Musings


This week we talked to Arun Gupta about the “market” solutions to climate change. We’re all familiar with the cap and trade systems that are frequently cited and heralded in the mainstream media. Below are some of the outlandish proposals to address climate change from companies around the world engaging in geoengineering — manipulating the atmosphere to deal with climate change.  Adapted from The Indypendent article “Hacking the Planet” by Arun Gupta

SOLUTION: THE MATRIX

Use high-altitude weather balloons, airplanes and even naval guns to disperse sulfate particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight. This is based on the effects of the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, which injected an estimated 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, cooling the planet by 0.5 degrees Celsius for more than a year.

DRAWBACKS: Arctic ozone depletion; a more acidic environment; decreased soil moisture and rainfall; uneven regional effects; impact on Asia’s monsoons, which could prove disastrous for billions; unknown effects on photosynthesis; reduced effectiveness of solar power; no change in increasing ocean acidification; and the need to keep the sulfate pump working continuously.

SOLUTION: SUNSHIELD

Launch a trillion mirrors or more into space where they would reflect some of the sunlight back, thus reducing the global mean temperature.

DRAWBACKS: The cost could be in the hundreds of trillions of dollars (makes the Wall Street bailout look like peanuts). There are the usual hazards of decreasing solar radiation, such as no effect on ocean acidification and less solar power. Then there’s the fact that the global water cycle is more sensitive to a change in solar radiation than the carbon cycle. Simply put, lowering temperatures to the pre-industrial norm would push global rainfall below the norm. And the sunshield could be used as a weapon. Imagine the Pentagon threatening to block a “rogue nation’s” sunlight.

SOLUTION: GERITOL

Dump iron filings in the oceans to spawn blooms of phytoplankton that soak up carbon dioxide via photosynthesis. The theory is that when the phytoplankton die they will sink to lower depths carrying the carbon with them. At least two California companies, Planktos and Climos, are already trying to cash in by selling ocean fertilization as offsets.

DRAWBACKS: The only way to test ocean fertilization is to do it on a massive scale for decades in an environment in constant flux, making it extremely difficult to measure results. Effects include nutrient robbing and oxygen depletion. According to Nature, the weekly science journal, “even if the entire Southern Ocean were fertilized forever with iron” this would sequester only one-eighth of the carbon now being generated annually. Another recent Nature study found that in one case of natural iron fertilization, the amount of carbon sequestered in lower depths “was almost 80 times smaller than the amount that scientists had determined during a similar study.” In other words, it doesn’t work.

SOLUTION: FANTASY ISLANDS

Construct huge white, plastic islands and float them in the oceans to mimic the reflectivity of polar ice. Melting ice is one critical feedback loop that is speeding up warming. Snow-covered ice reflects up to 85 percent of solar radiation, while open water reflects a paltry 7 percent. So as sea ice melts, the ocean absorbs more heat, causing more ice to melt.

DRAWBACKS: The amount of area to be covered could amount to hundreds of thousands of square miles, resulting in an immense and expensive engineering project. It’s uncertain how this would affect weather patterns and sea life under the islands. The growth and shrinkage of northern sea ice plays a critical role in heat transfer from the oceans to the atmosphere, which is already affecting weather patterns throughout the northern hemisphere, whereas fake islands would remain fixed in size and place.

SOLUTION: WHITER, BRIGHTER CLOUDS

Known as “marine cloud brightening,” this technique involves deploying thousands of robotic ships to spray atomized saltwater mist into the lower layer of stratocumulus clouds that cover about 25 percent of the world’s oceans. Theoretically, these brightened clouds could reflect enough solar radiation to offset the global warming expected from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which we’re quickly headed toward.

Drawbacks: Apart from the usual problems of tinkering with sunlight, the effects would likely be regionalized. According to Nature, brighter clouds also cool only during the day and do best in summer, whereas global warming is an around-theclock phenomenon. There are questions about whether it is technologically possible to create small enough salt droplets and what the feedback would be on the cloud layers. Since all sorts of climatic activity is driven by temperature differences between the land and oceans, no one knows how weather patterns will be affected.

SOLUTION: ARTIFICIAL TREES

Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University, has teamed up with Global Research Technologies in Arizona to construct artificial trees coated in an absorbent material like limewater to bind with carbon dioxide. The carbon would then be removed and stored in used gas and oil reservoirs where it would supposedly stay put for eons.

DRAWBACKS: Cost is a huge issue. Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers estimates in a new report that it would take 10 million trees at about $20,000 each to absorb just one-eighth of carbon dioxide produced annually. Removing half the world’s carbon dioxide by this method comes to $800 billion and the report notes this is only 20 percent of the costs, with most of the expense coming from “recovery from the sorbent filter material.” Plus there are unknowns as to whether captured and stored carbon would actually stay in the ground; if it started to leak on a large scale, warming could snap back.

SOLUTION: MOVE THE EARTH

This is the most outlandish idea, while admittedly tongue in cheek. Writing in the journal Astrophysics and Space Science in 2001, three scientists described how to “slingshot” an asteroid about half the size of Long Island past Jupiter and then the Earth, transferring the orbital energy in the process. Voilà! Earth’s orbit is nudged about 30 miles further out, reducing incoming solar radiation. Repeat as needed.

DRAWBACKS: The asteroid could cause a speed-up in the Earth’s rotation; the asteroid’s tidal bulge would be 10 times the force of the moon’s, “leading to likely tsunamis, immense storms and other disruptions”; other planets may have to be moved as the Earth is moved, which could destabilize the whole solar system; “it seems that the Moon will be lost from Earth orbit during this process”; and a wayward asteroid could smack into the Earth, effectively sterilizing the biosphere of life.

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As has been widely reported, last week Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7 earthquake that left it’s capital Port-Au-Prince in shambles. It is estimated that 200,000 are dead and many more are in desperate need of supplies and medical care. The scale of chaos and crisis happening in Haiti is almost incomprehensible — a disaster of epic proportions.

In light of the devastation, the Obama Administration announced on Tuesday that undocumented Haitian immigrants living in the United States have been granted temporary protected status. This means that any Haitian that was in the country before the earthquake struck will be allowed to stay for eighteen months and allowed to work. While the Administration should be applauded for taking this step, it is sad to think that it takes a disaster of this magnitude to keep ICE from tearing apart the lives of immigrants.

The fact of the matter is that many of the countries immigrants are fleeing are suffering similar scale disaster — whether it be on the political, economic, or natural level (and sometimes all three). The immigrants that flock to the United States are seeking a new life. Many risk their lives in the journey over. They follow in the footsteps of the millions that crossed New York harbor in the early parts of the 20th century and stared dumbfounded as the Statue of Liberty rose up over the fog with the City as her backdrop. The words of Emma Lazarus, inscribed forever at the Statue’s base, read “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Immigration policy in this country as it stands is a sad defacing of those words.

There are a myriad of reasons to support Single Payer Health Care. We have the most expensive and wasteful insurance system in the world, and routinely end up on the bottom of most lists comparing overall health and health care.  There are currently 46 million Americans without access to health care. People are dying from completely curable diseases everyday in this country simply because they can’t afford to visit the doctor. All of these tell-tale signs that our health care system is fundamentally broken. The progressive movement has been in the trenches for nearly 30 years, fighting against the overwhelming influence of insurance companies to get real reform. But as we heard last night, the options that will lead to tangible improvement and change in healthcare have simply been pushed out of the debate.

The bill currently in the Senate is nothing but a hollow compromise. Put simply, it’s a bailout for the private insurance industry, offering no real solutions to the problem. Instead, it will force Americans to buy into a broken system or be penalized.  The mechanisms of the market are already anticipating huge profits. Since Oct. 27th, when Sen. Joe Lieberman announced that he would filibuster a Senate health care reform bill if it included a public option – a threat that caused Senate leaders to cave without much of a fight – the health sector’s stock prices have continually shot up.

Here’s a quick breakdown of major health insurance company stock performance from Oct. 27 to Friday’s market close:

  • Coventry Health Care, Inc. is up 31.6 percent;
  • CIGNA Corp. is up 29.1 percent;
  • Aetna Inc. is up 27.1 percent;
  • WellPoint, Inc. is up 26.6 percent;
  • UnitedHealth Group Inc. is up 20.5 percent;
  • And Humana Inc. is up 13.6 percent.

I could throw numbers at you for days, but it’s important to keep a very fundamental thing: SINGLE PAYER IS THE ETHICAL IMPERATIVE. It won’t just cover 94% or 96% of Americans — it covers everyone under the same insurance plan. Whether you’re a member of congress or the janitor sweeping in the hall, you have access to the same level of health care as everyone else. It embodies the idea that health care is not just a privilege for the wealthy, but a HUMAN RIGHT. International human rights law is unambiguous on the matter.

Article 25 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reads (emphasis mine):

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Likewise, Article 12 of the U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) reads:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;

(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

We need to recognize that adopting an all-inclusive, equitable health care system is just the right thing to do. It is insanely draconian to have people dying from curable diseases because they don’t have any access to health care. It is wholly unethical to deny 46 million people access to even a doctor’s visit.  Health care simply cannot be a privilege — it needs to be available to everyone.

If we’re going to adhere to international human rights law, as well as our own innate sense of ethical responsibility, health care has to come off the market. The so-called “free market” is the fundamental problem here. It has created a system of health care that seeks to make a profit by NOT providing health care. Private health insurance MUST GO.

This week we stared down the wall of manufactured consent with a sledgehammer in hand.  We waded through the mainstream, fighting the current, and shouted along with Lennon:  “give peace a chance!” We gave peace an hour to unfurl through the words of those who have practiced it, preached against it, and manipulated it.

Peace cannot be allowed to become war. More and more, it is becoming just another product or catch-phrase with no real meaning, shaken dry of its political significance. The most obvious example of this opened the show last night: Obama announcing a huge troop surge in Afghanistan a few weeks after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee and Obama himself said time and time again that the award was a “call to action.” But what kind of action, exactly? An even more prolonged war? Was peace ever really on the table?

Yesterday Obama accepted his Prize. In his speech, he quoted MLK and said “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace.” Quite the salesman. He isn’t reassuring us that he has found a way to deal with the military industrial giant we’ve created with our annual $600 billion Pentagon budget. We have one thousand American bases outside the continental US – more than any other country in human history. We self-perpetuate these imperial conflicts to keep money coming to this gigantic policy-less industry we’ve created. The words for freedom, democracy, America, and yes – Peace – are still used everyday to argue for this or that weapons system, and now those words have become empty.

We must always keep in mind that peace sells and is being sold to us as we speak — but we can take it back. Peace is everywhere. We need to recognize that. It’s there in our communities and relationships.  We can resist this military complex non-violently. Help a conscientious objector, a war tax non-payer, keep recruiters out of schools.  Peace must a viable option, not just a sales tool.

Bono’s Project (Red) campaign is turning the background of Twitter and Facebook red today. For AIDs.  For those that don’t know, Project (Red) is a brand licensed to partner companies such as American Express, Apple Inc., Starbucks, Converse (recently bought out by Nike), Motorola, Gap, Emporio Armani, Hallmark, Microsoft, and Dell.”  (Links will take you to company profiles on Knowmore.org). These companies aren’t exactly temples of ethical business practices. What possible interest do they have in aid to Africa? The answer is consumerism.

We can’t just oppose the act of consuming. We have to oppose the culture of consuming as well. We have to stand against what it does to our relationships with one another, how it monetizes and zombifies our lives and turns us away from being active citizens. You just can’t run a culture based on consumption — not only for the ostensible political and environmental reasons, but also because of the social consequences of consumerism.

Please keep in mind that no matter how charitable their PR firms make them seem, corporations (by definition) function for one purpose only: to turn profit. This Product (Red) project is just another disingenuous marketing ploy to get us to keep spending. Our economy — call it capitalism or corporatism or whathaveyou — depends on us spending. It’s a linear system that starts with resource extraction and thrives solely on products flying off the shelves only to be replaced with more, more, more. And so it is constantly looking for ways to get us to keep going to the shelves. It adapts – changing  it’s logos, brand names, color schemes, discounts, sales approaches, etc, etc. This we’re all familiar with. But now it seems they have found a new marketing scheme, a new reason for us to get in our cars and head to the store: that very human urge we all have to reach out and help one another. Think of the power of being able to satisfy these two powerful urges at once: our urge to consume and our urge to be charitable. But are we really being genuinely charitable? Achieving some kind of social justice? No. Our desire to be charitable is merely being exploited. Plain and simple. It’s akin to Bush attaching feelings of patriotic duty to shopping when he encouraged us after 9/11 not to hope or pray or mourn — but to shop.

Have we really sunk to the level of even reaching out a helping hand to our fellow man (pardon the gendered term) via products?

We have to be voices against this kind of thinking. We have to work — ALWAYS — toward the alternative, not in tiny steps but in leaps and bounds. Consumerism is not a way to run an economy, a planet, or a society…but it’s also NOT a way to achieve social justice. Just because some  corporation is willing to part with .10 cents of every dollar is takes in doesn’t mean it deserves our unquestioning support. If they really gave a shit, they’d stop making their products in sweat shops. Hell, if they REALLY cared about fighting AIDS they’d invest DIRECTLY, not hold the aid ransom until we purchase their products. We can’t shop enough for Africa because, well, we’re still shopping! Still contributing to the system that keeps people in Africa and around the world oppressed.

BUY LESS CRAP.

This Friday, stomachs still full from Thanksgiving festivities, Dawn and I woke up at 4:30am and donned our green robes. We rushed over, fighting the cold and dark, to the Macy’s on 34th Street. It was Black Friday, and doors were set to open at 5am. As usual, a visceral crowd of people stood at the entrance waiting for the countdown and the doors to open. They’d probably been there for hours — eager to be the first ones to the shelves and discounts.

When the doors did open, the shoppers rushed in. Along with them was Rev. Billy and a small contingent of his choir, urging shoppers to turn around and go home. It was a short run, we entered briefly with the shoppers and shouted as loud as we could. Then we went back outside and greeted the stragglers, handing out flyers on Buy Nothing Day and consumerism. Very few heads turned. Most just went right on inside and did their holiday shopping. It’s tradition, after all.

At 10am we were at Penn Station waiting for the train to Valley Stream — the site of the Wal-Mart where store employee Jdimytai Damour was trampled to death when shoppers stormed the store last year. We arrived in Valley Stream and I looked out from the station at the vast array of car-centered amenities. We were now clearly in a place that was built for the automobile. To get to the Wal-Mart, we walked along the narrow edges of highways and crossed the vast black emptiness of big-box parking lots for 20 minutes. The store was surrounded by a fortress of Big-Boxes: Best Buy, Target, Home Depot, Petsmart, and more. When we finally arrived, we noticed that the store had taken extra security precautions this year. There was a long line of people in barricades waiting to be let in. Two mounted policemen patrolled back and forth.

We had flyers with Jdimytai’s face on them explaining his story and a bag full of flower petals we planned to scatter on the site of his death in memoriam. The plan was to start at the end of the line of would-be shoppers, singing “Back away from the Wal-Mart/back away from the sweat shops” and handing them flyers. Before we started, Rev. Billy reminded us that in many ways Jdimytai had become the center of the anti-consumerist struggle in New York.  He was a victim of the social consequences of consumerism.

As we went down the line, many remembered hearing of the tragedy last year, but few seemed to make the connection between the line they were currently standing in and Jdimytai’s death. Consumerism – that plastic-wrapped jewel in the crown of the American Dream – is best at separating the act of buying from it’s consequences.  As we stand in line on Black Friday or any other day, we clutch neatly packaged products that in our minds have no place, no history, no politics. Somehow they arrived on these shelves, but we rarely consider the long process that brought them there. Many are made by people that are perpetually poor, working an inhumane amount of hours daily just make a few cents. They are shipped via air and ocean, plastic wrapped in plastic wrapped in plastic, burning thousands of tons of fossil fuel a year.  By the time they get within reach of our hands they are perfectly packaged and advertised products ready for consumption, the story that spawned them purposely buried behind company logos. Consider Annie Leonard‘s The Story of Stuff for a better explanation:

When we reached the front of the line, the barricades and cops kept us from going any further. We laid our petals down in a semi-circle and scattered pictures of Jdimytai throughout. Rev. Billy offered a prayer:

“The indigenous holy days that rise from the solstice – Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hannakah and all the rest – offer us an unseen opportunity. This is the day that there is seconds more light and heat, as the earth and sun roll back toward what will become the unleashing of life called Spring. So the holidays in late December are the seed of change. Christmas is radical, and life is out of our control. All we can do is pray for the best, honor it, because it is the beginning of a miracle. It’s not a Consumer event.

Now, Christmas is the annual environmental disaster. Last year Americans generated 25 million tons of trash from Thanksgiving to Christmas. But then, these holy days are the beginning of Spring, the possibility of change. We always had that life inside us, but we suppress it with Consumerism. Are we afraid of what more heat and light might mean? Will next Spring be too wild – too loving – too out of our control? What if the heat and light grows to become Peace on Earth?”

Shortly thereafter we left the cops and security guards alone and made the trek back to the station. Dawn and I decided to take a cab there along with several other choir members, weary of the 20 minute empty journey back.

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Last night we spoke about public space being the last stand for democracy.  Our first amendment rights protect us, cloak us when we’re in public space. All the cops and logos in the world can’t weigh us down there.

Cities need public space.  Somewhere where it’s citizens can be human with one another without the pretense of buying something. Somewhere where we can shout at one another, argue, protest, play guitar, have picnics and just generally lounge about.

When we’re sharing public space with one another, we can become uncommercialized. We break through the commodity wall together. We talk directly with one another, share ideas that aren’t corporate sponsored or mired in the restrictions around the water cooler at work. Most importantly, we make change together.

In the pavilion of Union Square alone, the voices of Emma Goldman, Paul Robeson, Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez and so many others echoed while thousands rallied around them. Women won the the right to vote there. We fought for the 8 hour work day there. We grieved there. We rallied there. Together.

Crowd at Union Square, May 1912

More and more what we’re seeing is that the cops and logos are encroaching on our public spaces. Even the language of public space is changing. The word “mall” used to be associated with a public promenade, a commons space. Now we associate “mall” with the epitome of private spaces. If we were to stand up and shout or gather in crowds in these modern “malls,” we would immediately be escorted out by rent-a-cops. The first amendment does not apply there.

Corporate advertising also continually invades our public areas. I spoke to Jordan Seiler from the Public Ad Campaign, a group that seeks to take back public space from advertising by doing unauthorized art installs on and over ads facing public streets and sidewalks.

Jordan spoke of the need for the people to take public space back for themselves. There is this myth of acceptance out there – the belief that we have no choice but to deal with the thousands of advertising events we see the minute we step outside. As Jordan and his group prove, we don’t.

The same myth of acceptance is there when the line for the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park goes around the block. It’s also there when we just walk by the fenced-off pavilion at Union Square without shouting “Hey! That’s ours!” We don’t have to accept the privitization and militarization of our public spaces. We need assert our need for them.

Join up with groups struggling to save our public spaces. Protect these temples of free speech!