Utne Reader Visionaries share their latest projects, ideas, and visions for the future.
2/14/2013 10:05:03 AM
How could the State of the Union message reflect deeper values
of equality and compassion for those in need? In a call to action, Starhawk demonstrates
how to make that message a reality.
During Obama’s State of the Union
message, I was scheduled to give a talk at Northern Arizona
University on “Women
Taking Action: Using the Insights of the Feminist Movement.” As part of it, I
decided to write the State of the Union as if
Obama were suddenly possessed by the spirit of the nurturing, caring,
life-sustaining values that women have often carried. Here it is—you can
compare his speech and see how well he measures up! I am indebted to astrologer
Caroline Casey, the brilliant host of the Pacifica
radio show Visionary Activist, with whom I spent much of the weekend at the
Conscious Life Expo in L.A.,
for the phrase “until now!” She uses it as a mantra when people get all caught
up in how bad it is and how wrong we all are and how doomed we are—she just
adds “until now!” Try it when you get caught in a downward vortex!
My sisters, brothers, frères and
The State of the Union
is not well. We have defined aggression as strength and poured our resources
into killing, starving everything that serves and supports life. We have served
the greedy at the expense of the needy, allowed children to go hungry, the poor
to lack shelter, the sick to lack care, the wounded from our wars to go
unhealed, the aged to be abandoned. And we have utterly failed to address the
greatest challenge of our age, the destruction of the earth’s climate and the
meltdown of our global life support systems.
For now we will work together to heal
We will siphon away money and
resources from war and death to life, to health care and education that
inspires and empowers, to arts and imagination and invention and research, to
the protection and regeneration of our wildlands and farmlands, to things that
enrich our lives and help us to thrive. No longer will we meet the dangers of
the world with brute force and firepower—but instead we will look at the causes
of violence and change the conditions that breed hate.
Now we will feed the hungry and house
the homeless, care for the sick and the wounded, assure the comfort and the
security of the elders, because that’s what decent people do. And if our
society can’t do this, it’s not worth protecting.
We will cease rewarding greed. Those
who benefit from the system will now pay their fair share to support it. We
will change the laws that in the past have allowed them to control it, and
return power to the people. And—here I’m speaking to the 1 percent—you know
what? Your lives will actually be better. You might have somewhat less stuff
but richer relationships, less control but more time, more sense of wonder,
more peace of mind. And if you really need it, we’ll name some bridges after
you and let you cut some ribbons and open some health care clinics and child
care centers, just like the Queen of England.
Most importantly, we’re going to
address the destruction of the living systems of the planet. No longer will we
allow practices that imperil our climate or our aquifers, or threaten to
release radioactive poison over the land. We know that we must make big
changes: in our energy systems, our technology, our economy, our food growing
systems, our ways of living. But we also know that together, we can do this! We
can work together and make the shift to a new world in balance with nature.
We already have the technologies we
need—solar, wind, renewables. We can make the transition wisely and swiftly.
And we will invest in the research that will bring a thousand new ideas into
production, using the resources we still have to create what we need for the
We will protect our forests and wild
lands, our arctic wastes and our desert refuges. This year we will plant
millions of trees, to suck up carbon and to provide shade and habitat, fruit
and nuts, wood and mulch, quiet and beauty.
We will nurture our soil, for
building healthy organic soil is the best and fastest way to broadly and safely
sequester carbon. That soil will grow healthy food close to where we live,
creating true abundance. We will support our farmers to make the transition to
humane, organic agriculture, and support our young people to connect to land,
to start urban farms and schoolyard gardens, to plant groves of fruit trees and
food forests, to grow true abundance for us all.
We will root our industries and
enterprises back into local communities. No longer will we subsidize, with
cheap fossil fuels and tax breaks, their flight to far-off places with the
cheapest labor and the most lax environmental and safety standards. Instead we
will demand that they provide for real needs in ways that assure lives of
dignity and security to those who do the work. We’re redesigning our cities so
that people can live and work, learn and enjoy their pleasures in true
We can do this—and more! Imagine how
it will be, next year and in years to come, when I can stand before you and
This is the State of our Union—we have fed the hungry, cared for the sick,
comforted the aged, restored the homeless to their homes, sent our young people
forth into life well-educated and debt-free, built thousands of acres of
healthy soil, planted a billion trees. We are still challenged by the results
of generations of degradation, but we have turned the corner. We’re well on
track to an energy-rich world of 100 percent renewables. We’re happier,
healthier, more creative, more inventive, safer and more secure. And most of
all, we have that wonderful feeling of unity and enthusiasm that comes when we
God—Goddess, Creator, Great
Spirit—whatever you want to call it, including our collective human power—bless
this great country, and blessed be you all!
Starhawk, committed global justice activist and organizer, is the author or
coauthor of twelve books, including
The Spiral Dance, The Fifth Sacred
The Earth Path. Her latest is
The Empowerment Manual:
A Guide for Collaborative Groups. She is a veteran of progressive movements,
from anti-war to anti-nukes, is a highly influential voice in the revival of
earth-based spirituality and Goddess religion, and has brought many innovative
techniques of spirituality and magic to her political work. Her web site is www.starhawk.org. Starhawk was recognized as an Utne Reader Visionary in 1995.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared at Dirt Worship, Starhawk's blog on earth-based spirituality, permaculture, magic, politics, activism, and Paganism.
Above image of Capitol Dome by Bob Jagendorf,
licensed under Creative
Commons. Slideshow image of Occupy Wall Street prayer by David Shankbone, also licensed under Creative Commons.
1/29/2013 3:57:02 PM
Raj Patel is a writer, academic, and activist. He is the author of
Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and the New York Times and international bestseller, The Value of Nothing.
He has also published widely in the academic press, with articles in
peer-reviewed philosophy, politics, sociology, science, and economics
journals. Patel is currently working on Generation Food, a multimedia project about reinventing our global food system. He was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2009.
Editor’s Note: Earlier
this month, longtime anti-GMO activist Mark Lynas changed his mind about
genetically modified foods. “As an environmentalist, and someone
who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious
diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path,”
Lynas at the Oxford Farming Conference. “I now regret it
What caused the
change of heart? Lynas “discovered science.” While outlets like Slate reported
this news with approval, Raj Patel questioned Lynas’ assumption that science
and sustainability are mutually exclusive. Below is Patel’s response, reposted
with permission from his blog.
It was such a non-issue that I really didn’t want to write about it
at all. I didn’t know who Mark Lynas was and didn’t know that he had
changed his mind about genetically modified crops from being an opponent
to a fan. But, clearly, it was a slow news week. The killing and the
rape and the corporate crime and the climate change had been
successfully reported. So a range of news outlets decided to give Lynas
the air time he wanted, following this speech.
Frankly, there’s not much to read. Mark Lynas opposed GM crops
because he thought they were bad but now he has ‘discovered science’,
and that makes him a better environmentalist and a supporter of the
pesticide industry’s sale of genetically modified crops and it possibly
makes him regret studying politics and modern history.
In general, it’s a good thing that people discover science. It
usually means they’ve left behind dogma in favour of peer review and
data. In this piece,
scientist John Vandermeer welcomes Lynas to science, and looks forward
to Lynas’ reading more science in the future. After all, some of the
most reasoned arguments against GM crops come from those who have
embraced science for far longer than Lynas. GM Free Cymru and The Union of Concerned Scientists note, though, that Lynas hasn’t really given up on the dogma,
seeming to have swapped his old prejudices for the kind of pro-business
platform that’ll keep him flush with industry conference honoraria for
the next year or two.
There’s really not much more to be said. It could be that Lynas will,
like Bjorn Lomborg, noisily muddle from one position to another,
trailing the scientific debates by a decade, but anticipating the winds
of conservative thinking by a month or two. Ultimately, though, it
matters little. While Lynas embarks on his journey from knee-jerkery to
scientific neophyte to, we hope, scientific sophisticate, science and
sustainable farming are demonstrating both that GM crops are irrelevant
in feeding the world, and that they’re the worst among many far better
alternatives. Which is a far more interesting story to report than that
Mark Lynas has read a book.
Image: Organic corn, photo by Ivan Walsh, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/7/2013 12:46:34 PM
Bill McKibben is the author of a
dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989,
which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change.
He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which
has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Bill is a frequent
contributor to various magazines including The New York Times
The Atlantic Monthly
The New York Review of Books
. He is also a board
member and contributor to
Grist Magazine. He is also a Schumann Distinguished Scholar at
Middlebury College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. He was named an Utne Visionary in 2010.
Change usually happens very slowly, even once all the
serious people have decided there’s a problem. That’s because, in a country as
big as the United States,
public opinion moves in slow currents. Since change by definition requires
going up against powerful established interests, it can take decades for those
currents to erode the foundations of our special-interest fortresses.
Take, for instance, “the problem of our schools.” Don’t
worry about whether there actually was a problem, or whether making every
student devote her school years to filling out standardized tests would solve
it. Just think about the timeline. In 1983, after some years of pundit throat
clearing, the Carnegie Commission published “A Nation at Risk,” insisting that
a “rising tide of mediocrity” threatened our schools. The nation’s biggest
foundations and richest people slowly roused themselves to action, and for
three decades we haltingly applied a series of fixes and reforms. We’ve had
Race to the Top, and Teach for America,
and charters, and vouchers, and… we’re still in the midst of “fixing”
education, many generations of students later.
Even facing undeniably real problems -- say,
discrimination against gay people -- one can make the case that gradual change
has actually been the best option. Had some mythical liberal Supreme Court
declared, in 1990, that gay marriage was now the law of the land, the backlash
might have been swift and severe. There’s certainly an argument to be made that
moving state by state (starting in nimbler, smaller states like Vermont) ultimately made
the happy outcome more solid as the culture changed and new generations came of
Which is not to say that there weren’t
millions of people who suffered as a result. There were. But our societies are
built to move slowly. Human institutions tend to work better when they have
years or even decades to make gradual course corrections, when time smooths out
the conflicts between people.
And that’s always been the difficulty with climate change
-- the greatest problem we’ve ever faced. It’s not a fight, like education
reform or abortion or gay marriage, between conflicting groups with conflicting
opinions. It couldn’t be more different at a fundamental level.
We’re talking about a fight between human beings and
physics. And physics is entirely uninterested in human timetables. Physics
couldn't care less if precipitous action raises gas prices, or damages the coal
industry in swing states. It could care less whether putting a price on carbon
slowed the pace of development in China, or made agribusiness less
Physics doesn’t understand that rapid action on climate
change threatens the most lucrative business on Earth, the fossil fuel industry.
It’s implacable. It takes the carbon dioxide we produce and translates it into
heat, which means into melting ice and rising oceans and gathering storms. And
unlike other problems, the less you do, the worse it gets. Do nothing and you
soon have a nightmare on your hands.
We could postpone healthcare reform a decade, and the
cost would be terrible -- all the suffering not responded to over those 10 years.
But when we returned to it, the problem would be about the same size. With
climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to the timetable set by
physics, there’s not much reason to act at all.
Unless you understand these distinctions you don’t
understand climate change -- and it’s not at all clear that President Obama
That’s why his administration is sometimes peeved when they
don’t get the credit they think they deserve for tackling the issue in his
first term in office. The measure they point to most often is the increase in average mileage for automobiles, which will
slowly go into effect over the next decade.
It’s precisely the kind of gradual transformation that
people -- and politicians -- like. We should have adopted it long ago (and
would have, except that it challenged the power of Detroit and its unions, and so both
Republicans and Democrats kept it at bay). But here’s the terrible thing: it’s
no longer a measure that impresses physics. After all, physics isn’t kidding
around or negotiating. While we were discussing whether climate change was even
a permissible subject to bring up in the last presidential campaign, it was melting the Arctic. If
we’re to slow it down, we need to be cutting emissions globally at a sensational rate, by something like 5% a year to make a
It’s not Obama’s fault that that’s not happening. He
can’t force it to happen. Consider the moment when the great president of the
last century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was confronted with an implacable
enemy, Adolf Hitler (the closest analog to physics we’re going to get, in that
he was insanely solipsistic, though in his case also evil). Even as the German
armies started to roll through Europe, however, FDR couldn’t muster America to get
off the couch and fight.
There were even the equivalent of climate deniers at that
time, happy to make the case that Hitler presented no threat to America.
Indeed, some of them were the same institutions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for instance, vociferously opposed Lend-Lease.
So Roosevelt did all he could on his own authority, and
then when Pearl Harbor offered him his moment,
he pushed as hard as he possibly could. Hard, in this case, meant, for
instance, telling the car companies that they were out of the car
business for a while and instead in the tank and fighter-plane business.
For Obama, faced with a Congress bought off by the fossil fuel industry, a realistic
approach would be to do absolutely everything he could on his own authority --
new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, for example; and of
course, he should refuse to grant the permit for the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, something that requires no
permission from John Boehner or the rest of Congress.
So far, however, he’s been half-hearted at best when it
comes to such measures. The White House, for instance, overruled the EPA on its proposed stronger ozone and smog
regulations in 2011, and last year opened up the Arctic for oil drilling, while selling off vast swaths of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin at
bargain-basement prices to coal miners. His State Department flubbed the global
climate-change negotiations. (It’s hard to remember a higher profile diplomatic
failure than the Copenhagen
summit.) And now Washington
rings with rumors that he’ll approve the Keystone
pipeline, which would deliver 900,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest crude
oil on Earth. Almost to the drop, that’s the amount his new auto mileage
regulations would save.
If he were serious, Obama would be doing more than just
the obvious and easy. He’d also be looking for that Pearl
Harbor moment. God knows he had his chances in 2012: the hottest year in the history of the continental United
States, the deepest drought of his lifetime, and a melt of the Arctic so severe that the
federal government’s premier climate scientist declared it a “planetary emergency.”
In fact, he didn’t even appear to notice those phenomena,
campaigning for a second term as if from an air-conditioned bubble, even as
people in the crowds greeting him were fainting en masse from the heat. Throughout campaign 2012,
he kept declaring his love for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy, where
apparently oil and natural gas were exactly as virtuous as sun and wind.
Only at the very end of the campaign, when Hurricane
Sandy seemed to present a political opening, did he even hint at seizing it --
his people letting reporters know on background that climate change would now
be one of his top three priorities (or maybe, post-Newtown, top four) for a second
term. That’s a start, I suppose, but it’s a long way from telling the car
companies they better retool to start churning out wind turbines.
And anyway, he took it back at the first opportunity. At his post-election
press conference, he announced that climate change was “real,” thus marking his
agreement with, say, President George H.W. Bush in 1988. In deference to
“future generations,” he also agreed that we should “do more.” But addressing
climate change, he added, would involve “tough political choices.” Indeed, too
tough, it seems, for here were his key lines:
“I think the American people right now have been so
focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth,
that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to
address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t
go for that.”
It’s as if World War II British Prime Minister Winston
Churchill had declared, “I have nothing to offer except blood, toil, tears, and
sweat. And God knows that polls badly, so just forget about it.”
The president must be pressed to do all he can -- and
more. That’s why thousands of us will descend on Washington
D.C. on President’s Day weekend,
in what will be the largest environmental demonstration in years. But there’s
another possibility we need to consider: that perhaps he’s simply not up to
this task, and that we’re going to have to do it for him, as best we can.
If he won’t take on the fossil fuel industry, we will.
That’s why on 192 campuses nationwide active divestment movements are now doing their best to
highlight the fact that the fossil fuel industry threatens their futures.
If he won’t use our position as a superpower to drive
international climate-change negotiations out of their rut, we’ll try. That’s
why young people from 190 nations are gathering
in Istanbul in
June in an effort to shame the U.N. into action. If he won’t listen to
scientists -- like the 20 top climatologists who told him that the Keystone pipeline was a mistake -- then
top scientists are increasingly clear that they’ll need to get arrested to make their point.
Those of us in the growing grassroots climate movement
are going as fast and hard as we know how (though not, I fear, as fast as
physics demands). Maybe if we go fast enough even this all-too-patient
president will get caught up in the draft. But we’re not waiting for him. We
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on
Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy
Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2013 Bill McKibben
Image of Arctic melting by
NASA Goddard Photo and
Video, licensed under Creative Commons.
Image of Bill McKibben by the University
of Michigan’s School of Natural
Resources and Environment, also under a Creative Commons
12/26/2012 4:10:47 PM
As in 2004
and 2008, Rebecca Solnit and her blue-state henchwomen and men will probably
invade northern Nevada
on election week to swing with one of the most swinging states in the union.
She is, however, much more excited about 350.org’s
ten thousand faces of Occupy
now changing the world.
Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, including two due out next year, and a regular contributor to
She lives in San Francisco, is from kindergarten to graduate school a
product of the once-robust California public educational system, and her
A Paradise Built in Hell
is the One City/One Book choice of the San Francisco Public Library this fall. She was named an Utne Visionary in 2010
As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the
season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional
version of Paradise. You know, the place where
nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already
been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you
asked for, and I wish it were otherwise -- but to do good work, to be
necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least
there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair.
Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the
battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or
lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the
reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern
Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial
For millions of years, this world has been a great gift
to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air,
water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us -- the big
us, including forests and oceans, species large and small -- to flourish. (Or
rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.)
And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit
of a few members of a single species.
The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something
more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to
adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable,
sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now -- from sea snails
whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors
facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has
pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys
have largely melted.
This is not just an issue for environmentalists who love
rare species and remote places: if you care about children, health, poverty,
the economy, you really have no choice but to care about
The reasons for acting may be somber, but the fight is a
gift and an honor. What it will give you in return is meaning, purpose, hope,
your best self, some really good company, and the satisfaction of being part of
victories also to come. But what victory means needs to be imagined on a whole
new scale as the news worsens.
Unwrapping the Victories
“Unhappy is the land that needs a hero,” Galileo famously
says in Bertold Brecht’s play about that renegade scientist, but at least, the
hero has the possibility of doing something about that unhappiness, as, for
instance, the Sierra Club has. It’s led the fight against big coal,
helping prevent 168 coal-powered plants from opening and retiring 125 dirty
coal plants. The aim of its Beyond Coal campaign is to retire all 522 such
plants in the United States,
which would be a colossal triumph.
Its victories also capture what a lot of our greenest
gifts look like: nothing. The regions that weren’t fracked, the coal plants that didn’t open, the mountaintops that weren’t
blasted by mining corporations, the children who didn’t get asthma
or mercury poisoning from coal emissions, the carbon that stayed
in the Earth and never made it into the atmosphere. The Keystone XL tar sands
pipeline bringing the dirtiest of dirty energy from Canada to the Gulf Coast might have
already opened without the activists who ringed the White House and committed themselves across the continent.
In eastern Texas,
for instance, extraordinary acts of civil disobedience have been going on
continuously since August, including three blockaders who this month crawled inside
a length of the three-foot-in-diameter pipeline and refused to leave. People
have been using their bodies, getting in the way of heavy equipment, and going
to jail in an effort to prevent the pipeline from being built. A lot of them
are the same kind of robust young people who kept the Occupy encampments going
earlier in 2012, but great-grandmothers, old men, and middle-aged
people like me have been crucial players, too.
Meanwhile in British
Columbia, where pipeline profiteers were looking into
alternate routes to transport their climate-destroying products abroad, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation evicted surveyors and politely declared war on them. In Ohio and New
York, the fight against fracking is going strong.
Across the Atlantic, France
has banned fracking, while Germany has made astounding progress toward using carbon-neutral energy
sources. If solar works there, we have no excuse. And as Ellen Cantarow wrote at TomDispatch of the anti-fracking movement in New
York State, “Caroline, a small hamlet in Tompkins County (population 3,282), is
the second town in the state to get 100% of its electricity through wind power
and one of the most recent to pass a fracking ban.”
Everywhere people are at work to build a better world in
which we -- and some of the beauty of this world -- will be guaranteed to
survive. Everywhere they are at war with the forces threatening us and the
planet. I usually avoid war metaphors, but this time it’s barely a metaphor.
Our side isn’t violent, but it is engaged in a battle, and people are putting
their bodies on the line and their lives behind the cause. The other side is
intent on maximizing its profit at the cost of nearly everything.
My father, a high-school student during the Second World
War, followed the campaigns closely with pins on a wall map to represent troops
and battles. You could map North America that way now and see, when you added
up the struggles against drilling in the Arctic, fracking, mountaintop removal, and
the various other depredations of big coal and big oil, that remarkable things
are already being done. In this war, resistance has been going on for a long
time, so overlooked by the mainstream media it might as well be as underground
as the French Resistance back then.
A lot of it is on a small scale, but if you connect the
pieces you get a big picture of the possible, the hopeful, and the powerful.
Think of each of those small acts of defending the Earth as a gift to you. And
think of your own power, a gift always latent within you that demands you give
If you’re reading this, you’re already in the
conversation. No matter who you are, or where, there is something for you to
do: educate yourself and others, write letters, organize or join local groups,
participate in blockades and demonstrations, work on divestment from oil
corporations (if you’re connected to a university), and make this issue central
to the conversations and politics of our time.
I’ve started working directly on various projects with 350.org, whose global impact and
reinvention of activist tactics I’ve long admired. Its creator Bill McKibben has evolved from a merely great writer to a
pivotal climate organizer and a gift to all of us.
The world you live in is not a given; much of what is
best in it has been built through the struggles of passionate activists over
the last centuries. They won us many freedoms and protected many beauties.
Count those gifts among your growing heap.
Drawing the Line
Here’s another gift you’ve already received: the lines in
the battle to come are being ever more clearly drawn. Clarity is a huge asset.
It helps when you know where you stand, who stands with you -- and who against
We have returned to class war in conflicts around the
world -- including the Chicago Teacher’s Strike of 2012 and the Walmart protests in this country (which led to 1,197
actions nationwide in support of that company’s underpaid workers on Black Friday), as well as the great student uprisings in Quebec and Mexico City.
There has, of course, been a war against working people
and the poor for decades, only we didn’t call it “class war” when just the rich
were fighting hard. We called it corporate globalization, the race to the
bottom, tax cuts and social-service cuts, privatization, neoliberalism, and a
hundred other things. Now that the poor are fighting back, we can call it by
its old name. Perhaps what the conservatives have forgotten is that if you
return us to the grim divides and dire poverty of the nineteenth century, you
might also be returning us to the revolutionary spirit of that century.
This time, though, it’s not only about work and money.
The twenty-first century class war is engulfing the natural world on which
everything rests. We can see how clearly the great environmental battle of our
time is about money, about who benefits from climate destruction (the very few)
and who loses (everyone else for all time to come and nearly every living
thing). This year, Hurricane Sandy and a crop-destroying, Mississippi-River-withering drought that had more than 60% of the nation in its grip made it clear that
climate change is here and it’s now and it hurts.
In 2012, many have come to see that climate change is an
economic issue, and that economics is a moral and ecological issue. Why so
little has been done about the state of the climate in the past three decades
has everything to do with who profits. Not long ago, too many Americans were on
the fence, swayed by the oil companypropaganda war about whether climate change even exists.
However, this month, according to the Associated Press, “Four out of every five
Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States
if nothing is done about it.” That widespread belief suggests that potentially
broad support now exists and may be growing for a movement that makes climate
change -- the broiling of the Earth -- central, urgent, and everybody’s
Ten years ago too, many people thought the issue could be
addressed, if at all, through renunciatory personal virtue in private life:
buying Priuses, compact fluorescents, and the like. Now most people who care at
all know that the necessary changes won’t happen through consumer choice alone.
What’s required are pitched battles against the most powerful (and profitable)
entities on Earth, the oil and energy companies and the politicians who serve
them instead of us.
That clarity matters and those conflicts are already
underway but need to grow. That’s our world right now, clear as a cold winter
day, sharp as broken glass.
Putting Aside Paradise
When I remember the world I grew up in, I see the parts
of it that were Paradise -- and I also see all
the little hells. I was a kid in California
when it had the best public education system in the world and universities
were nearly free and the economy was not so hard on people and the rich paid a
lot of taxes. The weather was predictable and we weren’t thinking about it
changing any time before the next ice age.
That was, however, the same California where domestic
violence was not something the law took an interest in, where gays and lesbians
were openly discriminated against, where almost all elected officials were
white men, where people hadn’t even learned to ask questions about exclusion
Which is to say, paradises are always partial and, when
you look backward, it’s worth trying to see the whole picture. The rights
gained over the past 35 years were fought for, hard, while so much of what was
neglected -- including public education, tuition, wages, banking regulation,
corporate power, and working hours -- slid into hell.
When you fight, you sometimes win; when you don’t, you
Here’s another gift we have right now: the young. There
are quite a lot of heroes among them, including the Dreamers or Dream Act
activists standing up for immigrants; the occupiers who challenged Wall Street in its home and
elsewhere around the country, became the unofficial first responders who aided the
victims of Hurricane Sandy, and have camped out on the doorstep
of Goldman Sachs’s CEO these last few months; the young who blockaded that
tar-sands pipeline, supplied the tremendous vitality of 350.org globally, and
have just begun to organize to pressure universities to divest from fossil fuel companies on 192 campuses across
In 2012, they rose up from Egypt
and Russia to Canada and Chile. They are fighting for
themselves and their future, but for us, too. They have remarkably few
delusions about how little our world is prepared to offer most of them. They
know that the only gifts they’ll get are the ones they can wrestle free from
the powers that be.
overrated. We dream of the cessation of misery, but who really wants a world
without difficulty? We learn through mistakes and suffering. These are the
minerals that harden our bones and the milestones on the roads we travel. And
we are made to travel, not to sit still.
Take pleasure in the route. There is terrible suffering
of many kinds in many places, but solidarity consists of doing something about
it, not being miserable. In this heroic age, survival is also going to require
seeing what fragments of paradise are still around us, what still blooms,
what’s still unimaginably beautiful about rivers, oceans, and evening skies,
what exhilaration there is in witnessing the stubbornness of small children and
their discovery of a world we think we know. All these are gifts as well.
Ice Breaking Up
As you gear up for 2013, don’t forget that 2012 has been
an extraordinary year. Who ever thought we’d see Aung San Suu Kyi elected to
office in her native Burma
and free to travel after so many years of house arrest? Who expected that the
United Nations would suddenly vote to give Palestine observer state status? Who foresaw
that the silly misinterpretations of Mayan prophesy would be overtaken by the
Mayan Zapatistas, who rose once again last Friday? (Meanwhile, Canada's Native people started a dynamic movement
around indigenous rights and the environment that has led to everything from flash-mob dances in an Edmonton Mall to demonstrations in Ottawa.)
Who thought that Occupy Wall Street, roundly dismissed by
the mainstream on its one-year anniversary, would spawn two superhero projects,
Occupy Sandy and Strike Debt? (Who among the police officers clubbing and
tear-gassing the young Occupiers in 2011 thought that a year later these would
be the people with the power and the generosity to come to their aid when a
climate-fed storm wrecked their homes?) Keep it in mind: the future is not
predictable. Sometimes, the world changes suddenly and in profound ways.
Sometimes we make it do so.
Steven Spielberg’s new film Lincoln is a reminder about what it
means to fight for what matters most. Permanently freeing five million slaves
and abolishing slavery forever meant renouncing a cheap power source in use for
more than 200 years. Doing so was initially inconceivable and then a matter of
indifference except to the slaves themselves and small groups of abolitionists.
Next, it was daringly radical, then partisan, with the whole nation taking
sides, the fuel for a terrible war. Finally, it was the law of the land. Today,
we need to give up on, or at least radically reduce our reliance on, another
set of power sources: oil, coal, and natural gas.
This is, among other things, a war of the imagination:
the carbon profiteers and their politicians are hoping you don’t connect the
dots, or imagine the various futures we could make or they could destroy, or
grasp the remarkably beautiful and complex ways the natural world has worked to
our benefit and is now being sabotaged, or discover your conscience and voice,
or ever picture how different it could all be, how different it will need to
They are already at war against the wellbeing of our
Earth. Their greed has no limits, their imagination nothing but limits. Fight
back. You have the power. It’s one of your gifts.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on
Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy
Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.
Copyright 2012 Rebecca Solnit
Image by Nattu,
licensed under Creative
12/3/2012 3:58:39 PM
Raj Patel is a writer, academic, and activist. He is the author of
Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and the New York Times and international bestseller, The Value of Nothing. He has also published widely in the academic press, with articles in peer-reviewed philosophy, politics, sociology, science, and economics journals. Patel is currently working on Generation Food, a multimedia project about reinventing our global food system. He was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2009.
When it comes to feeding the world, most of us support the idea. We are taught from a young age that if someone is hungry it’s our moral duty to feed them, whether they live down the street or in another country. For decades, agriculture companies have used the noble goal of “feeding the world” to increase yields by any means possible, from genetic modification to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This logic has justified ecological destruction from prairies to rainforests. It has wreaked havoc on indigenous and small-farming communities. And with 870 million chronically undernourished people on earth right now, it has failed to get food to the people who need it most.
Instead of a fed planet, we have monoculture farms, poisons on food, and toxic runoff in our land and water. Into our air, the global agriculture industry emits about 14 percent of total greenhouse gases, according to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). If we include agricultural deforestation, that number jumps to 27.5 percent. “[I]t’s impossible,” writes CGIAR, “to address climate issues without including agriculture—and vice versa.”
Fortunately, real solutions aren’t difficult to imagine. Raj Patel interviewed one Wisconsin farmer, Jim Goodman, who seems to have a lot of this figured out.
In the first minute-and-a-half, Goodman tackles climate change, the politics of feeding the planet, the risks of monoculture and globalization, the aging U.S. farmer population, corporate greed, indigenous rights, and the failure of our globalized agricultural system to feed the people who need it most. “We need to let the world figure out how to feed themselves and we need to be able to let them do it politically. […] We’ve got more hungry people now than we did 20 [or] 30 years ago, when there was much more subsistence, much more local farming.”
He then moves on to the inspiration he finds in the growing number of young adults interested in a different kind of farming. “They want to grow food,” he says. “Not corn and soybeans. […] They want to grow vegetables, they want to grow small livestock operations, they want to do CSAs and farmers markets. And, you know, that’s the way most of the world really feeds itself is with small-scale, local production.”
More young farmers are part of the answer, and debunking the myth that it’s our job to feed the world is another. Also important: acknowledging that industrial agriculture cannot accomplish this. But, says Goodman, the most essential part must be accomplished on a political level. “The corporations that control the food system are no different from corporations that control the energy system, or whatever else. […] It’s all the money that goes into politics and lobbying that dictates how we live. And that’s what has to be changed.”
Image by Pritya Books, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/27/2012 4:43:25 PM
Radical feminist, artist, and media activist Alexis Pauline Gumbs calls herself, "the cybernetic dream of a one room black reconstruction schoolteacher." She spreads knowledge, healing, and empowerment through web-based projects like MobileHomeComing, a traveling "intergenerational community documentation and education project" that challenges our culture's heteronormativity, and BrokenBeautifulPress, which "lifts up black feminist practices throughout history and transformative community models in the present." Gumbs was named an Utne Reader Visionary in 2009. Keep up with her at Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind.
From Beyoncé and Oprah to Serena and Venus Williams, African American women are some of the most celebrated people in today's media-saturated culture. Despite the largely positive nature of this attention, misconceptions and stereotypes are often reinforced when we see these women on screens and in the pages of magazines. In a new book of poems contemplating celebrity, race, and representation, Alexis Pauline Gumbs considers "what it is possible to know about the most famous Black women alive today." Gumbs describes her book, One Hundred and One Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive, as "part prayer part polemic [...] an intervention into the consumption of Black women."
Without denying the strength of the 10 women she profiles, Gumbs questions the media's representations of them and attempts to carve a space for the actual people behind those larger-than-life personas. In the video above, Gumbs notes that "there's some critical thinking that should be going on as we observe and participate in the media representation of black women that often isn't going on. For me this is about practicing and making space for that thinking and rethinking and questioning." One Hundred and One Things That Are Not True About the Most Famous Black Women Alive is available for a small donation through Scribd. Below is Gumbs' poetic introduction to the book.
Ten Things That Are Not True About This Project Instead of a Preface*
There are no risks to speak of when loving black women becomes a religion.
This is a joke.
This is a game.
The media made me do it.
I could have said it better but I didn't.
I didn't have to do this but I did.
I have a working TV. And I know what you are thinking.
Restorative justice is possible here.
Dignity is possible here.
You are ready for this.
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
*After Diane Di Prima's "10 Things That Are Not True About the She-Wolf"
11/26/2012 4:02:30 PM
Kalle Lasn is the co-founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, editor-in-chief of Adbusters magazine, and author of the books Culture Jam and Design Anarchy. Lasn was recognized as an Utne Reader visionary in 2001 for his efforts to reclaim Western culture from the influence of corporations, consumption, and advertising.
This article originally appeared at
Solutions Online and is licensed under Creative Commons.
Founder and editor of Adbusters magazine, Kalle Lasn is largely credited for conceptualizing and starting the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park, New York, which eventually spread around the world. His new book, Meme Wars, aims to reinvent the study of economics. Here, he talks to Solutions about his vision for the future.
You have been trying to change consumer culture for years. How did the idea for Occupy Wall Street begin?
It began in early 2011. It was percolating in 2010. We were excited by the anarchist action in Greece and discontent among young people in Spain, and the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, and we saw how young people in Egypt were using social media to get tons of people out to the streets and pull off regime change. Our brainstorming sessions at Adbusters began and we said, “We need a regime change in America as well.” Not hard regime change like Egypt where dictators were torturing people. We are after a soft regime change. We felt the heart of American democracy and found that, in Washington, DC, things were rotten and corporations were getting their own way with lobbyists and money power. Wall Street people have created a global casino, and meanwhile young people are having a hard time finding jobs and are losing their houses. So let’s try to create a Tahrir Square moment in America.
How do you feel about how the protests ended? Did they flame out, or was it a success? What lessons were learned?
It was a huge success. A lot of people say, “They never came up with demands.” But here is a movement of young people who felt their future didn’t compute, and they fought it in a horizontal, leaderless way, and they launched a national conversation in America and in Canada, and last October the conversation went international. So a few hundred people in Zuccotti Park launched a huge international debate about the future and that’s as good as it comes.
Now, we know it’s winding down, and there’s a big question mark: can we keep this going, and morph into new strategies, and still command attention with the world? And I believe we can. This movement has long legs and a core impulse—this feeling among hundreds of millions of young people that their lives will be full of ecological and political and financial crises, and they can’t aspire to the lives their parents had, unless they stand up and fight for a different future. I don’t think anything can stop these young people and I predict we’re going to move away from large occupations of parks and we’ll have surprise, one-day occupations of banks and corporations and the economics departments of universities, with more and more people talking about the Robin Hood tax and high frequency trading and bank reform and campaign finance reform. These surprise, one-day occupations will start popping up in cities everywhere. This movement will fragment into a million projects.
What are members of the movement talking about now?
[...] Back in 2008, when the financial meltdown happened and caught all the classical economists by surprise, there were a lot of bioeconomists and ecological economists waiting in the wings, hungry to shift that paradigm. And there will be a revolt of students against their professors. And we may find ourselves next year with hundreds of students occupying the economics departments of their universities. It wouldn’t just be a policy shift like taxing the rich. It would be a shift in the fundamental axioms of economic science and a tinkering with the bedrock of our economic system. The next generation of economists would have a totally different worldview.
What should the new economic outlook be?
Ecological economists and the movement started by Herman Daly and others. There are already ecological associations and a journal. The natural world is the main part of this ecological paradigm and the money economists are just a subset. It would be a reversal of roles. It could give birth to a generation of barefoot economists with their feet firmly in the real world.
Herman Daly and Robert Costanza, both founders of ecological economics, are on the Solutions editorial board. Robert Costanza is our editor in chief.
I hope you tell them that from my perspective their ideas are reaching fruition, and I wish they would encourage their followers to be more aggressive. Suddenly, old and young people are pushing against the system and it’s time for ecological economists to stand up and be counted and not just play academic games in the background. Joseph Stiglitz actually went to Zuccotti Park and gave a talk. We need more of that. We need them to champion their paradigm.
We also don’t have full cost accounting. There is a dream among Occupiers to have a global market where products show their ecological cost, which would reflect their true cost. They will find that the price of cars goes up and bikes goes down. Maybe that McDonald’s napkin could suddenly have a certain price to it. And apples from New Zealand would have a different price. How much does all that stuff from China going to Walmart truly cost in environmental damage?
Given that populist anger had brewed for years among America’s middle and lower classes, why didn’t this sort of activism start earlier?
The moment wasn’t right. Something heaved back in 2008, when the meltdown happened. Something heaved again when the young people of Tunisia and Egypt stood up. This feeling that the young people have in the pit of their stomachs doesn’t compute. This is really sinking in with a vengeance now. If the global economy keeps tanking, we may be in for some version of the 1929 scenario, and a lot of these projects and paradigm shifts, and the dismantling of the global casinos, and Robin Hood taxes, and the radical transformation of businesses—they may well need that kind of crisis to be implemented.
Imagine that the Occupy movement achieves everything you think it can. What does the world look like after this ultimate success? How long will it take to get there?
It’s all about producing a different type of human being. Like the Occupiers who slept in the park. Their cynicism dissolved and they were engaged and they merged into this different kind of human being. They were alive and alert and energized and this is what it’s about. This movement will be a success if it can produce a new generation of young people who are fighting a good fight and can do what needs to be done. It’s going to take an eternity because the human project never ends. We are at a tipping point right now. This feels like one of the biggest tipping points. We have never faced the possibility of ecological and physical and political crises all swirling around each other and ready to swoop down on us and create a nightfall. Not just a 1929 scenario, but a 50- to 100- or 1,000-year blockade. It’s totally in the cards. I hope this Occupy movement will give impetus to young people and make them fight harder to avoid the pitfalls of humanity.
Image: Banksy Balloon Girl by Stew Dean, licensed under Creative Commons.
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