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Go Green to Save Money?

This is the week of “Earth Day.” Not surprisingly, my email inbox has been flooded with articles about how we can protect the environment. One piece was titled: 10 Low-Carbon Ways to Save Money For Earth Day and Beyond

Here they are:
1. Make your house more airtight
2. Use smart power strips
3. Upgrade your refrigerator and air conditioner
4. Get an electricity monitor
5. Change those light bulbs
6. Wash clothes in cold water
7. Go shopping for a car with better fuel economy
8. Eat less meat, especially beef
9. Buy less stuff. Reduce, reuse and recycle

Only 9, but despite its title, that’s the article’s list.

These all seem like sensible ideas to cut carbon emissions. So why am I disturbed that a progressive list-serve published this piece?

First, these actions may, by saving money, negate their positive impact. Take number three. Refrigerators and air-conditioners have become twice as efficient in the last decade, so people have been buying more and bigger ones. The total amount of energy consumed by refrigerators and air conditioners in the United States has increased even though each unit is more efficient. And what about the disposal of the units being replaced? Disposal takes energy and keeping an old refrigerator going as a “back-up” in the basement is even worse. Instead of actions designed to enable us to consume more efficiently, we need to focus on reduction. If #3 said buy a smaller, more efficient refrigerator and use fewer, more efficient air-conditioners, I’d still be concerned about disposal, but would find the suggestions more acceptable.

Secondly, how will the saved money be spent? Number 9 says buy less stuff, but won’t that extra money encourage people to buy more? If we use the extra money to buy more or to take a trip, we may increase, rather than decrease, our carbon footprint. You could bank the extra money, but if the bank invests in profitable ventures such as the XL pipeline, it will hurt the environment.

The article’s focus on what individuals can do also deflects attention from the primary sources of the problem. Even energy-hogging families’ carbon footprints are miniscule when compared with those of the major coal, oil and gas producing corporations. The same can be said for our military-industrial complex on the consumption side of the equation. If people feel that by taking the 9 suggested actions they’ve done their bit, and therefore, see less need to curb the actions of the fossil fuel extractors and military-industrial consumers, their actions are counter productive.

It is not only the content of the article that I find disturbing, but also that a progressive list-serve offers “green” advice about efficient consumption, and individual action, to the exclusion of addressing what we must do collectively to transform the nature of our society. We need to hear that message on Earth Day and every other day of the year. Read More 
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Jonathan Pollard and the Rosenbergs

Jonathan Pollard’s case has been in the news again.

While working as a civilian Naval intelligence analyst in the mid 1980’s, Pollard, an American citizen, spied for Israel. He was caught in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison with a recommendation against parole. Recent media reports indicate that Secretary of State Kerry has offered to send Pollard to Israel in exchange for Israeli concessions to restart the failing “peace process” between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government.

I’ve been asked many times about the parallels between the Pollard and Rosenberg cases. I think there are both similarities and differences.

In both cases, the defendants were over-sentenced. The rationale for my parents’ execution was that they stole what the prosecution called “the secret of the atomic bomb.” We now know that Julius facilitated the transfer of non-atomic information to the Soviet Union, and that Ethel did not actively participate in any espionage. Pollard faced one charge; passing classified information to an ally, without intent to harm the United States. Nevertheless, in apparent response to a 46-page still-classified memorandum from then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, he received a life sentence.

In both cases, the defendants were charged with spying for an ally. My parents were charged with conspiring to commit espionage for the Soviet Union when they were our ally during World War II. A website supportive of Pollard notes: “No one else in the history of the United States has ever received a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally – only Jonathan Pollard.” While this is technically correct, since it ignores that my parents received an even harsher sentence for aiding an ally, it is misleading.

There are differences as well. Pollard disclosed what he did to the U.S. government in exchange for leniency he did not receive, while my parents steadfastly refused to cooperate and denied all the charges against them. Although Pollard did not implicate others, his cooperation makes him more like David and Ruth Greenglass than my parents. The Greenglasses testified against my parents in exchange for Ruth’s freedom and a shorter prison sentence for David. The government evidently reneged on its agreement with Pollard, but kept its deal with the Greenglasses.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that Pollard wasn’t killed, and so it is possible that he will ultimately be released.

There is one final similarity. Although my parents were not charged with treason, the prosecution, the judge, and the media all acted as if my parents had been convicted of that offense. In Pollard’s case, Secretary Weinberger submitted a supplemental 4-page sentencing memorandum that labeled Pollard’s actions treason. The judge apparently based his sentence upon that, and some of today’s media still describe Pollard’s actions as treasonous. The framers of our constitution felt so strongly that charges of treason should only be leveled against those who gave aid and comfort to the enemy in time of war that they wrote those words into our constitution. Unfortunately, in both the Rosenberg and Pollard cases, the wisdom of our founding fathers has been ignored. Read More 
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Why Not Have Fun and Tear it Up?

Recently I read the following quote attributed to a leading environmental economist: “Why one cares about anything is fundamentally a religious question. If the world and its inhabitants are merely ephemeral random improbabilities realized over billions of years of atoms in motion, somehow followed by struggles for reproductive success by randomly emergent organisms, and values are nothing but survival-selected strategies of our selfish genes to reproduce, etc. etc, then why care? If the world is not a Creation but only a temporary ‘Randomdom’, why not have fun and tear it up?”

Hopefully, this is not all he means to say, because I find this quote appalling.

Since I don’t think there was any sort of self-conscious “Creation,” the quote apparently was addressed to people like me.

Despite my lack of belief, I’ve felt a profound connection to the earth and its inhabitants for as long as I can remember. That is why I was so strongly attracted in 1969 to the beginnings of the environmental movement, even though the leftist political tradition I grew up in did not take it seriously. My concern about the destruction of our planet increased exponentially with the birth of my first grandchild six years ago. If we don’t change course, the second half of her and her younger brother’s lives will be hellish, and I want to prevent that from happening. Perhaps, this is just proves the above-quoted description of values as “nothing but survival-selected strategies of our selfish genes to reproduce…”

Beyond that, and perhaps even somewhat contradictorily, I now view the survival of our biosphere as a whole as more important than our species continued planetary domination. We are just one aspect of an almost unimaginably complex web of life. I hope we never have to choose between humanity and the biosphere, I hope instead that we will adjust our behavior to find a non-destructive place within it. This is our species greatest challenge. It is one that we may not be up to, but it is critical to our survival.

My sense that I am a part of a greater whole is not religious. And I don’t see my belief that there was no plan behind our evolution into self-conscious, tool-making entities as a justification for maximizing my fun at the expense of the planet’s other inhabitants. I see the attitude expressed in the quote above as a core problem: it is the heartless extension of neo-liberal capitalism. It views all life as disconnected atoms driven by self-interest and competition. This is the latest incarnation of the view that the dominant society’s values embody natural law so we can’t change them. I just don’t accept that.

Even without a plan or a purpose, the earth and its inhabitants are still fabulous. And anyway, why tear it up, when it is such a joyful experience to preserve and enjoy it.
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