Ostrich-Like

I went all the way back to my first year of blogging for this one (November 2011). Sad to say, the problem remains and we continue to pretend that it will simply go away — like the Carona virus. More of us need to be aware and involved — though, while the government ignores the big problems that surround us, there are many who do care and who have done remarkable things even in the time since this post was first written. With an election coming up perhaps we can depose some of those in Congress who are the most purblind?

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, recently spoke to a crowd of 600 people at Oregon State University on the topic of global warming. From the story in the local newspaper covering McKibben’s lecture, we read: “McKibben discussed the history of 350.org, the worldwide organizing movement he helped found in 2008. The group’s name stems from research that claims anything more than 350 parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is unsafe and will disastrously impact the environment. Scientists estimate the environment currently contains 390 parts-per-million of carbon dioxide.” He is a self-styled “bummer-outer” and yet he continues to draw crowds and sell books while dealing with a very disturbing issue. His message is bleak “It’s the worst thing to happen in the history of our Earth — at least since we’ve been on it.” But the crowds he draws are encouraging  (600 people in attendance at a lecture of this type is quite a remarkable thing!) and he hopes that social networking will help address the problem.

The interesting question here is why we continue to ignore this problem — much as we continue to ignore the problem of overpopulation? The answer, I suspect, is the size of the problem and our reluctance to think about unpleasant, indeed deeply troubling, issues. Further, we tend to ignore problems if they are not in our own back yard. The disturbing thought here is that this problem is in our back yard, whether or not we want to admit it. But we prefer, ostrich-like, to keep our heads buried in the sand of our own ignorance and pretend that things will turn out OK. This is what Jacques Ellul once told us was our response to “the technological imperative,” which focuses on means rather than ends.  We think there is no problem that we cannot fix: someone will come along with a gadget and fix it.

The truth of the matter is that there is no gadget that will fix this problem. And it isn’t simply going to disappear. It is real and it requires, at the outset, that we avoid denial. — which is understandable, but inexcusable.  There are still many people who insist that global warming is a myth. They look at the thermometer, see the low temps and draw the unwarranted conclusion that the globe is not warming. But we must keep in mind the modifier, “global.” In 2010, for example, nineteen nations around the world recorded record high temperatures. And regardless of whether my thermometer reads low temps today, the average here and everywhere else is going up. It is a global issue.

Once we have advanced beyond denial, there are some things we can do to help matters — from the small things like turning down our thermostats and driving more fuel-efficient cars to the larger things like writing our congressmen, supporting companies that are known to be environment friendly, and boycotting those we know to be ignoring their global responsibilities. For example, McKibben’s efforts recently resulted in enough pressure on the President to send the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project back to the State Department for thorough review, effectively killing the project. There is hope and political activism and citizen petitions can be effective even against the giant corporations that would pollute the earth in the name of higher profits for a few. McKibben’s web site expands on these themes. But it all starts by pulling our heads out of the sand and admitting that there is a problem and it is one we need to address. We owe it to ourselves, our children, and to our children’s children.

Still Waiting

One of Barack Obama’s pledges when he first ran for the presidency, you may recall, was to close down Guantanamo Bay prison where a large number of political prisoners were being held after the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Many of these men were later found to be innocent and released and others who might have been involved in the attacks but were no longer deemed a threat to the nation were released or sent to other countries who were willing to take a chance on their innocence. But in the interim they were held without the benefit of a trial and subjected to inhumane treatment, even torture, according to reports that leaked out later on. And 112 of them remain in prison at Guantanamo Bay to this day. Obama was on the moral high ground when he pledged to close down that place.

But his first attempt during his first term was met with screams of execration from frightened citizens and especially the Republicans in Congress who had pledged to fight Obama every step of the way during his presidency and were certainly not going to stand by idly while he transferred terrorists to this country where they might commit unknown atrocities because of their proximity to old ladies with gray hair and innocent children. Emotions ran high and the president backed down, sad to say. Well, as he approaches the end of his tenure as president, apparently he is now ready to give it another try. In the wake of rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline recently he announced his determination once again to fulfill his campaign promise to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. As a recent Yahoo News story tells us, in part:

The new closure proposal, drafted by Obama’s top counterterror advisor, Lisa Monaco, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter would lift congressional restrictions on transferring detainees to the United States.

Inmates who cannot be released or transferred abroad would be housed at a US facility like Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or the Navy Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

But that plan looks increasingly unlikely to pass muster in the Republican controlled Congress, raising the prospect of executive action, which would ignite a political firestorm.

In 2009 Obama issued an executive order to close the camp, prompting a furious Congress to pass rules that made the transfer of detainees to US soil all but impossible.

The White House has long said those rules are unconstitutional as they impinge on executive power. But it has tried to have them overturned rather than engage in a damaging political fight.

He has apparently decided to evoke executive privilege once again and risk the political firestorm that is sure to follow because he wants his legacy to read that he is a man of his word. Or so the story goes. He has certainly shown courage and deserves our applause in refusing to buckle down to the crazies in Congress on the Keystone Pipeline. I choose to believe he is thinking of his legacy and sincerely hope he gives Congress the finger once again before fading into the sunset. Heaven knows he hasn’t shown much moral courage to this point in his presidency.

But the fact remains that there are still 112 men incarcerated in that prison who have been there, subjected to inhumane treatment for nearly fourteen years and they have never even been tried. And this in a country whose legal system prides itself on the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers. It remains a fact that even if these men are transferred to prisons in this country they will remain men who are incarcerated without the benefit of that trial.

There is a political issue here, to be sure, but there is also the larger moral issue. Transferring the prisoners will raise hell in Congress and across the nation by people who are afraid of their own shadow and think every person with dark skin is a terrorist. But continuing to hold them without trial, wherever they are held, does not solve the moral issue, even though closing down Guantanamo prison might seem to have done so. It’s a good first step. But it is only a first step — if we are to pride ourselves on doing the right thing.

Political Games

A good chess player sees several moves ahead and plans his attack accordingly. A good politician sees his or her upcoming election (and very little beyond) and plans accordingly. Obama is an astute politician, though he has been a disappointing President. He sees far enough ahead to know that rising gas prices will cost him votes in November, so he plans accordingly: he announces his “full support” of the Keystone XL pipeline and “boasted Thursday that drilling, baby, drilling was a key part of his overall energy strategy.” This according to a recent Yahoo News release. How sad.

One would have hoped that this President could see far enough ahead to realize that domestic drilling will lead to more oil spills and the destruction of more wilderness, not to lower gas prices — certainly not before November. Those gas prices do not depend on domestic oil supplies anyway. They depend on factors well beyond our control, like the demand for oil in China and India, or the uncertainty in the Middle East. But gas is predicted to cost $4.00 a gallon very soon and polls show that Americans favor the pipeline as it will mean American jobs — at a time when 40,000 jobs in the clean energy industry are on hold awaiting some sort of commitment from this President and the Congress to something besides the worn-out energy policies that keep us on the same old path of fossil fuel dependence. In any event, President Obama has decided which side his bread is buttered on.

Predictably, the president of the National Wildlife Federation condemned Obama’s announced continuance of worn-out policies, and not surprisingly the Republicans claim it is not enough. But the fact remains that this move is typical politics-as-usual and an example of the short-term thinking that has gotten us so far down the wrong path turned in the wrong direction. We need to look at alternative, clean energies and we need the government to put its full weight behind a new and different policy, one that eliminates our dependence on fossil fuels and does not threaten more of the wilderness or lead to further oil spills and leaks. And the Keystone XL pipeline project is a mistake of the first order.

It will be interesting to see if Obama’s game plays out as he thinks it will, winning him some votes in November, or whether it will cost him enough votes from those of his supporters who hoped for a more enlightened energy policy from a man who said all the right things before he became President. It is a dangerous game, as he may lose the election. But not nearly as dangerous as the larger game of “drill, baby, drill” that sounds so familiar and increases the disillusionment of so many who hoped for more from this man. The larger game results inevitably in further destruction of the planet and increased oil dependence — a game we already know how to play, and one where everyone eventually loses.