When I was growing up, the Thanksgiving holiday meant that my family got together with aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents from all limbs of the family tree to eat turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and pie. At some point in the increasingly rowdy conversations, a solemn adult would interject the plea that we all pause and consider what we were thankful for.
This November, three events occurred for which I am grateful. They offer a glimmer of hope that we may act collectively to address global climate change and reduce the rate at which carbon dioxide emissions are accumulating in our atmosphere—just a glimmer, not enough to celebrate, but enough to pause and say, okay. We might pull this off.
Presidents Obama, Xi Jinping agree to emissions reductions targets
On November 12, 2014, the presidents of the two countries that are the biggest contributors to climate change announced a deal to limit carbon dioxide emissions. By 2025, the U.S. aims to reduce its emissions 26 to 28 percent below the level of emissions in 2005. China set the goal of getting 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030, and of having 2030 be the peak year for carbon dioxide emissions. Both these moves are not enough and also precedent setting. Meanwhile, the European Union reached an agreement to cut its carbon dioxide emissions 40 percent below the levels set in 1990, and to achieve this reduction by 2030. That means, as Jeff Spross reported on the website Climate Progress on November 12, the world’s three biggest carbon dioxide emitters have “gone on record with new commitments to get their greenhouse gas emissions under control.”
Should we be pleased with this turn of events? Paul Krugman, the often pessimistic and solidly liberal columnist for the New York Times says yes. Krugman’s op-ed piece on November 14 outlines why the agreement between China and the United States is a big deal. First, he says, consider the context. Fossil-fuel interests and “their loyal servants,” which is how Krugman characterizes the entire Republican Party today, have erected a deep defense against any action to save the planet.
Their first line of defense is denial. Climate change isn’t real. Senator James Inhofe, the likely chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is an outspoken proponent of this view, and also the recipient of more than a 1.5 million dollars from the oil and coal industries. In spite of the rich funding, arguing that climate change is a hoax perpetuated on the public by money grubbing scientists is losing its luster: a Pew Research study released last summer found that 67 percent of people in the U.S. believe that climate change is real.
According to Krugman, the second line of defense against taking steps necessary to save the planet is the argument that the economy will suffer. If we reduce carbon dioxide emissions, jobs will be lost and economic growth will sputter to a standstill. A version of this argument is central in the debate in Washington State about whether (and how) to put a price on carbon emissions—more on that later. The truth, Krugman argues, that is putting a price on carbon emissions will affect some businesses—any form of a “polluter-pay” policy is intended to shift the cost of polluting back to the producer. The alternative is for all of us to pay for the cost of pollution, leaving the polluter to count their profits and move on. Shifting costs of pollution back to the polluter changes profit margins; it doesn’t cost jobs and it doesn’t halt economic growth.
The third line of defense guarding us from taking action to reduce carbon emissions is that it’s pointless to act if the other big polluter, namely China, won’t. But now China will. The targets are too low, and too soft; however, this is the first time China has agreed to participate in an international climate agreement—and that’s a good step.
Krugman’s analysis of the U.S./China agreement is good in that it dismantles the arguments for ignoring climate change. Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org (which reminds us of the need to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from current levels of 400 parts per million to 350 parts per million in order to preserve a liveable planet), makes an even better case that the two presidents acted because of political pressure—pressure from activists. McKibben points out that this agreement comes at a time of growing unrest in China about the terrible air quality in cities, and just seven weeks after after the largest global climate demonstrations in history. In other words, as McKibben writes, “movements work.” In the spirit of being grateful, thanks to everyone who participated in demonstrations, called their Congress members, supported 350.org and other organizations, and wrote and talked and shouted and marched to say—business as usual won’t cut it. Reduce carbon emissions now.
Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce release WA State report
Governor Inslee’s Executive Order 14-04, issued in April 2014, established the the Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce (CERT) that was charged with providing recommendations for designing a carbon emissions reduction program. On November 14, they released their report, organized around four findings:
Emissions-based market mechanisms (carbon cap-and-trade systems) and price-based market mechanisms (carbon tax systems) can contribute to the goal of reducing carbon emissions in the state;
Either approach can work; whichever is implemented needs to be carried out in a thoughtful way and consequently, both approaches require further analysis;
The only way that Washington State can reach its carbon emissions limits is by developing a “harmonized” set of policies, particularly in terms of the transportation sector, which is the largest source of carbon emissions in the state. (In other words, reducing carbon emissions from transportation requires a mix of strategies, from land-use planning to transit development, that keep the diverse needs of WA residents, including low-income and rural communities, in mind.);
“Important questions remain unanswered”…
So far, there’s not that much to be grateful for. However, at the end of this 38-page report, an avid reader can find letters from individual members who served on the CERT. Reading these letters is instructive and, for the most part, heartening.
J. Perry England, Vice President of Building Performance at McDonald Miller writes that, “Price is key. We cannot fully unleash our innovative potential if we continue to allow unmitigated carbon pollution for free.” As a business owner, England wants the state to put a price on carbon.
Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, ALF-CIO, also wants a price on carbon. Johnson writes that “the impact of climate disaster, while bad for everyone, will fall disproportionately on the poor and communities of color, the very people who will be least able to afford the cost of transitioning to a new energy economy.” Consequently, he argues, in addition to establishing a price on carbon, the state should set up an “Economic Justice and Environmental Equity Board” made up of representatives from highly impacted communities (low-income, communities of color, front line workers in fossil fuel dependent communities) around the state who will monitor carbon emissions reduction strategies and make recommendations about investing carbon revenues so as to maximize equity, job creation, positive health outcomes, and further carbon emission reductions.
Renee Klein, President & CEO of the American Lung Association for the Mountain Pacific similarly focuses on issues of health. The reason to act, she writes, is to protect human health. She outlines current threats to health created by changes in our climate, and points out that the elderly, pregnant women, low-income and minority communities, people with chronic illnesses, and children are most vulnerable.
Other letters are equally eloquent, making the case that not acting—not putting a price on carbon—is unacceptable because it’s immoral. As Rick Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica writes, “we are united by a deeply felt urgency to take immediate action to reduce carbon emissions in ways that address social. Economic, health, and food justice.”
Governor Inslee faces Republican opposition that will take this form: reducing carbon emissions will hurt Washington’s economy—the same argument Paul Krugman identified at a national level, the second level of defense once the argument that climate change is a hoax has been dismantled. Lots of work remains to be done to get us past the “do more research” mode and into the effective action mode. Still, I’m grateful for those in our state, including the fore mentioned members of the CERT, for pushing forward in demanding the state meet its carbon emissions reduction goals.
Keystone Pipeline not approved—yet
The same week that CERT delivered its report the Senate took up the issue of whether to approve the Keystone Pipeline. The vote to approve the pipeline didn’t carry—60 votes were needed, and pipeline supporters only got 59. The 59 senators voting for the pipeline included all 45 Republican senators along with 14 Democrats. Forty-one senators voted against the pipeline: 39 Democrats and two Independents, Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Angus King from Maine. Mitch McConnell, soon to become leader of the Senate, threatened to bring the issue back for another vote in January, when the number of Republican Senators will increase. A veto from the president is not a sure thing. Ashley Parker and Cora Davenport, writing for the New York Times on November 18, 2014, conclude their report on the Senate vote with this cautionary note: “People familiar with the president’s thinking say that in 2015, he might use Keystone as a bargaining chip: He could offer Republicans approval of it in exchange for approval of one of his policies.”
We have a lot of work to do to topple the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry and the stranglehold it has on our political system and consequently on our future. I’m glad for a pause, a moment of hope, and grateful to everyone, everywhere, who works on making our political representatives more representative of us, the people. Let’s keep at it.
Emily Lardner teaches at The Evergreen State College and co-directs The Washington Center for Improving Undergraduate Education, a public service of the college.
This poem is for the drug addicts
the dope fiends.
this poem is for ninety pound bodies
shriveling in gutters like dried fruit.
this is for those who shoot.
for the withering alley-cat specters dancing
sleepwalk in the devil’s daymare.
this is for those who drown in dope
without a sunrise beyond the black tar’s shadow.
indentured to the needle and the spoon.
this is for my siblings who met their makers too soon.
This poem is for you
you who are black listed for your sickness
convicted, untouchable and criminally ill.
you who is locked up for possession
without a hope of redemption for
your child who is missing you and doesn’t understand
the reasons why the drug war nabbed his daddy
and will follow in his boot steps
if not properly guided.
This poem is for you who grew up
comfortable, but were missing something.
who graduated from the school
bus to the squad car, the pen to the magnum,
you who found your feet, your fountain,
in the Haight & Ashbury.
SMACK is the main line out of the middle class
and into an early grave. this is
for the track marks we paved.
This poem is for you who is on the wait list
for an underfunded treatment center for three
months deciding between
triage through treatment
or deliverance through death.
anything to stop the suffering.
This poem is reality.
I know this poem.
This poem is for ME.
ME who used to strip mine crumbs of amphetamine from the carpet snorting whatever came along with the catch. ME who trembled in anticipation at every new prescription. ME for whom the birds chirping in the morning would produce paranoia. ME who heard gunshots and lived in psychotic delusions
ME. . . who got clean.
ME who no longer lives between high speed chases and post-mania comas under the covers.
is for worried mothers.
This poem is for hope.
it is for one day, just this day clean
and serene, finally again a human being.
this poem is for no longer
being an animal a slave to my desires,
impulse towards deathly indulgence.
this poem is for skin clear of scabs,
face full of color and complexion.
this poem is for
and getting published.
this poem is
for friends and family
proud to call me theirs,
for a mother who I can look in the eye.
is for hope.
But this poem is also for the fallen,
for the soldiers digging their trenches in
Southeast D.C. and Baltimore.
This poem is NOT for
the War on Drugs
the War on the Poor
the War on the Spirit.
This poem. . .
is for my dead kin who struggle no more.
for those who finally gave up and greeted the
reaper in the back seat of a beat up Caddy
with not an ounce of body fat,
the ones we loved
dead at 23.
…this poem is an epitaph.
This poem is statistics.
This poem rolls dice.
This poem is proof that the dealer didn’t win.
This poem is for every addict who never met the pen.
This poem is for last gasps beneath bridges,
for the funerals
we didn’t have the courage to attend.
This poem is for
blind fucking luck.
THIS is a poem against all odds.
THIS POEM should be six
feet under, but
IT defies gravity.
I defy gravity!
I defy DEATH!
Brian McCracken is a poet, activist, and youth ally living and resisting in Olympia. As a founding member of Old Growth Poetry Collective, he lives in a house full of dyslexic poet revolutionaries.
An emerging alliance of community and labor leaders joined by local elected officials want Governor Inslee to use his executive authority to deny the permitting of proposed oil terminals in Grays Harbor and Vancouver and the expansion of a Shell refinery in Anacortes.
“All of these terminals and expansions and all the increased oil train traffic fall directly under the executive authority of Governor Inslee,” said their spokesperson, Geoff Simpson. Mr. Simpson is a long time fire fighter for the City of Kent and a lobbyist for the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters.
“We want Governor Inslee to live up to his commitment for a clean energy future and stop the use of our state’s rail system as a carbon corridor for the export of crude oil to Asian markets,” he continued.
In their letter to Governor Inslee, this alliance of organizations is seeking a meeting with Governor Inslee so that they can discuss their perspective. It is signed by leaders of labor unions, community organizations, physicians, fishery groups, as well as elected officials such as Ben Stuckart, President of the Spokane City Council, and two Port of Olympia Commissioners.
Mr. Simpson said that these organizations first met in August at a Statewide Strategy Summit on Oil Trains at The Evergreen State College. As a follow up to the Summit, they met at an all-day session hosted by the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters on Saturday, November 15, in Olympia where they drafted their letter to Governor Inslee.
—WA State Council of Fire Fighters
Con la boca con cinta adhesiva, Rafael Reygadas, un profesor de la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) Xochimilco, se sienta con los muebles que sostienen fotografías de la juventud Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa. “Agresiones aberrantes contra Ayotzinapa futuros profesores – heridas, mutilaciones, asesinatos y desapariciones forzadas – son los más graves de una política de criminalización de la juventud vez Sin duda, es de los crímenes de Estado y crímenes de lesa humanidad que no debe ser impunes Ellos. mostrar colusión inadmisible entre las autoridades, los partidos políticos y el crimen organizado “profesores de la UAM.
Foto: Araceli Mondragón
ON STRIKE: With his mouth taped, Rafael Reygadas, a professor at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM) Xochimilco, sits with furniture that hold photographs of the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School youth. The sign behind him says, “I can’t hold class, I am missing 43 students.”
In a statement from UAM faculty, “Aberrant assaults against Ayotzinapa student teachers–wounds, mutilations, murders and forced disappearances—are the most serious of a policy of criminalization of youth time. It is certainly of State crimes and crimes against humanity that should not go unpunished. They show impermissible collusion between authorities, political parties and organized crime.” Photo: Araceli Mondragon
Laniakea, as Wikipedia defines it, is a Hawaiian word meaning, “immeasurable heaven.” The exciting thing for me is to finally see a well made map of our actual neighborhood in the Cosmos.
The British science journal Nature recently released a fantastic four minute video on YouTube called, “Laniakea: Our Home Supercluster.” We now have this clear view our home port – something the human race has never had before. It is the recently released description of Laniakea by R. Brent Tully and his team of astronomers at the University of Hawaii.
Our galaxy, the Milky Way is part of a Local Group which contains around 75 nearby galaxies. Our Local Group roams the edge of the Virgo Cluster of about 2500 galaxies. This is a very big neighborhood.
Bigger still is our supercluster. Our neighborhood revolves around the center, a place called the Great Attractor. We now have a clear idea that the 100,000 galaxies of Laniakea are all bound together by gravity.
All the while we are gliding through space along with a plethora of other clusters of galaxies. These clusters are in mutual orbit around the Great Attractor – the gravitational center of our supercluster of which there no known way to leave.
The other superclusters are expanding away from us at an accelerating rate. This will eventually fling them out of sight far away across the Universe. But our Laniakea will probably always be here as a very large and wondrous domain for us to explore.
To explore on not to explore?
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is in mutual orbit with the great galaxy Andromeda. In several billion years we will be much closer together and likely to merge with each other. Humans will have little choice but to populate other star systems or perish as our Sun advances through the red giant phase of its life.
100,000 galaxies with 100 billion stars each, that’s room for lots and lots of possible adventures. Ten quadrillion solar systems with an unknown quantity of alien civilizations to meet.
The number of possible extra-terrestrial civilizations can be estimated by using the famous Drake equation. It is quite easy to estimate for yourself:
The number of extra-terrestrial civilizations within Laniakea which we may run into in the future just requires us to multiply a few estimates.
N(hab) is the number of habitable planets, I’ll guess one in ten stars out there has one.
F(life) is the fraction of these where life gets started some how, my guess could be one in a hundred.
F(civ) being the fraction of these where life develops into a space-faring civilization, maybe one in a thousand.
F(now) is the fraction where that civilization exists during our time period (civilizations come and go we guess) may be one in a hundred.
N(civ) the total civilizations estimated to be in Laniakea today.
Divide the ten quadrillion stars of Laneakia by the one hundred millionth chance of a civilization being there. The estimate is on hundred million strange, advanced, diverse, alien civilizations out there for us to meet, this does not include ones which might visit form neighboring superclusters like the nearest, the Perseus-Pisces Supercluster.
Many people feel we should fear these civilizations. I think that is ridiculous. We should be searching for ways to cooperate and coexist with them, as well as ourselves. We need a conversation above all, to decide how we will handle contact with these alien civilizations who may have much to teach us.
As Laniakea, “immeasurable heaven,” swirls through space with our Milky Way hanging onto its skirt tail, we have so much adventure ahead. The European Space Agency just landed a probe on an approaching comet. India just placed its first satellite in orbit around Mars. China is staging for a return to human Moon landings. We have more opportunity than ever to cooperate with other explorers.
Russ Frizzell is an activist living in Olympia since 2010 and a graduate of The Evergreen State College where he studied Physics and Cosmology.