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It’s Real, But I’m Not Worried

The Associated Press reports that two of three Americans now accept that global warming is real and caused by human activity, but only one in three are even “moderately worried” about it. What’s causing this disconnect and what can we do about it?

Until recently, our national argument about human induced global warming and resultant climate change has focused overwhelmingly on whether it is happening. That dispute is being settled, but the public’s understanding of the consequences remains muddled. For instance, the AP article quotes a retiree from Minneapolis who says since she lives in the middle of the country she’ll be “the last one who will be submerged.”

Many people are confused about the extent, timing and even the nature of the challenges we face. They think it is mostly about sea level rise and monster hurricanes, because those changes have gotten the most press. They know this is serious because populations are densest near coastlines and sea level rise will cause worldwide displacement, but they think because they live further inland the impact upon them won’t be as direct. This reflects a failure to view climate as a global system that reaches everywhere and affects everyone, not surprising because people in the U.S. do not tend to view issues systemically.

The left can also suffer from tunnel vision. We understand the differential impact climate change and associated resource depletion will have on poorer people and the third world. We note that those least responsible for the problem will suffer the most. Within the United States activists focus on public health crises caused by air, water and ground pollution, heat waves, and other weather-related disasters that devastate urban ghettoes and impoverished rural areas. This is vital work, but it risks creating the false impression that average-income people are not in harm’s way. We are all in the same sinking boat.

People often fail to grasp the time-frame of climate change. That’s hardly surprising since the models are far from exact. The scientific consensus projects a range between thirty and more than a hundred years before we face globe-spanning catastrophes. It is difficult to worry about something that might not happen for a hundred years. The problem is compounded because even fewer understand that since it takes thirty years for the full impact of the carbon we emit today to be reflected in the world’s climate, we may already be crossing the point of no return. The answer to how much time we have is, unfortunately, little or none.

This leads to what is perhaps most difficult to imagine. We face qualitative rather than quantitative change in the relatively near future. This means that we are approaching the point where positive feedback mechanisms lock in further warming. Once we trigger mechanisms that cause the Amazon rainforest to burn up, and massive amounts of methane contained in permafrost and the methane hydrates of the deep ocean to be released, we will be unable to reverse course. The climate won’t just get nastier; it will become unrecognizable.

How do we convince people, who now accept the reality of global warming, that they must be worried about it? It’s a fine line – teaching that what we face is deadly serious and close at hand without engendering paralytic helplessness. But despite this difficulty, our task now is to move the debate beyond whether climate change is happening, and to focus on the systemic changes necessary to prevent it from destroying our civilization.  Read More 
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Doing it for Our Kids/Grandkids?

I read an interview with Avi Lewis, Naomi Klein’s husband, about his new environemntal documentary. Avi’s answer to a question about whether becoming a parent motivated him to work against global warming surprised me. He said: “I don’t like talking about it … because I actually have an allergy to this notion that we’re ‘doing it for the children’ and that somehow becoming a parent gives you some magical insight into the future and makes you ‘care about stuff.’ …. [I]t’s so indefensibly exclusionary toward people who decide not to have children or who can’t have children. …. But also, it kicks the can down the road… [when] it’s happening now….”

His comment made me think. I’ve written many times that although I have been aware of and concerned about climate change issues for decades, the birth of my first grandchild seven years ago goaded me to become more active in combating global warming. I agree that urging people to act for the benefit of future generations could deflect attention from the need to act now, and it could ignore that climate change is already fueling 200mph hurricaines, drought-triggering regional wars (Syria), and much more. But this is a reason to carefully qualify and explain your motivations, rather than reject another’s urging because it doesn’t apply to everyone. Climate change is already having disasterous effects AND it will get qualitatively worse for future generations.

Focusing only on the present could be just as problematic as concentrating solely on the future. It could promote the false notion that future disasters will be nastier, more frequent versions of what we are seeing already. Unfortunately, it is worse than that. If we continue business as usual we will produce a planet that is inimical to almost all avian and mammalian lifeforms, including our own. Some say such nightmares won’t happen for hundreds of years. I hope they are right, but climate model projections, which to date have been overly conversative, indicate there is a good chance we will face civilization-ending threats before the close of this century. That puts the second half of my grandchildren’s lives in jeopardy. I can’t speak for everyone, but that knowledge motivates, rather than paralyzes, me.

While I don’t wish to exclude those who can’t or won’t have children, and I believe childless people can be as foresighted and caring as those who have them, having children, and then grandchildren, changed my perspective. If some get involved because they have children or grandchildren, so much the better.

My problem with Avi Lewis’ answer is its either-or approach. Climate change is multifaceted, and coalition building requires engaging people with a range of motivations. One person’s reason for becoming involved is not necessarily wrong because it doesn’t apply to others. So long as those reasons aren’t oppressive, or lead someone to support the production of more greenhouse gases, we need as many as we can get.  Read More 
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Green Program

I’m encouraged by the growth of the movement to stem global warming and the resulting climate change and resource depletion. Activists worldwide are confronting the corporate despoilers on many fronts and localities, but we lack agreement about how to make basic change with so many important variables and connected issues. With these seven demands, I’m trying to define the building blocks of a climate justice movement.

1. Tax fossil fuel extraction: Based on the government’s estimates of the social cost of carbon pollution, some green capitalists have proposed a tax of $38/ton on carbon produced by burning fossil fuels. As capitalists, they want to tax the end product, because that primes the engine of our system – intermediate profit-driven exchanges – and the end-user can pass on the cost of the tax to consumers. Instead, we should impose this tax at the point of extraction. This will dramatically raise the cost at the well/pipe/mine, and would increase costs for all intermediate profiteers, thus discouraging extraction.

2. Clean-up toxic sites: These sites usually are located close to low-income neighborhoods populated by people of color. Since the military has declared climate change a national security issue, we should demand that funds be taken from the military budget to clean toxic sites, starting with those located near densest populations in the poorest places.

3. Vatican divestment: The Vatican has given no indication that it will divest from fossil fuel companies, but such action follows logically from the Pope’s environmental encyclical. As I wrote in a recent blog. “Vatican divestment, coupled with the Church’s urging its parishioners to follow suit, would have a momentous impact. The divestment movement would become an exponentially more powerful international force once the Catholic Church jumped on its bandwagon.”

4. Wages up, hours and consumption down: Labor wants full employment and a living wage. These are legitimate demands, but if they lead to more production and consumption, even if generated by “green jobs,” greenhouse gas emissions will increase. Substantial wage increases, beyond $15/hr, must be accompanied by a reduced work-week of 25 hours and a radical decrease in consumption of disposable items. Together, these three changes will not only produce a living wage and less production, but also free people to pursue artistic, intellectual, and leisure activities with minimal carbon footprints and maximize comunity building.

5. Subject the military to environmental regulation: The United States military is the institution with the largest carbon footprint in the world. For stated national security reasons the military is exempted from environmental regulation and reporting requirements. We must demand that the military be subject to all environmental regulations and that its annual carbon footprint be made public.

6. Universal education for girls: Nothing brings the birthrate down more quickly than providing universal primary and secondary school education for girls. Unlike the veiled racism of mainstream family-planning organizations’ drive to prevent third-world women of color from giving birth, there is nothing racist about educating young girls. This is a positive way to contain population growth and ultimately reduce it to sustainable levels.

7. Know your footprint: States should develop a clear and precise online application for taxpayers to calculate their carbon footprint and grant a tax credit for doing so. Knowing your carbon footprint will not cause systemic change, but it will enable millions to make informed energy-related choices and spark further discussion of how to reduce greenhouse gas output.

This list is not complete, but these seven items take on the fossil fuel companies and the military-industrial complex, encourage alliances between people of color, labor, peace and green activists, and begin to address the important issues of over-population, divestment and personal responsibility. That’s my beginning. Please critique and add your thoughts.  Read More 
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Is Joe Biden Corporate Plan B?

The mainstream media is flush with stories that it is decision time for Joe Biden. Will he enter the race for President?

I don’t watch as much network news and political talking-head television as I used to; it’s too repetitious, scandal and poll-focused. But I’ve watched enough in the last couple of weeks to note the media spin on Biden’s indecision. Without exception, pundits frame the question in terms of its impact on Clinton’s chances. They conclude Biden is more likely to enter the fray if Clinton is stumbling and that, personal reasons aside, he is less likely to run if her lead is robust.

Despite the pundits’ obsession with the polls, and polling evidence that Biden’s entry would significantly decrease Clinton’s lead over Sanders, their analysis still ignores Sanders. Biden’s positions aren’t very different from Clinton’s. He’s a Senator from the corporation-friendly state of Delaware and is a foreign-policy hawk, particularly when it comes to confronting Russia in Ukraine. If Biden enters the race and mounts a vigorous campaign he and Clinton might split the corporate-oriented Democratic vote.

In other words, Biden’s immediate entry into the race could substantially boost Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination. I haven’t heard this opinion on air. Could the mainstream media be ignoring it to prevent viewers from considering the possibility? Is this part of promoting the “Bernie Can’t win” theme to discourage people from voting for him?

Voting for Sanders in the Massachusetts Presidential Primary next spring feels like a no-brainer. Until recently however, I was almost certain he would lose the nomination to Clinton. I’ve wondered if, in that case, my Sanders-supporting friends and neighbors will hold their noses and vote for a war-mongering, environmental disaster (Clinton) in the general election, even if doing so brings us closer to signing our grandchildren’s death warrants.

Two things have changed my thinking. The first is that Sanders has done better than expected, although perhaps not well enough to secure the nomination in a two-way race. Throwing Biden into the mix adds a crucial ingredient. If Biden and Clinton split the votes of their overlapping constituencies, Sanders could actually win the nomination.

If my analysis is correct, powerful corporate insiders would rather Biden remain on the sidelines for now. They want him available to step in at the convention as the “compromise” candidate, if Sanders manages to catch Clinton. For that reason, I predict that Biden will decide not to run at this time. And I predict he will be held in reserve as plan B in the hope that a corporation-friendly candidate will be the Democratic Party nominee, even if it isn’t Hillary Clinton.

PS I wrote the above before the debate. The corporate media’s effort to cover-up Bernie’s victory is further evidence of what I wrote.  Read More 
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Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Most of us are familiar with the title phrase above. It is the capitalist version of the Civil Rights’ movement’s aphorism “if you talk the talk, you must walk the walk.” I’ve thought about this in relation to Pope Francis’ recent 180-page encyclical on the environment.

The Pope’s “Laudato si” encyclical has given a tremendous boost to the movement to combat human-induced warming and climate change, resource depletion, and mass extinction. I stumble when reading something that is couched in such deeply religious terms, but despite my difficulties, this document can open the eyes of millions to our growing peril, and propel large numbers to take good actions. Moreover, his document attacks capitalism and its deification of the market. For these reasons, I believe the Pope’s environmental statements are the best things that have happened to our growing movement this year.

While I am elated that the Pope has issued this statement and spoken so forcefully about it in the belly of our consumerist, military monster, it is mistake to treat him as a hero who is, therefore, above criticism. This was driven home to me when the progressive British newspaper, The Guardian, recently reported that Peter Turkson, a key papal advisor, announced that the Vatican did not plan to divest from its holdings in fossil fuels.

I don’t know the size of the Vatican’s fossil fuel holdings. Nor do I know enough about the financial structure of the Catholic Church to know if Vatican divestment would result in every Catholic Church, School and Social Service Agency worldwide divesting. However, I expect such Catholic Institutions would follow the Vatican’s lead and that those among the world’s one billion Catholics who hold stock would, at least, think about doing the same.

While I doubt such action would bring the oil and gas companies to their knees, Vatican divestment, coupled with the Church’s urging its parishioners to follow suit, would have a momentous impact. Despite our nation’s backwardness on the issue, the Catholic Church is one of the primary reasons that three quarters of the world’s countries have abolished the death penalty. The divestment movement would become an exponentially more powerful international force once the Catholic Church jumped on its bandwagon.

I raised the Vatican’s disinterest in divesting with an environmental activist friend last weekend. She responded that I shouldn’t attack the Pope now; she believes Pope Francis personally favors divestment. Her understanding of the Pope’s personal feelings could be wishful thinking, but if the Pope favors divestment, wouldn’t agitating for Vatican divestment support, rather than attack, him?

Regardless of the Pope’s beliefs, as long as the Vatican holds fossil fuel company stock it is setting a bad example. Now that he has issued his encyclical, the next step for this Pope of the poor is to put the Vatican’s money where its mouth is.  Read More 
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September 28th, 2015, Ethel Rosenberg Day Of Justice

Monday, September 28th, 2015 would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. The material reproduced below details the very special events that marked the occasion.

Proclamation of Manhattan’s Borough President

We are proud to acknowledge those individuals and organizations that have remained committed to improving our city and vibrantly enriching the community; and

WHEREAS, Ethel Rosenberg, née Ethel Greenglass, was born in 1915, grew up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and excelled at Seward Park High School, wishing to go to college but taking a clerical training course instead because she could not afford college; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg found work as a clerk at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company and, showing great bravery, helped lead a strike for union recognition and a pay raise, for which she was fired; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg filed a claim for wrongful termination with the newly formed National Labor Relations Board, which found in her favor, and remained active in union organizing, using her singing talents to raise funds at benefit performances—and it was here she met Julius Rosenberg, whom she later married; and

WHEREAS, during World War II, Ms. Rosenberg became the only full-time volunteer at the East Side Defense Council—the first such organization in the nation and a model for others—organizing blood drives and giving speeches on the importance of the war effort; and

WHEREAS, Ms. Rosenberg’s first son, Michael, was born during the war, and her second son, Robert, was born after it ended; and

WHEREAS, in August 1950, Ms. Rosenberg was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage, but FBI documents reveal that chief prosecution witnesses—David and Ruth Greenglass—provided no evidence against Ms. Rosenberg in their initial confessions, and Grand Jury testimony of the Greenglasses recently released excludes mention of Ms. Rosenberg’s involvement; and

WHEREAS, FBI documents show that the prosecution determined that Ms. Rosenberg should be convicted and given a “stiff sentence” so she could be used as a “lever” to induce her husband to cooperate, and that after this strategy was devised, first Ruth and then David Greenglass provided oral testimony against Ms. Rosenberg—testimony on which the judge relied to sentence Ms. Rosenberg to death; and

WHEREAS, shortly before the Rosenbergs were executed in 1953, an FBI document listed questions to ask Julius Rosenberg if he cooperated—one of which was “Was your wife cognizant of your activities?”—but there was no such list created for Ms. Rosenberg; and

WHEREAS, in 2001, David Greenglass admitted that his testimony was false, and National Security Agency files indicate that the Soviet Union never gave Ms. Rosenberg a codename—meaning that she was not an active espionage agent;

Now therefore, I, Gale A. Brewer, do hereby recognize the injustice suffered by Ethel Rosenberg and her family, and on the occasion of her 100th birthday on Monday, September 28th, 2015, proclaim “Ethel Rosenberg Day of Justice in the Borough of Manhattan.”

Proclamation of 13 members of the New York City Council

Ethel Rosenberg, nee Ethel Greenglass, was poor and lived on New York City’s Lower East Side in the 1920s and 1930s where she excelled as a Seward Park High School student and dreamed of college. Her teachers considered her singing voice exceptional. She graduated three months before her 16th birthday but, unable to afford college, she took a clerical training course; and

WHEREAS: In 1935, at the age of 19, Ethel worked as a Clerk at the National New York Packing and Shipping Company, and, demonstrating great bravery, helped lead a strike for union recognition and a pay raise. The New York Times reported that “about 150 young women pickets moved in squads through the garment district… They lay on the pavement in front of trucks and dared the drivers to move”; and

WHEREAS: Ethel was fired and filed a claim for wrongful termination with the National Labor Relations Board, which found in her favor: “There is no allegation or evidence that she was not an efficient employee. The [company’s] antagonism to Ethel Greenglass undoubtedly arose by virtue of the fact that she was active in organizing the Union.” Ethel remained active in union organizing and used her singing talents to raise funds. While performing, she met Julius Rosenberg, whom she later married; and

WHEREAS: During World War II, Ethel joined the East Side Defense Council as its only full-time volunteer. It was the first such organization in the nation and became a model for others. She organized blood donation drives and gave speeches on the importance of the war effort. Her first son, Michael, was born during the war and her second son, Robert, was born after it ended; and

WHEREAS: In August 1950, Ethel was charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage. FBI documents reveal that chief prosecution witnesses David and Ruth Greenglass provided no evidence against Ethel Rosenberg in their initial confessions. The Greenglass’s recently released Grand Jury testimony also excludes mention of Ethel’s involvement. FBI documents show that members of the prosecution team determined that she should be convicted with a “stiff sentence” and be used as a “lever” to induce her husband to cooperate. After devising this strategy, Ruth and David Greenglass provided oral testimony against Ethel. The judge relied upon this new testimony to sentence Ethel to death. In 2001, David Greenglass admitted the testimony was false; and

WHEREAS: National Security Agency files indicate that the Soviet Union never gave Ethel Rosenberg a code name and that she, therefore, was not an active espionage agent. And that shortly before the Rosenbergs’ executions, an FBI document listed questions to ask Julius Rosenberg if he cooperated. The FBI did not create such a list for Ethel and did not ask if Ethel was involved. Instead, one question on the list was: “Was your wife cognizant of your activities?” Since despite this, the government wrongfully executed Ethel Rosenberg; now therefore

BE IT KNOWN: That we, the undersigned Members of the New York City Council, honor the life and memory of Ethel Rosenberg in observance of the 100th anniversary of her birth.

My statement in response

On behalf of our family; many of whom are here today, I thank all who have brought this to fruition: Councilor Daniel Dromm who initiated the effort, his staff member Michael Mallon who guided it, and all the Council Member co-signers. Thanks also to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer for her statement declaring today “Ethel Rosenberg day of Jusrtice” in Manhattan, and to Letitia James, New York City’s Public Advocate, for her support.

We are grateful to Tibby Brooks and Charles Bayor, of the Rosenberg Family Ethel Rosenberg Centenary Campaign for their hard work and good counsel, to my daughter, Rachel’s, partner, Tomas Hunt, for obtaining the support of so many elected officials, to Amber Black at the Rosenberg Fund for Children for her press work, and to attorney Daniel Meyers, who first suggested this idea. I apologize to those I’ve missed.

When I was born, I was brought home from the hospital to an apartment about a mile from here. To have so many Council Members of my parents’ hometown – my hometown, my brother’s hometown – acknowledge our mother’s achievements and note that she was wrongfully executed is a dream come true. Today, a major elected institution of this great city and Manhattan’s Borough President have taken important steps towards acknowledging a terrible injustice. Next, it is time for the Federal Government to step up and do the same.

One final thank you: to my parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, for their courage, their faithfulness to their ideals, and their activism to create a better world for their children.

My brother’s statement in response

This past summer, the Grand Jury testimony of the chief witness against our parents, our mother’s brother David Greenglass, was unsealed. We believe that this testimony provides the final piece of evidence that leads to an inescapable conclusion. Our mother, Ethel Rosenberg, was not an espionage agent. She was framed by the government to put pressure on our father. In effect, the government took her as a hostage -- and then murdered her when our father refused to falsely confess to atomic espionage and name names.

Let me echo Rob’s thanks to the members of the City Council, the Manhattan Borough President and the Public Advocate for recognizing the injustice that was done to our mother and, as a result, to her entire family.

We also want to make it clear that the unjust prosecution and execution of our mother damaged our country as well. The Rosenberg case was based on perjured testimony and guilt by association arguments. It culminated in the outrageous statements of the sentencing judge and President Eisenhower – that our parents had caused the Korean War and a future nuclear war. These combined to fuel a dangerous climate of fear and intolerance in our country which permitted political opportunitists like Senator Joseph McCarthy to poison our society.

We believe that the issuance of these proclamations implicitly calls upon the federal government to take corrective action. We would like to make this request explicitly.  Therefore, we call upon Attorney General Lynch and President Obama to acknowledge the injustice done to Ethel Rosenberg back in 1953 as a way of learning from our past in the hope that similar injustices will be avoided in the future.  Read More 
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Increased Efficiency - Caveat Emptor

Conventional wisdom holds that increasing home energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest and cleanest way to fight climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emssions. Moreover, it saves the homeowners money. A classic win-win.

Not so fast… My local newspaper reported on a recent University of Chicago study “which used data from a random sample of 30,000 low-income Michigan households that were eligible for an Energy Department home weatherization program.” The study “found that the projected energy savings were 2.5 times greater than actual savings. As a result energy bills didn’t decline nearly enough to eventually pay for the initial cost of the upgrades.” A second study of middle-class homes in Wisconsin produced a similar result.

But at least the homes used somewhat less energy, which is a good thing - right? However, the researchers concluded that this program cost $329 for each ton of carbon dioxide saved, while the government estimates the social cost of a ton of CO2 is only $38.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. Why should programs which purport to aid the environment by increasing efficiency be exempt from the advertising shinangins that pervade our economic system? In fact, regardless of whether these two studies can be replicated elsewhere, shouldn’t we expect exaggerated claims from promoters who will profit from their implementation?

In this instance, the government is using tax-payer money to pay contractors to put in new windows, furnaces, appliances, etc. at reduced cost to the homeowner, but at almost ten times the expense of the actual carbon cost savings to our society. I’m sure those selling and installing the products in question aren’t complaining.

Those of us who watch television see inflated claims for an wide variety of products in commercials every day. The United States Supreme Court ruled in the 19th century that such advertising wasn’t lying, but “mere puffery,” and it is settled law that there is nothing illegal about it.

This is the busniss plan of those touting the green capitalist solution to global warming produced climate change. They will attempt to sell schemes to stimulate economic activity that they say will be environmentally beneficial. I’m not saying there are no honest contractors or non-profit organizations that are doing their best to make a positive difference. But within the context of our system, whenever there is money to be made, any field will tend to be dominated by those businesses that most aggressively find ways to increase profits and advertizing to gain market share. Green capitalism still means profit first, green second.

The green-conscious amongst may let down our guard because we want these programs to work. But it is advisable to follow the latin catch-phrase, in this instance, as in all others.

Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.  Read More 
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Thank you Klaus Fuchs

Remember Klaus Fuchs? He was the German-born world-class atomic scientist, a member of the British contingent at Los Alamos, who transmitted the data necessary for the Soviet Union to build a copy of one of the bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan. He was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for violating Britain’s Official Secrets Act, and served nine before returning to his native East Germany upon his release.

An article a friend sent me recently reminded me of him. The article,, published in August, was entitled, “Post WW2 World Order: US Planned to Wipe USSR Out by Massive Nuclear Strike.” Based on secret documents made public through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) releases, the article reports that the United States military developed schemes in the late 1940’s to destroy the Soviet Union with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. One of these, the 1949 Dropshot plan, “envisaged that the US would attack Soviet Russia and drop at least 300 nuclear bombs and 20,000 tons of conventional bombs on 200 targets in 100 urban areas, including Moscow and Leningrad.”

Apparently the Pentagon was not deterred by the prospect that such an attack would cause tens of millions of civilian casualties, but rather by its inability to rapidly manufacture enough atomic bombs. By 1948 the US only had 50 atomic bombs in its arsenal. And in late 1949, the Soviets’ successful test of their first atomic device put another monkey wrench in their plans.

My knowledge of my parents’ case provides insight into these events. In the 1970’s my brother and my legal actions forced the release of thousands of documents relating to the development of the USSR’s atomic bomb. We learned from these files that while any atomic information transmitted by David and Ruth Greenglass was of no value, the information Klaus Fuchs provided was.

Researchers ultimately determined that Russian scientists were following a slightly different course from their US conterparts. However, in order to fool and deter the United States, the Soviet team used Fuchs’ information to copy our bomb and test it quickly, even though it was the only one they had at the time. This deception worked, tricking the Pentagon into thinking the USSR had greater atomic capabilties than it actually had. The possibility of a Soviet atomic counter-strike gave the American militarists pause, although secret first strike plans existed into the 1960’s, and who knows what they are cooking up today.

It is hard to imagine what the world would be like if our government had dropped 300 atomic bombs on Russia. Certainly prevailing mid-latitude westerly winds would have carried massive amounts of fallout to Europe, the United States and Canada. The atmospheric debris might even have been thick enough to trigger a nuclear winter. It is far from certain how many of us could have lived through such a Pentagon produced hell on earth.

It makes me wonder if we have Klaus Fuchs to thank for our survival.  Read More 
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We Need Contraction

The oil and gas industry claims that the 11% drop in reported US Carbon emissions between 2007 and 2013 was due primarily to the growth in fracking (“When Human Consumption Slows, Planet Earth Can Heal,” 7/22/15, Common Dreams.) However a recent study in Nature Communications determined that 83% of the 2007-2013 reduction was the result of decreased consumption and production during the great recession, while only the remaining 17% was due to changes in fuel type. That makes sense; less economic activity lowers carbon emissions.

This simple truth has far-reaching implications. Our current economic system, based on growth, can’t adjust to this fact. But that doesn’t change the fact: the way to save the biosphere is to shrink our economy.

Progressive environmental activists know we must reduce our carbon footprint, but for strategic reasons, we advocate a mélange of solutions. We fight to ban fracking, stop the XL pipeline and divest from fossil fuel companies. This makes sense: if applied globally these actions, in combination with conservation, would significantly decrease economic activity, and thus lower carbon emissions. We also promote increased efficiency in heating and cooling appliances, air and automobile travel, better public transportation, recycling, and alternative solar generation. These actions, while reducing the carbon footprint of the products we buy and trips we take, may not lower total emissions if they result in our buying and traveling more, or using more cheaply generated solar power.

Significant segments of our movement celebrate a “green new deal,” that will create an economic boom and new jobs while greening our economy. This is dangerous self-deception. Everyone needs living-wage jobs, but if the additional millions of job-holders produce more products and consume as the typical living-wage worker and their families do today, we’ll collectively emit even more carbon and make the problem worse.

Therefore we must couple the new green jobs with significantly reduced hours and substantially increased wages/salaries for all workers, including professionals. These workers and their families must spend their increased funds and free time in a manner that does not produce more greenhouse gases. This complex of interactions won’t work without careful planning and re-education. We’ll make no progress if we create more consumers taking part in the throw-away society.

Progressive environmental activists are also reluctant to talk about population. We believe in sharing the world’s resources more equitably, but don’t calculate what that means as the global population approaches 8 billion. The issue of population control has racist roots and a history of unequal practice. In addition, five hundred million relatively affluent North American and Western European whites produce 80% of the world’s green house gas emissions, while billions of people of color in the third world have tiny carbon footprints. While masses of people living in poverty are not responsible for global warming, increasing their level of consumption to that enjoyed in the “developed world” will have a profoundly negative impact on the world’s carbon footprint.

Any comprehensive climate change program must deal with this triple challenge:

1. to decrease economic activity to limit carbon emissions.
2. to achieve a livable standard of living for everyone by increasing wages to compensate
for decreasing work hours.
3. to fairly re-distribute the dwindling resources of our planet to include the third world.

This monumental challenge can only be met by global agreement to replace competition with cooperation, replace profit with sharing, and to engage in physical, social, artistic and intellectual pursuits instead of rampant consumption.  Read More 
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Know Your Frienemies

I recently read Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet by Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman. Although I disagree with the author’s conclusions, people who are strategizing about how to organize a mass movement to counter global warming and its resulting climate change will benefit from reading it.

Readers will understand my quarrel once they read the authors’ response to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: “Far from posing a fundamental problem to capitalism, it’s capitalism with all its innovative and entrepreneurial powers that is our hope of steering clear of the looming climate shock.”

You read that right. Capitalism is the only solution to approaching climate crises. According to the authors the solution to global warming is to tax carbon emissions to cover their environmental costs. Their biggest fear, aside from the consequences of not imposing such a tax, is that if we continue with business as usual, as things heat up some nation will resort to dangerous geo-engineering, such as seeding the atmosphere with sulfur dioxide particles, which is fraught with peril.

So why read this book?

First, they are smart and well-connected. Wagner is the lead economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, and Weitzman is a Harvard economics professor. Their writing is engaging and clear. They make a good case for why global warming induced climate change is real and risks rendering our planet incompatible with civilization. Organizers will find these arguments helpful.

Second, these men will be the green experts the mainstream media finds most palatable and quotable. As the climate change policy battle intensifies, people like Wagner and Weitzman will be given air time on PBS, NPR and the major news networks (other than Fox). They will be featured in influential liberal journals. For example, The New York Review of Books just reviewed this book favorably. The reviewer was someone whose work the authors praise and thank in their acknowledgements. (Which may be an ethically questionable choice, perhaps reflecting the old boy network.) These authors and their colleagues are capable of mounting a robust public relations effort to promote their positions. Last week, a professor at Duke University’s Sanford school of Public Policy, who co-founded the Partnership for Responsible Growth, published a guest column in my local paper entitled “Capitalism can stop climate change” (Daily Hampshire Gazette, 6/24), which advocated the same concept to “[h]arness the power of the market and create a global, uniform price on carbon.”

Finally, the climate change movement must beware of friends like these. These authors take climate change seriously and as we build a broad-based campaign they might be included as allies. They are not climate change deniers, but they deny the necessity of changing our system and its underlying grow or die imperative.

They are frienemies; in the guise of saving us they will make things worse.  Read More 
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