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?

Environment, spirit and me

English: Wood Hall and Lewis & Clark Law Schoo...

English: Wood Hall and Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post has been nudging me for a while.  I’ve dragged my feet because it feels like I’m tooting my horn. But I finally realized there’s a point to the post — plus the interior nudging has become annoying 🙂  It started writing itself in my head a while ago when reading some posts by (to me) very young people who are very jazzed about environmental issues.

As I did at their age, they’re proselytizing and admonishing and assuming the rest of us aren’t doing our part.  I get it.  I did it in my twenties too.  You see, I have a pretty long history regarding environmental stuff.  And I realized I don’t talk about it.  I don’t think anyone who knows me knows the whole list below.  Some long time friends know big parts of it, but no one knows it all:

  1. I first became interested in environmental issues in high school in the late sixties, especially clean water concerns.
  2. Because of that interest I took Environmental Biology my freshman year at Northwestern.
  3. When I got an apartment my junior year, my roommate and I became avid recyclers.  In those days you had to take it all to a recycling place.  There were bins with three cement walls around them.  Glass could be broken.  So we thought up everybody and everything we were mad about and yelled and screamed and slammed all the glass into the walls of the glass bin.  Fun.  And environmentally helpful.
  4. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest I volunteered with the Oregon Environmental Council and later worked for a while for the Nature Conservancy.  Then worked for Environmental Law, which at the time was the law review for Lewis and Clark Law School.
  5. When I first moved to Portland they were at the end of a drought so I learned a bunch of water conservation stuff that I’ve used ever since.  (even though the drought ended and it rained pretty much the whole six years I spent in the PNW)
  6. During the Portland years I also studied up on environment-friendly housing and solar power.  Marched for solar power.  Marched against nuclear power.
  7. In Portland in those days you had to contract for your own garbage service.  A local hippie collective had a service called Rainbow something that not only picked up garbage but many kinds of recycling (this was long before city recycling programs became the norm) and they included a compost bucket for kitchen scraps.  I put out about half a bag of garbage every week and all the rest was recycling or compost for a community garden.  In those days mostly hippies talked about the environment or altered their lives to support it.  Everybody else thought we were nuts.
  8. Went to law school (Seattle) hoping to be an environmental warrior.
  9. Environmental warriors were thin on the ground–and jobs for them even thinner– when I got out of law school but I volunteered for Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI; a worthy donation to make) in Chicago and wound up almost exclusively working on nuclear power plant cases.  At the time some of the last fights to keep plants from being licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were being waged.
  10. The volunteering led to a job with a sister agency in the nuclear fight, Governor’s Office of Consumer Services.  At least 95% of my work there was on nuclear plant rate cases; trying to keep most of the cost of the power plants out of the rate base.  We won [I say we but most of my work rode on the backs of an incredible group of lawyers from different consumer groups who conceived the idea of going after the money when the effort to stop licensing by the NRC failed and brainstormed the way to do it] big enough that nine planned nuclear power plants have never been built in Illinois because the utilities could no longer get the whole cost into rate base.
  11. While I still worked for GOCS the Illinois Commerce Commission decided to redo a lot of the ICC rules — a rule-making.  Initially there were no environmental provisions at all.  A representative from the Office of Public Counsel and I became the Jiminy Crickets of environmental provisions.  No one else wanted to talk about it.  We brought it up at every meeting and hopped up and down over rules we wanted that required utilities to use renewable, sustainable energy sources whenever possible. Eyes rolled and jaws tightened, but we didn’t care. Our offices backed us up on refusing to sign without them.  At the end of the rule-making a bunch of environmental provisions had been added.  (There have probably been many changes since then; no idea whether those rules have been preserved)*

I still recycle and conserve water.  Still dream of a house with solar power and other green considerations.  But my proselytizing days are over.  I rarely talk about the environment any more.  I never talk about what I’ve done (till now 🙂 ).  Now that list is just a list.  Some other version of me did all that stuff.  I no longer believe in the same solutions or even in thinking about it the same way.

The list of “pro-environment” things we can do is too long to imagine that anyone can or will do all of them.  Personally I don’t believe we need to.  I think everyone has to examine their own conscience and propensities and choose the actions we are willing to take.  And it’s nobody else’s business what you or I choose to do.

Having grown older (and hopefully a little wiser) I get it now that proselytizing winds up either (1) preaching to the choir — people who already believe and wonder why you think they don’t; or (2) turning off many of the rest because, let’s face it, self-righteous little piss ants like I was are just annoying.

But my spiritual journey also leads me to believe that screaming and hopping up and down about the destruction of the environment and environmental doom and gloom leads to more destruction of the environment.  The vision of doom and gloom leads to doom and gloom.  The more people you get on board by beating the drum for doom and gloom, the more powerfully you create the energy of inevitable destruction.

I look at sunsets and beautiful forests and hold the vision of an earth that always has them.  I see  positive change:  a world in which millions of people are now recycling, driving hybrid cars, using recycled products, etc.  That was just a dream back in 1970 when I began my environmental journey.  It’s not just for hippies any more.  I see positive changes and amazing possibilities.  I believe we can envision an environmentally clean and safe world and then create it.

I hold the vision and chant for earth and I still try to keep my environmental footprint small.  What I do and don’t do…  that’s my business.  What you do or don’t do, that’s yours.


* Pretty much all those consumer advocate groups in the world of public utilities were abolished a few years after I quit.  As far as I can tell all utilities are back pretty much pushing whatever they want through commissions with no one looking out for consumers…