People Power: Climate, Our Part and the Elephants in the Room

As the talk about climate change escalates I keep glancing at plans, suggestions, demands, etc. and making mental notes about what massive change would really entail.  The main things I keep seeing are (1) we the ordinary people have a much bigger role to play than most “change” advocates seem to acknowledge and (2) the massive shift we need will have much greater consequences to the world economy than is generally being discussed.

First, I see a world in which governments for the most part are broken.  Corruption and ties to big money have so infiltrated governments everywhere, I find it odd so many environmental advocates are still calling for governments to do something.  Really, what on earth about how they operate leads anyone to believe they would?

Until we can make sweeping changes in who is elected — keeping corporate money out of the electoral process altogether — democratic governments are not going to pass laws that hamstring global corporations.  And even if we can elect politicians with no such ties, let’s be realistic.  If global corporations are reined in to the necessary degree, massive economic issues, including widespread layoffs and falling profits will result.  No elected politician wants to preside over such a potentially cataclysmic shift.

I’m not saying the process doesn’t also need help from government, but because they’re unlikely to change so radically in the short time frame we need, I think it is going to be regular people working locally along with municipal and maybe state or provincial governments that will create the faster changes we need.

Politicians who discuss “the Green New Deal” or climate change more globally are by and large stepping around the issues of failing corporations and falling GNPs.  They don’t want to say out loud what the real impact of making radical change may have. The youth who are striking often seem to me to be a little naive when it comes to understanding the likely results of the degree of revolutionary change they demand — as did the “radical revolutionaries” of the Viet Nam era; the one sticking point that kept me slightly apart.  I’m not saying they’re wrong that we need it, but I also see you have to face this issue as a probable outcome.

I’m seeing a lot of movement toward more local solutions.  As I’ve mentioned, the world wide co-op movement is very heartening.  It’s been going on long enough I’m seeing studies showing they’re making profits, employing a lot of people and paying them better, etc.  They also allow women and people of color to get a fair shake.

Clearly there are already people who see this is the way to go.  I just think we need a wider-spread consciousness about the need to quickly form local co-ops (or similar) for everything from banking to manufacturing to farming to housing, etc. See previous post for more on co-ops.

What I don’t see is enough individuals advocating on how much WE have to change.  The U.S. is the worst as far as over-consuming.  Our citizens need to step it up more than most pundits are telling them and quit the constant buying.  The assumption that women need a 150 square foot closet and more than enough clothes to fill it needs to stop.  Buying a new computer or cell phone every time a small change in technology comes out needs to stop.  Driving gas-guzzling SUVs needs to stop.  Buying food you don’t need and throwing it away needs to stop.

In my lifetime we’ve moved from a society in which many families had one car and men formed carpools at work so wives and children had the car some days and not others to a society in which every body in the family has at least one vehicle.  We should be demanding expanded public transportation and driving fewer cars instead of more.

No one — especially no politician — wants to tell people they MUST dramatically change their lifestyles especially regarding consuming habits.  Generally speaking the population is resistant to being told big changes must be made .  But this time we have to be agents of change.  Part of that change is also to remake governments to serve the people, but till we do, we’re the best hope we have.

And if we all really start cutting back as much as we must, sales fall, profits decrease, corporations downsize and lay people off, etc.  Some will go out of business.  We should also be using consumer boycotts to express our wrath at their destructive practices and the same consequences are likely.

We need to have a plethora of local opportunities ready to hire displaced workers.  Some places are working on plans where the shift to more sustainable plans and programs includes many new jobs.  We’re talking about a shifting of business and jobs on a scale never seen by the world.

We need to shift to a Thrive Economy instead of one that always grows bigger:

It’s time for us to be poring through Project Drawdown to see which solutions we could support with funding, which solutions we could work on in groups or alone, whether new ideas can be spun from the many offered there.
Paul Hawken_edited
Government as it is constituted right now isn’t going to accomplish this for us.  It’s up to us.  What can we do to shift the mentality from grow to thrive?  How can we start businesses and co-ops operating to thrive while being sustainable?  What are WE going o do to save the world?

People Power: Going local with water

The Kentucky River by Halls at the River, photographer Leigh Gaitskill copyright 2019

Environmental impacts on water have been of interest to me since the late sixties, when big water issues near me on the Great Lakes were in the news.  In recent years I’ve been following with great concern the conversation about clean water becoming scarce around the world.  Then when crisis hit my home town of Flint, Michigan, alarm bells started sounding.

Since Flint, there are increasing numbers of cities with lead problems popping up and eerily little media attention to the issue.  I’m pretty aware of a number of cases because I do a lot of poking around in environmental issues, but you’d have to be really looking to realize how widespread the issue of lead in water due to old pipes is.

Among those who are more aware of the water problem, there’s often a call for federal action  It’s another place where I think local plans from communities coming together may provide more and better answers  Given the many problems besides old pipes that are coming to a head about even having sources of clean water, I don’t think a giant plan to put in new pipes is our best answer.

Looking at Flint

For Flint, there’s an immediate problem of organizing enough drinking water for the populace.  There are a couple of passionate folks I’ve encountered on Twitter who are raising money for bottled water — Lance Cooper @escapedmatrix and Mari Copeny @LittleMissFlint; check them out and donate if you can.  But I can see the problem requires a bigger solution and something more sustainable.

I’ve been looking at rainwater collection as an interim possibility.  First, the technology already exists for both collecting and purifying it and it’s widely available.  Second, it would help them keep an ongoing supply of water.  Third, if you could throw holding tanks into the deal and a give-away of good-sized re-usable jugs, with a number of centers (probably churches and/or community centers), people could collect decent amounts of water as needed.  Not a permanent solution as rain fall is too unreliable, but possibly helpful while a better answer is sought.

It’s a poor community and this would cost a lot more than a fundraiser can garner.  The City of Flint is broke (thanks so much General Motors for abandoning the town).  So I’ve been looking at the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, which happens to be located in Flint.  In fact, Flint is one of the foundation’s missions and they also have an Environmental mission, so I can see a grant proposal that ties these two arenas together.

Not every state allows rain water collection so not an answer for some places, but Michigan doesn’t have a law in place that prevents it.  I’ll be exploring some other technologies and potential drawbacks below.

A second phase would involve something like water purification systems for homes in the area.  Possibly the right person or group could get a company that makes them to give a break or make a donation and a grant could cover the remaining cost and installation.  Below I also look at a few other up and coming technologies for supplying water without using current sources or pipes.  Mari has started a fundraiser to buy purifiers.

I don’t have connections in the area any more (and was too young to have this kind when I lived there), so don’t know community groups who could put in a grant proposal, and I am not an expert at writing a winning grant proposal, so I’m hoping there are people who DO know who can step up.

Foundation support will likely not be the answer as the problem grows more widespread, but Mott is not alone in offering grants for communities and/or for environmental projects so the towns with immediate issues could potentially use grants to help create local supplies of water.

For an excellent analysis of the issues for Flint and why the community should take charge: Flint Water Crisis: The Importance of Building a Grassroots Environmental Justice Infrastructure

Keep It Local

Throughout this series I’ve been advocating a shift to local forums for everything from jobs to manufacturing to governance.  While many who are looking at the growing water crisis and demanding federal action on large scale infrastructure, I’m not so sure the feds are our best hope nor that simply replicating the current water supply system is our best long-term answer.

Given the scale of climate change, I think the current water crisis is a perfect moment to think in terms of sustainable answers.  And the means and methods of sustainability are going to vary widely with locale given differences in climate, water sources, etc.  As I continue explore the growing co-op movement around the world, I’m thinking that local and, in the case of large cities, sometimes neighborhood, co-ops dealing with water may do a better job.  At the least, local governments are better situated to work on the specific needs and possibilities of their communities.

In Texas, for instance, after the big drought of 2011, a number of cities instituted serious changes in how they collect water and their chosen means were very much suited to the local climate and how water is available.  See Six Alternative Water Sources for Texas.  See also: Alternative Water Sources: Supply Side Solutions for Green Buildings for discussions of a number of solutions being used in cities scattered around the U.S.

 Community Groups

Poor neighborhoods are particularly under-served when it comes to safe water and in some areas strong community advocacy groups have been instrumental in getting things done.  If your town or area is having trouble about water and you don’t have such a group, I highly recommend that you look into some of the already-existing ones and create a group that suits your issues.

I’ve read a few things about a group in L.A. which advocates for south L.A., where Black and immigrant residents are disproportionately harmed by environmental issues.  Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education’s (SCOPE) work for social, economic and environmental justice is impressive.  Other groups to explore:  Detroit, West Harlem Environmental Action, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice partners with various communities around the South to promote environmental justice.

Sustainable Water Sources

There is so much info, I can’t provide an exhaustive list but there are a couple of promising avenues to discuss and then I have a lot of links to articles discussing various alternatives to draining all the rivers and lakes, etc.  One thing I’m finding I want to emphasize is potential environmental impacts if some of these things are done on a large scale.

A number of inventors have created devices using solar to create water by drawing water from the air.  Sounds great if you’re talking about one or a few.  But I can’t imagine there’s not an environmental impact down the road if you put thousands and thousands in place, sucking all the moisture out of the air.  So far I’m striking out at finding any environmental impact studies on them at all.

Rain water collection systems are not legal in every state.  Particularly in places with water supply problems, rain water run off is part of the water eco system and states have outlawed it, claiming the state owns that water.  Michigan at the moment has a big supply of water so has not outlawed it, but as water becomes more scarce everywhere I can see potential for multitudes of rain water collection systems also causing detrimental environmental impacts.  Right now they’re available but not that common and it seems like a good solution but I’d like to know if there’s a tipping point where collecting rain would become more of a hazard than a help.

There are also a variety of desalinization devices, including solar, many already in operation in places where it’s suitable.  Again I’ve not seen an environmental impact assessment regarding widespread drawing on salt water sources and taking out the salt.  Seems like another spot with an eventual tipping point from help to harm.

There are other innovations coming along all the time for creating potable water so it’s worth snooping around on the web every now and then to see what’s new.

More info

The latest issue of the alumnae magazine from my Alma mater, Northwestern University, had a really good article about water and efforts being made by various professors in various departments to find solutions.  Solutions for Troubled Waters.

The whole article is worth reading but I particularly noted a couple of resources.  Chemistry professor Will Dichtel has a company offering some of the solutions, from home purifiers to waste management and more, CycloPure.

The director of the Environmental Advocacy Center of the law school’s legal clinic was highlighted and I was interested to note that the Advocacy Center offers help to communities in many places, not just Chicago, so a good potential resource in the U.S.- and apparently they’re working on becoming international.  Their solutions are not just legal, but include help in solving problems, sometimes in conjunction with other NU departments, so a good resource to know about.

The EPA also has a grants program that offers up to $30,000 to community organizations working on environmental justice issues.  Seems like a great place for people in a town like Flint or Newark to propose a program to help with the water crisis.  Environmental Justice Small Grants Program

And some miscellaneous articles on water issues:

The People Power posts:

 

In the news: sifting through facts

For a while now, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been pretty excited about a vague path I see for myself which brings together my legal and political background with my long spiritual journey.  And part of that, since “fake news” became a massive problem, has involved a LOT of fact checking.

Between the history major, research when I worked on my PhD and loads of legal research, I have a lot of research experience and I’ve learned to navigate more easily since the internet makes a lot of those tools available without having to go to a library and stand around at the card catalog.

Recently it occurred to me that some of the stuff I’ve been doing might be useful to other folks trying to navigate the world of fact and fiction in the news.  Not suggesting other people don’t know how, just not everyone does and not everyone is aware of all the resources I am.

First up is figuring out which media outlets and fact checkers are trustworthy.  I separate media bias as an issue from media reporting falsified info.  These days you can search the name of a newspaper or website and “Is it legit?” and there are some pretty good sites that come up. Politifact has a good list but it’s old.

Media Bias Fact Check is pretty good but I have found some places that haven’t been updated to reflect a change of ownership that has impacted both bias and veracity (Patheos, for instance, has changed hands so the middle of the road and wide representation in writers has changed to purely evangelical and a biased point of view; no info on truth or fiction).

I’ve memorized some places that come up often for me that don’t measure up when checked, so I automatically am skeptical of anything from Occupy Democrats or Breitbart, to name two.  Fake news and truth stretching happens on both sides, so it’s good to be vigilant whatever your persuasion.

Some of the venerated places like the New York Times or Washington Post  (CNN, CBS, NBC, et al) generally do a pretty good job, but they do have a big liberal bias and sometimes present more of the info that supports the bias.  However, I don’t find they actually make anything up and one nice thing about the better news outlets is they often give you info on sources.

It’s easy to do some fact checking because they often reference studies made by Homeland Security or the Department of State, etc. and I have tracked down enough studies to see if the news story accurately reflected it to feel confident they report real info and are not making stuff up.

Fox, on the other hand, not only makes stuff up but rarely provides a serious study or report — or indeed any evidence at all — so they make it a little harder.  But generally if something is in the news you can use a search engine and some key words from the story to track down whether there is any supporting evidence for their claims. I’ve researched enough of their stories to feel confident they routinely make up news and ignore studies, facts, etc.

I know many on the right have vilified Snopes and Politifact, but I’ve researched facts on both sides of many issues and I find they’re just as willing to debunk Democrats and liberals as the GOP and conservatives.  To the extent I’ve followed some of their source trails, I’ve found both do a good job of fact checking and I trust their results.

All these sources are the ways to get an easy fix.  But if you really feel unsure about what’s true, there are a few places you can go.  As mentioned, there are often studies cited that were carried out by departments of government and use statistics they collect.

For instance, you can look at lots of data collected by the State Department, Homeland Security, the DEA and various state and federal law enforcement agencies to find the following info about the flow of drugs, immigrants in general, and immigrants from Central America and Mexico in particular:

  1. more drugs come in from Canada than Mexico
  2. most drugs enter through ports, not across southern border
  3. immigrants actually commit far fewer crimes than citizens
  4. there are more illegal immigrants who came in on legal visas and stayed after the visa expired than there are immigrants who came across any border illegally
  5. the largest number of those illegally here on expired visas are from Canada

You get the idea.  A huge amount of stuff being floated by the President, the GOP and Fox news is a complete fabrication and there are facts you can check.  There are many topics for which the government collects data and prepares studies, so you can often go straight to the source to find out what’s true.

Another source on line is to check on bills at government sites.  At the federal level the Congressional Record has every bill that’s been proposed and you can follow the stages of it and find out who voted which way.  At the state level, every state I’ve looked in on (by no means all) has had an on line government site where you can track bills and votes.

To find out about court cases, you can order a transcript on line but you have to pay.  If you just want to track proceedings and the basics of what happened, you can get a lot of info on line.  Just look up the court, i.e. federal district court or local county court or a state supreme court, etc. and somewhere in their tabs you’ll find info on court cases.

Most major universities have lots of grants to do studies and publish loads of material on every subject.  When you run a search to find data on many issues, look for studies by, say, Stanford or Northwestern or the University of Michigan, for example, and read some of their research.  Multitudes of studies are available on line for free.  Even universities have crackpots, so you might also do a check on the professor(s) who ran the research 🙂

Those are enough basics you should be able to negotiate sorting fact from fiction in most cases.  Hope it helps.

Separating Church & State Honors Our Ancestors

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment, Establishment and Free Exercise clauses

For some time I’ve been observing a growing trend among some Christians (mostly evangelical) to want to end the separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution and make every one conform to Christian values and participate in Christian practices.  They say they love America but their stance is so adverse to the foundation stones of our nation, it’s hard to imagine they even know our history.

I’ve been particularly thinking about it in light of my genealogy research and the many ancestors who came here to get away from religious persecution.  My 10x great grandfather, William Brewster, was a Puritan Separatist and his religious views first forced him to flee England for Holland.  He later managed to return to England long enough to board the Mayflower and come to the Plymouth Colony.

He was one of multitudes of Puritans who fled England because their religious beliefs were outlawed.  They braved the hazardous voyage across the ocean and came to the new world in the hope of finding freedom to worship as they chose.

On my mother’s side I’ve long since lost count of the number of Scottish Presbyterians — they’re all over the tree on both sides of her family.  Some broke off from the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and came here to establish their version of Presbyterianism.  Others, after accepting land in Ireland for some years, wound up fleeing to America when England began persecuting Presbyterians for their failure to follow Anglican law.

Presbyterians weren’t particularly welcome here either as the established religions along the coast disapproved of their beliefs.  They gave the Scots land at what were then the frontiers, in order to let them serve as buffers against the Native tribes.  In other words they were expendable.  Presbyterian ministers were rare in those parts, so many became Baptists.

These are just some of the stories of religious persecution that led many of our early citizens to the Colonies.  The Founding Fathers were well aware of the persecution that had hounded so many out of their homes and across an ocean.  There is also a great deal of evidence many of them were aware of other religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, etc.  So when they established free exercise of religion and forbade the establishment of a state religion, they were specifically safeguarding people from the kind of persecution so many had endured and, by their explicit failure to name Christianity or any denomination thereof, they extended that freedom to all religions.

Ironically many of those who are trying to force everyone to conform to their religious beliefs, to bring Christian prayers back into schools and make Muslim and Jewish and Hindu children participate, are descendants of the persecuted Christians who arrived in a new land seeking freedom to worship as they chose.

Every time I see one of these calls for the State to violate the First Amendment and participate in promoting evangelical Christian beliefs, I feel my ancestors have been dishonored.  That their suffering has been forgotten.  “Separation of church and state” were Jefferson’s words, describing the meaning of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, a separation created to make sure such persecution would not be repeated.

This wall between state and church was built to ensure all people freedom to pursue their religious beliefs without interference from the government.  Every call to take down that wall is an assault on one of the great foundation stones of the United States of America and shows either ignorance of or contempt for one of the most important lynch pins of our democracy; one which is central to its greatness.

Let’s not forget why so many of the original settlers came here.  Honor their pursuit of religious freedom by honoring religious freedom.