The Doomsday mindset or: No room for doom and gloom

An article by a British professor that predicts the imminent collapse of society, as a result of climate change, has been downloaded over half a million times. Many mainstream climate scientists totally reject his claims, but his followers are already preparing for the worst.

I spent a short while indulging in this kind of thinking a couple years ago. It was easy to piece together bits of information to forecast total devastation within months.

I saw articles like this at the time, predicting mass famine, nuclear war, and successive nuclear power plant meltdowns by this time last year.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen, but while I was in the middle of it, it seemed inevitable. This kind of thinking is paralyzing and weirdly seductive. It’s like conspiracy theories that way. It’s also not much different from the various religious doomsday cults.

Every bit of negative news proves that the world is about to end, and no bit of positive news is enough to prove otherwise. If it doesn’t happen now, that just means you were off by a year, and then two years, and then 10 years, until you’ve spent a huge portion of your life living in a hellish “end times” world of your own making, and getting little, if anything, done.

 

Crisis, opportunity, change, and perception

With the COVID-19 pandemic, people all over the world have been changing how they conduct their affairs, in an effort to slow down the spread of the disease. Many of these changes are highlighting ways in which our lives could be different, but aren’t:

As a species, humans seem to be very good at adjusting to new circumstances. The term “the new normal” is used constantly to discuss everything from climate change to Trump’s disastrous presidency, and I think it’s easy to slip into feeling like things have always been -and will always be – the way they are now. This is one example of how our sense of the world is often inaccurate, and why the use of tools like science and critical thinking are so important to keep from lying to ourselves.

Ollie Thorn of the Youtube channel Philosophy Tube made a video in September of 2018 about the changes that followed 9/11 that discusses this tendency, and how changes to things like airport security that were initially claimed to be temporary seem to have become just… the way things are now:

 

In a recent article for Slate, Dan Kois writes about some of the changes to “fact of life” rules that have been happening in the last couple weeks, due to this virus outbreak:

The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that due to the coronavirus outbreak, they’re waiving the familiar four-ounce limit for liquids and gels—for hand sanitizer only. You may now bring a bottle of Purell as large as 12 ounces onto the plane to assist in your constant sanitizing of yourself, your family, your seat, your bag of peanuts, and everything else. All other liquids and gels, however, are still restricted to four ounces.

Among many shocks of the last week—school closures, Tom Hanks, the shuttering of one sports league after another—this rule change registers as major. The liquid restriction has been a key component of air travel ever since 2006. If people are now allowed to bring 12-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer onto planes, won’t the planes blow up?

The TSA can declare this rule change because the limit was always arbitrary, just one of the countless rituals of security theater to which air passengers are subjected every day. Flights are no more dangerous today, with the hand sanitizer, than yesterday, and if the TSA allowed you to bring 12 ounces of shampoo on a flight tomorrow, flights would be no more dangerous then. The limit was bullshit. The ease with which the TSA can toss it aside makes that clear.

There are a number of trite sayings about how times of crisis bring opportunity, and as with any persistent idea, there’s some truth to that. For all the horror that people are experiencing today, and that seems to be headed our way in the coming weeks due to inadequate resources and incompetent governments, this is an opportunity for everyone to think about what could be, rather than just what is. The case for universal healthcare has never been stronger, for example, and as the tweet earlier in this article said, we’re seeing that a lot of things we were told aren’t feasible, actually are.

Each day of this public health crisis brings a new example. People thrown in jail for minor offenses? San Antonio is one of many jurisdictions to announce that, to keep jails from being crowded with sick citizens, they’ll stop doing that. Why were they doing it in the first place?

The federal government charging interest on loans to attend college? Well, Donald Trump has  instructed government agencies who administer loans to waive interest accrual for the duration of the crisis. But why on earth is our government charging its own citizens interest anyway?

Broadband data caps and throttled internet? Those have been eliminated by AT&T and other ISPs, because of the coronavirus. But data caps and throttling were really just veiled price hikes that served no real technical purpose. Why did we put up with them?

Police helping landlords evict tenants in times of financial trouble? Due to the coronavirus, not anymore in New YorkMiami, and New Orleans. But—and you see where this is going—why do the police aid evictions when tenants are stricken with other, non-coronavirus illnesses?

The city shutting off your water, or your power, as punishment for hardship? During this public health emergency, plenty of cities and companies have suddenly found a way to keep service turned on. “As long as COVID-19 remains a health concern,” said Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, “no Detroit resident should have concerns about whether their water service will be interrupted.” Why in the hell should any Detroit resident have concerns about their water service being interrupted, ever? Shouldn’t clean water be the absolute base level of service delivered by a city to its residents?

Sick employees forced to take unpaid leave or work while sick if they want to keep their jobs? Walmart recently announced it would provide up to two weeks of paid leave for any employee who contracts the coronavirus. And the House just passed a bill to address the problem, though as the New York Times editorial board notes, the House’s failure to make the bill universal “is an embarrassment that endangers the health of workers, consumers and the broader American public.” But why should any sick worker fear losing their pay or their job at any time? And why are the most vulnerable to punitive sick leave practices the workers making the lowest wages?

As Kois points out, when the crisis has passed, there will be a strong push to “return to normal”, but it’s important to remember that “normal”, for a lot of people, has been a really bad situation for a really long time, and we’ll have a chance to hold on to some of the changes that we’ve seen, and to compare them to what went before.

It’s also worth noting that as with 9/11, it’s very likely that this crisis will be used to further the global surge in far-right governance around the world. Those of us who value human life are not the only ones who see the opportunity to “make a better world”, but not everybody has the same idea of what that better world should look like.

Take care of yourselves and those you love. Talk to those who share your hopes and dreams for the future. Guard against those who would burn the world to rule the ashes. Work to hold on to progress, and to gain new ground.

And remember that how things are now is neither how they always were, nor how they must be.

An apology to Eunice Foote, the scientist and activist who first published on the role of CO2 in our atmosphere

Image shows two pages of Eunice Foote's article, "Circumstances affecting the Heat of the Sun's Rays", published in The American Journal of Science and Arts, November 1956. Full text can be found

If you want a text version of this article, and description of the tables in it, click here.

For some time now, I’ve had a basic history of climate science more or less memorized. It’s useful to know what we knew and when we knew it, particularly when talking to people who still believe long-debunked misinformation like the idea that the theory of man-made global warming was a post-hoc creation to explain observed warming.

For that entire time, I have been wrong about who first discovered the role that carbon dioxide plays in Earth’s climate.

My go-to narrative generally went from Fourier in the 1820s, to Tyndall in the 1850s and 1860s, to Arrhenius in the 1890s and early 1900s, to Keeling in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a decent map of key moments in our understanding of CO2 and the global climate, and an effective demonstration of the ways in which the theory was developed, and how it was -and is – a predictive theory that has been supported by a vast body of evidence since its inception.

With simplicity, however, comes inaccuracy. I do not subscribe to the Great Man theory of history – none of the men listed above made their achievements alone, and all of them built on the work of people who had gone before. They were part of communities of people working to understand the universe. The act of singling them out to create a simple, punchy narrative necessarily hides the work of countless other people that contributed to the publications that “history” chooses to single out.

My error, however, goes beyond this necessary over-simplification of history. The reality is that Tyndall, for all his many accomplishments, should not occupy that spot in the story. That place rightfully belongs to one Eunice Newton Foote, who published on the role of CO2 in our climate in 1856 – four years before Tyndall did. Whether through ignorance or malice, Tyndall did not reference her work when he published his own work on the subject. As my discussion of communication between scientists implies, and this linked abstract notes, “From a contemporary perspective, one might expect that Tyndall would have known of her findings.”, particularly since much of that communication is centered around such publications.

Beyond her work as a scientist, Foote was active in the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States, and was a signatory on the Declaration of Sentiments from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.

For a woman like Eunice Foote—who was also active in the women’s rights movement—it could not have been easy to be relegated to the audience of her own discovery. The Road to Seneca Falls by Judith Wellman shows that Foote signed the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention Declaration of Sentiments, and was appointed alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself to prepare the Convention proceedings for later publication. As with many women scientists forgotten by history, Foote’s story highlights the more subtle forms of discrimination that have kept women on the sidelines of science.

Foote’s role in history was uncovered by researcher Raymond Sorenson, who published a paper on her in 2011. The greatest service historians provide to us is in their work to sort through the various accounts and records of history, and dig up truths about our past which are so often buried under layers of ego, bigotry, and political power games. In a society founded on science, that lionizes those who first discover new facts about the world, it’s good to see recognition of a woman whose efforts were wrongly ignored for so long.

COVID-19, priorities, and “successful” communist countries.

In the midst of all the news about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s understandable that not everything is being reported on. One thing that should be reported on, but that I’m having trouble finding articles about, is how the Marxist-Leninist government of Vietnam is handling the outbreak and quarantine.  As of March 6th, they were mass-producing testing kits, and claimed to have the capacity to export testing kits while meeting their own needs.

They’ve had people in isolation and quarantine, and have been making that easier by providing groceries to people in lockdown, for free.

The image shows a tweet with the caption text, and four different pictures. The top two pictures show packaged meals stacked up on tables. The bottom two show a woman in scrubs and a surgical mask covering mouth and nose, handing out meals to various Vietnamese citizens, also wearing masks.

“western media wont talk about this but the vietnamese government is helping citizens fight the coronavirus by offering free /proper/ meals for people in quarantine areas and free groceries/necessities for a whole neighborhood in lockdown”

 

Image shows a twitter thread with the captioned text, plus two pictures of pre-packaged meals including rice, vegetables, and other stuff I can't personally identify

“- here people will be placed in quarantine due to travel history, showing symptoms or recent contact with current patients – the neighborhood in lockdown is because the 17th patient, possibly a “super spreader”, resided there” ** “some korean travelers are also in quarantine so they were given korean meals because what if they aren’t used to vietnamese food” ** “i ran out of characters but this is also meant to poke fun at how the usa and some european nations respond to this outbreak, both their government and people. anw if you constantly think of countries in the global south with your shallow eurocentric bias then karma will get you.” ** “Muting this now reach me through DM if you need to! Appreciate all the good sentiments” ** “your gov may be shitty but extend your appreciation and support to doctors & healthcare workers on the frontline of this crisis! if you cant wear masks, wash hands often, avoid touching MEN (Mouth Eyes Nose), and avoid crowds (PLEASE). the system is in shambles so be proactive”

They’re taking steps to reduce stigma surrounding people who’ve fallen victim to the virus, to make quarantine economically feasible for those undergoing it, and to actively take care of the population. From what I can tell, their response to this crisis is putting capitalist countries to shame, and while I don’t want their precise form of government, or all of the restrictions on dissent they have, I think it would be a mistake to ignore the good things they have going as well. I’m less interested in political labels than I am in the wellbeing of humans as a whole, and there is no reason why we cannot have a system that can respond to a crisis the way the Vietnamese government is doing, while also having the freedoms that some in the West believe are somehow inextricably tied to capitalism.

We can have a better world,

 

“Green” hydrogen: Where are we at?

One of the biggest challenges in transitioning to renewable energy has been the usefulness of fossil products for fueling long-distance transportation. Cars, trucks, planes, and boats all generally rely on fossil fuels for power. Hydrogen is periodically proposed as an alternative, for those vehicles that can’t functionally be run from batteries, or tied to a grid like trains. The problem is that most hydrogen currently available also comes from processing of fossil fuels, which is why George W. Bush was so willing to promote it as an “alternative” to oil. Disingenuous greenwashing aside, however, hydrogen does work, and as with the power for electric cars, the question is more about where it comes from.

The idea of using renewable energy to produce hydrogen for fuel has been around for a long time, as have proposals to use nuclear power for the same purpose. In both cases the scale of production needed will be massive to make any real dent in the fossil fuel economy. Whether or not hydrogen from splitting water becomes a major part of fueling human society, it has the potential as a portable fuel source to replace oil or gas, and I think it’s good that it’s being explored. Japan’s efforts to rebuild and re-invent the Fukushima region are what drew my attention back to this. They’ve opened a solar powered electrolysis plant to act as a pilot project for later mass production.

The Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R) uses a 20MW solar array, backed up by renewable power from the grid, to run a 10MW electrolyser at the site in Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture.

A consortium including Toshiba, Tohoku Electric Power and Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) said the project is the largest electrolyser yet to produce hydrogen from clean power sources. The FH2R system can produce up to 100kg of hydrogen an hour, said the partners.

The project will be used as a test bed for mass production of green H2, with initial output directed to fuel hydrogen cars and buses in Japan – including some to be used at the Tokyo Olympics later this year.

My rough calculation based on the numbers from this article indicates that that’s enough to fuel about an average week’s commute for 18 fuel cell-powered cars. That’s not a lot, but it’s not meant to be at this stage.

Shell is partnering with the Gasunie natural gas company, and the Groningen Port Authority in the Netherlands for a much larger installation powered by offshore wind turbines: 

The electricity would be brought onshore at Eemshaven where it would be used to produce hydrogen for northern European industry and distributed via Gasunie’s current network.

The factory will have capacity to produce 800,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year. ‘Green hydrogen, produced via renewable sources such as wind and solar power, is central in the Dutch climate agreement and in the European Green Deal,’ the three companies say.

Hydrogen is widely used in industry but is currently mainly produced with gas.

Last October, Groningen hosted a major conference on developing a hydrogen based economy.

Economic affairs minister Erik Wiebes said at the time the region has everything it needs, including infrastructure (gas pipelines, deep-sea port), the space and the knowledge to make the transition to a hydrogen economy a reality.

Households
The offshore wind farm will kick off with production of some three to four gigawatts by 2030, expanding to 10 gigawatts by 2040. This would be enough to supply 12.5 million households, or more than the total number of households in the Netherlands, the project group said.

This is encouraging news, if it holds up. The fact that it’s being run by fossil fuel corporations make me worry that it’s an attempt at greenwashing that will never amount to much. Fossil fuel corporations should have turned their vast resources to creating alternative energy sources decades ago, when the climate had not yet been destabilized, but better late than never, I suppose.

Another concern has been transport and storage of hydrogen. The Groningen project, and a plan to power LA with hydrogen both rely on existing natural gas infrastructure, and in the case of LA, on continued use of natural gas, at least in the short term. The potential of hydrogen should not be used as an excuse to increase use of natural gas, and I am worried that that’s what this is. On the surface that seems to be a matter of putting the matter into the hands of people who know how to handle volatile gasses, but the record of neglect and incompetence by gas companies, and the associated ruptures and leaks makes me worried about letting those corporations handle hydrogen, given the energy required to produce the stuff, and the amount that could be lost to their profit-driven corner-cutting.

A project in Australia is exploring a different method of storage: 

The 4.5MW Manilla Community Solar array will backed by a unique 2MW/17MWh storage system that takes green hydrogen — produced in electrolysers powered by the solar panels — and stores it in a salt-like substance call sodium borohydride (NaBH4).

This non-toxic solid material can absorb hydrogen like a sponge, store the gas until it is required, and then release the H2 with the application of heat. The released hydrogen is then run through a fuel cell to generate electricity.

This system allows hydrogen to be stored cheaply at high density and low pressure without the need for energy-intensive compression or liquefaction.

I don’t know if this would be a viable way to transport hydrogen – it seems more designed to use as a static “tank” – but I think there would be value in having options other than pipelines run by corporations who’ve already shown themselves incapable of responsible behavior.

It’s still unclear to me whether hydrogen will ever become more than a prop for the bogus argument that natural gas is a “bridge fuel”, but it seems like something that ought to be within the realm of possibility. If it happens, it will require a massive scale-up in renewable energy and/or nuclear power beyond what’s needed to power the grid. As always, that work needs to be happening faster.

News Roundup: February 15th, 2020

I’m going to start doing regular or semi-regular news posts. The goal here is to share links to media that I think people might want to know about. For some of the material, the links shared in these posts will be all I do; other material will be covered in more extensive articles. Mostly this “series” is a tool I’m using for my own reasons, but I hope it’ll be useful for other people as well. Without further ado:


Canada has been pursuing a genocidal war of conquest against the Wet’suwet’en Nation, all to enrich fossil fuel corporations. The Wet’suwet’en people never surrendered their territory to the Canadian government, and that government is now taking over that land for the sole purpose of installing a gas pipeline. I should have posted information about this weeks ago, but better late than never. More on this subject will be forthcoming.

This is the main website to follow– “The Unis’tot’en (C’ihlts’ehkhyu / Big Frog Clan) are the original Wet’suwet’en Yintah Wewat Zenli distinct to the lands of the Wet’suwet’en.”

Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

Armed RCMP Launch Raid on Second Wet’suwet’en Camp Supported by Helicopters, Police Dogs

This Quaker blog has been doing a good job keeping up on both the news and efforts at solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and their fight for survival, if you want another resource beyond the Unis’tot’en website. 

Facebook, for those still doing that.


The armed forces of the U.S.A. have long been one of the biggest emitters of CO2 in the world, but over the last couple decades they’ve also been investing a great deal of money and resources into studying and preparing for climate change, and even under Republican administrations, they’ve been consistent in describing it as a serious threat to American national security. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently reported that the US Navy closed its task force on climate change in March of last year. 

The task force was designed to provide the Navy’s leadership with the best available scientific information on climate change, and shutting down the task force prevents the Navy from adapting to the ongoing effects of climate change and using the information to meet its mission of protecting the nation. There is no other body within the Navy specifically assigned to address these challenges, nor is there any other clearly designated group able to provide the climate science that is so important to the Navy and national defense as a whole.

I have no particular love for the American imperial war machine, but one of the biggest dangers of climate change is how the world’s more violent nations will use their armed forces to respond to an unstable climate and the resource problems that will come as the world warms. This is not a good sign.


Scotland continues its increase in renewable energy. I’m reluctant to use the article’s triumphant headline of “on track to hit 100% renewable energy this year” at this point in time. As has been pointed out to me, many such claims include some number-fudging. Scotland is near to 100% renewable power, but as the article mentions it has one natural gas plant with two more coming soon. The goal is for “net zero”, which generally involves continued use of fossil fuels that are “offset” by carbon capture methods like planting trees. A better goal is zero fossil fuels, plus carbon capture, and we’re nowhere close to ending the use of fossil fuels for transport here. More publicly operated mass transit would help a lot. Given the abundance of water, it may be that some form of nuclear power would work, but given the local dissatisfaction with the UK’s Trident program, that could be a hard sell. Scotland is headed in the right direction, and it’s encouraging to see all the wind turbines here, but there’s a long way to go yet.


I have no idea how viable this is – most announced advances like this never seem to make it past the press release/pipe dream stage, but if it pans out, it’d be pretty cool: New droplet-based electicity generator: Researchers claim a their design is a massive improvement in the power that can be generated in such a system.

“Our research shows that a drop of 100 microlitres (1 microlitre = one-millionth litre) of water released from a height of 15 cm can generate a voltage of over 140V. And the power generated can light up 100 small LED light bulbs,” said Professor Wang.

[…]Its instantaneous power density can reach up to 50.1 W/m2, thousands times higher than other similar devices without the use of FET-like design. And the energy conversion efficiency is markedly higher.

Global solidarity for global problems: why I support Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is my preferred candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 American presidential election, and this is my attempt to articulate why that is.

The TL/DR of it is this: Alone out of anyone I’ve seen run for president in my lifetime, Sanders seems committed to the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of humanity. Specifically, he seems to share my understanding of that phrase: The right to life goes beyond the right to not be murdered, and includes the right to affordable food, water, housing, and healthcare. The right to liberty is tied to that. If you have to spend a majority of your waking hours generating profit for someone who has more than they’ll ever need, just to make ends meet on the pittance you get in return, then you don’t really have liberty. If leaving a bad job means risking death from treatable disease, then you don’t really have liberty. Likewise, if the work required to stay alive leaves you with no free time and no energy – if all you can do is pursue survival, then you’re not really free to pursue happiness.

And from those values comes the commitment to universal healthcare, to housing for all, and to a system that organizes the distribution of our abundant resources based on what all people need, not just on what rich people want. I think Elizabeth Warren shares those goals and she’s willing to work hard to get there, but her approach worries me. Her strategy seems to be to get to where we both want to go through better regulation of basically the same capitalist system.

What sets Sanders apart is that he has show a commitment to supporting those rights for all of humanity, not just Americans. It’s understandable for American politicians to view domestic and foreign policy through the lens of “American interests”, but I think we’ve reached a point where it’s essential to move beyond that. Climate change, global trade, the global internet, and the speed with which people can move from nation to nation all require that we view the world through a global lens. I think it’s clear that the oligarch class does this, with the chummy relationship we’ve seen between the “elites” both through events like the Davos conference, and the friendship between American elites and the House of Saud. Likewise, the capitalist class has been using global trade, travel, and warfare to benefit themselves at the expense of others, with the abuse and exploitation of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America being used to reduce the power of the working class in the so-called “western” nations.

If the dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is going to survive – more importantly if humanity is to survive – then, to use a slogan, the workers of the world must unite.

That’s where Bernie Sanders stands apart from the others running for President. His record is not just one of fighting for progressive values in America, it’s one of fighting for them all over the planet.

Bolivia, and more specifically Bolivia’s lithium reserves, have been the focus of attention for some time. Current battery technology relies heavily on lithium, and with the push for better batteries, and for more electric cars, demand for lithium has been rising. In another world, this could be a golden opportunity of Bolivia, and a chance for them to very, very well by supplying the power storage needs of a world trying to move away from fossil fuels. The world we live in today, however, is guided by profits for big corporations, and those profits, in many cases rely on trade “deals” that give those corporations control over natural resources at incredibly low prices. This dynamic is at its worst when it comes to former colonies of the various European empires. There’s a lot to be said on this topic, but for this article I’ll just point out that it’s no coincidence that the military’s “suggestion” that Evo Morales should resign came so soon after the Morales administration decided that Bolivia’s lithium resources should be extracted, processed, and sold to the world in a way that would benefit the Bolivian people more than multinational corporations.

This exposes the right-wing nationalist lie that they want a happy world of nations attending to their own interests first. What they really want is a world that serves the interests of their nations, and of the corporations they serve. When a country like Bolivia tries to look out for its own people, they stage a coup, as they have done over and over again around the world. Bernie Sanders wasn’t just the first and strongest in naming and opposing what’s happening in Bolivia, he is also the only candidate in the Democratic primary whose vision and policies include standing up for the people of all nations, and truly working together across the globe to deal with global problems like climate change. If we don’t change how we do things, then we’ll see another couple decades of false “solutions” that continue the vicious exploitation of resources to increase the hoards of the aristocracy at the expense of everyone else. It has been pointed out many times that the people who see the least benefit from this neo-colonial exploitation are also the ones who are suffering the most from the warming climate, and the ones who the far right increasingly wants to kill off as they try to take refuge from problems they did not create.

We see the importance of his global vision when we look at what’s been happening in Brazil. During the presidency of Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva, Brazil became a global leader in renewable energy, and in fighting for working class solidarity around the world. Lula da Silva worked hard to reduce the right-wing influence of the American Empire, and to empower nations that have, for most of recent history, been suffering under the rule of authoritarian regimes backed, and in some cases installed by American military and intelligence operations.  He played a major role in the presidency of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, and his popularity had him on track to retake the presidency in 2018, before he was wrongfully imprisoned as part of the “anti-corruption” operation that also took down Rousseff.

In 2016, Bernie made a statement about the beginning of what some have called a coup leading to the neo-fascist Bolsonaro regime:

I am deeply concerned by the current effort to remove Brazil’s democratically elected president, Dilma Rousseff. To many Brazilians and observers the controversial impeachment process more closely resembles a coup d’état.

“After suspending Brazil’s first female president on dubious grounds, without a mandate to govern, the new interim government abolished the ministry of women, racial equality and human rights. They immediately replaced a diverse and representative administration with a cabinet made up entirely of white men. The new, unelected administration quickly announced plans to impose austerity, increase privatization and install a far right-wing social agenda.

“The effort to remove President Rousseff is not a legal trial but rather a political one. The United States cannot sit silently while the democratic institutions of one of our most important allies are undermined. We must stand up for the working families of Brazil and demand that this dispute be settled with democratic elections.

Since then he has been consistent in his support for the working people of Brazil. When the man who would become Bolsonaro’s defense minister jailed Lula da Silva, Sanders called for his release, and was the only candidate in the Democratic primary to do so. From what I can tell, no other candidate for president has shown anything like this support for left-wing politicians and movements in other countries, even in contrast to people as extreme as Jair Bolsonaro or Bolivia’s Jeanine Áñez. When it comes to viewing international politics through the lens of climate change, it’s pretty clear that right-wing extremists are bad news. Their scorn for environmental protection has a long and bloody record, and the fires in the Amazon, are just the ash-flavored icing on that disgusting cake. Again, the global perspective of the Sanders campaign, and his demonstrated solidarity with other left-wing leaders and causes sets him apart from everyone else in this primary race.

So where does he stand on getting elected, and on getting things done? I believe he’s well positioned for both, and for the same reason. From the beginning of his political career, Sanders has focused his campaigning on talking to people. That has meant direct conversations between him and his constituencies, but it’s also the guiding principle of his broader outreach movement. His slogan of “Not me, us!” isn’t just words – it’s the core of what the Sanders campaign is trying to do. They’re trying to bring people together. They’re encouraging people to share their problems with each other, and to see that they’re not alone. Just as Sanders kept talking to people while working in every office he’s ever held, his campaign is working to build a movement that will keep working, and keep building once the 2020 race is over.  Nobody is under any illusion that Republicans or right-wing Democrats will be on board with all of his policies, so part of the goal is to energize people to vote in more politicians like Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Unlike Obama, Sanders has shown that his efforts at building power for the people, and his effort to listen to the people, will not end when he gets into office. Whenever he has gotten political office, he has continued the very basic work of talking to people.

That is also something that is allowed by the focus on small donations from lots of people – rather than spending all his time calling on mega-donors, hat in hand, Sanders can go around and talk to the people he’s actually supposed to be working for, and fund his efforts in doing so. This not only gives more power to the people by having a powerful politician who’s not dependent on the capitalist class for his funding, it also gives more power to the people by giving them access to the politicians who work for them. It gives everyday people far, far more influence over government than they have with any other candidate in the race, or with almost any other politician in America right now.

Most importantly, his campaign is about building connections between people, and a kind of collective power that can function without him, and that can outlive him. While most presidential campaigns are all about electing the candidate to office, the campaign Sanders is running is about more than that. It’s using that goal to build something more solid and enduring that can keep fighting for its ideals and goals even when Sanders, in time, leaves the picture. With hard work and persistence, it’s something that could change the country. In time, it could place America not as a “leader”, dominating the world, but as one nation in solidarity with many others working for a better life for everyone.

Australia, Climate Change, and Green Colonialism

I’m working on a couple pieces relating to this, but I wanted to post this video, because it makes some important points. Heading into the 21st century, we’re facing a lot of big choices, and a lot of changes in how we interact with our planet, and with each other. Changing our energy sources and infrastructure, and changing how we use the resources of this planet has to come with changes in how we treat our fellow humans on a global scale.

Whether it’s helium in Tanzania, needed for things like MRI scanners, or lithium in Bolivia needed for our current battery technology, if we continue the patterns of colonialism and capitalist exploitation, we will destroy ourselves through the pattern of stripping parts of the planet bare, and “moving on”. This approach to fueling our societies leads to slavery and genocide, and is inextricably tied to our inability to meaningfully respond to our global environmental crisis.

Check out the video, and stay tuned for more on the human cost of not changing how we do things.

Climate action in the global north cannot be at the expense of the global south. We must be clear about the causes of climate destruction and support a Green New Deal that addresses the problem without sacrificing the Global South to a new “green” colonialism.

Public goods for the public good, not private enrichment.

It has been a genuine pleasure to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at work in the House. Her efforts on behalf of her district, and the American people in general have been inspiring, and have been a much-needed demonstration of what members of Congress should be doing with their time, power, and resources. It has also underscored how much more can be done when a legislator relies on donations from the general public, rather than spending all their time on begging oligarchs and would-be oligarchs for money.

She has also continued to interact with the public, and to build a movement for a better world. This video from November shows her making the case for greater investment in the public good, and taking on the aristocratic propaganda of “free stuff” and “handouts”.

And it’s not that we deserve it because it’s a handout. That people like to say “oh, this is about free stuff.” This is not about free stuff. It’s 30% of your salary, first of all. We know this is not free stuff. Second of all, these are PUBLIC GOODS. I don’t want to hear the term free stuff ever again…I am already hearing from some of these neoliberal folks who are trying to flip the script on us, and when we talk about tuition free college, or when we talk about public housing, saying “oh, well, I don’t want to pay for a millionaire’s kid to go to college. That’s their jui jitsu on us. I believe everyone should be able to go to public library, everyone can to drive on public roads, everyone should be able to send their kids to public school, and person who needs it should have access to public housing [transcript not verbatim, just as good as I could get it, somewhat cleaned up for clarity -Abe]

And that’s really the crux of it. Some people are rich enough that they can take a helicopter everywhere they need to go – they don’t need public roads, but they have the right to use them just like the rest of us. The same is true of public schools, and should be true of public housing, and of health care. If you want to spend more money on something over and above what everybody gets, you can do so, but you don’t get to use that as an excuse to say that public goods should be taken away from everybody, just because you personally don’t need them at this particular moment. The whole point is that everybody gets them, and everybody pays for them as they are able.

Certain portions of the population love to say “freedom isn’t free”, but they seem to have trouble understanding that the price for freedom isn’t just the blood of soldiers (and the civilians of foreign countries). Freedom also costs resources.

I’ll periodically hear people say “money can’t buy happiness”, and I think there’s some misunderstanding over what that phrase really means. It doesn’t mean that money can’t increase happiness, or help one achieve happiness, it means  that having your basic needs met won’t guarantee happiness. For some people that might be enough, but most people want some level of fulfillment beyond simply existing. We’re often told to find that fulfillment in the jobs we work to survive, but that is, in my estimation, propaganda. It’s a lie told to keep us working for the enrichment of other people, most of whom already have far, far more than they will ever need. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy the ability to pursue happiness.

If the goal  of a just government is to ensure the greatest possible freedom for its people, including the right to the pursuit of happiness, then the goal should be for that government to ensure that, when possible, people aren’t forced to spend a majority of their lives and energy simply trying to survive. If we lived in a world where the resources needed for survival were scarce, the calculation might be a bit different, but that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world of incredible abundance, in which artificial scarcity is created by the concentration of that abundance in the hands of a few insatiably greedy individuals. Their hoarding is made possible b the destitution of hundreds of millions of people, and that’s a violation of the basic rights proposed in the American Declaration of Independence.