Electric Cars are Not Enough for Life

As the New York Times recently reported, State SenatorScott Weiner’s California Legislature bill to increase density allotments along transit corridors is a much-needed method to solve both housing and environmental burdens. Driving, no matter how you slice it, takes more energy than public transportation, so getting people on high-quality and convenient public transportation, is a sustainability priority.

Unsurprising, however, is that many of the bluechip environmental groups, like Sierra Club, oppose higher density housing zoning near transit centers because their members may be negatively affected by, say, decreased property values from higher density. Such self-serving agendas are understandable, if misguided. Those who got in early in a housing rush, enjoy their peace and privacy, and higher density changes the feel of the neighborhood. On the other hand, a commitment to sustainability, which really means finding a livable way to continue business as usual as much as possible without too much discomfort (like cataclysmic climate change), requires simple measures like smart zoning in order to make it happen. The very notion of a transition town, or a sustainable city is based on accessible public transportation. We shouldn’t fail to see the forest of preventing climate change through the trees of inconvenience. Sustainability means that we all make some small sacrifices now in order to prevent much larger ones down the road.

Sharing the sacrifice is a fundamental principle of democratic societies. For too long, women, people of color, and the poor have had to make sacrifices (living further from work, paying more than half of their paycheck in rent, etc.) while the middle-class and wealthy have serially insulated themselves from as severe costs. Having mixed neighborhoods is a small but important gesture from those who comprise well-funded environmental groups. Overcoming internal resistance to change will allow greater accessibility for those in need of convenient housing. Higher density live/work areas (like any major city in Europe) is smart, low-carbon planning. It is effective because it obviates the need for a car. Sustainable cities are resilient because they have redundancy (more than one way to get to work), flexibility (if one option is closed, take the other), diversity, and slack (abundance, more than enough niches for everyone). California can achieve this much better with more environmentally-sound zoning. One can only hope that the major, private donor-funded environmental orgs can get on the right side of history.

A Systems Approach to Dysfunction

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One of the things that resonates the most about systems theory, is that it focuses on how different pieces of large puzzles interrelate and interlock. For, it is the inter aspect that gives phenomena movement, gusto, dynamism, spark. Speaking of things, essences, stuff, or problems, tends to slump description into the corner of inexorability, and worse, resignation.

When we look at climate change, war mongering, oil interests, urban design, transport diversity, and factory farming in concert, then suddenly, the intractable problems of each become much more tractable. The haze lifts, and the easy solutions abound. Instead of the Sisyphusian task of unravelling Gordian Knots (to mix my Greek metaphors), like Alexander the Great, we simply cut through it. With systems thinking, we cut through the lies, the bad habits, the greed, excuses, and story. We take care of what calls for attending, without the oppositionality, the rage, hate, or anger. We don’t even resent the system of destruction that has killed millions, and will likely kill billions more (not to mention the thousands of species extinct, priceless waterways despoiled, mountains detonated, etc.).

No, instead, a systems view asks: what is the most opportune point of intervention? Where can I (and we, because it is always a we, this I) most skillfully intervene now? What is the first step? And then: what is the next step after that?

Having a goal is important. We don’t want to make great time in the wrong direction, to paraphrase Yogi Berra. But, planning without action does little good to soothe our own anxieties, nor to shine as an examples. Nor does it form good habits, to think without acting, for we shall too soon grow content with such a pattern, forgetting the thrill of satisfaction when we follow through with a dedicated plan.

Paul Hawkins’ new book and ground-restoring Project Drawdown has made this plan, indicating the best points for intervention in our anthropo-patriarchal-colonialist-scene. This blueprint shows the problem, in its glorious complexity, and details what interventions will produce what results. México, the first developing country to take the lead in reducing emissions through a carbon trading plan, is working on an important component of drawing down CO2 from industrial producers. Of course, a carbon tax is much smarter policy than a cap-and-trade system, as most climate policy scientists agree. Nonetheless, such leadership as México’s will no doubt have a cascading effect on other developing and BRIC countries, as the rest of the world gains more power as climate leaders in the vacuum left by the Trump presidency. Brazil and China are already stepping up, in various ways, and the US may soon be an island, exceptional only because no other country wants to trade with it until it institutes strong sustainability policies.

Understanding the changing dynamics of international politics through US abdication of responsibility despite its role as the world’s largest economy, and 2nd largest polluter (likely first largest, when we include Chinese imports), helps contextualize the contemporary situation. While from a media-saturated point-of-view, Trump and co. are dead-set on bringing about the apocalypse, from an international perspective, the long-overdue transfer of power to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America is simply being accomplished as these areas reduce trade with the US and stop looking to the US for guidance. What emerges from this transition will be exciting to watch. Perhaps an improved UN? Perhaps planetary citizenship, doing away with the need for climate refugees, instead implementing climate justice? Perhaps a new healthy form of regionalism? Perhaps reduced consumption? These exciting times promise nothing, but offer many exciting paths.

 

Irma

A good friend of mine, from Austria of all places, found herself in Miami amongst the evacuations.

She posted to Facebook:

Thank you everyone for your sweet messages! Yes – I am still in Miami and not sure if I have a chance to leave before the hurricane hits Florida…All flights are sold out and no gas for cars…I trust that things will turn out the way they should and staying like the hurricane in the centre where its calm and safe. LOVE YOU ALL 

What is striking to me is the ordinariness of the disaster paradigm in an anarcho-capitalist country: I’ll take care of me, if you can’t take care of you, too bad, you may die.

This logic of individual privilege is about as far from “civilized” as I can imagine. It’s the Mad Max world many fear. But the future is here. It’s been here for a long time. Comparing Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s victims, and the response to that of Fukushima Daichi shows that in both cases, those exposed to radiation and surviving, me(e)t ostracization, fear, and pariahdom. Also, after the Fukushima disaster, women, the poor, the disabled, and the old, often had less ability to immediately flee the area than their male, rich, abled, younger counterparts.

So, it seems that willy-nilly, and against the very basis of the US Constitutional Rights, in times of crisis, we have created a system that disadvantages and leaves behind those most vulnerable. In this case of my friend, foreigners.

Of course, this is already a tired story. Hurricane Katrina neatly showed us the racism of America, before the Tea Party and the boogieman threat of an African-American president.

But when I hear from a good friend “all flights are sold out and [there is] no gas for cars,”  it somehow drives home the point of the systematicity of the problem, causing me to balk at the possibility for democracy, equity, and solidarity in a future of empty supermarkets and broken water infrastructure.

Just as our streets are unsafe, and those differently abled, slower, or less normatively predictable (the elderly and children especially), are especially at danger to the road rage that has infected virtually every driver. The barriers of separation have been expertly erected, from cars to climate-conditioned bubbles, have over the generations done their work, seeping into a generalized disconnection from others we don’t know and who we don’t identify as our tribe. Cheered on by the feedback loop of narcissistic social media advertising, our biases get entrenched rather than checked in a predatory advertising free-for-all.

What still amazes me, is the fact that human survival has turned into this constructed Social Darwinism, that shrinks our circle of concern in the face of crisis. Those without family, or broadcast ability, are simply forgotten and left behind.

As it turns out, Lisa found a way out of Miami, on the very last climate-changing flight out of Miami before Irma hit. But I cannot help but wonder about all of those who were left behind, to rot in the rush of countless souls attempting to save their own.

 

Owning Life versus Thwarting the Hygiene Hypothesis

 

With such a provocative title as “Pet Ownership Protects Us Against Allergies,” UCSF’s Dr. Homer Boushey makes the claim that children brought up with pets inherit some of their protective microbes that mitigate against developing allergies.

 

 

 

 

While certainly the science on exposing human children and adult humans to other forms of life soundly concludes that microorganism transfer is on the whole necessary for healthy (mind and body) development, owning life for the instrumental good of health is quite a quixotic mission. Destroying the planet and then importing charismatic genetically-altered (through breeding now, later through genetic engineering) cute critters that bypass our evolutionary instincts for fear by mirroring the oversized eyes of babies and other exaggerated features, is like getting silicon peck implants instead of actually doing manual labor to help society. It puts a natural symbiotic process into the realm of money–the financialization of nature. This devalues nature as such, and sees pets in terms of their use value for boosting infant immune systems. Such a logic is hopelessly backwards. Instead, we should be concentrating our energies on rewilding our cities, returning our suburbs to parks where humans can go, and letting our wild areas get a breather from human interference for at least a few generations. Then, living everyday with healthy dirt, animals and plants, we will receive the bounty of beneficial microbes we need to stay healthy and avoid sickness. Proper farming and permaculture principles, and creating new definitions of hygiene which are integrated with healthy ecosystems, achieves to a much greater degree the goods Dr. Boushey might wish to confer on our ailing feeble-minded culture, while also solving most of our other problems along with it.

Furthermore, it’s high time humans question ownership. Ownership of other bodies for our own benefit–bringing these bodies out to use and cuddle or parade, is just another misbegotten form of biopower. Where are those Foucaultians who apply biopower to pets? How do we think humans got the beneficial microbes we needed before there was even possible ownership of pets? Perhaps we need to rethink our antiseptic western civilization, our throwaway economy, and slavery of life to realize that continuous contact with the more-than-human word is the only way we will regenerate ourselves and nature.

ExxonMobile Responds to Hurricane Harvey

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Cognitive dissonance is a phenomena common amongst human beings who want to have their cake and eat it too. It comes from a willing ignorance to repress and suppress the world’s inconvenient truths and hold onto the frame (or fairytale) one inhabits (or chooses) with tenacious vigor.

In their weekly missives, ExxonMobile’s “Energy Perspectives” newsletter this week features a typically tone-deaf and gumption-filled story on how destroying the world through oil and gas exploitation is actually saving the world. It’s a classic psy-ops strategy (formerly known as propaganda), only with a slicker sheen, more convoluted rhetoric, and patriotic pictures.  According to the Department of Defense, psy-ops are:

Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to… audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of… governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives.

So Jerry Wascom, president of ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company writes in the ExxonMobile Perspectives blog

I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.  The impact of this hurricane has been unprecedented.

There’s no reconciliatory tone. No regret. No mention of climate change. No, instead we are invited to see nature’s disrupted patterns and 500-year weather events (happening within years of each other) as mere temporary roadblocks to the further entrenchment of global capitalism. Wascom writes:

At ExxonMobil, we’ve had to temporarily shut down some operations, but we haven’t stopped working.  Just the opposite.   My team is working around the clock to bring everything back on line as quickly as we can and get fuel to drivers that need it.

But, in light of the horrors of anthropogenically destabilized climates, wouldn’t the only moral thing to do seem to be stopping working? Wouldn’t conceding at the card game before you go broke actually seem like a better strategy than doubling down with your last chips?

No, instead this is reframed as merely a logistics problem. Indeed, “the current challenge we face is mainly a logistical one,” Wascom writes.

Not all the fuel is where it needs to be.  We have to quickly reroute trucks and tankers to get supplies from more distant locations to places that previously relied on the Gulf Coast refineries.

Instead of acknowledging that in catastrophes we might have to use less, ExxonMobil is pulling a GW Bush: Buy, baby, buy. The paraphrase Ingolfür Bluhdorn, ExxonMobil is looking for creating sustainability and resiliency just in those same unsustainable practices that got us in this climate disruption in the first place. Don’t pause to reflect. Don’t use less fuel. Don’t travel less. Because such actions might cause a reevaluation of the insane oil subsidies, and our fossil-fueled toxic culture.

Of course, such psy-ops are bolstered by the other Breitbarts of news, such as Business Insider, Money, and other unidimensional news outlets who care only how any event will impact their stock prices. Thus the intentional ignorance of ExxonMobile is perpetuated throughout our culture system by the help of greed, instantiated in a news media and financially-myopic media willing to poison the world for a few more points on their stock.

ExxonMobile reassures us that they will go to the ends of the earth to ensure that our illusion of cheap fossil fuels isn’t broken.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  We’re going the extra mile to reconnect the dots and move fuel quickly and safely.

Amidst dire environmental justice murmurings of the toxic exposures due to hazardous waste seeping out of its quarantine in Houston, harming entire communities (especially poor and migrant communities), we are supposed to trust the self-serving interests of the world’s largest oil machine, and one of the largest funders of climate change denial.

The last stake in the heart of Corporate Social Irresponsibility is ExxonMobile’s responsibilizing consumers for the problem. They urge

drivers can help by not “panic-buying.”  Topping off your tank is one thing; stockpiling fuel is another, and puts unnecessary stress on the system.  We can all help each other if we don’t go overboard.

Who’s this “we” you’re talking about, paleface? ExxonMobile has proven time and again that they don’t care for anything but profit, yet they are doing the British gag of “let’s all play together” for their own benefit–not ours. This rallying cry to keep normalcy in the face of an insane, corrupt, oligopolistic system, is itself sick. In the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Screen Shot 2017-09-02 at 07.54.50

 

New paper published in Annals of Internal Medicine picked up by Reuters

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Today, with co-authors Pamela M. Ling and Jesse Elias, our paper “The Pharmaceuticalization of the Tobacco Industry” appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Our interview with Reuters is available here.

This work contributes to the study of industrial epidemics, and how corporations, instead of dying a quiet death as the world wakes up to the inutility of their products for life, metastasize into other structures to clean up the messes they continue to create–and to charge taxpayers for it (in this case, by getting government health care like the NHS in the UK, to pay for their so-called reduced-harm nicotine products).

Speaking at the Creative Edge Conference

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I’m honored to be presenting on “The Ecological Self: Harnessing the Power of Our Interspecies Nature for Good” alongside Flow author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi this Saturday, May 13th 2017 at the Creative Edge Conference organized by West LA College.

I’ll be speaking during  the Creative Space Session during 10:45am – 12:20pm.

The WEST TALKS, in the spirit of the TED Talk series, aim to expose students and the public to avant-garde ideas that can help transform the notions under which we operate as a society. Creativity, thinking diagonally, will give us the tools to confront the systemic breakdowns we currently face, and allow us to create better alternatives with finesse and elegance.

The Conference is free with RSVP. Click here to download a PDF of the Conference.