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I Shouldn’t Do What?!

I feel ambivalent about urging people to reduce their personal carbon footprint, even though I’ve worked to reduce my own. First, because whatever we do on a personal level will have a minor impact on the world’s greenhouse gas output; the problem is institutional rather than individual. To obtain a dramatic reduction we must transform our throwaway, consumption-oriented economy which is sustained by – and primarily benefits – the global military-industrial complex. Still, it would feel inconsistent, even hypocritical, to sound the alarm about global warming/climate change while ignoring my own carbon footprint. As they said in the civil rights movement; you must walk the walk if you talk the talk.

But there are other reasons as well. One is that reducing our individual carbon footprint may be more complicated than we think. In AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, Al Gore claimed that we could significantly reduce personal carbon footprints by purchasing hybrid cars and putting solar panels on roofs. Elli and I have done both, but we now know that producing hybrid car batteries and solar panels is so greenhouse gas intensive that these changes have relatively little impact on total carbon emissions. Moving into an efficiently heated apartment building in a city center would probably have had a greater effect.

More recently, I learned that perhaps the single worst thing we can do to damage our environment is fly on a jet plane. Each passenger accounts for additional tons of carbon spewed high into the atmosphere where it will do a lot more damage than it would at sea level. While I haven’t entirely stopped flying, I no longer fly solely for vacation or pleasure. However, last weekend a friend alerted me to an article that compared the greenhouse gas emissions of air travel to that of internet usage. The gist of the article was that global IT use produces a greater percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions (2-4%) than passenger air travel (2%), and that the former is growing while the latter is dropping. http://www.consiliencejournal.org/index.php/consilience/article/viewFile/141/57

How can that be? The article focuses on Google to make its point. Google has over 1,000,000 servers worldwide and processes over one billion searches daily. As of 2011 Google was installing 400,000 more servers annually. The carbon footprint of producing these servers is enormous. Google also maintains vast server farms in China that are powered by coal. Google sends each search through multiple servers to speed response time. Google could lower the energy cost by using only one server for each query, but that would slow down the process. The article states that the carbon footprint of daily Google searches is equal to that of 80,000 people commuting by car to work 15 miles each way. YouTube searches are worse, accounting for four times that number.

I found these figures interesting. Perhaps taking greater care with my Internet usage would have a more beneficial impact than reducing my air travel. Of course, cutting back on both would be better still. But – WAIT A MINUTE – here I am again, getting sucked into focusing on individual solutions which I believe will be ineffective at staving off global disaster.

I understand the temptation to avoid looking at the big picture. It is difficult, terrifying even, to consider how dismantling our current system and rebuilding a sustainable one might unravel our lives, given the human and natural forces we face. But in the words of Derrick Jensen: “Those who come after us, who inherit whatever’s left of the world once this culture has been stopped… are going to judge us by the health of landbase, by what we leave behind. … They are not going to care how you or I lived our lives. … They’re going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water.” DEEP GREEN RESISTANCE  Read More 
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A Quiet Anniversary

At first I was perplexed by how much I was enjoying June this year. Yes, it is my first year of retirement. I have more time to work in my yard, enjoy the fine weather, and savor those magical evenings during which time slows and the sun seems to hover endlessly at the horizon. Then I realized that I had another reason.

Today is the 61st anniversary of my parents’ execution, and for the first time in many years I am commemorating it quietly at home. I’m convinced that humans make a big deal out of anniversaries in multiples of 10 because we have ten fingers. The RFC was not immune to this trend. Last year we staged a major program in New York City for the 60th. And although the years just before last were not multiples of ten I’d spoken at significant, but smaller, events on June 19th in Rio de Janeiro, New York and Paris.

Every June 19th is an emotionally laden time, even when I’ve spent the day at home doing nothing in particular. Being part of public events on that date, however, added a layer of nervous tension. The June 19th stress had become so familiar that it took me a while to note its absence. I’m grateful that I don’t have to organize anything or get on a plane this June 19th. I relish the pleasure of being able to pass the day engaged in ordinary activity.

Given the political consequences of the United States government’s unjust termination of my parents’ lives, it makes sense that we mark the day with special events. But the personal tragedy of their execution was that a couple and their two young children were forever foreclosed from continuing their family life. My parents couldn’t do the kind of things I’ll do this June 19th. I find satisfaction today - as I walk around the neighborhood, go to the grocery store, hang out with Elli, talk with my now middle-aged children – in knowing that Ethel and Julius’ children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be able to spend today engaged in typical life activities.

Next year, in September, we’ll commemorate the centenary of my mother’s birth. (Julius was almost two years younger.) I look forward to marking that milestone with something public and special. But some years, it is fitting, and satisfying, for the day to be marked in this quiet and personal way. Read More 
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Whom Do You Believe

On June 12th two groups, Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims (SALAM) and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), held a press conference at the New York City office of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) to announce the publication of a new study entitled: INVENTING TERRORISTS: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution. The study defines preemptive prosecution as “a law enforcement strategy… to target … individuals or organizations whose beliefs, ideology, or religion affiliation raise security concerns for the government.” The study, reviewed a list of 399 “terrorism” cases the Department of Justice prosecuted and concludes that an astounding 94% of them were, entirely based upon or had elements of, preemptive prosecution.

In the simplest terms preemptive prosecution is an adaptation of old-style entrapment procedures adjusted to fit post-9/11 laws and prejudices. The goal is to entice individuals who might not otherwise engage in illegal activity into taking acts that could be interpreted as violating post 9/11 conspiracy and material support to terrorism statutes. Such prosecutions, which have no impact on our national security, enable the Justice Department to crow about fighting terrorism while terrifying Muslim communities.

Upon review, the evidence employed to convict many of defendants seems flimsy. But in all the cases, despite weak evidence, juries unanimously voted to convict the defendants.
I do not have the space to recite the details of these cases, but a combination of weak evidence and a frightened citizenry common to so many of the reports, resonates with me because of my personal history.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage. The prosecutor in his opening statement claimed they’d stolen “the greatest secrets known to mankind.” Yet the defense was able to show that the chief prosecution witness, who supposedly committed this theft, was a high school graduate who dropped out after the first semester of college because he failed every course he took. Was it reasonable for such a person to gather and transmit effectively some of the most complex and cutting edge scientific data of that era? Coupled with the fact that the evidence against my parents was verbal, rather than physical, this might have given the jury pause, but they did not deliberate long before unanimously voting for conviction.

Credibility was the key. This was the McCarthy period, the height of the great red scare. Who was the jury going to believe, the government of the United States and their witnesses who said “we did it at the Rosenberg’s direction, but now we regret aiding the communists,” or the defendants who denied stealing atomic secrets, but refused to answer when asked if they were members of the Communist Party.

The same dynamic is generating these preemptive prosecution convictions today. Who will the jury believe; the government of the United States who the jurors view as a bulwark against terrorist attacks, or the defendants whose religion links them to the terrorists who crashed the planes into the Twin Towers? How many of these convicting jurors worried that if they voted to acquit, they’d be responsible if one or more of the defendants later committed a terrorist act? Prejudice, not evidence, rules.

Hopefully, SALAM and NCPCF’s press conference will receive the coverage it deserves, but I doubt you’ll see or hear anything about it on the evening news. But you can read the entire study for yourself. Inventing Terrorists has been posted for public download at: http://www.projectsalam.org/Inventing-Terrorists-study.pdf  Read More 
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One Cheer for Obama's EPA Carbon Standards

President Obama’s proposed carbon emission standards are a good thing. However, while reducing carbon pollution by making coal burning uneconomical is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. Perhaps more importantly, the rationales used by the administration and its allies to promote these standards are counter-productive. This is why I can only give one cheer.

In view of the right’s immediate attack on what is to date the Obama administration’s biggest environmental initiative, it is not surprising that many progressives and major environmental groups are rushing to defend it. Most of those defenses counter right-wing arguments that the proposed regulations will drastically increase household energy expenses, cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and even cause a recession.

For example the main point of the article published on June 2nd by the online listserve PORTSIDE was: “The [EPA’s] forthcoming regulations on greenhouse gas emissions will provide legally required protection for the health and welfare of Americans at a cheap cost, while allowing states flexibility – contrary to media fear mongering about the landmark standards.” The article, which is supportive of the proposed rules, counters the right-wing “myths” about the new EPA regulations with “facts” showing their real impact.

• For instance, despite the Chamber of Commerce and Fox News’ prediction that the new standards will cost 225,000 jobs, economists expect lost jobs will be balanced by new ones the standards will create. The National Resources Defense Council predicted the new standards would create 274,000 new jobs.

• The post also exposed the claim that the new regulations would cost households hundreds of dollars each year, when in fact, the standard’s promotion of increased efficiency could save the average family almost as much annually.

But doesn’t this ignore the reasons for enacting the regulations in the first place? The facts that these regulations are not financially burdensome, and will spur economic growth, do not address whether this change will help stave off the human-generated collapse of the biosphere. These arguments suggest that we can grow our way out of the approaching global catastrophe. Is this a good tactic when the physical, chemical and biological sciences tell us that growth itself is the principle cause of this problem?

The call for more jobs is understandable, but even green jobs will generate more economic activity which, no matter how efficiently done, will spawn more carbon emissions. There is a more environmentally sound way to put people back to work. We need to divide the work that needs to be done among more people and combine this with calls for substantial wage increases. This would decrease the amount of hours worked per person, and cut unemployment, while enabling workers to earn sufficient income, without increasing carbon emissions.

Gains in efficiency that reduce costs aren’t necessarily good for the environment either. In a profit-driven economy reducing the cost of electricity makes goods and services cheaper which, in turn, promotes increased purchasing and accompanying increased electricity usage. In our current system, increased efficiency is likely to increase carbon emissions unless it is coupled with programs that reduce consumption.

We need to advocate for the proposed regulations not because they are inexpensive job-creators, but because they are a necessary, although far from adequate, first step toward reducing humanity’s carbon footprint. That’s why I’ll give a cheer, but only one.  Read More 
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