23 November 2017

Slaves and Bulldozers*, Plutocrats and Widgets




There is not an industrial company on earth, not an institution of any kind - not mine, not yours, not anyone's - that is sustainable. I stand convicted by me, myself alone, not by anyone else, as a plunderer of the earth. But not by our civilization's definition. By our civilization's definition, I'm a captain of industry and in the eyes of many, a kind of modern-day hero.                   
                                                -- Ray Anderson, (1934-2011) CEO of Interface, Inc.


We are living a collective illusion known as the civilized world. We feign concern for our horrendous conditions of poverty, socioeconomic inequality, deteriorating public health, and severe environmental degradation (to which climate change is merely one factor), but everything we do belies that distress. These issues comprise the largest risks to the survival of the human species, as well as the most significant amoral atrocities on the planet. Both individually and as a species, our health, safety, and ability the live a decent, dignified life have always been imperiled by these predicaments. Yet, we continue along with complete cognitive dissonance in that the crux of our lives – our jobs, our consumer culture - all contribute to, perpetuate, and exacerbate the unsustainable and morally reprehensible conditions of our existence. But while we are all marginally responsible for the multitude of calamities befalling us, the one group who bears the brunt of the blame for our social and ecological decay is the wealthy.

Have you looked around and seen just what humanity has done to our stunning Earth? We've bulldozed the beauty for bucks. Far too much of what was once a glorious paradise is now a complete disaster of unfathomable proportions. A disaster wholly of our own making. In America, and in most places around the world, from the moment we are born we are preparing for a future career, and more specifically, for the lifelong goal of making money. But on the whole, most of the jobs we do end up being more detrimental than beneficial to society and the environment. We characterize work through measures of productivity, but producing more and more unnecessary, meaningless, and often useless products compromises our physical environment, which in turn, compromises the health of humans, other beings, and our entire planetary ecosystem.

So many of the things that form the basis of our civilization should not, and perhaps cannot, exist in a just and sustainable world. Items like arms and artillery, synthetic chemicals, concentrated animal feeding operations, plastic, smartphones and other electronic gadgetry do not feed a sustainable and equitable world but create more needless havoc. The irony, though, is that the very people who run the systems that incessantly construct and promulgate these harmful, redundant, or unnecessary products are the richest and most successful people on earth.

We define success in our society almost exclusively in terms of wealth, with its attendant power and sometimes, fame. Rich people are the recipients of adulation and reverence for nothing more than their accumulation of wealth and material products. We like to think that riches come by way of great intellect, talent, skill, and a strong work ethic, but in reality, monetary success is more a matter of inherited socioeconomic status, ambition, and determination, rather than ability and aptitude. Most of all, to achieve wealth means to have a myopic resolve, not only to look away from how the sausage is made, but to not care how the sausage is made.

The wealthy in our society then become the people with the most power and influence. While ironically, they are the people least deserving of our respect. They are the exact people whom we should look upon with the utmost skepticism and even disdain. They should not be in the position to make decisions about our collective lives and the workings of our society, because their financial success is completely antithetical to societal justice and sustainability.

It doesn't take great acumen or diligence to make a lot of money; it takes a narrow-minded, insular, immoral, sometimes psychopathic view of life, in which personal pleasure and profit are the primary variables. It's quite easy to do well financially and find personal satisfaction if the exploitation of humans, other animals, and the entire biosphere is left outside of the realm of your career consciousness. As Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Carpet admitted, "For 21 years
I never gave a thought to what we were taking from the earth or doing to the earth in the making of our products." He built his fortune without consideration to the effects of his enterprise until someone brought the deleterious consequences to his attention.

We like to believe the cream rises to the top, but the truth is that the top is actually full of scum. We have seen in recent weeks, if we did not know already, that entertainment, politics, and indeed, all of the wealthiest industries are cesspools of moral depravity, especially at the apex.
There may be some exceptions, but scum is the rule. Some might call these people ambitious, some might call them razor-focused, others would call them sociopathic. It takes a careful regimen of willful  ignorance and/or denial to not consider all the harms that directly and indirectly result from avenues toward career achievements in the process of our normal lives – harms such as exploitation of labor, torture of animals, and toxic contamination and of food, water, and natural resources.

Material success requires rape and pillage, figuratively and literally. Donald Trump bragged that when you have the kind of wealth he has, you can treat women as objects and just "grab 'em by the pussy." You can also exploit resources, exploit labor, befoul the environment, and endanger public health with few or no consequences. On a purely moral basis, only scum could have the hubris to consider others as mere playthings for their own enjoyment, to feel superior enough to warrant their extreme wealth which they did not earn but stole from the commons, and to believe that they deserve obscene riches when the majority of others do not even have basic life necessities.

How often have you heard the phrases "not that there is anything wrong with being rich," or "I don't begrudge him his wealth"? Wealth should be considered reprehensible. Wealth has always been in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many, and one's access to it has always been almost wholly correlated with one's socioeconomic status at birth. Yet we rationalize this immoral situation and pretend that the proverbial "pie," of which we all need a slice, is infinite in size and that wealth is accessible to anyone. We assume that being rich is not only acceptable but aspirational. It is neither in a just and sustainable world.

On a finite planet every excess dollar, every excess material good, every extra home, car, garment, trinket, piece of food, or beverage that one person possesses essentially correlates to an item that another person does not have. When we normalize one person having more than he/she needs in a world where billions have far less than the bare minimum required to meet their basic needs, then we are obliged to rethink our morality. When a simple handbag can cost between $12K and $300K and we as a society see nothing wrong with that kind of excess in the face of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and disease, we are not only completely socially corrupt, we are spelling our own doom. Poverty only exists because excessive wealth exists and neither is compatible with a sustainable and humane civilization.

To achieve a sustainable world, we must relinquish our use of non-renewable resources, we must utilize renewable resources at a level in which they have the time and ability to replenish, and we must leave no waste that is not regenerative. To achieve an equitable world, we must relinquish our greed and desire for opulence, excess, and disproportionate influence. In fact, sustainability is also a function of equity. However, our current society is predicated on the antithesis of all such requirements.

Wealthy people gain their successes because they have tunnel vision. They are singularly focused on themselves, their careers, and/or on money. They do not take into consideration the externalities involved in their actions. They pay little mind to the exploitation involved in their pursuits. Ethics never supersedes ambition. Therefore, these are the exact people who should not be in charge of making policies for the benefit of society and should not be in charge of civic ventures. To be able to be so wealthy without shame, guilt, or acknowledgement that your own wealth impedes the lives of others is to be either ignorant or indifferent. We are facing global ecological and economic collapse. Who made this happen? The wealthiest people of the world. If you are rich you do not have the solution. You are the problem.

The world is run on slave labor, indentured servitude, animal and natural resource exploitation, and endless generation of waste and contamination. Material success comes with adopting a shortsighted view of the world – closing yourself off to your own connection to global anthropogenic climate change, toxification, and inequality.

So many of the wealthy who consider themselves socially and environmentally aware perceive no connection between their own wealth accumulation and the causes they claim to champion. Instead of curtailing their materialism, they rationalize it. Instead of acknowledging that their consumerism intensifies global resource extraction, they produce more products (often erroneously labeled "green") to sustain their riches. When the wealthy are not hawking products for their for-profit activities, they have the audacity to solicit for charitable organizations that are only necessitated by the economic system that produces poverty and environmental devastation in the wake of their extravagant wealth. They ask donations from the majority of citizens who are barely making ends meet, when they themselves could surrender probably 90% of their accumulated wealth and not notice a marked change in their material status whatsoever. The elites who are not in denial about the problems we face want scientific and technological solutions - solutions that they can throw their money at and have others solve so they do not have to think about their own contribution to the problems.

But there are no silver bullets to end inequality and environmental destruction, while continuing with business as usual in civilized society. Science cannot save us. Scientific research itself relies on the same unsustainable production, consumption, use of resources, and waste as every other industry.

Technology mavens always tout the great social or biological service that their new technology will provide. Their innovations comes under the guise of helping the world, but the majority of the time, their creations are frivolous and do not do much more than use natural resources, create waste, and earn them exorbitant profit. At the university where I earned my doctoral degree there is a masters program in biotechnology and there's a reason why their curriculum extends beyond just science, containing at least two required business courses. Of course, business is fundamental to their instruction because the principle purpose of our education, of our careers, is profit.

All of the harmful products and practices in our civilization – military arms, sweatshops, low wages, pesticides, plastics, throw-away items, excess of products, animal cruelty, overuse of medicine and surgery - only exist to increase revenue for the rich. None are fair or just or equitable or sustainable. Our societal justification of the above items just marks our collective delusion. These products and practices persist in the name of profit, and we rationalize their continuation just as we rationalize extravagant wealth.

When Senator Bernie Sanders was on TV decrying President Barack Obama's half-million dollar speaking engagements on Wall Street, the anchors of the program said to him, "Wouldn't you do it if you could?" Bernie replied, "I wouldn't be asked." Rather, he should have explained that anyone with integrity would not accept money they do not need for some sort of quid pro quo from a destructive and corrupt institution. The hosts of the show surmised that everyone would jump at the opportunity to earn money if they had the chance. It is precisely that sort of mindset that enables these broadcasters to inhabit their influential positions on a national television program and to earn millions of dollars. They demonstrate what unethical opportunists they, and most of the rich, actually are. Their lack of ethics is internalized and taken for granted by not only them, but most of the rest of our society. They are more than willing to be bought at whatever price for whatever service. "Just doing my job" does not serve as an excuse for immorality.

Nevertheless, there are people who have chosen lives based on conviction rather than money. Former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica and Seattle City Council member Kashama Sawant chose to earn the local average income for their official positions and donate the remainder of their salaries toward social justice work. Biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber donated a portion of her $100K Heinz Award prize toward the fight against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) rather than spend it on personal treats. Likewise, teacher Jesse Hagopian donated his $100K settlement for being unjustly attacked with pepper-spray by Seattle police toward social justice action. Not everyone is looking to cash in, and not everyone is seeking the next, biggest profit-making endeavor.

Living with integrity and simplicity is difficult. People do not choose to live this way because their personal sacrifice will change the world. They do so because it is the right thing to do. They do so because having too much means others don't have enough. They do so because living by example allows others who care to see that a life of wealth and consumerism augments inequality and unsustainability; it is not the only way to live and need not be. They live this way because only by walking the walk rather than talking the talk will we ever start to achieve justice and sustainability to help preserve the future of our species.

In recent years there have been waves and wave of protests throughout the country and the world in response to myriad societal maladies. The best protest we can do in America now is to reject the bourgeois life - reject excessive wealth and the material components that come with it, reject profligate consumption, reject consumerism, reject wasteful holidays, reject wasteful trinkets,  reject all that is incompatible with what we purport to champion. For example, retired talk-show host David Letterman appears sincere in his dedication toward helping combat climate change, while at the same time, he remains co-owner of an auto racing team. In the world in which we currently live, auto racing is completely incongruent with climate change mitigation. We can't pretend to value matters like justice and sustainability unless the way we live upholds those values. We can't decouple our livelihoods from our lives.

The rich tend to ensconce themselves in their well-manicured communities, shop with abandon, and disregard the abject poverty, environmental degradation, and injustices all around them. They are in the process of spending small portions of their vast fortunes building survival bunkers to withstand either the revolutionary upheaval that may soon come as a result of immeasurable socioeconomic inequality, or the catastrophic ecological collapse that may result from reckless resource extraction and expenditure. How misguided or cynical are they to not realize that by renouncing their extreme wealth, they would need no such provisions and could play a large part in salvaging our civilization?

Need I even explain how the current tax scam pending on Capitol Hill will serve to enhance all of the socioeconomic, environmental, and public health calamities that are arising ever more rapidly and in quick succession? Need I elaborate on how our escalating climate-related weather catastrophes only reach the cataclysmic proportions they do because of the wealth disparities involved and because of the high-risk industrial components therein, that exist mainly to enrich the elite? Would these natural disasters be so disastrous if more people had the economic resilience that they deserve and if society took more precaution against the hazards of multibillion-dollar industries that manufacture products of questionable value while generating tremendous wealth to a select few?

We live in a time of unprecedented social disarray, ecological disrepair, public health decay, and moral depravity. Nearly every aspect of the way we live in modern industrial societies is completely unsustainable. Even if we were to transition to 100% solar energy tomorrow throughout the planet, the worst effects of climate change might be averted, but the plastic pollution that permeates the most far-reaching depths of the oceans would still remain, the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) that harm our own health and the health of the entire global ecosystem remain. Not only do they remain, but they continue to be produced, not out of necessity, but for the financial profit of the privileged few. The production of, consumption of, and waste stream from our global industrial society continues unabated. This is the system that forms the foundation of all of our lives in the civilized world, and this is the system that bestows excessive wealth to some while leaving others fighting for survival.

While it is indeed the system of capitalism that generates and sustains our societal injustice and ecological degradation, the system is comprised of people – people who could abdicate their fictional obligation to happiness via indefinitely-increasing earnings, people who can choose better. Without a preponderance of such people, no countervailing just and sustainable system can ever compete.

In 1964, Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano interviewed the famous Argentinean hero of the Cuban revolution Ernesto "Che" Guevara. In the midst of a comprehensive conversation, Che stated to Galeano, "I don't want every Cuban to wish he were a Rockefeller." To be sure, if we are remotely interested in a sustainable and equitable world, the attainment of wealth must be transformed from admirable to contemptible. With regard to the multitude of obstacles we face, Ralph Nader once wrote "only the super-rich can save us." He's right. They can save us by not existing.


 * RIP C.C.

Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the mad-dog general.. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com.

20 September 2017

Burden in My Hand*: The U.S. Medical Industrial Complex



 Years ago my husband and I were traveling out of town when he noticed a very itchy red blotch growing around his elbow. By dinnertime, the redness had migrated throughout his arm. We knew that it could be an infection, so after dinner, we were luckily able to stop at an urgent care clinic where we immediately saw the physician on duty who diagnosed it as a bacterial infection. She prescribed a course of antibiotics and told us to return in 24 hours for follow-up to be sure that the infection had receded. All of this cost between $5-7 - an inexpensive and satisfying medical visit.

Several weeks later we had settled into our temporary home and decided we were overdue for physical exams. We called a nearby doctor's office. They scheduled appointments for us in about a week and facilitated the visits so that my husband and I could each see a doctor at the same time. Moreover, the office was within a few miles of our home, so we could easily walk there. When we arrived, the only paperwork necessary was a form to list our names, addresses, and some personal and family medical history. The doctors greeted us both and were taken aback when we spoke to them with the formal "Dr." before their last names. They preferred to converse on a first name basis. Each viewed themselves as just another working stiff. After those medical appointments, we had some additional preventative and diagnostic exams and services, including x-rays. The primary-care physicians apologized that it might take up to two to three weeks to see a specialist. We, on the other hand, were flabbergasted at the expediency of the whole process.  Once we were through with our physicals and further exams, we received the bill.

No, wait just a moment. We didn't receive any bill at all, because we were living in New Zealand. Despite the fact that we were not citizens, nor (yet) residents of the county, we received all of the aforementioned medical care for free.

Unfortunately, our stay in New Zealand had to be curtailed for a number of reasons. We have never had such sufficient, efficient, and pleasant medical experiences before or since.

In our youth, whether uninsured or underinsured (which most people in the U.S. tend to be), we normally avoided seeing doctors because of the high co-pays and deductibles involved as well as the complete opaqueness of the cost of any sort of care. 

When care became more necessary as we aged, we reluctantly visited medical professionals, but the costs were usually shrouded in secrecy. For example, I was diagnosed with cancer (which was very likely, in part, iatrogenic) and needed surgery. Having extremely insufficient medical insurance, I expressed my concerns to the billing personnel at the hospital before the scheduled operation, but they could not divulge any of the prices of the known procedures. Instead, they told me that it was not something I should worry about. And you wonder why lack of health care coverage is the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.?

Is there any other business in which you pay for services or products - and extremely expensive ones at that - but are not told the price beforehand, and moreover are told not to worry about the cost? It is absolute insanity and should be illegal. There are no standard prices for medical treatments and services and there is no transparency about costs. Indeed, medical care is the only service for which you are forced to buy the product prior to knowing its price. Consequently, patients are gouged with exorbitant fees over which they have no control whatsoever, particularly when they lack insurance and when they are people of color. Bottom line: those with the least pay the most and those with the most pay the least, as per usual in the United States.

Quantitative data clearly demonstrate the shortcomings of the U.S. medical system:
 Forget about being in-between jobs, forget about moving from region to region, let alone state to state - medical insurance in the United States does not account for the real life situations we all face. Though many applauded the Affordable Care Act's extension of coverage to children up to the age of 26 under their parents' medical plan, this provision only helped if those young adults could live at home with or stay within the same general vicinity as their parents. All of the vagaries in the lives of actual Americans are left unaccounted for within our tortuous system of health coverage.

But all of these statistics do not fully illustrate what it is like to sort through the costly, convoluted U.S. medical system. I, like most of my fellow Americans, can recount innumerable exasperating stories throughout my lifetime of dealing with health insurance. I could talk about how, after hours of phone calls seeking medical care for some alarming symptoms that could have been related to my prior cancer diagnosis, it took three months to find a physician to see me. I could talk about how my health insurance provider just completely dropped all dental coverage with no explanation, even after numerous phone calls and letters inquiring as to why. In the past year alone, this ridiculously labyrinthine scheme of accessing medical care has left me resolved to not bother seeing a doctor at all.

Most recently, after having moved to a new state and, fortunately, obtaining health insurance through my husband's job, I tried to set up dental appointments. The only dentists in the area covered by our insurance said that the next available check-up could be scheduled TEN months from now. Then I tried to find primary care physicians. I spent hours and hours and days and days calling doctors' offices only to be told that they were "not accepting new patients." I gave up and called the health insurance provider to help me. The nice woman at the other end of the line said she'd be happy to find a physician for me and would email me a list of those available. The next day, I received a list with the name of ONE physician within a thirty mile radius who would take new patients. However, not only does it take a minimum of two months to get an appointment with a physician, but the physician wants all of your prior medical history (which is nearly impossible to compile for someone like me who has moved around so much) and then, after examining your history for anywhere from one to six weeks, will then decide whether he or she will actually take you on as a patient. This is the scenario with what is supposedly the best medical insurance in the region. Imagine what it is like for those with "lesser" insurance plans or with no insurance at all.

Early this summer, my husband severely injured both of his knees, leaving him barely able to walk without tremendous pain and assistance from a cane. Since we had no doctor and no ability to get an appointment for months, we attempted to see if his injuries would heal on their own. When the hoped-for healing never materialized, we finally had to go to the emergency room since no other physician would see us, despite our supposedly excellent health insurance. We waited four hours just to get a referral to an orthopedic specialist, because the orthopedics on our health care plan would not see a patient without one, even though our insurance does not require a referral. No medical treatment, one referral, and four hundred dollars later, we were next denied care by two of the local orthopedic group practices for apparently no reason whatsoever. In all my life, I had never heard of such a thing - a patient needs care and a physician denies service even WITH health insurance. I finally obtained an appointment with an orthopedic about 40 miles away after I explained our dilemma and basically begged the nurse to help my husband. I suppose we were fortunate, though, given that the nurse at the ER told us that she, herself, visits a specialist six hours away from our town.

These tales, of course, are not unique, nor do they even come close to approach the worst of what has occurred to Americans attempting to navigate such a corrupt medical system, if they even have any access to it at all. My troubles pale in comparison to those who have suffered physically and emotionally, lost their life savings, and worse, lost their loved ones due to the unethical, immoral medical industrial complex in the United States that values profits over people at every turn. In every place I have lived in my adult life, I have seen flyers and advisements fundraising for local community members who have fallen ill, unable to afford to pay for their necessary and often lifesaving care. And it is also not uncommon for citizens to have to try to raise money to pay for medical bills for their deceased family members as well. What kind of a psychopathic nation would allow this? Ours, of course.

Unfortunately, too few people want to complain publicly about the system. Americans are told that the strong just grin a bear the burdens they face. Furthermore, the preponderance of anecdotes in the media do not even begin to explicate what a colossal clusterfuck - and that is truly the only fitting word - the U.S. medical system is. Anyone who claims that health care in the United States is good or even tolerable, let alone the best in the world, either has far too much wealth and privilege to warrant a voice,  has not been anywhere else on the planet to experience the contrast to our woeful structure, or has sorely low expectations.

Universal health care is not only feasible, it is the least expensive, least bureaucratic, most straightforward, most efficient, and only moral solution to our heath care crisis in the United States. To those who balk at how universal health care can be paid for, I ask how we can fund the past 16 years of illegal, atrocious, global wars, the trillions of dollars spent (and lost into thin air)  to supply the military-industrial complex, and the incessant tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, and multinational corporations? Universal, single-payer health coverage for all Americans is long overdue. All of the bullshit excuses and obfuscations will no longer fly. It is high time for the United States to join every other sane, humane government in every other industrialized nation by removing this burden from our hands.

 
Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. She is no relation to the Mad Dog general. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com.

* RIP C.C.

02 June 2017

About Paris



At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) marked the first international treaty to address the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by nation states to attempt to avert the impending disaster of global climate change. By December 1997, the UNFCC was expanded into the Kyoto Protocol which set legally binding emissions reductions targets; however the protocol was not implemented until 2005. In the meantime, the United States signed on to the protocol but never ratified it in Congress. Furthermore, many if not most nations, particularly the most-developed, including the U.S., failed to meet emission reduction goals and/or withdrew from the protocol.

In December of 2015, the UN held their annual climate change conference in Paris, France to assess the progress on international greenhouse gas emission reductions, as well as update the Kyoto Protocol. During this conference, a new accord, known as the Paris Agreement, was laid out describing non-binding emission reduction pledges specific to particular nations. As the Kyoto Protocol had expired in 2012, the Paris Agreement set forth a new framework for individual country emission targets, in addition to financial aid and assistance to developing nations in order to help them achieve sustainable growth - i.e., alleviate poverty without compromising environmental concerns. President Barack Obama signed the United States on to the Paris Agreement on Earth Day 2016.

As we all know, as of June 1, 2017, Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Agreement. Yes, this is a symbolic travesty befitting all of the other travesties emblematic of his entire presidency thus far. But beyond the symbolism, does it really matter?

The Paris Agreement is symbolic in itself. It is completely voluntary and non-binding; there are no repercussions for not achieving emissions plans nor for not providing the financial contributions set forth in the accord. As of the end of Obama's term in office, the U.S. was already destined to miss its emission reduction targets.

Noted climatologist James Hansen suggested that an atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration exceeding 350 parts per million (ppm) would imperil planetary climate stability, unleashing innumerable, highly predicted, environmental, ecological, and public health effects. Carbon dioxide is the second most abundant (behind water vapor) and most discussed greenhouse gas because of its exponentially increasing concentrations since the manmade industrial revolution commenced. In April of this year, the atmospheric CO2 concentration reached 410 ppm. Clearly, all of our UN climate change treaties have been woefully insufficient.

Ten years ago in graduate school I studied the appraisals and predictions outlined in the reports by the international scientific body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As a scientist, I also know how conservative scientific risk assessments tend to be. The future scenarios ranged from, in plain terms, a best-case scenario based on sustainable economic growth and environmental protections, to a business-as-usual scenario, to a worst-case scenario based on unabated economic growth with little to no regard for environmental sustainability.  Not at all surprisingly, the world has already exceeded even the worst-case scenario of emissions and effects predicted by the IPCC.

Before Trump's decision was announced late Thursday afternoon, NPR's pundits on Morning Edition made mention that corporations and industries were already prepared for the Paris Agreement and had made plans for energy reduction in accordance with its goals. "What would become of these plans now?" asked the pundits. They also noted that international industries were already altering production to adhere to the strict environmental agreements by other nations. What would these industries do, since the U.S. would now have no such strict environmental protocols? Well, the obvious answer not stated by the journalists is that all such future plans for greater environmental protections and reduced fossil fuel use should remain in place, accord or no accord.

The fact is that the majority of the American public did not even know about the catastrophe of global climate change until Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth documentary in 2006. By that time, all treaties pertaining to reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions were decades too late. The 2015 Paris Agreement was horrendously overdue, and because it is non-binding, no nation that signed it is truly obligated to do anything at all. Indeed, if history is any indication, few nations even will.

Yet, just because we are not legally obligated does not mean we are not morally obligated to tackle climate change. We need to do anything and everything we have planned AND FAR MORE. Any industry, corporation, state, city, local municipality, and individual needs to do all that is possible to reduce energy use, reduce consumption, and reduce waste. All of that is probably not enough, but it is a good start. Moreover, we need to aid the most poor and vulnerable among us who are in no position to conquer climate change when their basic necessities of life are not met. None of our actions need be predicated on a non-binding international treaty. If the United States wants to be the moral arbiter of humanity that it always claims to be, if its citizens care about the future of the human species (and other species) on the planet, if we cannot rely on a federal mandate, then we can create mandates ourselves. The Paris Agreement, while an important superficial pledge, was never the saving grace for humanity's battle against climate change. The withdrawal of the U.S. and the failure of the current executive branch of U.S. government does not prohibit meaningful action. We already know that Trump and his administration do not care about anything but themselves and their own financial success. They have no moral or ethical compass. The question now is, do the rest of us?


Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. She is no relation to the Mad Dog General.  Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

15 April 2017

We're Barely Even Trying

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/13/we-are-barely-even-trying/


You may have heard, above the din of the flabbergasted masses on election day last November, that plastic grocery bags were banned in the entire state of California. Given that plastic pollution is basically clogging up massive areas of all the earth's oceans and waterways, choking wildlife to death, and leaving microscopic particulate to toxify the entire food web of the planet, the bold move by at least one state in the U.S. may have sounded too good to be true. Well it is. Plastic bags are still thriving in California.

True, the supposed plastic grocery bag ban went into immediate effect on November 9, 2016. Most grocery stores had already eliminated their plastic bags by that morning and had paper bags available for 10 cents each if customers neglected to bring their own reusable sack. I thought I witnessed the quickest act of democracy I had ever seen. A store cashier and I applauded the expediency of this policy, yet seeing the ecological devastation that these idiotic plastic creations have caused for decades, I couldn't help but comment that it was about thirty years too late.

Imagine my dismay when, perhaps a week after California enacted the ban, I saw this:


Soon after plastic bags were "banned," they were right back again, albeit in a transformed iteration - slightly thicker, decorated, shaped differently, now costing 10 cents, and touted as "reusable" (weren't the others too?) but still plastic. Clearly, the plastic manufacturers' lobby groups and associations would not concede to a real ban.

We see this maneuver over and over again with environmental protections as well as other pro-social policies: either the policy is a ruse or it does little to truly alleviate the problem it is supposed to tackle. The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) which is used in plastic products and on thermal receipt paper is a known endocrine disruptor and has shown reproductive and developmental toxicity in animals. As an endocrine disrupting chemical it is also potentially carcinogenic. Though the U.S. EPA has decided not to regulate BPA, many manufacturers have responded to public pressure not by eliminating unnecessary products containing BPA, but by substituting a "safer" alternative chemical, BPS, in its place. And guess what? Turns out that BPS is an endocrine disrupting chemical as well, possibly even more potent than BPA.

This bait-and-switch is emblematic of our so-called "win-win" solutions; they are little more than subterfuge. This is what happens when we try to fix the environment but preserve capitalist interests.

When it comes to environmental protection, ecological sustainability, human health and safety, income inequality and poverty reduction, educational opportunity, and global warming there is no doubt that the current presidential administration does not care. They and most of their GOP counterparts have no objective but the accumulation of greater amounts of wealth and power for themselves and their cohort. So, let us leave them out of the discussion right now. I previously wrote about the failure of half measures during the Wisconsin state uprising of 2011. What is perhaps even more pernicious and more unethical than the utter psychopathy of Trump and his cronies is the duplicity of, and the conciliatory deals proposed and enacted by, those who purport to actually care about the pressing issues we face.

These alleged win-win, non-solutions apply to a variety of societal issues in the U.S. Here are a few exemplified:

Health Care
Regardless of the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) provided more health insurance to more people than before, it is a wholly deficient measure that enhances the coffers of the health insurance companies, just as it was meant to do ("win-win"). The ACA maintained the highly profitable yet completely inefficient and overpriced U.S. health care industry. While more citizens gained health insurance, they did not necessarily gain affordable access to health care. They still faced the burden of high costs, lack of providers, long waits for appointments, scant coverage for eye and dental care, and often the need to travel great distances to obtain any service at all. The threat of bankruptcy over health care costs still looms for the majority of Americans. There is no viable reason that Universal Single Payer Health Coverage, which would save the country billions of dollars in costs, could not be implemented in the richest in the world, But this is what happens when we try to fix health care but preserve capitalist interests.

Income
The Fight for $15 movement deserves tremendous applause for bringing attention to the plight of low-wage workers, who, despite working one or more jobs, face erratic work schedules, unpredictable conditions, and an almost complete lack of benefits, rendering them unable to make ends meet for themselves and their families. We should have nothing but praise for all in the movement, particularly those whose work to raise awareness and change labor laws represents an additional burden to their already difficult conditions. But the fact that this country does not have a minimum wage of at least $22, which is what the minimum wage should be in 2017, adjusted for inflation and productivity, is shameful Better yet, the U.S. should implement a Universal Basic Income and guaranteed full-time employment with benefits like sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, ample vacation, and pensions. These seemingly idealistic goals are entirely possible if the country taxed the wealthy at previous historical rates, if industrialists paid for all of their externalities  - which are currently covered by taxpayers -  and if bulk of the U.S. economic budget and discretionary spending was not allocated to the military industrial complex. But instead, the best we can hope for is to raise hourly wages to $15, which is even more than most politicians (both Democrat and Republican) will allow. This is what happens when you try to fix wages but preserve capitalist interests.

Education
I have written about education before and I have worked in both secondary and higher education. There is no doubt that the U.S. public education system is troubled, but the solutions are clear - smaller class sizes, more resources (mainly books), better classrooms and environments, more autonomy for teachers, better working conditions for teachers, less emphasis on technology and tests, and a decrease in child poverty. However Democrats and Republicans alike, instead of paying attention to the underlying problems in so-called "low-performing" schools, have chosen to privatize education through charter schools. While charters do not perform better than public schools, they do have fewer regulations. That climate allows for the funneling of public funds through the school to the people at the top of the corporate charter, often large, for-profit enterprises. The overall charter endeavor leaves the majority of students in the same predicament as before, but can bring great profits to those enterprising educational entrepreneurs. This is what happens when you try to fix education but preserve or augment capitalist interests.

Climate Change
Need it even be said? The United States has done little to nothing to tackle climate change. President Obama signed on to the non-binding U.N. Paris Agreement in 2016, but the U.S. was already set to exceed its carbon emission targets even before the Trump administration policies ensured that the whole accord would be kaput. President Obama and Candidate Hillary Clinton supported fracking and subscribed to an "all-of-the-above" (meaning fossil fuels, solar, wind, hyrdro, nuclear, etc.) policy on energy, which might have been semi-sufficient if we started this attempt at slowly adopting renewable, cleaner energy sources in 1960 or 1970. But all-of-the-above is completely unacceptable in terms of maintaining our planetary existence now. Nevertheless, this is what happens when you try to fix the problem of global warming but preserve or augment capital interests.

Can the U.S. do better? Let's see what other countries are doing:

Plastic Bags
Kenya is currently joining a number of African nations including Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi in banning the manufacture and import of ALL plastic bags.

Health Care
According to the New York State Department of Health, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom all have universal health coverage. And this list does not even include all of the African nations that have nearly full, supplemented, and/or sliding-scale health care access.

Education
Finland's routinely ranks as the top education system in the world. Though a few independent public schools exist, there are no private schools and nearly all schoolchildren are afforded the exact same educational opportunities. Of note, there is not the large economic gap between Finnish children as there is for America children, and though Finnish teachers do not have higher salaries, they have myriad state-supplied benefits and far superior working conditions than their American counterparts.

Climate Change
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a model of sustainability for the world. Their political and social infrastructure is premised on Gross National Happiness rather than a Gross Domestic Product. Their emphasis is on simplicity, sustainability, environmental preservation, and the overall quality of life of its citizens. Not only has Bhutan already  become a carbon-neutral country, wherein it absorbs as much carbon as emits, it has become a carbon-sink, actually absorbing carbon in excess of its emissions. In addition, it is progressing toward becoming a zero-waste nation with 100% organic agriculture - an ambition to which the entire world should aspire.

We're Not  Really Even Trying
The continued existence of the human species on the planet is questionable at this moment in history. The pollution, waste stream, impoverishment, and sickening of people and the planet plough ahead almost unabated in the United States as in most of the world. While some in the country deny or neglect the problems and plunge forward with their lives, business as usual, there are others who see, feel, and experience the signs of utmost distress and hope to do something about it. Unfortunately, our collective stance on taking action is not one of ambition but one of conciliation, rationalizing that addressing the pressing issues in our society is "complicated" or "complex." Translated, "it's complicated" simply means that we can only do what will not impede capitalism and the accumulation of increased profits.

With any viable solution proffered in the U.S., there are always caveats, always concessions to ensure that the suggestion meets the standards of "win-win" - which really just means that we citizens cannot tackle any issue unless the answer involves a win for corporations and industries. Consequently, even as we proclaim otherwise, we aren't really even trying to provide health care, alleviate poverty, enhance education, minimize the effects of climate change, or rid ourselves of plastic bags; we are merely trying to placate the complainers, alleviate our own guilt, and rationalize our pathetic inaction on the moral atrocities that we have normalized in our culture. As long as our underlying assumption and purpose is the preservation and augmentation of capitalism, just as with the plastic bag "ban" in California, our solutions will always fall short.



Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the Mad Dog General.  Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

24 January 2017

Democracy Is Not A Team Sport





Once, at a check-up in Wisconsin, a nice young dental hygienist asked me if I followed the Green Bay Packers. She happened to be a huge fan, bristling with excitement about the upcoming game. I hail from a different state, have lived in a number of cities, and never cared much for football. No, I was not a fan. In fact, I always enjoyed playing sports more than watching them. Nevertheless, the woman went on to talk about her team for the entire time she cleaned my teeth.

Americans, by and large, are infatuated with their teams. Look at the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry or the jubilation over the Cubs winning the world series this past year. When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, a sea of red-clothed enthusiasts washed over the streets on Badger game days.

But we choose teams in more than just sports. The recent Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix had viewers arguing over whether they were "Team Jess" or "Team Logan." Movie fanatics ally with Team Star Wars or Team Star Trek. Consumers join Team Coke or Team Pepsi. And the majority of the American population forge an allegiance to Team Democrat or Team Republican.

In our increasingly fragmented, screen-obsessed society, we all long to be a part of a community. Teams make us feel like we belong, like we matter. But team loyalty is often as insipid as the endless entertainment we devour as a country. It is based on personality, proximity, and style rather than substance - very apropos in our hyper-consumerist culture. It is an identity that seemingly enriches the egos of the disciples, but in reality, it only serves to enrich those at the top.

Team alliances in such trivial matters as sports and pop culture may be of little significance, save for the time, effort, and money spent on these trivialities which could be better spent on matters of consequence. However, strict team alliances in politics serve to manipulate the masses and obfuscate the issues. What results is a highly polarized, divisive society in which the suffering of the people and the crumbling of our ecological life support system go on almost unabated. Those at the top of Team D and Team R forge forward, reaping the rewards of our toils on the bottom.

Dichotomous political teams exist to provide an illusion of choice. Real life, real issues are messy and multifaceted. Tackling climate change, for example, is much more than merely a matter of choosing between Team Prius versus Team Hummer. But teams provide a simple heuristic so that people can avoid the difficulty of analyzing and considering complex matters. We choose teams so that we can spend our time chasing careers, wealth, and a host of other shallow pursuits rather than participating in building a better world every day. Finally, teams allow those in power to go about their self-serving, often destructive, business while the powerless squabble with each other over which side they are on.

When we are aligned with a particular team, we tend to excuse and rationalize that team's bad behavior, because that team becomes attached to our own ego. We project our beliefs and feelings onto that team and its representative leader. Thus, any attack on the team becomes a personal affront, regardless of the fact that the team seldom cares about us.

Consequently, Democrats rarely balked at Bill Clinton's roll-back of welfare, repeal of Glass-Steagall, enactment of an excessively harsh crime bill, passing of NAFTA, and deregulation of the Telecommunications industry. In addition, many Democrats justified or ignored Obama's increase in foreign wars, bail out of Wall Street, expansion of offshore oil drilling, extension of Bush's tax cuts to the wealthy, and promotion of free trade agreements that empower and enrich corporations. There is no direct Republican corollary to the actions of the Democrats because Republicans do not implement policies that would be otherwise considered Democratic. However, what occurs with Republicans is that when confronted with such policies from Clinton and Obama - policies that are inherently Republican in nature - the Republicans reject rather than support them because they originate from the wrong team. All of this refusal to address the actual political issues stems from blind adherence to teams (and in the case of Republican repudiation of Obama, sometimes blatant racism).

The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a., the ACA or Obamacare) serves as an apt illustration of the nonsensical political team activity. This sometimes helpful but deeply flawed health care initiative - in that it protects and expands the coffers of the unnecessary health insurance industry - bears far too many striking similarities to the plan conceived at the conservative Heritage Foundation and the plan enacted in Massachusetts by Republican Governor Mitt Romney. Any wonder why the Republicans have no other ideas now that they are poised to repeal the ACA? Because the Democrats stole their idea. But both teams deny this fact. Moreover, Democrats will argue the spurious claim that Obamacare is the best we can do, that we could never enact universal single-payer health coverage (which would save the country billions).

In order to fight the fascist and regressive Trump regime, we would do well to learn from past mistakes. We cannot battle Trump with the goal of simply switching the team in power. In 2011, the co-option of a populist rebellion in Wisconsin by the Democratic party signaled doom for the movement. Likewise for Occupy. In the aftermath, several Democrats won while the rest of us continued to lose.

Some attending the historic Women's March expressed the opinion that those who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson - i.e., not Team Hillary - were not welcome. This team sentiment is highly destructive. In a similar vein, it does women no good to decry Trump's misogyny and history of sexual assault without at least acknowledging that a number of President Clinton's numerous past indiscretions amount to sexual harassment as well. While these behaviors may not necessarily be equivalent, neither behavior should be condoned based upon team loyalty.

Democrats and Republicans and their anointed leaders such as Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump are brands and personalities. There is a reason that the Obama campaign won  Advertising Age's award for marketer of the year in 2008. Part of belonging to a particular team involves the cult of celebrity. Charming, good-looking, dignified, witty team leaders cultivate that sense of belonging even more so. But even the most distinguished leaders come replete with empty rhetoric and broken promises. It is important that we see through the charismatic character, that we analyze the practices rather than embrace the platitudes. 

The political dichotomies are a means to divide those who should be united, and so they have. I received numerous notes from people and heard tales from friends who recounted fractured relationships - some permanently - arising from the divisiveness between teams in this past 2016 election. By choosing teams, we were forced to defend the indefensible, whether it be Hillary's war mongering and pro-corporate agenda on one side, or Trump's immaturity, racism, and probable psychopathy on the other (again, not that they are necessarily equivalent). People are tired of hypocrisy and lies, but these emanate from both teams. To circumvent this foible, we could acknowledge the positive (in those rare instances) and speak out vehemently against the negative of all parties and all politicians - in short, speak the truth. Defending your team despite its flagrant deficiencies is a vacuous, disingenuous endeavor that we should all find intolerable.

Furthermore, when it comes to teams in presidential elections, we forget that we've been manipulated into choosing a president from what are often limited and very poor choices provided by the rich and powerful. These choices (in this case, both Hillary and the Donald) may not reflect the citizenry of the country at all. Even so, we fall in line, bickering over the unfavorable choices thrust upon us, rather than come together against them both and defend our democracy and the policies that would be best for us all.

It's amazing how nonplussed people become when you raise issues without the context of the major political parties - when you do not affiliate with a team. Sometimes they deflect the subject or try to pinpoint your nonexistent team. Then, they are loath to agree with you if they conclude they are on a different team, even though you assure them that you do not belong to one. This default team position needs to end if we want any chance of combating the most pressing concerns facing all of our citizens including poverty, income inequality, and wholesale environmental degradation.

For any real democracy, our alliances need to shift from superficial teams to substantive ideas. We want to be a part of a group, yet we fail to recognize our more salient connections to the majority of humanity. Our delusions about the Team D and Team R blind us to the largest struggle of all: the oppressed versus the oppressors. And currently, in that war, you know what team both the Democrats and the Republicans represent.



Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She is no relation to the Mad Dog General.  Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis

11 January 2017

Meryl, Have We Been Living in the Same America All This Time?

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/11/meryl-have-we-been-living-in-the-same-america-all-this-time/


Credit: B. Coady

Clearly not. In fact, not many people live in Meryl Streep's America. Most of those that do were in that Golden Globes ballroom with the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award winner, cheering her triumphant anti-Trump speech in which she never even had to utter the ignoramus's name. And right on cue, Trump retorted with a ridiculous attack on the ability of one of the most deservedly honored actors of our day, surprisingly refraining from a crack about her looks or age.

Thank goodness we are all still entitled to free speech, for the time being, at least. Though their voices are unduly and unfairly amplified, celebrities have a right to their opinions. Likewise, my muted voice has a right to call celebrities out on their hollowness. Streep's speech was perfectly suited for Hollywood, believing itself to be important, but lacking the necessary depth from which most meaningful things come.

Let's be clear. There is good reason for Meryl Streep to use her public platform to lament the incoming sociopath-in-chief and to encourage resistance to the upcoming fascism. There is good reason to be fearful of the future. But while Meryl and her peers have been blissfully unaware of the destination toward which humanity has been heading for at least four decades now - with every single Democrat and Republican at the helm - others of us have been watching each presidential administration lead us closer to the proverbial cliff. Actually, far too many citizens have already fallen to their deaths. For the rest of us, the only difference now is that the velocity at which we approach the precipice is merely accelerating.

It is not hard to call out Trump for mocking a disabled person, as Streep did. Anyone with half a heart felt horrified at the sight of Trump's deplorable impression. But it is hard to abide the shallowness of scorning the corrupt and contemptible president-elect without also admonishing the equally corrupt and contemptible institutions from which he emanated, including the two-party political system and the entertainment industry.

Streep spoke of the inclusively of her industry, remarking on the diverse backgrounds from which so many of her colleagues came. It was a typical telling of the popular Horatio Alger myth that anyone can find success in America. But we all know the truth: that the accomplishments of people like those at the Golden Globes are one in a million - and it just so happens that the success tales come from those very ones-in-millions. We do not hear the stories of the failures. So-called successes are products of luck, timing, ambition, connections, nepotism, often corruption and compromised ethics, and sometimes, hard work and/or talent. "Making it" in Hollywood is a windfall, yet for the majority of the hard-working and talented people who do not, the entertainment industry is emblematic of the rampant income inequality in this nation. Many worthy artists never make it and never even have a chance. It's a lottery and a crapshoot, but it does not have to be. It does not have to reward few and leave the majority to struggle.

No one deserves the massive wealth that these people enjoy. That wealth is always at the expense of those who have little. Furthermore, if everyone in America lived so lavishly - as do both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as well - the earth would be destroyed because it could not sustain such wealth and excess.

(Speaking of sustainability, most of those in the entertainment industry like to tout themselves as concerned about the environment, but their industry itself is awash in almost unbridled energy and resource use, waste, and pollution.)

Streep stressed the importance of the profound artistry produced by Hollywood. Granted, I admit watching some select television series and the occasional film. There is quality to be had; there are some very worthwhile endeavors. But that does not mitigate the fact that the entertainment industry produces complete and utter crap in far excess of its products of value. And because it follows the corporate capitalist model that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton support full throttle,  it also exacerbates economic inequality and environmental devastation.

As fitting at the Golden Globes, where the awards are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press, Streep underscored the obligation of a vibrant fourth estate, saying, "We need the principled press to hold power to account." Actors like Meryl echoed the same sentiments during the George W. Bush administration, but why did we not hear those sentiments from them when Nobel peace prize-winning Obama started dropping bombs in seven foreign countries, when he escalated drone warfare - killing untold numbers of innocent civilians, when he deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history, when he rubber-stamped the surveillance state, when just a couple of weeks ago he  passed a law that amounts to enacting an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, when he and Clinton pushed for the TPP, when he and Clinton supported fracking, when he and Clinton derided and jailed whistleblowers like Snowden and Manning? If we are to hold one power to account, we should hold ALL powers to account, Meryl.

Furthermore, Streep called for support for the Committee to Protect Journalists, perhaps forgetting that the Obama administration has sentenced more whistleblowers than all other previous presidents combined. These whistleblowers committed the grave act of leaking to the press, and thus to the public, the immoral and nefarious deeds of our government. You know, holding power to account. Obama will now pass on his legacy of attacking and imprisoning journalists and their sources to the unhinged Trump.

One could claim that the burden of the failure of American democracy is partially at the hands of the entertainment industry. Arguably, the man who was the progenitor of the modern systemic decline of America was none other than Ronald Reagan, a product of Hollywood whose political rise was enabled by his star power. Similarly, Donald Trump only became a household name because of his stint on the Apprentice. His nationwide name recognition "bigly" aided his campaign - and, to be sure, he conducted his campaign not unlike the Hollywood campaigns at this time of year for the much-coveted Oscars.  Everyone in New York business circles already knew what a misogynist, racist, con-artist the Donald was. No doubt, everyone in Hollywood soon learned the same when Trump embarked upon his reality show. But no one dared speak out when Trump was a cash cow for their respective industries.

Meanwhile, one of very few principled "mainstream" presidential candidates in my lifetime emerged with great fortitude in the 2016 race. Bernie Sanders could very well have been elected President and we could all be ushering in a whole new promising era of equity, inclusion, and justice not seen for scores and scores of years. His primary loss could be blamed partly on an archaic election process in which voters are disenfranchised through ridiculous rules, including registering months ahead of elections and closed primaries, not to mention voter suppression due to erroneous purging of registry lists, and many other undemocratic practices. But mostly, Bernie lost due to the concerted effort, through unethical and illegal tactics of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton, to provide Clinton the Democratic nomination at all costs, the will of the people be damned.

It is likely that we can thank the very unpopular Hillary Clinton, who, like most Democrats of the modern era, promulgated neoliberal, corporatist, Republican policies (militarism, privatization, deregulation, and austerity - to name but a few) for the election of Trump. Soon too, we may be able to thank the Democrats for sending us all to nuclear annihilation, as their unverifiable, evidence-free blaming of Russia for Trump's election may send us into a wholly preventable nuclear war. (At which point, we will always then be left wondering why the Democrats did not fight to eliminate the electoral college after Gore won the popular vote in 2000.) Yet Streep has held fast to propping up Clinton and these very same Democrats, who have laid the foundation for this unfettered plutocratic regime, hiding its support structure behind their dignified, yet duplicitous faces.

Meryl, while I appreciate the gravity of this moment in U.S. history and your calling attention to it, I cannot refrain from questioning your collaboration with and support of the very people and systems that laid the groundwork for this doom. Like them, your superficial examination of the issues we are facing only perpetuates the phony political partisanship under which the nation and the world are being utterly destroyed. Perhaps the best thing that you and your comrades could do, instead of making speeches that fall far from the mark, is to cancel all of your extravagant and wasteful ceremonies of the season and join the hoi polloi in the community and in the streets to fight against the plutocracy. At this crucial moment in time, we need less superficiality and more substance, especially from Hollywood.


Kristine Mattis holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources. She examines science, health, and environmental communication within the context of social and environmental justice. Email: k_mattis@outlook.com Twitter: @kristinemattis


25 November 2016

Embracing A New Normal (Not of the Trump variety)


Photo courtesy: White Wold Pack http://www.whitewolfpack.com/2016/09/standing-rock-protest-grows-with.html


I attended a Catholic university, and during my time in college, I embarked on several school-sponsored retreats. While semi-religious, these days-long outings in the wilderness really more resembled self-help or mindfulness groups than zealous theological preaching sessions. In one very popular retreat, we broke into small subsets and discussed our fears, woes, past issues, and current predicaments. We shared our feelings, our meals, and our hearts. We opened up to people at whom we would have never batted an eye back on campus. It was all very kumbaya, with ample servings of respect, understanding, and helpfulness. Narcissism, competitiveness, back-stabbing, and ladder-climbing were left at the cabin door.

Upon returning to school, our larger retreat cadre reassembled at a future date. I was asked to represent my smaller group and give a talk about what I gleaned from the outing. Though I do not recall the details, I vividly remember my main point: I asked, why can we not live the same life we lived on the retreat, every day? Why do we have to come back to campus and return to the unethical, corrupt, and unjust "normal"? Suffice it to say, I don't think many people were pleased with this notion - not the least from whom I sensed unease, were the priests who ran the retreat.

In 2011, I participated in the massive, unprecedented, yet eventually, unfruitful protests against the anti-union and corporate capitalistic policies of the then newly appointed Walker administration in Wisconsin. For weeks, citizens occupied the state house in Madison, living cooperatively, sharing resources and assets, providing each other with basic needs and necessities. Ultimately, we were forced from the capital building, foolishly abdicating the fight in favor of the contemptible political process. We retreated back to our comfortable - or, for a large constituency, not so comfortable - lives, and far too many people were more than pleased to return to "normal."

Occupy Wall Street and other such occupy encampments, much like in Madison, demonstrated on a small scale how easily social-democratic and social-anarchist communities can work to mutually benefit everyone. They provided alternative paradigms to the morally bankrupt, ethically corrupt, environmentally destructive, socially deplorable, vacuous lives that we are all complicit in living each day. But alas, acknowledgement that such cooperative societal endeavors are possible, and may be even preferable to the majority of the downtrodden and exploited citizenry, is not considered polite conversation or acceptable media discourse.

Much like my college retreat, these extended protests and others like them provided a moment to step away from the mindless treadmill we continually trample and offered a different, and likely, better path for humanity. Now, we witness a similar circumstance with the Standing Rock encampment of water protectors fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Only this time, the people at the forefront of the struggle are the very people who have suffered perhaps the most oppression of any single faction of citizens on the North American continent, and who, in their traditions, may present the clearest course toward combating the mutual scourges of environmental degradation and social injustice. As one water protector explained to Ann Wright (in her November 8 article),"I am now living as my ancestors lived...in nature all day, everyday, in community living, working and praying together.  I have been waiting for this gathering all my life.” Perhaps we should all be working toward such a permanent global gathering.

Our only real chance of contending with climate change and inequality is through a sustainable way of life - which means wholly altered social, political, and economic systems that value biology over business, ecology over economics. More equitable and sustainable ways of living have been illustrated during protests in recent years, but for them to matter, they need to be maintained after these short-term gatherings and adopted as "normal." The cultural values that indigenous communities hold embody a critical route toward sustainability and justice. Our greater societal embrace of their values may be our last best hope to save our species. 




Kristine Mattis holds a PhD in Environment and Resources. Contact: k_mattis@outlook.com. Follow: @kristinemattis

Slaves and Bulldozers*, Plutocrats and Widgets

There is not an industrial company on earth, not an institution of any kind - not mine, not yours, not anyone's - that is sustai...