’s efforts to deal with the problem are controversial, including a $25 billion plan to divert water from above the delta by sending it through a pair of huge tunnels.

For many in the state’s $44.7 billion agriculture business, water scarcity is a problem made worse by a recent switch to orchard-style crops such as almonds and olives. Unlike vegetables or cotton, which grow in fields that can be left fallow in dry years, the trees need water every year.

The state’s wine-growing regions have had just 23 percent of the rainfall they normally get by this time of year, said Patsy McGaughy, communications director for the wine industry group Napa Valley Vintners, which represents about 500 wineries.

Last year brought enough water that grape-growers were not yet feeling the pinch, she said, but a prolonged drought could affect future crops, if only by making the water scarce that growers use during cold snaps to warm up their plants.

Already, there were signs of competing priorities among groups that contend for water and will be closely watching how state officials use their new flexibility in allocating it.

Assemblywoman Connie Conway, the leader of the Republican minority in the state Assembly who represents a heavily agricultural area in central California, expressed hope that with the declaration more water could go toward “Valley farmers and workers who depend on water to feed the world.”

John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, said his group’s concern was for the health of salmon and a fishing industry that supports tens of thousands of jobs in California and Oregon.

“If the drought declaration results in more attention to saving the salmon that are in the Sacramento Valley rivers, and which are in dire need of attention, then that is good thing,” he said.

Making a case against fracking

Opponents of the water-intensive practice known as fracking, used to extract oil and gas from rock formations deep in the earth, have seized on California’s dry conditions, hoping it will put pressure to halt the controversial practice.

“As we see other sectors, like agriculture, struggling, what water rights do oil companies have to engage in fracking? The case can be made to place a moratorium on fracking just in the interests of conserving water,” said California Assembly member Mark Levine.

“Water is our most precious commodity, not oil,” he said.

There is also concern among power companies that use dams and other technology to create hydroelectric power from churning rivers.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which provides power to the Sacramento area, relies on hydroelectric resources for about a quarter of the electricity it supplies, said Jim Tracy, the utility’s chief financial officer.

The utility can purchase power from other sources if hydroelectric power is not available, but if dry conditions persist for several years, consumers’ bills may increase, he said.

Doug Obegi, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said California has a complex system that allocates water to areas that laid claim to it first – often over 100 years ago — and which many view the system as unfair.

“Because it’s so contentious, there are times when it’s hard to make progress,” Obegi said.

But in some ways the state has done well. Over the last 40 years, the state’s agriculture industry has doubled the revenue per drop of water used, largely from improved efficiency and changes in the plants grown, Obegi said.

2013 in Review: The Worrying Trend of Internet Shutdowns | Electronic Frontier Foundation

2013 in Review: The Worrying Trend of Internet Shutdowns | Electronic Frontier Foundation.

2013 in ReviewAs the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.

Prior to January 2011, national or regional Internet “blackouts” were mostly unheard of.  Although the Maldives,NepalBurma, and China all preceded Egypt with this innovation, it was the shutdown initiated by former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that set a new precedent and garnered global media coverage.  Since then, SyriaLibya, and even San Francisco’s BART police have “pulled a Mubarak.”

But in 2013, Internet blackouts became de rigeur for embattled governments: In August,Burma experienced a week of disruptions, the cause of which remains unclear. In Egypt’s North Sinai region, telephone and Internet networks were—according to a report from Mada Masr—intermittently shut down in September in the midst of military operations targeting militants there. In Sudan, where a brutal government crackdown in September on protests over fuel subsidy cuts resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people, authorities cut off Internet accessin an apparent bid to stop the demonstrations. In October, Renesys reported that the Iraqi government had tried but failed to shut down the Internet. And more recently, Renesys spotted a 45-minute national outage from North Korea, for which the source was unclear.

The Syrian Internet has seen numerous outages throughout the year, some of which appear to be politically motivated and others of which may be structural.  In October, Aleppo was without Internet for 17.5 hours, while in early December, the entire country’s Internet went down for a few hours.

Politically-motivated Internet outages are certainly trending. For governments, they pose an all-too-tempting way of stifling speech and keeping order during periods of protest or unrest, but as the BART telecommunications shutdown in San Francisco demonstrated, they can also prevent urgent communications from getting through and therefore may not be worth the risks they pose, even to the most despotic of regimes.

This article is part of our 2013 Year in Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2013.

 

US Sailors, Assisting With Fukushima Clean Up, Crippled By Cancer | Zero Hedge

US Sailors, Assisting With Fukushima Clean Up, Crippled By Cancer | Zero Hedge.

Back in December 2012, we wrote that it was only a matter of time before Japan’s criminal lying about the radioactive exposure in the aftermath of the Fukushima catastrophe caught up with it, as well as with countless numbers of people who would soon succumb to radiation induced cancers and other diseases. What we found surprising back then, before the full scale of the Fukushima catastrophe become clear and before even Tepco admitted that the situation is completely out of control, is that those holding Japan accountable were not its own citizens but eight US sailors who have then filed a suit against semi-nationalized energy operator TEPCO – the company which repeatedly ignored internal warnings about the ability of the Fukushima NPP to withstand an earthquake/tsunami –  seeking $110 million in damages.

Kyodo reported:

Eight U.S. sailors have filed a damages suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co., claiming they were exposed to radiation and face health threats as the utility did not provide appropriate information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster while they engaged in rescue operations on board an aircraft carrier, U.S. media reported.

The plaintiffs who filed the suit at the U.S. federal court in San Diego — seeking a total of $110 million, or 9.4 billion yen, in damages — were aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan when it was involved in “Operation Tomodachi,” a disaster relief effort shortly after a big earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear accident in decades, the reports said.”

What is sad is that while everyone in the alternative media was repeatedly warning about the radiation exposure being misrepresented by both TEPCO and various Japanese ministries, it was the mainstream media that was constantly complicit in disseminating official and unofficial lies that there is nothing to fear.

One year after our report, the lies are not only catching up (and overtaking), but are ruining and dooming innocent lives. As Fox reports, dozens of US soldiers who participated in the Fukushima cleanup effort, are succumbing to numerous radiation-related illnesses, including cancer, and their only error was believing the official media lies.

From Fox:

When the USS Ronald Reagan responded to the tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011, Navy sailors including Quartermaster Maurice Enis gladly pitched in with rescue efforts. 

But months later, while still serving aboard the aircraft carrier, he began to notice strange lumps all over his body. Testing revealed he’d been poisoned with radiation, and his illness would get worse. And his fiance and fellow Reagan quartermaster, Jamie Plym, who also spent several months helping near the Fukushima nuclear power plant, also began to develop frightening symptoms, including chronic bronchitis and hemorrhaging.

They and 49 other U.S. Navy members who served aboard the Reagan and sister ship the USS Essex now trace illnesses including thyroid and testicular cancers, leukemia and brain tumors to the time spent aboard the massive ship, whose desalination system pulled in seawater that was used for drinking, cooking and bathing. In a lawsuit filed against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the plaintiffs claim the power company delayed telling the U.S. Navy the tsunami had caused a nuclear meltdown, sending huge amounts of contaminated water into the sea and, ultimately, into the ship’s water system.

“At our level, we weren’t told anything,” Plym told FoxNews.com. “We were told everything was OK.” Now, Plym, Enis and dozens of others wonder if their service to their country and to Japan has left them doomed.

“I get so angry,” Plym said. “They said as long as the plume was avoided we would be fine. But we knew then that something was going to happen. Common sense tells you that the wind would blow it everywhere. You don’t need to be a nuclear scientist to figure that out.”

Why the anger though: after all everyone lied, starting with those in control, and certainly the media that supports the status quo (one must think of all those advertising dollars) constantly and repeatedly that it is simply preposterous to assume that a benevolent regime which only cares about the wealth effect (of both the US and Japan) would engage in such a vast conspiracy as to hide from the world just how destructive the fallour from Fukushima truly was (even as the fringe blogosphere was warning precisely about this day in, and day out).

But while the lies are easily explainable, what is more surprising is that the soldiers are blaming just Tepco instead of everyone in their chain of command for putting them in the line of gamma radiation fire.

San Francisco Attorney Charles Bonner,who is representing allegedly cancer-stricken sailors, initially filed a federal suit in the Southern District of California more than a year ago on behalf of a dozen sailors. The lawsuit was initially dismissed, when the court ruled that any ruling would hinge on interpreting communication between the Japanese and U.S. governments, which could violate the separation of powers. But Bonner is amending the suit to add new allegations that would fall under the court’s jurisdiction. And the number of plaintives has more than quadrupled as more service members come forward with radiation-related illnesses, he said.

“They went in to help with rescue efforts,” said Bonner, who plans to refile the suit on Jan. 6. “They did not go in prepared to deal with radiation containment.”

The plaintiffs don’t blame the U.S. Navy, which they believe acted in good faith, Bonner said. It was the plant’s operators who sat on the meltdown information during the crucial hours following the March 11, 2011 disaster, he said.

“TEPCO pursued a policy which caused rescuers, including the plaintiffs, to rush into an unsafe area which was too close to the [Fukushima nuclear power plant] that had been damaged,” Bonner charged in an April filing now being updated to add more plaintiffs. “Relying upon the misrepresentation regarding health and safety made by TEPCO, upon information and belief, the U.S. Navy was lulled into a false sense of security.

“The officers and crew of the U.S.S. Reagan (CVN-76) and other vessels believed that it was safe to operate within the waters adjacent to the FNPP, without doing the kinds of research and testing that would have verified the problems known to the defendant TEPCO at the time.”

Nathan Piekutoski, 22, who served aboard the USS Essex, which was in the same deployment as the Reagan, said sailors had no choice but to trust what they were told.

“They did say it was safe at the time,” Piekutoski said. “We had to take their word for it.”

Piekutowski says he suffered from leukemia and, while he is currently in remission, Doctors have told him that he may need a bone marrow transplant.

“Within a few months I started getting all these weird symptoms,” he recalled of the months following the disaster response. “Night sweats. Not sleeping. I started losing a lot of weight.

“It’s one of those things,” he added. “You’re angry that it happens but we had to go. It was our duty. I joined the military to help people in need.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but told FoxNews.com the Pentagon has been monitoring and collecting data on radiation exposure in the region.

Needless to say, the criminals at Tepco have nothing to say:

TEPCO officials did not respond to requests for comment. But a recent admission before members of the Japanese press on Dec. 12 during a meeting at the Tokyo Press Club, former Prime Minister Naoto Jan said the first meltdown occurred five hours after the tsunami, not the next day as reported at the time. 

Bonner alleges that the statement means that the Japanese government knew radiation was being leaked and did not inform the U.S. Navy.

“They knew there was an active meltdown and they deliberately hid it from the public as well as the Navy,” Bonner said. “Those sailors went in there totally unaware and they were contaminated as a result.”

Plym says she is prepared to have her symptoms question in court, should the case go to trial. But with so many U.S. sailors coming forward, she believes justice will prevail.

“People will say that out lawsuit is fake and that we are doing this for money, but it’s really about getting the correct information out there,” Plym said.

And now back to a mythical reality in which insolvent governments tell the “truth” about the true, and very deplorable, state of affairs just behind the peeing facade. In the meantime, to all the sailors whose only crime was believing their criminal, corrupt superiors: our condolences.

 

US, Chinese Warships “Nearly Collide” In South China Sea | Zero Hedge

US, Chinese Warships “Nearly Collide” In South China Sea | Zero Hedge. With the recent deployment of China’s air defenze zone, and the subsequent announcement of a comparable zone by South Korea which overlaps not only with China’s own, but with that of Japan, it almost seems like a scenario designed to provoke an escalating conflict on the tiniest of provocations is actively being produced. A scenario such as the one US defense officials revealed today, when a guided missile cruiser operating in international waters in the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action last week to avoid a collision with a Chinese navy ship maneuvering nearby. Hold on: how can two massive ships, visible to the naked eye and certainly to radar from hundreds of miles away, “nearly collide”? Reuters reports that the incident took place on December 5 and involved the USS Cowpens. The Pacific Fleet statement did not offer details about what led to the near-collision. But it did say the incident underscored the need for the “highest standards of professional seamanship, including communications between vessels, to mitigate the risk of an unintended incident or mishap.” The rest of the story is widely known:

Beijing declared the air defense zone over the East China Sea late last month and demanded that aircraft flying through the area provide it with flight plans and other information.   The United States and its allies rejected the Chinese demand and have continued to fly military aircraft into the zone, which includes air space over a small group of islands claimed by China but currently administered by Tokyo.   In the midst of the tensions over the air defense zone, China deployed its only aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, to the South China Sea for maneuvers. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea and is involved in territorial disputes in the region with several of its neighbors.

And so, the waters have been tested, so to speak, with a media “warning” on just how brazen China can be when it comes to its “aggressive” tactics in what we are confident the Chinese media will describe as its own maritime territory, begging the question of just who was provoking whom, especially since the response to a Chinese missile cruiser sailing idly by New York or San Francisco, even if in “international waters”, would hardly see the same controlled reaction by the US. Then again, it has been only two weeks since China’s most recent “escalation.” We are confident that given time, this will be the least of the close shipping encounters that involve Chinese, US, Japanese and/or Korean navies in the East China Sea. After all, one must think of all that, GDP that as WWII taught us, can be easiest gained through some modest, or not so modest, international conflict.

 

Disillusioned in Dismayland – Collapse of Industrial Civilization | Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram

Collapse of Industrial Civilization | Finding the Truth behind the American Hologram.

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Capitalism has, throughout its history, built itself off the backs of the weak through dispossession, slavery, colonialism, technology and military power. Protecting the capitalist system into the 21st century, U.S. military served as the all-powerful proxy force of the global corporate elite. In the waning days of modern-day civilization, transnational corporations found even more ways to amass power and squeeze out every last penny from the Earth to the gods of capital. In the name of ‘free trade’, secretive agreements with alphabet soup-acronyms like TTP and TPIP were concocted to protect and expand profits as well as investor returns at the expense of all else, including the sovereignty of nations and the very habitability of the planet. Corporations became the new kings and queens, tsars and tsaritsas, bishops and popes. The last grab for what was left could now be done more swiftly while circumventing the laws of nations.

…Capitalism has an inbuilt wondrous capacity of resurrection and regeneration; though this is capacity of a kind shared with parasites – organisms that feed on other organisms, belonging to other species. After a complete or near-complete exhaustion of one host organism, a parasite tends and manages to find another, that would supply it with life juices for a successive, albeit also limited, stretch of time.

A hundred years ago Rosa Luxemburg grasped that secret of the eerie, phoenix-like ability of capitalism to rise, repeatedly, from the ashes; an ability that leaves behind a track of devastation – the history of capitalism is marked by the graves of living organisms sucked of their life juices to exhaustion…” ~ Zygmunt Bauman

In a world of finite resources controlled by a tiny capitalist class, there would eventually only be two classes remaining – the über-wealthy or global elite and the vast underclass of disposable workers who eked out a subsistence existence. The wealth of society continued to be funneled upwards to the corporate overlords by way of deregulation, privatization, low or nonexistent tax rates, control of the legal system, and the cutting away of any last scraps of a social safety net.

Preoccupied by their digital screen devices and satiated on mass-produced junk food, the plebs never really noticed they were living in an open-air prison. In the meantime, the walls of a police state rose up to protect the sociopathic elite. As long as the ‘consumers’ were kept in a continual state of ‘amusement madness’ and on the treadmill of work exhaustion, there would be no time for contemplating the reality of climate change, the ever-widening wealth gap, the rise of a corporate fascist state, or the disappearance of the natural world.

Living in an age of advertisement, we are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch.
J. B. Priestley

hollywood_cliff

This Ponzi scheme economy was so entrenched in the psyche of the general populace that essentially none questioned its validity, even in the face of increasingly chaotic weather and rising seas, mountains of toxic waste, lifeless oceans, epidemic industrial disease, and grotesque wealth maldistribution. The right to seek profit trumped the health and safety of humans, the stability of the environment, and the legal recourse of governments on behalf of their citizens. National borders were effectively erased and a global corporatocracy now ruled the planet. Ironically, the one world government feared by so many right-wing conspiracists had become reality without any protest from them.

Acid rain and erratic weather, the unintended consequences of half-baked geoengineering fixes, forced most food production into industrial greenhouses. Due to the chemical pollution levels in the environment, all water had to be treated before it was used for anything, and gas masks became ‘everyday outdoor wear’ like hats and umbrellas. Most stayed indoors to escape such hazards, immersing themselves in the artificial environments of virtual reality software. Zoos became the only sanctuaries for wildlife, their sperm safely kept frozen for the day humans might want to de-extinctify them. National parks were privatized and plastered with corporate logos. The ranks of the homeless and destitute swelled, but most soon found themselves living inside the cell of a private, for-profit prison where they toiled away as cheap labor contracted by the corporations. Such crises were always looked upon as business opportunities, a niche to fill in the profit-seeking mind of homo economicus. Commodification and commercialization of everything became completely normalized.

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Taken to the extreme and turned into a rigid belief system, all ideologies can become dangerous. When the ethics of a society bow to laissez-faire capitalism, life in the U$A becomes a cruel joke:

Need I go further? The day that the movie ‘Idiocracy’ is looked upon as genius and prophetic, civilization will have become a parody of itself. I think that day has arrived.

 

Idiocracy

Idiocracy

 

ClubOrlov: Collapsing Consciously

ClubOrlov: Collapsing Consciously.

Carolyn Baker’sCollapsingConsciously: Transformative Truths for Turbulent Times is perhaps the most approachable book on collapse you are likely to find. Compared to Jarred Diamond’sCollapse, which weighs in at just over 600 pages, Baker’s is well under 200. And yet in these few pages Baker manages to tackle a topic which Diamond studiously avoids: Whatever shall we do about the fact that collapse is happening all around us right now?
The reason Diamond avoids it is obvious: collapse is an unacceptable topic of discussion if it relates to us. It is perfectly fine to talk about past collapses, and perhaps even muse about future collapses, provided they happen to someone else. That’s because we are exceptional and will go on forever. Here’s a memorable example: I once gave a talk for the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, and during the Q&A afterwards someone asked me about Russia’s demographic crisis. Stewart Brand, who was reading off the questions from cards, chimed in to say that it looks like the Russians will be extinct in just a couple of generations (they aren’t). So, Stewart, in how many generations are Americans going to be extinct? I need a number; what’s the Long Now Foundation’s estimate on that? Crickets…
And the reason collapse is an unacceptable topic of discussion if it relates to us, in the present or the foreseeable future, is that the moment you mention it, the topic stops being it, or us; the topic becomes you. What is wrong with you, why are you collapsing, and is it contagious? (Actually, just go away anyway, because you are probably bad luck.) This society operates on a combination of conformism and one-upmanship. Collapse as reality is nonconformist—in a society that worships success it is seen as defeatist and unpatriotic. It is also noncompetitive—because who on earth would want to buy it? “After all, who wants to hear that their very identity—the industrially civilized ego they have built throughout their entire lives, the ego that defines who they are—is, well, dying?” (p. 89) (By the way, this explains why my last book hasn’t sold all that well.) In any case, if you keep at it, you come to be seen as a loser. Then you start feeling like an unlucky outcast, and before too long you end up with a psychological problem, and start asking yourself questions such as : “What’s wrong with me?” “Have I gone mad?” and “Should I kill myself?”
Which is where Baker comes in: she is a trained psychotherapist, and her book is a self-help book. She takes your subjective reactions of hurt, loss, and bewilderment and gives them the status of objective reality. Yes, insanity is just around the corner from where you are standing, but that’s a perfectly normal, justifiable reaction: “Anyone preparing for colapse inevitably, on some occasions, feels mad. How at odds with circumstance we are, and how profoundly crazy-making it feels!” (p. 8) Helpfully, she enumerates the panoply of emotions that normally accompany the dicovery of collapse: “crazy, angry, joyful, depressed, terrified, giddy, relieved, paranoid, stupid, guilty, liberated, grateful, despairing, heartbroken, courageous, compassionate, lonely, loved, hated.” (p. 8) For some, the discovery of collapse may not even be necessary: “…I have never met any resident of industrial civilization who doesn’t carry some form of trauma in their bodies.” (p. 20) And, I would add, their minds and souls as well. Symptoms may include “…sleepless nights, a weakened immune system, moodiness, anger, depression, despair, and, often suicidal thinking.” (p. 26)
Baker’s prescription is to heal thyself: “…to become familiar with internal resources; to practice skills of self-soothing, deep listening and truth telling with friends and family, and regular journaling; and to have an ongoing, daily stillness practice that provides grounding and centering in the midst of chaos.” (p. 15) “Healing our own trauma prepares us for navigating the trauma of a world in collapse and also equips us to assist others who are traumatized by the changes and losses of an unraveling society.” (p. 22) And although much of the job that awaits us is a sort of post-collapse hospice care for the severely disturbed, that is by no means the full extent of it: “…hold in your mind the reality of what is and what is yet to come and, at the same time, hold in your heart the vision of what is possible for a transformed humanity, no matter how few in numbers, that is willing to step over the evolutionary threshold and become a new kind of human being.” (p. 83, my emphasis)
The old kind of human being comes in for a good thrashing. Baker singles out the emptiness of the pursuit of happiness: “…many people confess that their greatest happiness is derived from shopping… [and from] having no constraints on consumption…” (p. 32) The commercialized mind control field in which many people are trapped defines happiness by positive thinking, which “…has become an integral aspect of corporate culture.” (p. 32) “I believe that since the end of World War II, positive thinking has become the quasi-religion of industrial civilization, and the failure to maintain it has become tantamount to treason.” (p. 33) This almost totalitarian emphasis on happiness and positive thinking amounts to a system of enforced stupidity. To Baker, what matters is not happiness but joyand not positive thinking but meaning: “Happiness comes and goes, but meaning doesn’t. The truth, of course, is that we can find meaning in experiences that are anything but happy.” (For example, in war.)
Finding meaning doesn’t necessarily lift our mood or make us happy. But it does amplify our existence, making it less than completely trivial. To find meaning, we have to confront sadness, loss, and, ultimately, death. This is why the message of collapse is almost universally rejected: “To speak of collapse, peak oil, demise, downturns, economic depression, or unraveling is anathema, because it rattles the rice paper-thin bulwarks we have constructed around darkness and death.” This is rather at odds with the dominant culture: “It’s so easy to disregard death, especially if one is an [Anglo-]American.” (p. 55) (The English tend to regard death as the ultimate embarrassment, and their cultural baggage is unfortunately still with us.) Add to it a dollop of positive thinking and sprinkle on the “New Agey mindset,” and you get people who act “as if human beings are the only species that matter and as if the most crucial issue is that those humans are able to feel good about themselves as the world burns.” (p. 55) Such people will not fare well: “The collapse of industrial civilization will be challenging for those who have been preparing for it; for those who haven’t, it will involve massive trauma.” (p. 29)
But what does it mean to prepare of collapse? There is, of course, the question of the logistics of surviving collapse: reskilling, relocalization, community organizing and the like. There is also the task of finding meaning in it, beyond mere physical survival; to borrow an aphorism from Nietzsche, the task of gazing into the abyss, until the abyss gazes back at you. But “…most human beings who do have the capacity to stare down collapse seem to lack the ability to dig deeper into its myriad emotional and spiritual ramifications, focusing only on physical survival issues.” (p 12). (I suppose preparing for the zombie apocalypse does make you a bit of a zombie, as your attitude becomes: “Sure, I’ll resort to eating brains if I have to!”)
Baker wonders whether the “emotionally myopic survivalists” might be busy creating a world eerily similar to the “vapid, vacuous, barren inner landscape engendered by industrial civilization?” It’s largely a question of how they were brought up. Western education is riddled with binary thinking: “Black or white, either-or, this way or that way permeate the educational systems of modernity and torment our thinking about and preparation for collapse. When will it happen—in this decade or in the next? Will it be fast or slow? Should I take the lone survivor approach or go live in an ecovillage? Should I stay in my home country or expatriate? The binary questions are endless, and limitless obsession with them is likely to leave us in the same predicament as the proverbial dog chasing its own tail.” (p. 7)
People who have been conditioned to think that to make such binary distinctions is to be rational, analytical and productive are loathe to accept that perhaps black or white are just moods: on some days they may feel like collapse is already here, while on other days it may feel far off; sometimes it may feels fast, other days slow; some days you want to be alone, on other days you crave companionship; sometimes you want to flee the country and give up your passport, while on other days you contemplate wanting to coming back to visit.
The crisp delineation between the present and the future is an artificial construct too: both the present and the future are works of fiction—a bit of “framing” created for us by those expert professionals who craft “consensual reality” on our behalf. The emphasis on rational responses to collapse has produced efforts to achieve logistical resilience: “Anyone not involved in this kind of logistical preparation is only half-awake, yet many individuals believe that no other preparation is necessary. Might that not, in fact, be one characteristic of trauma?” (p. 27) Taking it just one step further, strictly logistical collapse preparation may be a form of compulsive behavior that is quite obviously maladaptive “…building one’s isolated doomstead or underground bunker is not only profoundly dangerous but astoundingly unrealistic.” (p. 97, my emphasis)
Much of the doomsteading activity is a projection of middle-class angst—to which much of the world is immune: “…for all the suffering of abjectly impoverished human beings, they have seldom known any other standard of living and have learned how to survive on virtually nothing.” (p. 26) On the other hand, “Those living a middle-class existence can comfort themselves only for so long by reflecting on the plight of the destitute in far-off places. Their immediate reality is an anomalous deprivation, a stark loss of the familiar, and the looming reality that things will not get better, but only worse.” (p. 26) Lastly, “…it is much easier to build cooperative relationships with individuals who are fundamentally like us than it is to build them with those who, for a variety of reasons, may be very different.” (p. 69) And if the only acceptable way to prepare for collapse within your middle-class, anglocentric cultural milieu is doomsteading, then I suppose you build some doomsteads, even though this is “not only profoundly dangerous but astoundingly unrealistic.” (p. 97) To understand why this is so is to challenge some deeply held assumptions: that “…the privileges afforded to people of Anglo ethnicity…” (p. 73) will remain in place, or that “the dominant culture will prevail alongside a number of subcultures.” (p. 74) And this is already manifestly not the case.
But the thought that part of what is collapsing is the Anglo cultural hegemony would be so profoundly angst-inducing that it might provoke a psychotic break in some of her readers, and so Baker avoids spelling it out, tap-dancing around the issue in a way that strikes me as slightly comic. “To be ‘civilized’ is synonymous with being domesticated, restrained, and repressed, and if we participate in sexual behavior at all, we are encouraged to do so in a controlled, sanitized, or even surreptitious fashion.” (p. 63) Yes, she gets that part, which is why she puts “civilized” in quotes. It is apparent that she has wandered outside the mental security perimeter, has tasted the forbidden fruit, and knows what it means to be fully human: “Benjamin Franklin said it best, after returning from living with the Iroquois: ‘No European who has tasted Savage life can afterward bear to live in our societies.’” (p. 56) And it is clear why she thinks that staying within the cultural perimeter would be “profoundly dangerous [and] astoundingly unrealistic.” (p. 97): “…collapse will decimate our anti-tribal, individualistic, Anglo-American programming by forcing us to join with others for survival.” (p. 105) Yes, it would appear that the Anglo ethnicity will go down in history as the oddest of the odd: the anti-tribal tribe.
But if you are a fully paid-up member of that tribe, then it is perhaps Baker who can speak to you like no other. This comes through most clearly when she talks about the soul, by which I think she means the Anglo soul, because it seems that there are some differences here. “The soul blossoms and flourishes not by going upward but by going down into the depths of emotion, body sensation, and intimate communion with nature.” (p. 38) “The soul … loves darkness, descent, downward mobility, and the razor-sharp adversities of the human condition. In dark times, it doesn’t have to be guided; it knows exactly what to do.” (p. 39) To me, this all sounds very strange. In my native language, the words soulspirit and breath are all variations on the same theme. This is not accidental but nearly universal: the Sanskrit ātman (soul) and the German atmen (to breathe) are the same word that has spanned continents and millennia. Like breath, the soul is light (weightless). It is luminous and lucid, not heavy or dark or drunk with emotion. It is apparent and visible, and shines in the eyes of those who happen to have one. (Soulless people have eyes like fish, and even children can be taught to spot them.) The action of soul and spirit is roughly analogous to magnetism: when another soul touches yours, it strengthens it withought weakening itself. A person whose soul is great is said to be selfless, accommodating, forbearing, self-sacrificing… And so when Baker writes that the “[s]oul waits like a crouched predator to deepen us…” (p. 40) I can’t help feeling that she is talking about something a little bit different. Be that as it may; perhaps it speaks to you, and, cultural differences aside, I fully agree with her that “…what will be most valuable will not necessarily be a sharp intellect but a well-honed intuition” (p. 65) Being able to tell at a glance whether someone has a soul is definitely part of that intuition.
I also sense that Baker’s soul is great, and that she is selfless, accommodating, forbearing and self-sacrificing. She worries about “…people of color, women, children, the elderly, and the LGBT community—the most vulnerable members of a society in chaos” (p. 43) and that “…the gains experienced by ethnic minorities, women, and gays in the past forty years will essentially be erased as berserk, belligerent males succeed in ruling the day.” (p. 43) Now, it bears pointing out that this has largely happened already. Look at the prison population, at the gangs that are active throughout the US military, and at narcocartels; look at the perpetually depressed, disintegrating inner cities or the rapidly slummifying suburbs. Only the still-sheltered middle class can place such things in the future rather than the present. She does point out that “[c]ircumstances will vary from one community and region to another. I use the wordlumpy to describe this phenomenon.” (p. 44) “Avoid the lumps” is the only advice I can give.
But some of these lumps are rather large—as large as the Roman Catholic Church—making them hard to avoid. (One former Catholic described it as “[a] large multi-national, tax-exempt, authoritarian corporation, with a history of child sex abuse [that is] selling an invisible product.”) Baker points out that much of the mysogyny present in Western culture comes from the “irrational dread of the feminine archetype in general and women in particular” (p. 49) that has been present in Christian relgious thought ever since the church fathers expelled the Gnostics. She quotes St. Augustine, who thought that women “should be segregated as they are the cause of hideous and involuntary erections in men…” (Whereas those caused by the choir-boys are what?) She also points out both the Catholic church’s and the Republican party’s “war on women … in which funding for contraception and abortion has been savagely cut, along with funding for programs that alleviate poverty.” (p. 51)
Not all of us can hope to avoid such lumps, and this brings us to what is perhaps the most important message of Baker’s book: there is much to do, so get cracking! A change of direction is called for. Many people are still attempting to work jobs, while “…employment as we know it will probably not exist a decade from now and … this time of massive unemployment creates space in our lives that allows us to prepare for a future of permanent unemployment.” (p. 5) Many people are still trying to stockpile advanced degrees or paper wealth, while “[i]n a post-collapse world, academic degrees and stock portfolios matter little.” (p. 104) In the meantime, there is much to do: “Volunteering in a homeless shelter, a daycare ceter for homeless children, a nursing home, or other agencies still in existence that serve vulnerable popultions is excellent psychological preparation for a time when none of these services exist. First, it puts you in a serving mode. You allow your innate compassion to reach out to other human beings in need. In addition, it causes you to ponder how you might deal with the situation in the future when members of the population you are serving are symbolically or literally on your doorstep. Furthermore, it expands your horizons beyond ‘me and mine’ to a sense of the commons and a camaraderie with the rest of humanity. (p. 67) “There is something about being of service in the current time that could have lasting benefits for us in the future, simply because a service mentality and especially a willingness to see the suffering of others in this moment provide us with critical emotional skills. In many cases, we may need to provide nothing except the capacity to listen.” (p. 67) “I venture to say that most collapse-aware individuals cherish some fantasies, no matter how frail or infrequently spoken of, of a new culture in which we live in authentic community, sharing resources, food, tasks, and recreation with each other. And we already know that such a culture will not be possible without an attitude of service and cooperation.” (p. 68) Such efforts may start out as responses to practical, mundane needs, but their results can transcend them: “Paradoxically, collapse may bring to our lives meaning and purpose that might otherwise have eluded us … With civilization’s collapse, we may be forced to evaluate daily, perhaps moment to moment, why we are here, if we want to remain here, if life is worth living, and if there is something greater than ourselves for which we are willing to remain alive and to which we choose to contribute energy.” (p. 106)
There are quite a few books on collapse that provide “food for thought.” Baker’s does some of that too; but more importantly, she guides the reader in feeling about collapse, progressing from hopelessness and helplessness to hope, self-realization and a sense of belonging. And this, I think, is a singular achievement.

 

Naomi Klein: Why Science Is Telling All of Us to Revolt and Change Our Lives Before We Destroy the Planet | Alternet

Naomi Klein: Why Science Is Telling All of Us to Revolt and Change Our Lives Before We Destroy the Planet | Alternet.

Climate scientists are coming to some incendiary conclusions.
October 29, 2013  |
In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles.

But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz. It was titled “Is Earth F**ked?” (full title: “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism”).

Standing at the front of the conference room, the geophysicist from the University of California, San Diego walked the crowd through the advanced computer model he was using to answer that question. He talked about system boundaries, perturbations, dissipation, attractors, bifurcations and a whole bunch of other stuff largely incomprehensible to those of us uninitiated in complex systems theory. But the bottom line was clear enough: global capitalism has made the depletion of resources so rapid, convenient and barrier-free that “earth-human systems” are becoming dangerously unstable in response. When pressed by a journalist for a clear answer on the “are we f**ked” question, Werner set the jargon aside and replied, “More or less.”

There was one dynamic in the model, however, that offered some hope. Werner termed it “resistance” – movements of “people or groups of people” who “adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture”. According to the abstract for his presentation, this includes “environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups”.

Serious scientific gatherings don’t usually feature calls for mass political resistance, much less direct action and sabotage. But then again, Werner wasn’t exactly calling for those things. He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. We know that past social movements have “had tremendous influence on . . . how the dominant culture evolved”, he pointed out. So it stands to reason that, “if we’re thinking about the future of the earth, and the future of our coupling to the environment, we have to include resistance as part of that dynamics”. And that, Werner argued, is not a matter of opinion, but “really a geophysics problem”.

Plenty of scientists have been moved by their research findings to take action in the streets. Physicists, astronomers, medical doctors and biologists have been at the forefront of movements against nuclear weapons, nuclear power, war, chemical contamination and creationism. And in November 2012,Nature published a commentary by the financier and environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham urging scientists to join this tradition and “be arrested if necessary”, because climate change “is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence”.

Some scientists need no convincing. The godfather of modern climate science, James Hansen, is a formidable activist, having been arrested some half-dozen times for resisting mountain-top removal coal mining and tar sands pipelines (he even left his job at Nasa this year in part to have more time for campaigning). Two years ago, when I was arrested outside the White House at a mass action against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, one of the 166 people in cuffs that day was a glaciologist named Jason Box, a world-renowned expert on Greenland’s melting ice sheet.

 “I couldn’t maintain my self-respect if I didn’t go,” Box said at the time, adding that “just voting doesn’t seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also.”

This is laudable, but what Werner is doing with his modelling is different. He isn’t saying that his research drove him to take action to stop a particular policy; he is saying that his research shows that our entire economic paradigm is a threat to ecological stability. And indeed that challenging this economic paradigm – through mass-movement counter-pressure – is humanity’s best shot at avoiding catastrophe.

That’s heavy stuff. But he’s not alone. Werner is part of a small but increasingly influential group of scientists whose research into the destabilisation of natural systems – particularly the climate system – is leading them to similarly transformative, even revolutionary, conclusions. And for any closet revolutionary who has ever dreamed of overthrowing the present economic order in favour of one a little less likely to cause Italian pensioners to hang themselves in their homes, this work should be of particular interest. Because it makes the ditching of that cruel system in favour of something new (and perhaps, with lots of work, better) no longer a matter of mere ideological preference but rather one of species-wide existential necessity.

Leading the pack of these new scientific revolutionaries is one of Britain’s top climate experts, Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, which has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s premier climate research institutions. Addressing everyone from the Department for International Development to Manchester City Council, Anderson has spent more than a decade patiently translating the implications of the latest climate science to politicians, economists and campaigners. In clear and understandable language, he lays out a rigorous road map for emissions reduction, one that provides a decent shot at keeping global temperature rise below 2° Celsius, a target that most governments have determined would stave off catastrophe.

But in recent years Anderson’s papers and slide shows have become more alarming. Under titles such as “Climate Change: Going Beyond Dangerous . . . Brutal Numbers and Tenuous Hope”, he points out that the chances of staying within anything like safe temperature levels are diminishing fast.

With his colleague Alice Bows, a climate mitigation expert at the Tyndall Centre, Anderson points out that we have lost so much time to political stalling and weak climate policies – all while global consumption (and emissions) ballooned – that we are now facing cuts so drastic that they challenge the fundamental logic of prioritising GDP growth above all else.

Anderson and Bows inform us that the often-cited long-term mitigation target – an 80 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 – has been selected purely for reasons of political expediency and has “no scientific basis”. That’s because climate impacts come not just from what we emit today and tomorrow, but from the cumulative emissions that build up in the atmosphere over time. And they warn that by focusing on targets three and a half decades into the future – rather than on what we can do to cut carbon sharply and immediately – there is a serious risk that we will allow our emissions to continue to soar for years to come, thereby blowing through far too much of our 2° “carbon budget” and putting ourselves in an impossible position later in the century.

Which is why Anderson and Bows argue that, if the governments of developed countries are serious about hitting the agreedupon international target of keeping warming below 2° Celsius, and if reductions are to respect any kind of equity principle (basically that the countries that have been spewing carbon for the better part of two centuries need to cut before the countries where more than a billion people still don’t have electricity), then the reductions need to be a lot deeper, and they need to come a lot sooner.

To have even a 50/50 chance of hitting the 2° target (which, they and many others warn, already involves facing an array of hugely damaging climate impacts), the industrialised countries need to start cutting their greenhouse-gas emissions by something like 10 per cent a year – and they need to start right now. But Anderson and Bows go further, pointing out that this target cannot be met with the array of modest carbon pricing or green-tech solutions usually advocated by big green groups. These measures will certainly help, to be sure, but they are simply not enough: a 10 per cent drop in emissions, year after year, is virtually unprecedented since we started powering our economies with coal. In fact, cuts above 1 per cent per year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, as the economist Nicholas Stern put it in his 2006 report for the British government.

Even after the Soviet Union collapsed, reductions of this duration and depth did not happen (the former Soviet countries experienced average annual reductions of roughly 5 per cent over a period of ten years). They did not happen after Wall Street crashed in 2008 (wealthy countries experienced about a 7 per cent drop between 2008 and 2009, but their CO2 emissions rebounded with gusto in 2010 and emissions in China and India had continued to rise). Only in the immediate aftermath of the great market crash of 1929 did the United States, for instance, see emissions drop for several consecutive years by more than 10 per cent annually, according to historical data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre. But that was the worst economic crisis of modern times.

If we are to avoid that kind of carnage while meeting our science-based emissions targets, carbon reduction must be managed carefully through what Anderson and Bows describe as “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the US, EU and other wealthy nations”. Which is fine, except that we happen to have an economic system that fetishises GDP growth above all else, regardless of the human or ecological consequences, and in which the neoliberal political class has utterly abdicated its responsibility to manage anything (since the market is the invisible genius to which everything must be entrusted).

So what Anderson and Bows are really saying is that there is still time to avoid catastrophic warming, but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which may be the best argument we have ever had for changing those rules.

In a 2012 essay that appeared in the influential scientific journal Nature Climate Change, Anderson and Bows laid down something of a gauntlet, accusing many of their fellow scientists of failing to come clean about the kind of changes that climate change demands of humanity. On this it is worth quoting the pair at length:

. . . in developing emission scenarios scientists repeatedly and severely underplay the implications of their analyses. When it comes to avoiding a 2°C rise, “impossible” is translated into “difficult but doable”, whereas “urgent and radical” emerge as “challenging” – all to appease the god of economics (or, more precisely, finance). For example, to avoid exceeding the maximum rate of emission reduction dictated by economists, “impossibly” early peaks in emissions are assumed, together with naive notions about “big” engineering and the deployment rates of low-carbon infrastructure. More disturbingly, as emissions budgets dwindle, so geoengineering is increasingly proposed to ensure that the diktat of economists remains unquestioned.

In other words, in order to appear reasonable within neoliberal economic circles, scientists have been dramatically soft-peddling the implications of their research. By August 2013, Anderson was willing to be even more blunt, writing that the boat had sailed on gradual change. “Perhaps at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit, or even at the turn of the millennium, 2°C levels of mitigation could have been achieved through significant evolutionary changes within the political and economic hegemony. But climate change is a cumulative issue! Now, in 2013, we in high-emitting (post-)industrial nations face a very different prospect. Our ongoing and collective carbon profligacy has squandered any opportunity for the ‘evolutionary change’ afforded by our earlier (and larger) 2°C carbon budget. Today, after two decades of bluff and lies, the remaining 2°C budget demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony” (his emphasis).

We probably shouldn’t be surprised that some climate scientists are a little spooked by the radical implications of even their own research. Most of them were just quietly doing their work measuring ice cores, running global climate models and studying ocean acidification, only to discover, as the Australian climate expert and author Clive Hamilton puts it, that they “were unwittingly destabilising the political and social order”.

But there are many people who are well aware of the revolutionary nature of climate science. It’s why some of the governments that decided to chuck their climate commitments in favour of digging up more carbon have had to find ever more thuggish ways to silence and intimidate their nations’ scientists. In Britain, this strategy is becoming more overt, with Ian Boyd, the chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writing recently that scientists should avoid “suggesting that policies are either right or wrong” and should express their views “by working with embedded advisers (such as myself), and by being the voice of reason, rather than dissent, in the public arena”.

If you want to know where this leads, check out what’s happening in Canada, where I live. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has done such an effective job of gagging scientists and shutting down critical research projects that, in July 2012, a couple thousand scientists and supporters held a mock-funeral on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, mourning “the death of evidence”. Their placards said, “No Science, No Evidence, No Truth”.

But the truth is getting out anyway. The fact that the business-as-usual pursuit of profits and growth is destabilising life on earth is no longer something we need to read about in scientific journals. The early signs are unfolding before our eyes. And increasing numbers of us are responding accordingly: blockading fracking activity in Balcombe; interfering with Arctic drilling preparations in Russian waters (at tremendous personal cost); taking tar sands operators to court for violating indigenous sovereignty; and countless other acts of resistance large and small. In Brad Werner’s computer model, this is the “friction” needed to slow down the forces of destabilisation; the great climate campaigner Bill McKibben calls it the “antibodies” rising up to fight the planet’s “spiking fever”.

It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start. And it might just buy us enough time to figure out a way to live on this planet that is distinctly less f**ked.

 

Fukushima Is Here | Washington’s Blog

http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/10/fukushima-is-here.html  (source/link)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Native American tribe battles corporations – Al Jazeera Blogs

Native American tribe battles corporations – Al Jazeera Blogs. (FULL ARTICLE)

A highway twisting through the wilderness of northern Idaho lies at the heart of a battle pitting some of America’s most powerful corporations against a small tribe of native Americans and their allies. And the corporations are losing.

“We are not gonna stand by and let this happen,” declares Nez Perce tribal chairman Silas Whitman.

“We are not gonna go away. It affects our homeland, and our resources, and our way of life, our treaty culture, everything that we are about, and we are not going to see a re-visit of what happened to us in the past. No more.”

US Highway 12 runs through the Nez Perce reservation and the tribe’s historic cultural territory, along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. It’s also the cheapest route for the Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips and General Electric corporations to transport giant oil-processing equipment, from manufacturers in Asia for use in the tar sands of Alberta, in Canada. The shipments, called “mega-loads”, are too big to fit beneath overpasses on larger highways. They take up the entire width of the two lane highway.

The highway 12 corridor is protected from development under Federal law as a place of unique natural beauty and environmental value. Plans to run hundreds of mega-loads through the corridor appalled Lin Laughly and Borge Hendrickson, who’ve live nearly all their lives along the river….

 

Bigger than that: (The difficulty of) looking at climate change

Bigger than that: (The difficulty of) looking at climate change. (FULL ARTICLE)

Late last week, in the lobby of a particularly unglamorous downtown San Francisco building, a group of passionate but polite activists met with a bureaucrat who stepped forward to hear what they had to say about the fate of the Earth. The activists wanted to save the world.  The particular part of it that might be under their control involved getting the San Francisco Retirement board to divest its half a billion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, one piece of the international divestment movement that arose a year ago.

Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.

The bureaucrat had a hundred reasons why changing course was, well, too much of a change. This public official wanted to operate under ordinary-times rules and the idea that climate change has thrust us into extraordinary times (and that divesting didn’t necessarily entail financial loss or even financial risk) was apparently too much to accept….

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