Monday, May 13, 2013

What is to be Done?


To borrow the title from one of the most influential political tracts ever written. Vladimir Lenin wrote this at the turn of the last century. 110 years later, now that Carbon has hit the 400 mark: What is to be done? mentioned the passing of the psychologically important  number by sending out a fund raising letter. And Bill McKibben has been on a divestment kick, thinking that getting civil servants to not invest their pension funds in fossil fuel companies is going to make the change to a society that no longer burns carbon. Good luck with that. I think it is a waste of time.

Lenin, in his tract, stated that they needed to create a political party with a "revolutionary intellectual vanguard" to lead it. We tried that: it was called the Presidential Election of 2000 and the Revolutionary Candidate was Ralph Nader. It didn't work. Greens didn't replace the Democrats like all of us hoped. And we actually learned through the presidency of George Bush that there is a difference between the two political parties in the United States. Dimes worth of difference? No. There was a whole lot of dimes worth of difference. Enough to chase me back into the Democratic Party.

400 parts per million of CO2. Damn. That's enough to melt all the ice in Greenland within a few hundred years. Last time we had CO2 of 400, the sea level was 130 feet higher. Our little farm here in Concow will be ocean front property in a thousand years.

What is to be done? Divest from stock funds? Trading stocks ain't a way to change anything other than to lose your shirt in the market.

There was another pamphlet that came out in 1776. Common Sense by Thomas Paine. He argued for independence from England. The pamphlet sold 100,000 copies in a year, making it, proportionately, the number one best seller, ever, in the United States based on ratio of population that owned the pamphlet.

Common Sense.

What is to be done?

Must we resort to a Green Piety where we try to be the revolutionary vanguard by making some aesthetic, monkish lifestyle changes? If you want to live that way, I'd say: Yes. Become a vegetarian, localvore, off-gridder, hippy dippy, GURU loving, peacenik. Live in the country in a mud house. Work part time. Raise your food and try to leave enough space for a wildlife corridor or two. Go ahead: Live that way if you want. It can't hurt. And you'll probably get a tan.

Or do we just succumb to some sort of fatalistic future as argued by the "Nature Bats Last" segment of Environmentalists? Keep on doing what you are doing, nothing matters. GAIA wins in the end and the Homo Sapiens infection will be dealt with. Too bad we'll take out a whole lot of other species with us. But given time, after we are gone, nature will rebound (in a few million years) with even more diversity of species than she did after the last extinction.  These are the Deep Green "think like a rock" Fatalists. A tempting position. And they might be right. I think it is morally repugnant though. I won't go there.

400 parts per million. What's to be done? Have any ideas?

Al Gore put forth about a thousand ideas at the end of "Inconvenient Truth". I grew up Lutheran so I'm hip enough that individual Green Piety can be helpful. Lifestyle matters.

But I also know that it will take popular political power to make this change. Political tracts have made the argument before (Paine and Lenin): we need to do it again. Blog about it. Write letters to the editor. Write articles for newspapers. Join the local Democratic Party (because, like it or not, this issue has become a political litmus test). Until the Republicans get smart, we will have to deal with this crises in the Democratic Party. Get your ass in it.

But don't promise a panacea wonder world if we change to a Green Economy. Because it won't be. We change to a Green World because it is the Moral thing to do; it isn't because it is the Adam Smith "efficient" way of doing things. We need to stop making moral arguments as financial arguments. The two don't mix. We need to get that straight because the Dan Logue's and the Doug LaMalfa's will dance with delight when the solar panel companies go bankrupt and the high speed trains cost five times more than they should. We build it anyway. Because it is the right thing to do.

So we need solar energy. We need to use less. We need to stop having babies. We need to set aside large amounts of land for wildlife. We need to stop mining and logging on an industrial level. We need to have smaller houses. We need to preserve species. We need more hiking trails. We need a moratorium on growth. We need to build an alternative food system. We need a new transportation system. We need to do something about all the stupid people that have been created by substance abuse. We need a culture that values reading a book and having an intelligent conversation and stops watching Cage Fighting, Jersey Shore, getting tattoos and smoking dope. We need to stop doing the things that make us stupid.

We know what we need. Now get off  your ass and make it happen. Stop Keystone.  Save a coyote. Save some wild space. Hug a tree. Admire the beauty. Be beautiful. Get active. Be the change, as Gandhi would say.

Making money is your part time work. Work to live; don't live to work. Your full time job, should be, making this world a better place. The GreedHeads are wrong: selfishness won't make the world better. Your enthusiasm for a beautiful world will.


  1. Thanks. I liked this one too---so I rewrote a bit of it, rearranged some of it and sent it off to a new local liberal publisher as an op/ed. Although I don't know if there are many liberals who have the the guts to publish a piece that mentions Lenin these days--so I don't know if they will bite. Doesn't matter. I still liked it.

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