LET’S GET ON WITH THE BUSINESS OF GOVERNING, AND OF SAVING THE PLANET

By Paul

Now that election 2012 is over, and the results are so promising, it’s time to get on with the business of exactly why we elect people in the first place, namely, to govern. 

Not so much governing has taken place for quite some time in this interminable run up to November 6th.   It seems as though that run up by itself has lasted for at least a couple of years.  So, it’s definitely time to get back in the saddle again.  It’s obvious that the first order of business has to be the so-called Fiscal Cliff, those automatic spending cuts and tax hikes which will go into effect in January of 2013.  In my view, it would be a complete disaster if they happen, as it would probably trigger at least a “mild recession,” according to any number of economists.   But even a mild recession, in the wake of the Major Recession we have just gone through, could be devastating.  In fact, it brings to mind the latest nor’easter to hit New York and New Jersey on the heels of Hurricane Sandy.  Ask the folks there, who were without power and literally under water, and who are again going through a similar ordeal, if another blow is an easy thing to take.  I think you’ll get an earful.  It would be the same thing if the President and Congress are unable to work out some sort of compromise to prevent us from heading over this fiscal precipice.

But that’s just the beginning.  There is a whole host of things on everybody’s plate that needs to be attended to.  It’s almost as if things have been on hold for two years, and now finally it’s time to get a move on.  The President has already said that Immigration Reform will be high on his list, and that is surely a good thing.  This country has actually always had a love-hate relationship with its immigrants, in spite of the comforting old myth of the melting pot.  Very few of the established Anglos wanted those damned Irish, or the Italians either for that matter, back at the end of the nineteenth century, just as many don’t want the Mexicans, or other Latinos, today.  And just as with the Europeans, so too with Hispanics, epithets such as “lazy” and “free loaders” are thrown around with nothing to back them up.  We won’t get to a truly fair and comprehensive immigration reform package, I believe, until we come to terms with how we really want to perceive, and therefore how we treat, new arrivals to this country.

Another major problem that has to be fixed is the economic one.  I am nothing if not a liberal, and I hope a progressive, but I do agree with conservatives that something has to be done about balancing the fiscal books.  We cannot go on spending so much more than we take in, and we most definitely cannot go on simply borrowing money from China and elsewhere in order to cover the gap between spending and income.  Toward that end, we have to be upfront and transparent about how we spend the money we do have.  One of the most despicable things about the administration of George W. Bush was how they hid the cost of two wars.  These military incursions were utterly unfunded; they never even made it to the budget talks.  And this is aside from the fact that, in my view anyway, they were both totally unnecessary in the first place.  But that’s another question entirely.

The only way to balance the books is some combination of reasonable spending cuts and equally reasonable tax hikes.  It also assumes that we will come up with a way to handle so-called entitlements, although personally I hate that word.  It always comes off to my ear as sounding as though people are getting something for nothing, something they don’t really deserve.  That is not the case in regard to Social Security, which those of us who receive it (myself included) have paid into for upwards of forty years, or however long a person has worked.  The same is true for Medicare, although in regard to medical costs in general the country has also got to have a very serious conversation about what is actually appropriate, and in the end, what we can afford.  This will not be an easy discussion, inasmuch as it concerns both ourselves and the lives of those whom we love, and just how much care is enough care.  But the topic has to be on the table.  These are things that adults talk about, and that we need to talk about.

Beyond these things, education looms high on the list, too.  For far too long we have been putting off decisions about comprehensive funding that will get our children – all of our children – ready for the highly competitive world of the 21st century.  It will have to be a discussion that takes place at the national, the state, and the local levels, since funding for education and decisions regarding how kids are educated happen at all three levels.  But when a baseball player (nothing against baseball, as much as I find it one of the most boring sports on the planet), or a football player, or a movie actor, or a CEO of a company that rapes the planet, earns millions of dollars, and educators are paid a pittance, it seems to me that there is something seriously wrong with our value system as a society.  And remember that politicians are really only reflections of ourselves.  We hire political leaders in the first place by voting them into office, and by keeping them in office (or not) once we’ve seen how they perform.  So, if we continue to elect people who do not value the things we say we value, then in the end we have to examine ourselves, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. 

 I could go on with a long list of things that have to be dealt with, and no doubt anyone who reads this could add others, equally as important.  Clearly, the economy and jobs go hand in hand, and you do not fix one without the other.  And this includes jobs for everyone, including people who have been traditionally shunted out of the good life of the American middle class, people of color in particular who have suffered more profoundly than anyone else during the years of the Great Recession.  Other things come to mind, as well, things like the infrastructure of the country, which is crumbling, care for the sick and the indigent and those who cannot care for themselves, always a bell weather in terms of what a society considers important, and so-called energy independence, a silly pipe dream in itself unless and until we wean ourselves off of fossil fuels.  Which leads me to the final point that is on my mind in regard to the new administration, and the Republicans in Congress as well, because the latter can block almost anything they want with the majority they have in the House of Representatives.  And that topic is the eighteen thousand pound gorilla in the room, namely, climate change. 

Now here is a topic for the ages!  And not many more ages, in fact, if we do not somehow come to grips with its disastrous implications.  I have to say that I was appalled at both candidates during the presidential campaign that the words climate change or global warming almost never passed their lips.  It is, though, a topic that in the final analysis trumps all others.  And I do mean all.  Because we can do whatever we want to fix the economy, to create wonderful jobs for people, to educate our children, to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to grant equal rights to minorities, pay down the debt, and on and on, but if the planet rebels – in ways that I think we have only begun to see – then none of these other things matter.  If we do not have a hospitable planet on which to live and to raise our children, and even, God help us, to play baseball on, then everything else is for naught.

The old Republican adage of “drill, baby, drill” sounds almost like a hateful curse to my ears.  It is at very least the cry, and maybe the last cry, of the utterly deluded.  There are surely things that all of us can, and must, do in order to help play our part.  We can and should conserve and not be wasteful, find alternate sources of energy, recycle, and we absolutely have got to stop having so many children. At seven billion people and counting, the world already has far too great of a population for the planet to sustain.  And we must find a way to satisfy our need for power that does not, as a byproduct, pollute the air, the water, and the earth itself.       

All of this is necessary, and some of it can be done on the personal and the local level.  Even so, that will not be enough.  Governments, and whole associations of governments, absolutely must take this on as a priority – no, as THE major priority – because the ravages of catastrophic global climate change will not respect race or ethnicity, wealth or poverty, one economic system over another, or anyone’s arbitrarily drawn political boundaries.  It will get us all, if we do not take steps now to make a difference. 

So, I admire and appreciate President Barack Obama very much.  I also feel for him, and hope and pray that he will have the strength and the wisdom and the determination to take on these problems we are all faced with.  If we do not assist him in this task, then we are all to blame.  It is time now to act and to stop playing politics.  And if we do not, there is no doubt in my mind that we will all suffer the most dire of consequences.

Mother Nature Sends Sandy to Make Climate Change a Conservative Issue

by Kevin

The light yet shines. It is time for people of all socio-economic-political stripes to speak with one voice and demand that governments and fossil fuel companies switch as quickly as possible to clean renewable energy to save Mother Nature and leave a habitable planet for future generations. (Political cartoon by Kevin, 2012.)

The Two-Ton Gorilla in the Livingroom

For many years the very mention of climate change has been taboo for TV reporters and commentators. It was never discussed. Mother Nature has been trying to focus our attention on this issue, because it is killing Her. She broke off chunks of Greenland the size of Manhattan and we barely noticed as they floated away. She virtually destroyed New Orleans, but President W and “Brownie” and the rich and powerful paid no attention, because the masses that suffered and the thousand who died were mostly poor people of color. So Katrina did not work. Mother Nature deprived much of the country of a real winter last year, and everyone just said “thank you.” Finally, She decided to go really big with her attention grabbing statements, and last summer She burned up all the Midwest crops in a disastrous drought, reduced the mighty Mississippi River to a trickle, and charred huge swaths of the West with massive wildfires. There was still virtually no mention of climate change! What does a damsel in distress have to do to get saved these days?
 
“It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!”
 
Last week everything changed. Mother Nature really got her panties all up in a bunch because the presidential campaign was almost over and climate change had never been mentioned in the debates or stump speeches or lists of voter concerns. So Her hand was forced. She had no choice. Mother Nature sent Hurricane Sandy to Wall Street, the financial capital of the world, to wake up the rich and powerful. Wall Street and much of New York City were under water. Lower Manhattan was cold and dark for five days. Staten Island and Hoboken are still in deep distress at this writing. The New Jersey coast was destroyed. The storm was 1,000 miles wide! Mother Nature delivered Her unmistakable message loud and clear to Wall Street’s rich and powerful: “You will lose New York City and your Jersey Shore playground unless you come to my rescue and do something about climate change immediately!” 
 
Mother Nature has finally succeeded in focusing some attention on Her own dire plight. Suddenly almost every TV news reporter and commentator cannot stop talking about climate change. There are featured stories and discussions about it on cable news. New York’s Governor Cuomo made it clear in public statements that the Hurricane Sandy disaster was caused by climate change. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg belatedly and abruptly endorsed President Obama, indicating that the president was more likely than Romney to do something about climate change. Then Bloomberg was forced by public outrage to cancel the New York Marathon because everyone demanded that those resources be allocated to disaster relief.
 
Speaking Truth to Power and Money
 
Mother Nature has come to the sad realization that She has to take her plight directly to the doorstep of power and money if She is to be heard. Hurricane Sandy has made climate change a conservative issue. It may take a few more hits like this one where the rich and powerful live, work and play, on Wall Street and the Jersey Shore, and other bastions of wealth, power, luxury and privilege, but Mother Nature will eventually force conservatives to begin pushing for a halt and reversal of climate change.
 
Why Climate Change Is a Conservative Issue
 
1. Loss of Property — Nobody likes to lose their hard-earned, cherished property. New York City and the Jersey Shore comprise one hell of a piece of property to lose. Did you see the photos of all those yachts and luxury cars piled up on the Jersey Shore?… and all those destroyed weekend homes and resorts and vacation areas? Wall Street was under water and shut down for two days. This kind of sudden loss is a real shock to anyone who is attached to material possessions, and who is not? People are going to want to be assured that their property will be protected, especially when insurance is priced out of sight. They’ll talk about massive sea walls and gigantic ocean gates and fortress engineering for a while, but eventually it will become clear that Mother Nature will take what She wants if we do not stop killing Her by altering the chemistry of Her atmosphere and oceans and soil with carbon and greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels.
 
2. Extinction is Bad for Profits — The sad economics of ignoring escalating global climate change and ecological destruction, add up to a lose/lose/lose/lose scenario for A. Business/ B. Wall Street Investors/ C. Governments/ and D. The Electorate. The people who comprise all four of these elements of civilization will die off when Earth becomes a boiling, burning sci-fi planet, and there will be nobody left to play the game of capitalism. In order for commerce to work, we must have at least sellers and buyers. Without either one of those there are no profits and nobody to collect the profits. Then the game is over.
 
3. Cost of Preparedness and Disaster Response — Five days after landfall, on MSNBC’s must-watch weekend round table, “Up with Chris Hayes,” Klaus Jacob of Columbia said that in about 85 years the sea level in Manhattan on a calm sunny day will be the same as it was at the height of Sandy’s storm surge. Two years ago he wrote a study predicting every detail of what happened in Manhattan this past week, right down to the specific flooded tunnels and subway lines. Now he asserts that investing in preparedness engineering will cost 10 times less than relying only on disaster clean-up, but either way it’s going to be extremely expensive. The clean-up for Katrina was way over $100 billion. Losses from Sandy are estimated at $50 billion. Who knows how much the clean up and replacement bill will be? It seems only logical that conservatives will eventually ask how we can treat this problem at its root so that we can stop throwing obscene amounts of money at preparing for or cleaning up after the symptoms.
 
4. Public and Political Pressure Mount — Governments and political entities do, in fact, respond when the force of public opinion becomes insurmountable. Witness Mayor Bloomberg’s cancellation of the New York Marathon this week. He really did NOT want to do that. But the public outcry was overwhelming, and the mayor heard from virtually every significant city power center that he had no choice but to shut it down and reallocate those resources to disaster relief. So he did. As extreme weather disasters increase in size and frequency, and the media are inundated with images and stories of unbelievable suffering all across the socio-economic-political spectrum, the masses, including wealthy and powerful hard-hit conservatives, will demand a response, and they will get it.
 
5. Everyone Cares about the Survival and Happiness of Their Kids and Grandkids — It won’t matter whether people are conservative, liberal or moderate… When it dawns on everyone that their kids and grandkids may not be able to survive in the future we are setting up for them, everyone will pause. We will all have to ask ourselves why we are working, creating and procreating if there is no future — no civilization to build — no place or time for our children to live and carry on our legacy. We will all realize that it is time to stop and turn this thing around, if only for the sake of future generations.
 
Conservation is a Conservative Value
 
Aside from these five points, conserving the planet really ought to be a natural conservative issue. It seems like leaving our children a planet, climate, oceans, soil and atmosphere at least as healthy as the system we inherited from our ancestors is a smart, conservative thing to do. It’s sort of like investing money for our future financial security. Or maybe a better analogy would be doing due diligence on the maintenance of our house so that we can protect and sustain the investment we have in our home. Earth is the only home we have. The conservative approach would be to maintain our home for the security and wellbeing of future generations. It’s just the common sense responsible thing to do.
 
What’s Next?
 
What’s next? Conservatives, liberals and moderates will join forces and demand with one voice that governments and fossil fuel companies switch as fast as possible from extracting and burning fossil fuels to developing and supporting renewable clean energy sources and lifestyles. Last year Exxon-Mobile made more profit than any company in the history of money, and our government gave them your tax dollars and mine to subsidize that historic windfall, which is killing Mother Nature. Is that okay with you? Of course it’s not. Mother Nature will no longer allow escalating fatal climate change to be a polarizing political issue. This is a matter of life and death for Her, for us, and for our children. It’s time to join hands with our political foes and opposites and force governments and fossil fuel companies to switch to clean renewable energy. Talk it up. Make noise. Write letters to editors. Make art about it. Demonstrate on the streets. 
 
Three Big Things We Can All Do Right Now
 
First: Organize — Join 350.org and Bill McKibben’s efforts to stop climate change, or another group like Citizen’s Climate Lobby, or start your own local organization  to combat climate change in your own region.
 
Second: Boycott — Don’t buy any fossil fuels on Fridays — “Fossil Fuel Free Fridays.”
 
Third: Divest — Remove all your investments from fossil fuel companies, and demand that your churches and colleges and universities and other institutions do the same.
 
Buck up Binky… It’s time to exhibit some courage — It is tempting to feel overwhelmed in the face of humanity’s greatest survival challenge in all of history. “Eco-Anxiety,” denial and avoidance are natural human responses. But we are out of time. There is no time left to pretend that this will just go away. Extreme weather-related disasters, caused by climate change, are increasing rapidly in size and frequency. Many of the actions listed above are easy to do. We can all do them even if we are scared, depressed and overwhelmed. The good news is that governments and companies will be forced to respond even if only 10 — 20% of us join forces and demand change. It is NOT too late. We can do this together — conservatives, liberals and moderates. All together now… SCREAM BLOODY MURDER! Demand an end to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, and a switch to clean renewable energy sources.

Kevin’s BlogTalkRadio.com Interview 7pm EDT Sept 18: “Eco-Anxiety — what to do about it?”

“Eco Anxiety” is one of six posters Kevin created for the “HIVE of Planet-Loving Activity” (see our page on FaceBook) to help inspire ideation for local action.

Kate Loving Shenk will interview Kevin on “Eco-Anxiety — what to do about it?” tonight, Sept 18, 2012, 7pm EDT. Listen to the interview live today at http://m.blogtalkradio.com/kateloving/2012/09/18/eco-anxiety-what-to-do-about-it

The interview will be archived for listening at a later time or day. Here’s how:

  1. Copy and paste (or retype) in your browser address box, http://m.blogtalkradio.com/kateloving
  2. When Kate’s page comes up, click on “shows & blogs.” You will see “Eco-Anxiety…” at or near the top of the list of radio shows.
  3. Click “Play” several lines below “Eco-Anxiety…” You may need to wait briefly for the recording to start with a musical interlude

For background information about the interview, scroll down within this blog to Kevin’s article “What Can You and I Do to Save the Earth?” as well as his essay “Population Explosion + Climate Change = THE END,” and other articles available on Two Old Liberals. While you are visiting our blog Paul and Kevin invite you to read our recent exchange of thoughts about the nature of consciousness, and other essays.

WHAT CAN YOU AND I DO TO SAVE THE EARTH?

by Kevin

What can you and I do to save the earth? No pressure… but humanity is destroying the Earth as a habitat for life and we only have a few years to fix the problem. If we don’t, most life forms will be extinct by the end of this century and the planet will be largely a vast wasteland. All traces of human existence and history will disappear very quickly.
 
It’s not every day that we are asked to save a planet and all life forms. In the face of such a daunting task, one is tempted to feel small and powerless, and become depressed or paralyzed. I felt that way 12 years ago after hearing that both polar ice caps were melting. I knew what that meant and I was nauseated with eco-anxiety for a year. It’s a natural reaction when anyone learns that our home planet is dying. But depression is a luxury we cannot afford anymore.
 
We can and must do everything in our power to save the Earth. It is the greatest moral imperative that humanity has ever faced. We are the reason our home planet is in peril. So, let’s get to it. The time has come to ask ourselves three questions:

1. “What can I do?”

2. “What am I willing to do,” and

3. “What am I qualified to do?”

If each of us answers those three questions and commits to taking three different kinds of action, we can turn this disaster around. It would take a superhero to do it alone, but if we all do it together we will reach critical mass, and I promise you that we can save the Earth. Human beings are resilient, resourceful, creative and made in the image of God. We are capable of miracles. This isn’t over until the last one of us is gone.
 
Why do WE have to be the ones to save the earth?
 
Why us? Well… if not us, then who? Almost everyone is waiting for someone else to do it, and the clock is ticking perilously close to midnight. Times up! What finally kicked my butt into high gear was Bill McKibben’s July 19, 2012 article in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” His message can be summed up in three numbers backed by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, The National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. Many scientists believe that, if anything these numbers are too optimistic. Together they spell “Time to act!”

“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” — 3 Important Numbers:

1.) 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F.) = Maximum global warming permitted before utter disaster. The Earth’s temperature has already risen .8 degrees Celsius, and there is enough additional warming inertia in the system to guarantee another .8 degree Celsius rise even if we stop all greenhouse gas emissions. That means we are already 3/4 of the way to the maximum warming the Earth can sustain.

2.) 565 Gigatons of CO2 = Maximum allowed release by 2050. At the current rate of CO2 emissions, we’d reach 565 Gigatons by 2028, in just 16 years — 22 years before mid-century.

3.) 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 = 5 times the allowed 565 Gigatons of CO2 release, currently held in proven coal and oil reserves that fossil fuel companies and countries are planning to burn.

Read “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” by Bill McKibben, in Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719#ixzz21StVZEer

What can I do?… What am I willing to do?… What am I qualified to do?
 
Each individual’s answers to these three questions will be different. I offer my own humble set only as an example of what one person’s thoughts look like. Yours responses will be uniquely your own:
 
What can I do? I am an artist. So I can call attention to the plight of the earth in my paintings and artwork, and I can exhibit that art and talk and write about it. We can all join an environmental organization like Bill McKibben’s 350.org. We can decide not to shrink away from talking about global climate change as a major issue of our time, when the occasion arises. Each person has something s/he can do.

What am I willing to do? I’ve always enjoyed writing about life and human issues. My very good friend Paul and I had written long letters to each other for decades about all sorts of things, so we decided to partner to write and illustrate this blog, when we realized that we could actually manage the required technology. Now we both write about the plight of the earth frequently on “Two Old Liberals.” All of us might be willing to write to our friends about this issue. We might discuss it at church or in other organizations and meetings we attend. Some of us could write poetry about it or become social media activists.
 
What am I qualified to do? It only occurred to me recently that I have been facilitating high-speed, productive brainstorming sessions for 22 years in the corporate world, to help work groups invent new products or solutions to strategic problems. Why did it take me so long to realize that those processes could be employed to get humanity out of our worst pickel ever? Now I’m working with a diverse group of environmentally concerned citizens in this region to invent strategies to save the planet. We have met twice and produced 31 illustrated concepts so far. Next weekend we will meet again to create a few more concepts and select the most compelling ones to act upon. We call our group a “HIVE of earth-loving activity,” and we mean business.
 
How to create a “HIVE of earth-loving activity” in your region
 
Because the moral imperative to save the Earth as a life-supporting habitat is such a daunting task, it helps to form a HIVE. One bee may not be able to make honey, but a whole HIVE can do it. Again, your approach to forming a HIVE of earth-loving activity will be unique, but here is how we did it:     

  1. Identify two or more committed people to begin the HIVE.
  2. One of those people must be the convenor and task owner — a thought leader in the community around this daunting task. In our case that is Jerry, who has worked hard to recruit earth-loving bees into our hive. He is also a musician and brings us to music!
  3. Another member of that Core Team needs to be willing to serve the group as a facilitator who lists their ideas in their own words, and stays out of content to make the process run smoothly. It helps if that person can write legibly and quickly at a flip chart. In our group I facilitate process and record what everyone says.
  4. Gather your HIVE for three hours at a time when everyone is available. Encourage people to bring food, coffee, and drinks. Give everyone paper and pens. Put out some toys to play with. Invite all participants to introduce themselves and express a goal for their participation in the group. The facilitator writes everyone’s goals (and then their ideas,) numbered on a flipchart.
  5. Offer Rules of the Road for brainstorming: A.) Say your ideas in 5 – 10 words starting with “I wish…” or “We could…” or “How to…” B.) Suspend judgement and keep an open mind, C.) Suspend ego and be willing to offer bad, illegal, absurd ideas and let the group fix them. D.) Build on each other’s ideas, E.) Be willing to walk away from good ideas to implement even better ones.
  6. The facilitator invites everyone to offer ideas for action and numbers and writes them on a flip chart as they are spoken.
  7. After 30 to 90 minutes of listing everyone’s ideas, the facilitator invites each individual to circle and initial the number of one or more ideas they are willing to write up in a little more detail.
  8. Each participant writes one or more Concept Sheets including four elements: A.) A short title for the concept, B.) The name(s) of the author(s,) C.) “What is the idea?” — you may take the words right off the flip chart or write new words, D. “How would the idea work?” — write more details about what, when, where, why, and how the idea would work.
  9. The facilitator invites each person to read their Concept Sheet(s) — one minute each — and tapes them up, numbered, on a wall display. If there is an artist in the group who can write the Concept title and draw a quick rapid image sketch on a separate page to go with each written concept, it will help bring them to life, and help participants recall the concepts and differentiate among them.
  10. Ask everyone to place a stick-on dot next to each of their favorite concepts. Give people enough dots to vote for 10% to 30% of the concepts.
  11. The facilitator opens the floor to nominations of individual concepts or clusters of similar concepts for action. It is a good idea to get a “second.” Ask and write responses to “Who would champion this idea?” and “Who would help?” and “What and when are the next steps to action?”
  12. The group may agree upon regularly scheduled “HIVE Support Meetings” to report progress on the various projects, invent new projects, solve any problems that arise for specific endeavors, and keep up each other’s enthusiasm and energy. Cohesiveness is important. Accept different approaches to activism within your HIVE, and don’t waste time arguing about those. Just act!

“But I’m a hypocrite! How can I save the Earth when I’m part of the problem?”
 
Welcome to the club! We’re all hypocrites in this particular game. If we are breathing we are part of the problem, because we consume oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide — the chief greenhouse gas causing global warming. I’m a bigger hypocrite than you. Okay… we did sell our big 5-bedroom/ 3-bath house in the suburbs nearly seven years ago and moved into a trailerhouse deep in the woods next to a pond and stream, while building a small cottage. We live much more simply now — partly off the grid. But we are consuming massive amounts of fossil fuels and I still jet around the country helping corporations invent new products — more junk that nobody really needs — stuff that requires oil and natural gas and coal to produce.
 
So, see?… I’m a bigger hypocrite than you. Does that mean I shouldn’t fight like hell to save the Earth? No! Until we can bring enough economic, political and social pressure to bear upon the fossil fuel industry and governments to force them to switch to clean renewable energy forms like solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy, we will all be hypocrites. So, let’s redeem ourselves, join forces, and create HIVES of earth-loving activity everywhere. When we reach critical mass, the economic scales will tip, and it will become much more profitable for the fossil fuel industry and governments to provide clean energy than to kill the planet with carbon. (Extinction is not good for profits anyway…) Then our lives will change radically and we can all move together, quickly, into an era of integrity and ethical planetary stewardship with clean energy and clear consciences. Become part of the critical mass that demands radical change to save the Earth. Then be ready to ride that wave of change into a new style of living.

POPULATION EXPLOSION + CLIMATE CHANGE = THE END

by Kevin

Paul’s recent essay here at Two Old Liberals regarding our mass denial about the devastating consequences of overpopulation is excellent and very sobering indeed, but as he points out, this is a solvable problem. We can do something about this, and we must do so now.

When we add our mass denial regarding the apocalyptic consequences of unchecked Global Climate Change on top of the Population Explosion, we have a perfect storm. Population Explosion + Climate Change = The End, UNLESS we act now to curb the population and stop the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, by corporations and national governments.

Evidence is mounting fast that time is running out. On July 24, 2012, PHYS.org published a chilling report and photo (above,)provided by NASA’s Godard Space Flight Center, showing four days of unprecedented Greenland ice sheet surface melt from July 8 to 12. The July 8 photo (above left) shows 40% of the ice sheet thawing at or near the surface. By July 12, the NASA satellite photo shows that 97% of the ice sheet surface had thawed (above right.) This rapid flash thawing has alarmed scientists, who report that nothing like this has been seen since 1889. They are working to verify the causes of Greenland’s flash melt now. The leading hypothesis points directly to Global Climate Change caused by human activity, of course. Read the entire article, “Satellites see unprecedented Greenland ice sheet surface melt,” July 24, 2012 at http://phys.org/news/2012-07-satellites-unprecedented-greenland-ice-sheet.html

In addition, both polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. Sea levels are rising. If we have some sudden cataclysmic events, like the rapid disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and Antarctica’s ice shelves into massive icebergs floating in the oceans, sea levels will rise very quickly, inundating low-lying areas and forcing populations to relocate. Many of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities are located on the coasts at sea level. As the population of the world continues to rise, greater numbers will be dislocated by sea levels rising. And as Paul pointed out in his Population Explosion essay, food production for the hungry masses will become more and more problematic. Already, here in the U.S. this summer the crops are dead and the corn is aborting in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Nebraska and other states, and food prices are expected to rise significantly and quickly.

The twin challenges of Overpopulation and Climate Change compound one another, but it can be argued that Overpopulation is the root cause of Climate Change, since it is human activity that is rapidly warming the planet. What can we do? We will have more to say about how to respond in the near future, but it is fundamentally essential to promote birth control and to bring major pressure to bear upon fossil fuel companies and national governments to shift rapidly away from extracting and burning carbon in favor of safe, clean, renewable energy.

Anyone and everyone who is concerned about saving the Earth as an environment that can support life must ask herself/himself: 1. What can I do to help? 2. What am I willing to do to help? 3. What am I qualified to do to help? I believe in miracles. If we all apply our particular talents and energies in creative ways to waking the world up and sounding the alarm and demanding a reversal of Overpopulation and Climate Change, we can save ourselves and the planet as a habitat that will support future generations. If not… The End.

THE CORN IS DEAD… WHAT’S NEXT?

By Kevin

 

My octogenarian aunt and uncle and their two adult daughters visited my extended family last week for three days. They were so excited to see green trees and fields of living crops in our state. They reported that back in Iowa, Indiana and Illinois, all the corn and soybeans and other crops are dead and the vegetation is brown. On July 19, 2012, Reuters confirmed this report:

The most expansive U.S. drought in more than a half century intensified this week and stretched further into major farm areas of the western Midwest where crops had largely been shielded from the harsh conditions that decimated yields further east.

The moderate drought in parts of eastern Nebraska, northern Illinois and much of the top corn and soybean state Iowa was downgraded to a severe drought in the past week, climate experts said Thursday, and forecasts showed little relief in sight.

Prices of both corn and soybeans soared to all-time highs on Thursday, with corn climbing more than 50 percent in the past four weeks alone due to the worsening drought, squeezing ethanol and livestock producer margins and chilling export demand.”

We ate lots of sweet corn on the cob during the family visit. When my relatives left, my friend Jerry directed me to Bill McKibben’s July 19, 2012 article in “Rolling Stone” entitled, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” with warnings that it put him on the floor! McKibben’s article is based on three crucial numbers:

  1. 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.6 degrees F.) is agreed upon by leading scientists and listed in paragraph 1 of the Copenhagen Climate Accord of 2009, as the absolute maximum we can allow the planet to warm without utterly disastrous consequences. As McKibben writes in his article, “The official position of planet Earth at the moment is that we can’t raise the temperature more than two degrees Celsius – it’s become the bottomest of bottom lines. Two degrees.” He also reports that many scientists and nations feel that 2 degrees C is far too high. The planet has already warmed .8 degree C and there is another .8 degree C of warming built into the system through inertia, even if we were to stop emitting all greenhouse gases now. So… we are already ¾ of the way to the 2 degree C maximum, and massive damage has already been sustained.
  2. 565 Gigatons of carbon dioxide can be released by mid-century without destroying the planet. At current emission rates, we will emit that amount in 16 years, by 2028.
  3. 2,795 Gigatons of potential carbon dioxide emissions are currently held in the proven coal and oil reserves of fossil fuel companies and countries that behave like them. That represents at least five times more carbon dioxide than we can safely emit without destroying the planet as a life-sustaining habitat. Fossil fuel companies and nations are planning to burn all that carbon, and they have based their shareholder profit forecasts and national economies on this $27 trillion worth of carbon. We are in very big trouble.

About 12 years ago I heard a brief report on NPR about how the polar ice caps were melting and I suddenly understood for the first time that all life on earth is in peril. I fell into a year-long, low-grade depression about this tragedy and felt constantly nauseated. But I recovered to create a “survival strategy” for Robert and me, which involved selling our big 5-bedroom/ 3 bathroom house on 1.1 acres in the suburbs of a major U.S. city, and moving to our current humble digs on 12 acres deep in the woods at the end of a dead-end dirt road, where no cell phones ring and we must have satellite dishes to receive TV and Internet service. We’ve been here, living intimately with nature in our woods, by our half-acre pond and our little stream for six years, loving it more and more as every month passes. It is an abundant green paradise where pure drinkable spring water flows out of the hillsides, and wildlife abounds. It’s Heaven! Or, at least, I often tell Robert that if Heaven turns out to be anything like our woodland retreat, I won’t be a bit disappointed.

When I read Bill McKibben’s article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in “Rolling Stone” a few days ago that low-grade depression and nausea returned. I couldn’t read it all at once. I had to take it in two sittings, because the implications are so devastating. Climate degradation is moving much more quickly than I thought, caused by human behavior and specifically caused by the greed of fossil fuel companies – the most profitable businesses in human history. I had selfishly hoped that at age 63 I might be old enough that I would not see the worst effects of Global Climate Change. McKibben dashed those hopes. He reports that without a miracle, we will pass beyond the maximum threshold of safe emission levels in about 16 years, as I approach my 80th birthday. My maternal grandmother lived to 103 with all her marbles, and virtually all my relatives live well into their 80s or beyond. My parents are now in their late 80s. Conclusion: Robert and I must revise and accelerate our survival strategies for living to the end of the world. We have a whole lot to learn and much work to do, if we plan to live 20 more years.

I was shocked to learn that we have already warmed the planet .8 degrees C and that same amount (.8 degrees C) of additional warming is built into the system even if we stop burning carbon today. I guess I was still in some partial state of denial, despite all the dramatic climate developments recently:

  • We had no winter this past year where we live. For the first time our pond did not freeze over and our big koi did not bury themselves in the mud and sleep through cold weather.
  • 260 homes and cabins and over 100 out buildings were destroyed in the Colorado fires.
  • In June 3,215 high temperature records were broken after the warmest May in U.S. history. This was the warmest spring ever recorded in the U.S.
  • For the 327th consecutive month global temperatures surpassed 20th Century averages.
  • The world’s oceans are now 30% more acidic than ever before.
  • The air over the oceans is 5% wetter, causing massive storms and floods. Think Katrina.
  • Climatologists report a dramatic increase in the likelihood of severe heat and drought, and we are experiencing the beginning of those conditions now, even before August.
  • Arctic sea ice is at the lowest levels ever recorded. And what are we doing about it?…
  • Fossil fuel companies are taking advantage of receding ice masses to explore for more and bigger oil reserves. The tragedy is compounding itself: Ice loss = more oil = more greenhouse gas emissions = more ice loss.

I have rather sadly worked as a creativity consultant to Fortune 500 companies for 22 years. One thing I know about them is that they only speak one language — the language of MONEY. Nothing else gets through. All things are viewed and judged through a cost-benefit analysis lens relative to the bottom line — profit. If it doesn’t enhance profits, walk away, fight it, condemn it, deny it, and discredit it if you have to. The fossil fuel industry has done a good job of discrediting climate change science in an effort to protect profits and forfeit the planet in the process. Can anybody explain to me how that is good for the bottom line? Extinction is not good for business!… They need living customers, right?

Two-thirds of the electorate in my state does not “believe” in climate change. All the major academies of science around the world and 98% of climatologists are shouting that climate change is real and caused by human activity. But two-thirds of my state does not “believe” in climate change. To me that’s like saying they don’t believe in the Pythagorean Theorem! It’s science, for God’s sake! It’s not a matter of belief. It’s a matter of fact, like the earth being round and progressing around the sun every 365 days. What in the name of Heaven is wrong with people?! This is mass suicide, and it is becoming more and more evident. Look around!

A second chunk of very thick ice, twice the size of Manhattan, broke off of Greenland the other day and floated away. Just like the first time this happened, I heard one 30-second news story about it and nothing more. The first chunk that Greenland lost several years ago was four times the size of Manhattan. When I mentioned it just in passing during a lunch chat with a corporate client, he shouted, “Oh quick! Somebody call Al Gore!” Al Gore already knew about it, I’m sure, and I would have strongly preferred discussing it with him.

Okay… so the language of corporate America is MONEY. What will it take to persuade the fossil fuel companies to leave the carbon in the earth? Isn’t it worth any price to save the planet itself and as many life forms as possible that have not already gone extinct? I’ll give them ALL of my paltry little bank account if that will do the trick. If it’s Money that talks, let’s talk to them in the language of Money. Let’s lavish Money on them when they switch from fossil fuel development to clean energy, and then let’s slap severe economic penalties on them when they extract fossil fuels from the ground. Let’s make clean energy appealing and profitable any way we can. Let’s make fossil fuel extraction painful and costly.

But we will have to do our part too. We all have to be ready to give up our gas guzzling cars if we succeed in persuading the fossil fuel companies to switch to clean energy. I’m ready to turn my four-wheel-drive SUV into a storage shed and buy a mule to carry me up and down the steep hills on our land. But if you have more money than I do, you might be able to afford an electric car powered by your solar array. I saw a TV documentary about some guy who made a steam-powered truck. Horses, bicycles, hot air balloons, and our own two legs provide fine transportation options. We just can’t burn fossil fuels anymore.

I suspect that real change has to begin in our own minds and hearts. It has to happen very quickly and achieve critical mass virtually overnight if the human race is to tip the balance away from mass suicide and toward hope and life. As Bill McKibben wryly observes:

Most of us are fundamentally ambivalent about going green: We like cheap flights to warm places, and we’re certainly not going to give them up if everyone else is still taking them. Since all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel, tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself – it’s as if the gay-rights movement had to be constructed entirely from evangelical preachers, or the abolition movement from slaveholders.

Our way of life is going to have to change radically if we are to survive. I’m willing to grow my own food and learn how to can and preserve it. I’d live without electricity, and communications and entertainment, if I had to. After all, those things are very recent developments anyway. My father had no electricity or indoor plumbing in his early childhood home, and they certainly could never have imagined carrying phones in their pockets, or communicating with any corner of the globe in a flash via Internet, or watching hundreds of channels of images and sounds on a box called a TV in every room of the house. Those are all very recent innovations. We can break those habits and do without those luxuries. But we don’t have to if we follow Germany’s example and convert to solar and wind and geothermal power. We can still enjoy some luxuries if we use forms of energy that will not poison the planet. But here’s the crux of the fossil fuel problem as Bill McKibben defines it very succinctly in his recent “Rolling Stone” article:

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

How can we stop this lemming-like mass suicide? How can we combat the overwhelming allure of massive profits for the fossil fuel industry and/or make it even more profitable for them to switch to clean energy? How can we overcome our own profound attachments to modern conveniences and return to living closer to nature? Or how can we power our beloved luxuries with clean energy? How can we stop Global Climate Change?

Will all the major coastal cities of the world have to be flooded and evacuated before we come to our senses? Will millions upon millions have to die before we stop poisoning the planet? Do we have to pray for another massive meteor, like the one that killed all the dinosaurs, to hit the earth, wipe out most life on the planet and surround it with a cooling dust cloud for a very, very long time? That would save the planet as a place where evolution could resume and populate this paradise with another intelligent race, granted yet another chance to develop and finally another challenge to live through its own technological adolescence – a test we are failing miserably and spectacularly.

According to Bill McKibben, it looks like I may live to find out what will happen, even though I already think of myself as an old man at 63. Global Climate Change is progressing very rapidly. Look around. It’s obvious. Planet Earth and all life forms upon it are in peril. It’s time to pray for miracles and use any and every talent and strength we may individually and collectively possess to turn the rudder on the ship of humanity away from the insanity of mass suicide and toward a vast ocean of hope for survival, because we believe that life has value beyond our comprehension, and we want to save this precious living planetary organism from becoming a lifeless desert for the remainder of its existence.

The immediate task in front of us may seem overwhelming and hopeless. But we cannot afford the luxury of despair, depression and self-pity. We have urgent work to do to save the Earth, if not for ourselves, then for all the innocent children, animals and plants that do not deserve to die of heat prostration, thirst, hunger and extreme climate disasters. We have to buck up and do whatever we can. And we need to be smart, quick and creative about it. Bill McKibben concludes his “Rolling Stone” article with a moral challenge:

The three numbers I’ve described are daunting – they may define an essentially impossible future. But at least they provide intellectual clarity about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. We know how much we can burn, and we know who’s planning to burn more. Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it’s not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.

You want a big number? In the course of this month, a quadrillion kernels of corn need to pollinate across the grain belt, something they can’t do if temperatures remain off the charts. Just like us, our crops are adapted to the Holocene, the 11,000-year period of climatic stability we’re now leaving… in the dust.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719#ixzz21StVZEer

________________________________________________

From Bill McKibben’s website:

 

Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Time Magazine called him ‘the planet’s best green journalist’ and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was ‘probably the country’s most important environmentalist.’

MONEY MAKES THE WORLD GO MAD

by Kevin

Money Screws Up Everything!

Sometimes I just hate money. It screws up everything. Any first grader can see that I was born to be an artist. So, of course, I’ve spent the last 22 years as a business consultant to Fortune 500 companies. It was my own fault that I didn’t make any art during most of those years, but I forgive myself. I’m not the only one who would say that if it were not for having to make money, they would be doing something else. People should do what they were born to do, shouldn’t they? Yes… but money screws up everything. For decades some of my more idealistic friends have been urging, “Give up that job! Follow your dream! You are an artist!” Well… I AM an artist, and I AM following my dream, but I don’t want to starve in the gutter. So I have worked full time at my job and then performed a second full time vocation “following my dream” as an artist.

Even pleasure is evaluated according to how much money you pay for the experience. If you go on an expensive cruise or spend time at a fancy resort, everyone assumes you had a wonderful time. If you stay at home and sit in your backyard garden, the same people feel sorry for you. Frankly, I’ve had some truly lousy times on cruises and at fancy resorts, and some of my best times in my own garden, so the price tag on a vacation is a false indicator of its value. Money does not equal fun.

Money madness takes on much more serious forms as well. To get a lot of money, or only what they perceive to be a lot of money, some people are willing to steal, murder, betray loved ones, enslave each other, demean and prostitute themselves and others, and do all manner of illegal, immoral, cruel, awful things. Money basically brings the worst out in people. Why does everyone love it so?

Money is making a mess of our society right now. The Occupy Movement has famously pointed out that the richest 1% of U.S. people holds more wealth than the other 99%. They are doing their best to hold onto more power than the lower 99% too. In fact they are attempting to destroy the middle class. Scranton, PA is broke and the mayor has announced that they are now going to pay their fire fighters and police force minimum wage! Hard working teachers, civil servants and salt-of-the-earth blue collar union members are under attack. As median household wealth drops, people are afraid that others are getting more than they do, and they resent their friends and neighbors having a retirement plan or health insurance or a decent hourly wage. Money envy yields dangerous results.

Meanwhile, the apparent Republican nominee for the presidency may be worth about a quarter billion dollars. Nobody knows, because a great deal of his wealth is hidden in offshore accounts all over the world. Like all his wealthy friends, Mitt pays less than 15% taxes on his income while you and I pay over 30%. I don’t begrudge him his wealth, unless it was ill-gotten, but I do think he should pay his fair share of taxes – as much as you and I pay. President Obama has generously proposed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income up to $250,000. Even billionaires would get that much of a tax cut, and then the rest of their temporary Bush income tax break would be rolled back to pre-Bush levels. But Romney and the Republicans want the fat cat tax breaks to become permanent. Discrepancies in fairness, like this one, around money and taxes make everyone mad, including me. Money is power, and those who have it often prove capable of stacking the cards in their favor for getting even more.

There’s No Money in Heaven

I certainly hope there is no money in Heaven. One of the things I look forward to enthusiastically about graduating from this mudball and moving on to the next realm is getting rid of money! I cannot imagine money being part of Heaven, can you? Of course not. Money is “the root of all evil.” There couldn’t possibly be any money in Heaven. We won’t need to eat or worry about shelter, since we will be angels, sleeping on clouds or something. We won’t have to buy cars, since we will be able to fly, right? In Paradise we won’t need any possessions other than our harps and white robes, which I assume will be issued at the Pearly Gates. We won’t have to go shopping. We won’t need money! YAY!

It’s kind of amazing, actually, that more people have not tried to come up with alternatives to money here on earth, since it is such a total pain in the ass. Barter is probably the most common effort to get around money, but it isn’t very precise, and someone is always feeling cheated, as in “I think my assistance building your barn was worth more than this one old goat you gave me!” Communes have been an interesting effort to get away from money in my lifetime. Supposedly everyone works as hard as they can for the good of the community without receiving any money to show for it. But then somebody is always slipping into lazy freeloading, and that causes resentment. Besides, most people do want to have a few possessions of their own and a little bit of privacy.

In our society the conservatives loudly proclaim the supremacy of unregulated capitalism – not what I expect to find in Heaven. Even in the material world, capitalism is beginning to look a little shaky. The unfettered economy of extraction, exploitation and abuse of resources, nature and people is ruining societies and our environment. It is increasingly clear that the powerful wealthy elite 1% is succeeding in redistributing wealth from the middle and lower classes to the extremely wealthy. The Republicans are very open about wanting to shred any semblance of a security net, and get rid of all social programs – eventually even Medicare and Social Security – leaving the poor to die in the streets and the remnants of the middle class increasingly desperate and impoverished. So much for our national Christian values of feeding the poor and clothing the naked. They even seem to want to deprive all but the wealthiest families of educational opportunities, to make sure that they keep control of all the money and power. They certainly don’t want another president like Obama, because he believes in fair taxation, equal opportunity in education and work, and fair pay for work done.

It’s a battle royale on planet earth right now over money, whether you want to talk about the Arabian oil fields, or the European Union, or extreme Third World poverty, or the increasing polarization of the U.S. classes. So I guess we’ll have to wait for our halos, wings and harps before we can look forward to living without money. Capitalism will catapult us into Heaven more quickly, however.

Money Makes the World Go ‘Round

Here on earth we are caught in a veritable rat race for money, money, money! My 87-year-old dad points out that back in the 50s, when I was a kid, a good middle class life meant a small modest home with one car in the driveway, a washing machine, and a black and white TV set with three channels… maybe a radio and a stereo, too, if you could afford them. That was a good life. Now we think we are utterly deprived if we can’t have a gigantic house and a big garden shed full of lawn equipment, one car for each family member of driving age, plus some additional recreational vehicles, unlimited high speed Internet access, cable TV with hundreds of channels in almost every room, endless travel and entertainment, huge closets full of clothing, phones in every pocket, college educations for everyone, major retirement savings and more insurance than you can shake a stick at.

 Insurance… now there’s a money pit! I pay for auto insurance for three cars, home and fire insurance for two properties, phone line repair insurance, $500/month for my own health insurance and $1,000/year for professional liability insurance because I’m an independent contractor and an artist with a display room downtown, $2,250/year for disability insurance, lots of life insurance, and I probably have insurance for my insurance! I feel guilty because I don’t have dental insurance and long term care insurance. I know I’m irresponsible for not having those, but I just cannot afford anymore damn insurance! Give me a break! That’s another good thing about going to Heaven… You don’t have to buy insurance in Heaven. You’re already dead!

Money may make the world go ’round, but it makes my head spin! I hate the way people respect you more if you make a lot of money and suspect you of being subversive if you choose not to make as much money as you could, or not to display ostentatiously how much money you make. And if you ever sell your big house, pay off all your debts and radically downsize, you will find out that people resent you for dropping out of the money rat race. “How dare you reject the game! You can’t do that!”

Living With Less

Oh yes we can… we CAN live with less… a whole LOT less. It was a very short time ago that people lived with less than we can now imagine. When my father was a boy, his home had no electricity or running water or indoor plumbing. They weren’t terribly poor. Those things just hadn’t reached many of the rural areas yet. They worked the farm, milked the cows and tilled the fields by the rhythms of the rising and setting sun, the weather and the seasons. They lived close to the land and their animals. Forget the 50s with the one car, TV set, and washing machine. In my father’s youth there was virtually no technology except for a few gasoline engines and 19th Century mechanical devices. At that time he could not have imagined our smart cell phones, iPads and computers facilitating instant and constant communications and business dealings; our global jet travel; our video-game-like drone warfare; and all of our gadgetry, amenities and luxuries. A light bulb and an indoor toilet and plumbing were life-changing luxuries to him.

It is time to live more simply again. Our extraction and pollution economies and technologies are raping the planet and killing it as a livable home for plants, animals and humans. We are starting to see that all around us now. We had no winter this year. Colorado has burnt up. Thousands of heat records were shattered by the end of June. Millions of households had to survive temperatures over 100 degrees with very high humidity without any electricity for air conditioning for a week. What will August be like? We have to reverse Global Climate Change if we want to survive. We have to change how we live and be willing to live with much less. We have to become friends with the Earth and the plants and animals again. Their fate will be ours.

You Can’t Take It With You

Money is not the key. You can’t take it with you. It won’t offer you permanent happiness. Money applied intelligently might be able to improve conditions for all life on earth and for the environment, but so far we are applying it to commit suicide. So it’s not working. Money is not working for us.

But enough of this frivolity. Let’s get serious. I have bad news: We are all going to die. If we are lucky, we will get old first, and then die. I have made a personal study of the aging process. Growing old is about giving up things bit by bit until we finally have nothing and then we let go of the body. At that point we will leave the material world of money, utterly penniless, whether we had billions when we died or nothing at all. Death is the great equalizer. It enforces the ultimate equitable wealth distribution. You may have gotten the impression that s/he who dies with the most money and toys wins. But it ain’t true. Only the intangibles that have fed and defined our souls stay with us. Money, or “mammon,” will mean nothing to us at the moment of our graduation to the next realm.

I’ve never been a Bible thumper, but the words of Christ say it best. There is so much unchristian Christianity going around these days. So, don’t take my word for it… Listen to the source:

Matthew 6:19-33

19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. 23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Balancing Spiritual and Moral Imperatives — “The Good Life”

By Kevin

Grandma called it “The Good Life” – praying and meditating and singing hymns (she used to whistle to “save her voice for the choir”) while working her tail off, whether that meant ironing and house cleaning, or making quilts, or visiting people who were ill or depressed, or stepping into the pulpit to preach the sermon the very Sunday after my beloved grandfather died. It was Valentine’s Day and Grandpa had given Grandma a golden heart locket at breakfast, before they both went out to perform a funeral service as part of their pastoral duties. They always considered it to be a two-person ministry. At the graveside, he threw a handful of dirt into the void, lifted his eyes to Heaven, and said, “Earth to earth and dust to dust… Father into Thy hands we commend this spirit.” And he dropped dead to the ground with a massive heart attack. Until she died at 103, when Grandma spoke of the death of her “Beloved,” she said, “I was sitting right there, just a few feet away when he fell. I rushed to his side and said into his ear, ‘Don’t worry, Honey, everything is going to be all right…’ and it has been…” They both lived profoundly good lives, full of love and wisdom and daily prayer and meditation, balanced by very hard work and acts of selfless kindness and goodness despite their own heavy sorrows – the gold standard for “The Good Life.”

So I understood from a very early age that as much as I might long to devote my life to utter hedonism on one hand, or spiritual and mystical contemplation on Ultimate Love, Wisdom, Peace, Bliss, Beauty, Integrity and Union, on the other hand, inhabiting a physical body comes with very real responsibilities to act and “do good works” in the world. Sometimes those can be as simple as sweeping the floor and doing the dishes. Sometimes they involve profoundly complex social and political interaction. Thank God they can be as fun as dressing up like a clown and playing a slide whistle, or as fulfilling as brushing paint onto a canvas. But I continue to believe that it is equally important to balance action and “good works” with praying, meditating, singing, chanting and dancing for miracles of growth, in our own consciousness and the world’s. And, of course, a healthy dose of hedonism is only natural and right, if one is to enjoy this life. But the older I get the more crystal clear it becomes that balancing spiritual and moral imperatives is the key to living “The Good Life.”

While meditation upon Spirit has become an entirely private matter for me and many others, quite apart from “organized religion,” which I now consider to be an oxymoron, the moral imperative to act in the world has become so profound that it forces many of us out of our comfort zones and toward visible activism. Thank goodness the peace of meditation in the woods balances out the stress of acting in the world, because the stakes could not be higher. Today’s moral imperative to act is nothing less than a life and death matter for all of us. Consider this quote from James Hansen, the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in his May 10, 2012 New York Times Op Ed, “Game Over for the Climate:”

“Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.”

Hansen laments that President Obama was quoted in a recent “Rolling Stones” interview as having said that Canada will exploit the oil in its vast oil sands reserves “regardless of what we do,” and he ends his Op Ed article with a vision of moral judgment against us by future generations, if we do not act to arrest and reverse Global Climate Change immediately:

“Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.”

The 71-year-old internationally known climatologist and activist for the fight against Global Climate Change is both revered and hated in today’s utterly polarized world, in which so many people choose to ignore the urgent warnings of 98% of the world’s scientists and 100% of the national academies of science, in favor of sticking their heads in the tar sands. It is clear that those of us who believe in science must accept the moral imperative of taking action to support James Hansen and all of the activists who are raising the alarm about the dire impending consequences of Global Climate Change. This is a THE moral and ethical issue our time for people of conscience who believe in responsible stewardship of the Earth and who wish to save as many species as possible from extinction, including our own. A more profound challenge than this fundamental immediate threat to our survival has never confronted the human race before. We must persuade President Obama to use his power and authority to stop the Keystone Pipeline and the Canadian oil sands development. We must make the case loudly and clearly through political and social involvement and all kinds of action that it is time to break our addiction to fossil fuels and develop clean alternative energy sources now. Go to http://350.org and click on “End Fossil Fuel Subsidies” to support the Bernie Sanders/ Keith Ellison bill to do just that. This falls into the category of “good works” and it just happens to be a matter of life and death. So DO it!

Beyond taking whatever actions we can think of to save the planet as a habitat that will support life, if you happen to believe in the unseen world of Spirit and know how to pray, meditate, chant, dance, sing or whistle your way to communion with the Infinite, now would be a good time to humbly and sincerely ask for a miracle of growth in our own individual consciousness and that of the entire world. We must work as hard as we can and then pray and meditate for enlightenment and miracles, so that our efforts to act in service to the moral imperatives in this world might be guided by the Love and Wisdom and Peace of Spirit. If we can do this, then we will be living “The Good Life” regardless of the outcomes, and “…it will be all right.” Now… let’s spend some hedonistic time outside, enjoying this incredibly beautiful Earth and expressing gratitude for its existence, while we still can.

Eggheads, Elections, Marriage Equality, Etc. (Exchange of Letters)

Dear Kevin,

I do think that there are lots of subliminal lines running underground, as it were, between humor and art, and spirituality, too, no doubt.  I suppose you’re also right that to a certain extent we’re both hopeless eggheads when it comes to what and how we write.   Case in point: I also just posted something on the blog this morning, mine being about the recent European elections in France and Greece, and how they are both similar to and dissimilar from US politics.  Could you get much more “eggheady?”

Anyway, as you say, I guess the blog will be what it will be, and we leopards appear to be more or less unable to change our spots.  Nor do I think it’s even desirable to try, do you?  Once you start attempting to be somebody other than who you are (for better or for worse), you come off sounding inauthentic and, well, just a little silly.  So, if people want to read us, I suppose they’ll have to read us as we are.  In fact, maybe we ought to change our blog name from TwoOldLiberals, to TwoOldEggheads, what do you think?

This all makes me think about poor old Adlai Stevenson, too, back in the fifties, when he was running for the presidency against Eisenhower, a Republican.  My parents — and everybody I knew at the time — were staunch Democrats, to say the very least, but even so they were very leery of Stevenson.  People called him an “egghead,” and I remember thinking at the time: “What in the world is an egghead?”  I guess Americans have always mistrusted anybody who comes off as an intellectual.  I don’t have to remind you, of course, that Stevenson lost, and when reporters talked to him afterwards and mentioned the whole egghead controversy, his comment — perfectly apropos — was: “Via ovicipitum dura est!”   I assume that some of the reporters listening didn’t understand what he was saying in Latin, which was: “The way of the egghead is a hard one.”  But it certainly was perfectly in keeping with who he was.

I noted this morning, too, that the good Christians of North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to shut gay people up when it comes to their annoying demand for equality and constitutional rights.  In fact, what they seemed to be saying was, let’s actually change the constitution in order to make absolutely sure that “these people” don’t get too uppity!  Of course, voters did the same thing here in California, so I shouldn’t be too surprised about the Carolinians, should I?  It is curious, though, that every poll you see indicates that a majority of Americans are now in favor of allowing gay people to marry, at least by a slim majority, and yet time after time initiatives to allow that are defeated in one state after another.  I do think that eventually this will change, once the demographics change and — I hate to say it — once some older conservatives die off.  But nobody seems to know how long that will take. – Paul

Dear Paul,

I absolutely LOVED your blog article about the European elections. I found it so informative and balanced. I think you ought to submit it to “The Economist” or some other publications that explore global economic trends. As you know, I am a Francophile as well, having lived and studied in Aix-en-Provence for six months as a very young man, and spending a month-long Christmas holiday in Paris, where I painted a mural on the kitchen wall of my hostesses in exchange for lodging and meals. I certainly wish Francois Hollande the best. And I agree with you that the economic answer lies in a combination of stimulus and belt-tightening, even though almost nobody seems to be in the mood to strike such balanced and inclusive compromises. We must do the same thing here. If we don’t, we will be in very big trouble rather quickly, I should think.
 
Regarding our eggheadedness, I think we can only wear it as a badge of honor. I remember Adlai Stevenson very clearly and with great affection, because he was a hero in our household, when I was a child in the 50s. My parents were very disappointed by his second loss to Eisenhower, who now looks like a raving liberal, by the way, when compared with today’s mainstream Republicans. Eisenhower wouldn’t have a prayer of surviving today’s Republican primaries. Dick Lugar proved that yesterday in Indiana. Anyway, I have to tell my very favorite story about Adlai Stevenson — one that demonstrates his wit and intellect: A reporter asked Stevenson to comment on the fact that Norman Vincent Peale was preaching his conservative right wing politics from the pulpit, in light of the fact that Saint Paul had also talked about politics in his sermons. Adlai Stevenson shot back, “In Paul, it’s appealing. In Peale it’s appalling!” Smart man, that Adlai Stevenson. He would have been a great president.

Where the NC vote to amend their state constitution to ban gay marriage is concerned, I don’t think anybody is surprised, even though it is certainly disappointing. Similar ballot initiatives will soon be considered in three more states – MD, MN, and WA. So far gay marriage has lost every contest even though the majority of Americans support it in polls. One commentator said yesterday that it appears that the subject of gay rights motivates the right wing to come out to vote in greater numbers than progressives. Also yesterday, President Obama surprised me and many others by making a strong statement in favor of gay marriage, just a few days after Vice President Biden had paved the way, whether by design or by default. In either case, the Obama campaign seems to have calculated that it was a worthwhile risk for the president to reveal his true colors on this matter, since the majority of Americans are with him. We’ll see come November. I personally think that President Obama may also simply be the kind of man who doesn’t want to win another term if he has to do it by falsifying his true positions and beliefs. Yes, I am suggesting that he is, in fact, a man of real integrity, unlike his adversary, Mr. Romney, an opportunist who will say and “believe” whatever he thinks will thrust him into power, regardless of whatever beliefs he may actually hold. For Romney the ends justify the means. So, he’s a flip-flopper. Such people are dangerous and not to be trusted in my opinion.

It looks to me like it is going to be a very close election on all fronts this season. The recall election of Gov Walker and many of his lieutenants in WI is coming up in a little over three weeks. Even though Walker is funded by out-of-state right wing sources at a level 20 times the campaign accounts of his challenger, Tom Barrett, the Democratic Mayor of Milwaukee is currently one point ahead of Walker in the polls. I suspect that the results in WI will be interpreted by many as a harbinger of things to come in November, no matter how it turns out. It is hard for me to imagine how the contest between Obama and Romney could possibly be close, but apparently it is going to be a squeaker. Robert and I were certainly planning to vote enthusiastically for a second term for President Obama, whether or not he had come out in favor of marriage equality. As it is, we will just pull that lever with a bit more vigor.

Our fervent wish is that he would wake up and get with the environmental program to reverse Global Climate Change and stop the Keystone Pipeline. I would trade those positions for his support of gay marriage any day, because if we don’t make the tough decisions required to reverse Global Climate Change very soon, we won’t have the luxury of resolving any other issues confronting humanity, including gay marriage. First things first. We have to save the planet as a habitat that will support life. Then we can argue about who may marry whom. Okay, okay… I guess it isn’t a matter of doing one or the other. We can probably do both things at the same time. But my point is that in the face of the potential extinction of all life on Planet Earth, every other issue looks miniscule and insignificant to me. Global Climate Change is by far the most fundamental challenge that humanity has ever had to face, because it is about the survival of our species, as well as all the other life forms on the planet. We have to go into warp speed in reverse on Global Climate Change, and I want President Obama to “evolve” all the way to full enlightenment on this issue as well as gay marriage, and the sooner the better. – Kevin

MIRACLE — A Sense of Community

Dear Paul,

You know me… I’m an old hermit artist living deep in the woods, content to enjoy life communing with the wildflowers, trees, squirrels, bunnies, birds, fish and frogs. My chief failing as a human being must be that I don’t have a very high regard for my own species. I like the rest of the animal kingdom much better than Homo sapiens. In fact, I’d have to admit that I am brutally critical of my own kind. I find humanity so disappointing that I have largely withdrawn from social structures to commune with Nature. People can be so mean, selfish, brutal and stupid, engaging fully in denial and projection to rationalize their narrow-minded, self-centered goals and activities. And now the human race seems determined to so thoroughly spoil the miraculous gift of this planetary environment that it will no longer support life. It gives me no pleasure to admit my biases against society. I know the fault is more within me than in everyone else. I have a very long way to go to achieve even a modicum of social tolerance, let alone a first step toward Unconditional Love, which I am convinced is essential to self-realization.

 

Above: “Leonard Says That Some Things in Life Are Serious, But Everything Is Funny!”      4 x 4 ft reverse painting on clear vinyl by Kevin, circa 1990 

So, it was with no small degree of misgiving that I approached this past weekend’s public First Friday and ArtWalk events in our art gallery downtown, featuring a gathering Saturday from 1 to 5 pm, called “Connect the Dots – Extreme Weather and Climate Change,” which was happening all over the world. For months I had been puzzling over how to talk about this subject in polite society, because it is so damn terminal and tragic that people run away screaming whenever the topic is raised. Very slowly it dawned on me that the impending apocalypse is not without humor – or at least it must be approached, in part, with humor, or nobody will survive it. You will remember that abstract painting I did so many years ago, entitled “Leonard Says That Some Things in Life Are Serious, But Everything Is Funny!” You helped me analyze the raucously colorful, almost clownish painting, and we realized that there was a car crash, a child’s coffin, bureaucratic papers, and rigid dogmatism in the composition, but also a golden bridge crossing over into the Heart of the Universe. This is like that. I awoke Friday morning realizing that I would have to attend the next day’s event dressed as a clown and make a total fool of myself. I had transformed myself into the clown, Pretty Pretty Snowflake, several years ago to attend a Halloween party, and was surprised by the effect Snowflake had on the gathering. I realized that it was time to resurrect Pretty Pretty Snowflake and press him into service as “the climate change clown.” I was scared, but someone had to play the Fool at this funeral, and all signs pointed to me… obviously.

Yup… This is me as “Pretty Pretty Snowflake,” the climate change clown, standing in front of Robert’s paintings in our art gallery. Now… I’m fat… but I’m not THIS fat. Pretty Pretty Snowflake has expanded upon my natural amplitude with a strategically placed pillow in the front and in the back. One lady visiting our gallery kept saying “You have a BIG butt!” I thanked her profusely for the compliment and assured her that she did too.

Claudia, Susan, Pretty Pretty Snowflake, and Jerry, our great emcee and event organizer

For over a year now we have been inviting regional musicians, poets, dancers and performers into our art gallery every Third Friday for “Open Mic Music and Poetry Night.” A very high caliber of musicians and poets accepted our invitation and we have been getting to know them for a year. (It takes me a very long time to trust people.) At our “Connect the Dots – Extreme Weather and Climate Change” event on Saturday, all of these performers were so kind, accepting and tolerant of Pretty Pretty Snowflake, the annoying climate change clown. There was a wonderful half-hour dance workshop, and Zita, the leader, allowed me to muck things up for the first dance, perhaps to break the ice. Jerry, our fantastic emcee and organizer of the entire event, tolerated my heckling and even allowed me to play the slide whistle when his Streetbeets group performed. Their 85-year-old drummer, Paul, had the most touching response to my clowning. Every time he encountered me alone, he bowed and pranamed to me in an attitude of deep respect. On one such occasion he complimented me, “You are SO talented! You do so many things so well…” I cut him off with my clown voice, “And I’m PRETTY, too!” He bowed, pranamed, and walked away laughing. Other performers allowed me to dance and make irreverent comments as they attempted to underscore the urgency of the climate change emergency by entertaining the crowd in the gallery courtyard. I was increasingly moved by the message and the human tone of the event.

Streetbeets: (L-R) Paul, Jerry, & Marty. Jerry organized, and emceed the event while undergoing and recovering from double cataract surgery!

Above: Snowflake with folksinger/ guitarist Brian who opened the event.

Brian, a wonderful folk musician and guitarist, embraced me and could not stop laughing. Tim and Claudia and Susan laughed at me with wonder and appreciation in their eyes. Dave, a great flute-maker, guitarist and singer spent a long time talking to me after the event, even while I was transitioning slowly from Pretty Pretty Snowflake the annoying, but apparently lovable climate change clown, back to my normal grumpy, curmudgeonly personality as Kevin the misanthrope. While I was still speaking as a clown, I told him about how Robert and I had given a home to our new little doggy, Wardell, after someone threw him out of a car into a busy intersection. Dave had tears in his eyes as we talked about how doggies are actually “dog-people,” and how all animals have distinctly unique personalities when you get to know them. Dave showed me a photo of a huge painting his wife had made of her spirit guide, and it simply blew my red and white striped socks off! Gorgeous! He invited Robert and me to his talking group on his country property near us in a few weeks. We are going to go. He hosts sweat lodges and music events there and makes flutes, and studies the ways of the Native Americans.

 

Dave and Tim are such fine musicians and great guys. They closed the show. 

In the days leading up to the “Connect the Dots” event, I had made some 30 “dot” paintings on cardboard and canvas, to decorate the trees and grounds. These dots were between 18” and 30” in diameter. They were flowers, ferns or leaves, and all of them sported slogans, like “The Earth is Our Mother… And She’s Having Hot Flashes!” or “Carbon Emissions Are Death Farts! Stop Carbon Farts!” or “Are We Out of Our Frackin’ Minds? Stop Fracking Now!” I had been planning to just stack them up afterward and save them for another event some day, but the afternoon had changed me. I installed the entire set of dots in our art gallery as a display in the two main rooms. I was ready to engage – both with the cause and with these very fine people that I’d been holding off at an arm’s length for a year. Something about our “Connect the Dots” event connected me to them finally. Their love, kindness, intelligence, talent and tolerance burned a hole right through my armor, and they got into my heart. I trust them. I told Robert on the drive back home to the woods that I feel like we have found a community. After living for a very long time without a tribe, we have found our people. He agreed.

These are just some of the people who participated in “Connect the Dots — Extreme Weather and Climate Change” at our gallery, May 5th, 2012. The event was held in many locations around the world

Now, I don’t want you to worry… You will not see much of a change in me, if any. I’m not going to suddenly become a wild-eyed groupie or something. I am still the same grumpy old curmudgeonly hermit artist hiding in the woods. But now I know that there are some genuinely kind, reasonable, creative, intelligent souls living nearby, and that on some level we are a spiritual community of like-minded people. That’s a miracle… to me anyway. I never expected it. And there is another rather compelling development: There must be something to this “Connect the Dots” concept, because I feel a new sense of Hope. It’s not about connecting the dots of facts or information. It’s about connecting the people. Somehow, when a spiritual community of like-minded people achieves critical mass, mental miracles occur, and the result is a new feeling of Hope that we can make a difference. Today I am aware of a growing new belief that miracles can happen and we might be able to save the planet as a home for humanity and all life. I actually believe it might be possible. Anyway, we have to go for it – our house is on fire! What do we have to lose? Everybody grab a bucket and start dousing the flames! I was awake half of the night seeing paintings on the screen of my mind – big new rapid image paintings about Nature, Earth, and the Miracle of Spiritual Community. I have not been awakened by a show of new paintings going through my head for many months. This is very good. Miracles can happen. As your grandmother used to say, “See… God is good!”

Love, – Kevin