Dear Governor Christie, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor Bloomberg,
I write to applaud your rapid response to Hurricane Sandy. You have been decisive in your decision making and tireless in your efforts to care for all those who have suffered because of the brute force of the storm. Many of the decisions you have made have been courageous, some unexpectedly so. I urge you now to make one more decision for the sake of the children who whose lives have been so tragically impacted by Sandy.
It is imperative that executive decisions are made so that displaced students are not required to take benchmarking assessments in their new, “temporary” schools. Of equal importance is the suspension of all testing of children whose lives have been deeply affected by the storm. The focus on all new evaluative procedures should be postponed. The push to fully implement APPR, SLOs, DASA, HEDI, summative evaluations, benchmarks, and baseline rubrics, should also be suspended.
An immediate necessity is the push back of the end of the marking quarter. “For my district and I imagine most others, missing this past week means projects, essays, and tests upon return to round out the quarter average that is already stunted by the APPR benchmarking assessments,” a teacher states. “We are scheduled to close our gradebooks Friday and report grades by Tuesday the November 13.”
Such pressures in times of catastrophe increase the possibility that children will experience lasting effects on their health and well being as well as their academic development. In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event or in an on-going emergency, school administrators and teachers need all testing to be suspended so that they can work together to: (1) support the social and emotional well-being of children; and (2) create classrooms that encourage resiliency. It is of vital importance that all pedagogical initiatives ensure that every child has the opportunity to engage in activities that support their learning in healthful and productive ways.
Two research findings provide a framework for schools to establish safe learning environments for K-12 students in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both findings are supported by ethnographic research in locations where catastrophic events have taken place and/or emergency situations exist; and by medical, psychiatric and psychological research on children and mass trauma. The first finding is that it is important that we do everything we can to restore the social fabric of children’s everyday lives if they are to have the best chance possible to recover when catastrophic events take place. The second finding is that children need to experience joy if they are going to have the best chance possible to recover from potentially traumatic experiences.
Establish schools as safe, joyful places for children and teachers;
Ensure that schools are nurturing environments in which children who have been evacuated can become welcome members of the school community;
Promote children’s health and well being by providing them with increased opportunities to participate in art, music, drama, dance, and physical education;
Enhance academic learning through meaningful literacy activities, listening to and reading stories, participating in constructivist math and science projects, and other meaning making activities;
Encourage family and community participation in the daily life of the school;
Make sure that the school takes part in community events and activities.
These recommendations are not earth shattering suggestions, but to implement them will take a suspension of stressful mandated requirements. There is no doubt that the current intense focus on testing and value added assessment increases the pressures on children and teachers who have experienced a potentially traumatizing disaster such as Hurricane Sandy. Thus suspending these testing policies and mandates becomes critically important if teachers are to focus on creating environments in schools which will contribute to the restoration of the social fabric of children’s everyday lives. In such circumstances creative, imaginative and joyful learning experiences that are responsive to the social, emotional and intellectual needs of children, and which support their learning in healthful and productive ways are absolutely essential.
Professor of Literacy Studies
Founding Director of the International Center for Everybody’s Child
Recommendations for Administrators and Teachers Responding to Hurricane Sandy:
Hurricane Sandy has created long lasting catastrophic conditions in the North East of the United States. People are making heroic efforts to respond to the emergency. At hospitals in New York City nurses arrived on Sunday and did not leave until Wednesday evening. On Monday Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of NYC, called on New York teachers to be first responders in public shelters in the city. Teachers are strong, capable, compassionate, and always ready to take care of children and their families, but, unlike doctors, nurses, the police, firefighters and EMT’s, teachers receive little or no training.
Nevertheless teachers are leading the way.
One teacher from Long Beach writes, “I have been running our medical triage where we assess patients and then dispatch them to ambulances or to busses to be transported to shelters. We also have a doctor working off of a trolley trying to see as many people as he can to get medication and vaccinations out to the people who need it. The outreach has been amazing”.
“I am wondering what they are doing about the public schools here?” the same teacher writes. “They got a lot of damage from what I understand and many students have been displaced from their homes”.
“We have a meeting at one of the schools in Long Beach on Tuesday for those who can make it,” another teacher writes. “I’m going to attend, and see what my district plans on doing in regard to the school year. My school also had 3-5 feet of water in every classroom, and is in the worst shape out of all buildings in the district. I can’t imagine how we are going to have school.”
School districts across the U.S. have developed emergency plans; however, few educators receive preparation to be first responders in the aftermath of catastrophic events when schools reopen and children arrive whose homes have been damaged or destroyed. Some will not know what has happened to family and friends; others will have lost their pets. Many of their families will be living without light or heat and some will have difficulty obtaining water or fresh food to eat.
In such circumstances many teachers will have experienced similar losses and hardships, and yet they will return to school to make sure their classrooms are safe places for students to be. The following recommendations are based upon the findings of psychiatric and medical research and build on the advice the National Child Stress Network (2006). The recommendations are also supported by the findings of my ethnographic research in schools in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and in schools in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The most recent review of the recommendations took place in May 2008 when teachers in St. Bernard Parish and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana reflected on the impact of the storm (their advice is included in parentheses).
The enduring message, in hindsight, from the teachers in Louisiana is that in the aftermath of catastrophic events all potentially stressful activities (test prep and testing) should be suspended and schools should to be safe joyful places for children to be. have the opportunity to recover when catastrophes take place. Every effort should be made to recognize the importance of children’s families and friends. Have a plan, share the plan and stick to the plan. Build strong communities, incorporate health and well being into pedagogical initiatives. Every attempt should be made to take care of the whole child, every child, and make school a joyful place for children to be. This is the basis for school and community preparedness for catastrophes. In the aftermath of teachers in Louisiana stood outside with umbrellas to welcome children back to schools that put the pressures of unreasonable mandates to one side so that they could take care of every child. Here are the recommendations with the addition of the advice of Louisiana teachers are in brackets:
First Responses in Shelters When Catastrophic Events Take Place:
Talking with children and youth and their families, who have experienced a catastrophic event, is an intervention. Just being comfortable with the fact that children are distressed, helps first responders.
Make sure children with special needs are located and that their immediate needs are met. This might include making sure the child receives medical attention (“be prepared to take care of children who are autistic” “and those who are wheelchair bound”).
When there are young children involved, activities that promote a sense of well being include: (a) Playing with children to help distract them; (b) If parents are present holding babies so parents can eat or rest; (c) If there is nothing to do, helping with care giving, just making yourself available, and “being there” with them.
Do not ask children to reveal emotional information, but if they do, listen, (“provide opportunities” “give them crayons”)
Try to focus on their immediate needs by reducing hassles for survivors. If you assist doctors and Red Cross workers in problem-solving and logistics (e.g. making telephone calls, replacing personal items, etc.) you are providing a service.
If possible provide personal hygiene items including antibacterial wipes, tissues, lotion, tooth brushes and tooth paste, child and adult diapers, female tampons and pads.
First Responses in Schools:
Assume that students are doing their absolute best to cope.
Encourage students to engage in self-care.
Help students feel as much in control as they can.
Make sure students with special needs receive assistance (“think about allergies” “peanut butter”).
Don’t assume first responders have taken care of basic needs.
Make sure students have food, clothing and shelter.
Keep parents informed and send letters when possible (“If possible” “Finding ways to communicate is very difficult”).
Teachers should not provide psychological intervention, but simply listen and support students who are in distress.
It is important that students are not asked to tell their stories. Talking about what happened to them and their families can lead to students reliving the catastrophic event and to retraumatization.
If students talk about the events that have taken place, listen and “be there” for them.
If students focus on the catastrophic event when they write or draw, make sure that they keep their work.
Respect students’ wishes.
Do not make false assurances.
Re-establish basic routines with students (“try to do this as soon as possible”).
Engage students in creative activities. Music and art are important.
Read stories and then more stories
Suspend all activities that might be stressful.
Test prep and tests should be postponed
Make sure there is time for students to play, have fun, and participate in sports activities. Participating in pleasurable activities is essential for recovery.
Reassure students that with the exception of self-destructive behaviors and emotions, their feelings and reactions are reasonable given the situation. (“We are seeing students who coped after the storm who are now having difficulties”).
If you are concerned about a student, know what to do to triage that student and get them mental or physical health services at your site.
Let an administrator or someone in charge of the relief effort know what needs you have identified, so services can be provided to help meet the needs of your students.
Make sure that every teacher has a list of resources and knows what services are available.
Remember that teachers have also experienced the catastrophic event and need support too.
Learning from Teachers who were First Responders in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:
In Louisiana in May 2008 teachers talked about the importance of making time for teacher support groups. Meetings can be held at lunch time or after school. Teachers need time to discuss what’s happening and share feelings. These groups should be non-hierarchical and rotate leadership.
The Louisiana teachers emphasized the importance that time is also set aside for students to talk. “Morning meetings,” one teacher said, “we roll a dice with happy, sad, embarrassing, scary, and funny on it and children talk if they want to.” They all talked about the importance of helping students find out what had happened to their friends and of reuniting friends whenever possible.
“One catastrophe can lead to another,” a teacher says. She recounts, “A child holding on to a tree with his mother and father was coping okay and then his mother tried to commit suicide.” Other teachers shares similar stories. Three years after Hurricane Katrina tragedies are still occurring. They talk of time. “Catastrophes happen and children might cope but a year later, two years later problems might surface.”
The psychiatrist, Anand Pandya (2006), provides verification of the experiences of the Louisiana teachers when he speaks of the expectation of “symptoms” during the acute phase of an emergency that become “transient and fluid,” often recurring weeks, months or years after the disaster happened. He spoke of the “let down,” and so did the Louisiana teachers, who spoke at length at the changes they were observing in their students’ behaviors, as they began to understand that their families, schools and communities would never be the same as they were before Katrina. One teacher spoke to the way in which she is approaching this problem. “When something is happening in the community I point it our,” she says. “’Did you see the street signs!’” “’Did you see the new trees they’ve planted?’”
The Louisiana teachers talked of recovery, of the lack of support from Federal agencies and repeatedly spoke of schools as the center of the recovery effort. “It’s important for schools to have a single point of entry for all services that they need,” one says. “If there was a place in school,” another begins. “If schools could have a resource place just like a medical tent,” another continues. “When the school reopened it was the only place parents could eat.” “They came in to use the bathroom.” “It was the only place they could get help.” “We took care of the parents too.” “We are still helping them.”
Please Donate to the Hurricane Sandy Student and Teacher Support Fund
Save Our Schools calls on all local, state and federal authorities to spare no expense in rushing aide to thousands of school children and teachers affected by hurricane Sandy. The devastating loss of homes, clothing, books and school supplies will result in a serious and prolonged disruption to education. Schools that have suffered destruction from flooding will need immediate assistance to replace materials and restore a healthy, safe environment for all students and employees. Students experiencing the trauma of fear and loss need counseling and other social services to ensure their emotional health and optimize their ability to continue learning. We need to do all that we can to make certain adequate services are provided. Building a sense of connection and care, and providing opportunities to process with others what has just occurred should be a key focus of instruction at this time.
In Writing Pictures Painting Stories we begin by making connections between people and the planet. I read Italo Calvino’s brilliant story, A Sign in Space, and invite graduate students to imagine the universe. Calvino begins with science as he often does, and he tells the reader “the sun takes about two hundred millions years to make a complete revolution of the Galaxy”. He introduces Qfwfw who when I read to my students I call “Q”. When I read the story to myself Qfwfw is Calvino, an Italian philosopher and literary genius.
Qfwfw draws a sign in space so that he will find it two hundred million years later when he has completed one complete revolution of the galaxy. And it is at this moment that humans begin to think. Before eyes, teeth and noses, making a sign is the first thought.
“What sort of sign?” Calvino pretends we ask. “It’s hard to explain because if I say sign to you, you immediately think of a something that can be distinguished from a something else, but nothing could be distinguished there”.
“As to the form a sign should have, you say it’s no problem because, whatever form it may be given, a sign only has to serve as a sign, that is, be different or else the same as other signs,” but as Calvino explains, “in that period I didn’t have any examples to follow, I couldn’t say I’ll make it the same or I’ll make it different, there were no things to copy, nobody knew what a line was, straight or curved, or even a dot, or a protuberance or a cavity”.
In a few short pages Calvino writes the history of the human race, which reaches the end heaped up with signs and false signs in a universe that no longer exists. But following the story on the first morning, in a conference room that we use as a studio, we begin at the beginning, and I ask the masters and doctoral students in our course to make the first sign in the universe. Later students talk about how challenging it was to make a sign that had no meaning. Students have hours to produce this work. It is a time of deep contemplation. Does life exist without meaning? Is it possible for humans not to mean?
The syllabus suggests otherwise. I won’t repeat it here. In the afternoon students work in small groups reading chapters from Maxine Greene’s Releasing the Imagination, sharing paragraphs that have gained new significance since they made the first sign in the universe. Calvino and Greene make the course magical. Calvino connects our physical existence to the galaxy, for him science, philosophy, and literature are intricately connected. Greene views life on Earth in similar ways. For her, philosophy, literature, and the aesthetic experience are also intertwined. Greene’s writings are not always easy for students to read and they start out hesitatingly at the beginning of the course, but the studio experiences make it possible for them to inhabit the book, and from her writings become part of the artwork the students create.
Quoting Jonathon Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, Greene rejects the narrowing of students’ lives and the cul-de-sacs of the dominant decision makers restructuring of schools. She writes of “looking at things as if they could be otherwise”. Greene brings in John Dewey and the idea of imagination as the “gateway” through which meaning is derived, and Hannah Arendt on the “startling unexpectedness” that is “inherent in all beginnings”.
And so we begin. Together the students recreate the universe, in ways that represent all the ideas they are interpreting about signs and symbols, and about functional and aesthetic texts. There are conversations about language, literacy, color, texture, and design, and discussions about emotion and empathy, hopes and fears, as well as reason. At night their research becomes digital as they explore data sets in a different space on the history of writing systems and the human development of social semiotic systems. If you look closely at the photos of the exhibit you will find a laptop with a slideshow. The laptop is a physical object integral to the installation, as well as a gateway to a digital world that signifies a galaxy of visual and textual information.
After a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the students’ studio work becomes infused with symbolic representations that signify ancient and modern meaning systems that connect them to the ethos of the people who created them. Ethos, mythos, and logos are not separated. They become one, a celebration of humankind. In their group installation people and the planet are reunited irrespective of gender, ethnicity, race, or religion. The work is physical and digital, but the one communicative form does not dominate the other.
On Friday when the installation is complete, students trace the evolution of their thinking and the progression of their textual productions. There are no time limits. Students are just invited to speak. Each presentation is a tour de force, and they surprise themselves as well as each other as they tie together their studio work with their philosophical readings and their visit to the Metropolitan Museum.
And all the while the question that consumes us is: how can we create such opportunities for children in schools that are so crippled by the imposition of program and assessment mandates to support the billion dollar industry that public education in America has become? Releasing the imagination of children from the tests that bind them requires creating spaces in which graduate students can imagine the possibilities for a more just and caring world by teaching in the cracks of dominant and dominating schools “reforms”.
Imagine the possibilities for social and political change if public schools across America made test days “Writing Pictures Painting Stories” days. This would be a creative act of rebellion against the monetization of public education. On Writing Pictures Painting Stories day, Maxine Greene and John Dewey would be back in the classroom, opening up the possibilities for children to imagine themselves in a world that is decent, just, and full of caring. The great artists, philosophers, and scientists could participate in a digital space that anticipates the future as well as the past. Calvino would be in their classrooms with his stories of science and philosophy, encouraging teachers to resist the false signs of the money makers that have “superimposed and coagulated, occupying the whole volume of space”, so that there is “no longer any way to establish a point of reference”. He would extol the importance of creative and imaginative human learning, and encourage us to seize this moment, warning us that if we don’t, we will forget what it is like to think imaginatively and do original work.
“Making signs that weren’t that sign no longer held any interest for me,” Calvino, writing as Qfwfw, tells us. “I had forgotten that sign … so unable to make true signs … I started making false signs, notches in space, holes, stains, little tricks that only an incompetent creature … could mistake for signs.”
Writing pictures and painting stories impacts students’ lives, infusing their hearts and minds with life as it could be otherwise. It is always a significant moment when the students disassemble the installation, and then leave without a trace of the remarkable work they have done. It’s August and the students’ art work fills the floor of the atrium, but the few people who come into the building barely notice as they hurry along the narrow pathway at the edge of our universe on their way to meetings to discuss new mandates including the “common core” which realigns faculty as well as graduate students, flatlining us into meritocracy for profit with false signs and little tricks.
We all pitch in and clear up. When it’s done, students say goodbye to their new friends and to me, but they linger, just standing, as if they want to hold on to the moment. At the end of Calvino’s story Qfwfq wonders if space had “never existed”, if it had been just signs “heaped up”. Perhaps in those last moments before leaving the building and going home the students knew that once they left, the universe that they had created would be lost without a trace, as it if had never been. But we have the photos to prove they were there, and it is in more than our imagination their work exists.
This morning as I think back it seems to me that what they created when they painted the sun with a ray for each student was a golden compass, perhaps more primitive that the one in the book of the same name, but a compass all the same. If we are going to find our way forward and share with our children our common humanity, it might be that the only possibility we have left is to incite imagination and transgress in a day of collective creative action, writing pictures and painting stories instead of passively administering mind numbing and dumbing tests.
Now that the intense week of writing pictures and painting stories is over students have one last assignment, which is ten hours of “field work” in which they share with children the inspiration they have gained from releasing their own imagination in an environment that nurtures language, literacy, science, philosophy and art. When the projects, girded by thousands of years of history, supported by scientific empirical research, by deep understandings of the humanities and the arts, and enacted through a pedagogy that is supported by our current knowledge of human development, arrive in defense of the human spirit, the contrast is striking between the creative and deeply intellectual work of the children and young people, and the work that both young children and older students produce when they are restricted by inappropriate program mandates, and by required but indefensible commercial tests. The quiet, thoughtful conversations that take place in the pedagogical environments that the graduate students establish, are supported by a century of research on human development and learning, and reflect the work of teachers in classrooms across the country, who through their teaching, now transgress. The contrast could not be more striking with the false conversations required in classrooms in which teachers are forced to prep for tests that find their genesis in the vitriolic and denigrating rhetoric of the political decision makers pushing privatization of K-12 public education that is a 500 billion dollar industry for corporations.
“It was incredible to see how creative and imaginative she was,” one graduate student writes of the six year old girl with whom she worked. “I barely helped her and it was fascinating to see what she came up with on her own, in terms of every given task. It was amazing to see what she created by sitting calmly in a relaxed setting with a paintbrush in her hand and paints to play with.” She writes of the child’s interpretations of the letter “W” in Braille and Chinese, and of her “inventiveness while creating different patterns”, and “her ability to apply a message from a book to her own life and to express these insights on paper through art”.
“She really showed me the extent of her knowledge,” the graduate student states. “Not only did I enjoy doing this activity with her, she kept saying over and over how she would love to do this every day in school.”
“Just by her statement,” the student reflects, “I have learned that it’s so crucial that all children need to be independent and have the opportunity to sit, relax, use their imagination and create! I cannot wait to better my teaching strategies as I start a new year with my preschoolers. As an educator and simply as a human being, I have learned that creativity and imagination is a necessity for growth, success, and inner peace for us all, especially for our children. Children and adults need to be inspired on a day to day basis. Imagination allows us to tap into our own inspirations.”
Another graduate student in Writing Pictures Painting Stories worked with two high school students. She writes, “First, I read “The Universe” by May Swenson (LINK to poem) and had students try their best to put what they were visualizing on paper.” It is a Calvino moment. Science, philosophy, and aesthetic experience all wrapped up in a poem.
“What is it about the universe, the universe about us stretching out?” May Swenson asks. She writes, “We, within our brains, within it, think we must unspin the laws that spin it.”
“We think why because we think because,” she responds in verse. “Because we think,
we think the universe about us.” A physicist or philosopher could take these lines and “spin” a book. A literary critic could “spin” the poem. It could become the basis for a conference on people and the planet. For sure, it is as complex as any human thought can be, and yet it is written with simplicity and the high school students seize the moment.
“I asked them to think about the relationship between the universe and humans,” the graduate student explains, “and how we created the concept of meaning.”
“I was surprised to find that neither high school student asked any questions before or after we read. It seemed that they had seen the paint, pastels and paper in front of them and just knew what they wanted to do. As soon as I stopped reading, I expected blank stares, but instead found that the students went right to work, hands grabbing for paints and brushes before I could even find any more instructions to give them. I kept quiet and started my own artwork to keep the creative energy of the room flowing.”
“When it came time to share, one of the high school students held her artwork up and began to talk about how she’d watched a program on Stephen Hawking once in physics class and had found a way to connect it to the poem. Her discussion focused on the idea that the Big Bang started with just a single point. This point accumulated as much density and energy as it could before exploding and continually creating the universe. The strokes of color signified how energy occurs in cycles, moving through various forms until you can’t trace where or what it had been before. The black edges represented the knowledge that we do not yet know, but are aware that we do not know and search for.”
Maxine Green would smile and nod, and possibly say, “Yes, that is how I imagined it would be.” In the concluding paragraph of the paper on her field work the graduate student writes, “Maxine Greene states, ‘it is imagination—with its capacity to both make order out of chaos and open experience to the mysterious and the strange—that moves us to go in quest, to journey where we have never been’ (1995, p.23). This class has helped me to learn the power of imagination and what it has the capacity to do within the classroom.”
“I have learned so much from this experience, and hope that I do get the opportunity to infuse these ideas into my own classroom one day,” she writes. “It is vital that as teachers we show our students how important their imagination is, and that we allow them the time to use it, reflect on it, and grow from it.”
Again she quotes Maxine Greene: “Imagination may be a new way of decentering ourselves, of breaking out of the confinements of privatism and self-regard into a space where we can come face to face with others and call out, ‘Here we are’” (Maxine Greene, 1995, p.31).
“As Maxine points out over and over again,” she continues, seizing the moment, “imagination is a tool of empowerment, something that helps us to exceed our expectations and travel to places that we would not have dreamed of. …This should be what we strive for as we create our classroom communities. Amidst the textbooks, skill and drill, and standardized testing, students need the opportunities to let their creativity flow and let their own colors shine through into the world.”
“With the first days of school approaching,” another graduate student in Writing Pictures Painting Stories writes, “I’ll meet all my “little ones” and remember the creativity you inspire through acceptance and celebration. You seem unconcerned or worried about an end product and guide an amazing, open process that allows for, and encourages the unexpected. I loved and learned from the journey, grateful to have been “orbiting” with peers.”
In Writing Pictures Painting Stories I try to give to my students what great educators, both scholars in universities and public school teachers, have given to me. From one generation to the next we evoke the human spirit, and create classroom communities that are caring and compassionate. We create intensely intellectual spaces in which students, who are often marginalized in American society, are nurtured, supported, and succeed in re-imagining the possibilities of their lives.
It is forty four years since I entered the classroom, and in that time I have never administered a test, and yet students learn and have no difficulty understanding the importance of hard work in any worthwhile human endeavor. In these troubled times I teach to transgress, and will not participate in any initiatives to teach teachers to test. I reject the idea of “value added” which is borrowed from economics, and I challenge the government mandates that impose a “common core”, and I refuse to accept the imposition of mediocrity on teachers, children, and American society.
In her ninety sixth year Louise Rosenblatt, the renowned teacher and scholar, wrote in an email to me of the “generosity and bravery” of teachers. She wrote, “Those who sit back and wait are, I believe, ignoring the children whose lives will be affected. To minimize the bad effects on good schools as well as the poor ones, we must try to influence what is happening. If we fail, as well we may, we shall at least have spread the ideas, have educated some who will continue the resistance.” Louise never gave up. She was writing letters to Congress in her hundredth year. In her memory, in honor of Maxine, and in the spirit of Calvino, I hope we can find the courage to organize and transgress, and to write pictures and paint stories instead of administering another test.
On June 22, 2010, at UNESCO in Paris, the International Council for Science (ICSU) held a Visioning Open Forum on “Institutional Frameworks for Global Sustainability”. The atmosphere at the forum was somber and the scientists were quiet and intense.
Johan Rockström opened the forum for scientists “to air their views” with a call for scientists “to reform our own structure”. “We have put ourselves in this position,” he said. “There have been great advances in science. As scientists it is fundamental that we move towards institutional frameworks to support research for a more sustainable world.”
He spoke of the vision of the “task team”, of “something profound and new”, of an “historic opportunity”, of “a turning point”, “an Apollo like endeavor to serve society”, “stronger engagement in communication and capacity building”, that is “more true to societal needs in the world”, to “avoid the risk of prophecy so daunting”, that is “not incremental but a step change”.
At scientific forums Rockström is a very serious man in a grey suit and white shirt. A whole conference can go by without a smile. But to get the urgency of the issues across to the public he wore a black shirt and used a beach ball to represent planet Earth. He even fell off the stage to get his message across.
If you only watch one video about what is happening to the planet and its people this is the video to watch.
ALEC is working to ensure that public education dollars get diverted to private profits. Their approach is working — for them. Not so much for the students who pay the price in the form of a subpar education and poor performance.
On June 22, 2010, at UNESCO in Paris, the International Council for Science (ICSU) held a Visioning Open Forum on “Institutional Frameworks for Global Sustainability”. The atmosphere at the forum was somber and the scientists were quiet and intense.
Johan Rockström opened the forum for scientists “to air their views” with a call for scientists “to reform our own structure”. “We have put ourselves in this position,” he said. “There have been great advances in science. As scientists it is fundamental that we move towards institutional frameworks to support research for a more sustainable world.”’
He spoke of the vision of the “task team”, of “something profound and new”, of an “historic opportunity”, of “a turning point”, “an Apollo like endeavor to serve society”, “stronger engagement in communication and capacity building”, that is “more true to societal needs in the world”, to “avoid the risk of prophecy so daunting”, that is “not incremental but a step change”.
At scientific forums Rockström is a very serious man in a grey suit and white shirt. A whole conference can go by without a smile. But to get the urgency of the issues across to the public he wore a black shirt and used a beach ball to represent planet Earth. He even fell off the stage to get his message across.
If you only watch one video about what is happening to the planet and its people this is the video to watch.
One critical factor is that we have not established ways of talking about extremes in the weather. Hot or cold, wet or dry, the privileged elites, concerned about losing power, privilege and profit have obfuscated the connection between extreme weather catastrophes in the U.S. and climate change. Nevertheless, no public official or private decision maker can truthfully say the devastation and misery caused by increasing frequency of floods, droughts and fires is not the consequence of the temperature rising and more extreme weather.
The unavoidable question is why climate change is not up front and center in the Presidential election? By default, the clear message from both political candidates is, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not an issue.” Meanwhile in Washington its business as usual, even though in the life time of our children we are facing the potential for multiple cataclysmic disasters.
If this seems like so much hot air, then suspect that you have been duped by the purveyors of anti-climate change rhetoric and every-man-for-himself politics. Unreservedly, without qualification, categorically and unequivocally every major national and international scientific council and academy has expressed concern about the anthropogenic changes to the planet that are causing climate change and irreparable damage to Earth’s fragile ecosystems. Visit the websites of NOAA, NASA, ESSP, UK Met, and IPCC, add the Planet Under Pressure conference, read the State of the Planet Declaration that was crafted by Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford Smith. Follow it with the 2001 Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change, and then read the Potsdam Memorandum written by the Nobel Laureates who participated in the 2007 Global Sustainability — Nobel Cause Interdisciplinary Symposium in Potsdam, Germany. They state, “Humanity is standing at a moment in history when a Great Transformation is needed to respond to the immense threat to the Earth. … Nobel Laureates from all disciplines, high level representatives from politics and world-renowned experts have called for this transformation to begin immediately.”
In the US extreme weather events and disasters have resulted in unspeakable human tragedy as well as ecosystem damage, but for power, privilege, and profit, the political establishment not only refuses to act, but even to acknowledge the imminent possibility of a cataclysmic event due to climate change.
The U.S. has gone to war on an unsubstantiated nuclear threat, but ignores the hard evidence of thirty years of Earth system scientific research that the American people could be in imminent danger from extreme weather events caused by the anthropogenic changes to the planet. The great acceleration of global industrialization has significantly increased the consumption of finite natural resources dramatically increasing profits for US multinational corporations and financial institutions, while at the same time dangerously decreasing the time left for the American people to respond to the increasing possibility of large scale disasters that are likely to occur if the U.S. government does not act. However, both Presidential candidates avoid losing millions in big business super PAC dollars by not putting climate change on the political agenda for the November election.
Uncertainty about climate is also compounded by the miscommunications between the public and climate scientists. A difficulty arises when scientists are asked about a specific weather event. The temperature in New York has hovered around 100 ⁰ F. all week and this afternoon lightening flashed every few seconds and there was a spectacular thunderstorm that lasted for several hours. Was the storm caused by climate change? Scientists cannot answer that question. But ask scientists if the increase in extreme weather events over the past thirty years is caused by global warming and the answer is likely to be an unqualified “yes”.
By 2050 the temperature is expected to rise 5 to 7 ⁰ Fahrenheit, and unless immediate action is taken the American landscape will be changed forever. While the rich will have more resources to cope with the harsh realities of the changes that will take place, the extremes in weather conditions will not discriminate. Rich or poor, there will be no exceptions to whose homes are lost when Arctic ice melts and ocean levels rise. Food insecurity, water scarcity, floods, droughts and fires will be a fact of life before social security runs out.
One of the big difficulties in the US is that the anti-climate change stance of power brokers and national decision makers has interrupted the development of a national discourse about climate change. There is still doubt in the minds of the people, because of a fact free ideology planted there for nefarious purposes that is utterly irrational, except if you want to hold on to power, and protect your wealth and privilege.
Our present path is unsustainable. One of the key findings of global research on extreme weather events is that the Unites States will be amongst the regions hardest hit. Research on sea-level increases caused by global warming predict that the northeast coast of the US will experience the most rapid rise – 3 to 4 times the global average – and the level is already rising. At the same time the combination of extreme weather and the rapid increase in population will mean that by 2050 cities will have half the resources currently available and our children will have to do more with much less.
Evidence of the increasing destruction caused by hurricanes and severe storms, tornadoes, droughts and wildfires is easily obtained. “We’ve done an extensive study on this,” explained Peter Höppe, the Head of Geo Risks Research for the world’s largest insurance company, Munich Re. “We see a significant upward trend in the US during the last decades. This is in line with some trends from meteorological data where we see a rising number of days with the potential to develop these large thunderstorms systems. When comparing regions in the trends of frequencies of weather-related natural catastrophes, we see the largest increase in North America, followed by Asia.”
Höppe, who was interviewed by Owen Gaffney, (IGBP), Stockholm, Sweden, spoke specifically of 2011 and the extreme record draughts in Texas, and record floods in Missouri and Mississippi. “If you take the tornadoes as a single event, then the tornado season of 2011 is the fifth costliest natural catastrophe in US insurance history,” Höppe said. “We think we can only explain the full range of these significant changes by the contribution of global warming.”
But the high cost of weather-related catastrophes in the US cannot be measured in dollar amounts alone. In extreme circumstances not only are homes destroyed but family members are lost. Records that trace family heritage and history are destroyed. Treasured family photos and personal mementoes are lost in the rubble or covered in mud. When catastrophes happen communities are torn apart, and while neighbors rally, mental health issues increase and the suicide rate rises as the old die younger than they would have if disaster had not struck.
We talk about the greed of financial institutions that profit from the foreclosure fire sales of peoples’ hard earned homes, but we do not talk about the huge profits of financial and corporate power brokers who refuse to publically acknowledge climate change. It’s about money, making it and holding on to it, whatever the cost to the American people or to people around the world.
If the political elites know that the temperature is rising and they refuse to act to mitigate the conditions that are causing the relentless upward trend, then some responsibility for the increase in weather related disasters originates with them. Taking the argument further, if the political elites know that a significant increase in extreme weather events is already creating irreparable damage to the homes and communities then they have a moral and ethical responsibility to inform the American people.
This summer houses are burning in Colorado, because of extreme draught and record temperatures. Add to Colorado fires in other states including Utah, Idaho, Alaska and Arkansas and the political establishment should at the very least be discussing with the American people the possibility that extreme weather has created the conditions for dangerous wild fires.
“We need to understand the conditions we’re facing today,” Tom Tidwell, Chief of the US Forestry Commission said in an AP interview. “They’re different than what we used to deal with. We’re seeing erratic fire behavior, more erratic weather.” On the official website of the US forest Service Tidwell states, “We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to protect our communities, properties, and wildland resources from catastrophic fire and other threats.”
Who could argue with that? But that is exactly what ALEC and other super PAC’s are doing in the presidential election, when they push their anti-climate change agenda by denigrating scientists and discrediting climate science. The foreclosure fire sales of poor families’ homes can add to the wealth of the super-rich and we are able to talk about that. But there is no public conversation in the U.S. about the many ways the extremely wealthy are using the anti-climate change platform to protect their lifestyles. The conclusive evidence of climate science jeopardizes the special interests of U.S. financial institutions and corporations, but the concerted effort to twist the facts, distort the research, and propagate lies jeopardizes all American lives.
If Joplin had been destroyed by a dirty bomb the entire country would be on a high terror alert. The fact that it was an extreme weather event that can be attributed to larger patterns of erratic weather due to anthropogenic changes to the planet should at least be a part of the national conversation. Instead the ruling elites propagate an anti-climate change fact free ideology that is now so embedded in people’s thinking that it is even possible to take such a bizarre stance and run for President of the United States. The distortions and lies about climate change that are concocted to frame the conversation and support the agenda of the privileged elite manipulates minds, muddles thinking, and interferes with the possibility of a national conversation about the anthropogenic changes that are taking place.
In the run-up to Rio+ 20 Science published an editorial by the renowned Brazilian scientist, Carlos Nobre, who wrote, “Urgently needed is courageous leadership that commits to a long-term vision for our planet and its people”. In the same edition of Science, another renowned scientist in the Netherlands, Pavel Kabat, wrote, “Above all else, success requires clear leadership and defined objectives”. Esther Duflo at MIT writes in the design of policies it is essential to “take our human nature into account”, and Alex Dehgan of USAID, in Washington DC, writes “we must harness the entire planet’s creativity”.
Here’s the statement on climate change to which the US signed on at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio +20:
190. The number is in the declaration. It locates the quote. Do you think we should remove? We affirm that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and we express profound alarm that emissions of greenhouse gases continue to rise globally. We are deeply concerned that all countries, particularly developing countries, are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, and are already experiencing increased impacts including persistent drought and extreme weather events, sea level rise, coastal erosion and ocean acidification, further threatening food security and efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. In this regard we emphasize that adaptation to climate change represents an immediate and urgent priority.
Grave concern is expressed for future generations of humankind and the urgent necessity for nationally appropriate mitigation actions and adaptations, and the US agreed. But through the deletion of language and a rewording of the text, the US also made sure that no action would be taken. In an early June draft of the declaration there are 125 deletions to the text by the US and a similar number of additions, modifications and qualifications, which acknowledge the fact of climate change, but mitigate against any action being taken in response to the global emergency.
An analysis of the leaked draft of the Rio +20 Declaration leaves no doubt that the US position is framed by the wealthiest people for the wealthiest people in the US, and that through the deletions and rewording of the declaration, the US hijacked the language, reframed the discourse, and reneged not only on its responsibility to the people of America, but also to the people of the rest of the world.
In Rio the declaration was called the longest suicide note in history which is an apt description of a document that captures the ethos of a sustainable world, but creates no mechanisms on how to achieve it. What will it take to overcome the suicidal recalcitrance of the U.S. political system to share with the American people the impact of global warming and the increase in extreme weather events on their daily lives? We’ve got to talk about climate change and sustainable development. It will take vision and imagination and the creation of new language so we can think deeply about it. It will take a national conversation, a public discourse, an on-going dialogue, grounded in science, and plugged into the global discussions about climate change that are taking place. Then we must hold politicians accountable. If climate change and global warming are not major topics for discussion in the November Presidential election they should be. For the sake of our children and grandchildren it is up to us to increase the pressure on public officials to engage with us in mitigating the damage, adapting to change, and transforming our society in response to the great acceleration of the anthropogenic changes that are taking place.
Chris Hedges is a courageous man. In a time of political paralysis, when the corporate and financial sectors rule, we must seek leaders with vision and insight in civil society. Hedges is such a leader. “I think that we don’t have a lot of time left, Hedges tells Moyers in this video. “And that for those of us who care about veering off into another course, a course that’s rational and sane and makes possible the perpetuation of not only the human species but the planet itself, we have to take this kind of radical action.”
There are forgotten corners of this country where Americans are trapped in endless cycles of poverty, powerlessness, and despair as a direct result of capitalistic greed. Journalist Chris Hedges calls these places “sacrifice zones,” and joins Bill this week on Moyers & Company to explore how areas like Camden, New Jersey; Immokalee, Florida; and parts of West Virginia suffer while the corporations that plundered them thrive.
The broadcast includes images from Hedges’ collaboration with comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, which is an illustrated account of their travels through America’s sacrifice zones. Kirkus Reviews calls it an “unabashedly polemic, angry manifesto that is certain to open eyes, intensify outrage and incite argument about corporate greed.”
Nineteen Clues to Why People are Changing the Planet and the Planet is Changing People And What Can Be Done About It
On April 6th 2012 the New York Times gave us a clue about what Americans can do to save the world. No, this is not about Paul Krugman’s soothsayer economics, although he does provide some clues. No, if we were paying attention, we would have read the first clue as we drank our coffee, but as we were probably not paying attention we just took a sip and turned or scrolled the page. Rarely when we read do we consider the consequences of the ways we live, for example, how our overconsumption is causing catastrophic damage to the planet, or how our proclivity for doing nothing about it is bringing the entire world closer to a cataclysmic disaster.
We are on an unsustainable course, but we are not prone to consider our excesses or to ask ourselves how a society that values logic and rationality can be so blind to the imminent cascading risks that exist. We do not question our human fallibility, or ask why our human instinct for survival has not kicked in. Every synapse should be firing, but this is a crisis in which cold logic will not work. And so, worried about keeping our jobs or about finding one, we miss the first clue and rush out the door because we are late. But like a crossword puzzle, once a clue is found we look for other clues in op-ed pieces or editorials, or in articles by staff reporters, first in the news sources of the day, and then in on-line news archives, where information is separated into topic-generated threads. And finally, when all these information sources have been exhausted, we can data mine the primary research. On June 10th, 2012, forty years after Watergate, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein appeared on the CBS Face the Nation, and Woodward said, “we were as empirical as we could be”. Forty years ago it was much more difficult, but today we have vast resources just a click of a mouse or a key away. Be proactive. Be as empirical as you can be. Go to the primary sources and get the original data. We must find out for ourselves, so that we can re-examine our reasoning, question our beliefs, and decide what action to take.
We would have had no trouble finding the first clue if we hadn’t been in such a rush. Thomas Lovejoy made it easy when he wrote “The Greatest Challenge of Our Species”, which was published as an Op-ed in the New York Times on April 6th, 2012, Lovejoy is the renowned ecologist at George Mason University who introduced us in the 1980’s to the concept of “biological diversity”. In the Op-ed, Lovejoy wrote without hype about the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference held in London in March. This world gathering was the science precursor to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development – Rio +20, at which new global sustainability goals will be established to take the place of the Millennium Goals, which will end in 2015.
In the limited number of words allowed for an Op-ed, Lovejoy reminded us that the United States abdicated its traditional leadership position in 1997 by refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol that might have slowed the great acceleration of the adverse climate changes we are now experiencing. He also made sure we know that the controversy over climate change in the U.S. was a “non-issue”. It was an expensive political and private PR job that cost us many years when action could have been taken. The U.N. discussions to reduce emissions began in Rio in 1992, so that’s twenty years of U.S. governmental inactivity. Meanwhile the temperature has been rising, and at Planet Under Pressure in 2012, the big question was how fast and how high. Forget holding the line at 2⁰ C by the middle of the century. Scientists are now focused on the impact of a global temperature rise of 4⁰ C ( 7⁰ F). Go to the website of the U.K. Met and read Richard Betts. We are already experiencing the extreme weather effects. Check out the Munich Re report. In 2011 a regional comparison on a global scale found the largest increase in weather-related catastrophes occurred here, in the U.S. Remember Joplin.
At the Planet Under Pressure conference scientists were clear. We have left the 10,000 year epoch of the Holocene and we have entered the human-driven epoch of the Anthropocene. Humanity has reached the endgame unless there is immediate action. It is imperative that we follow up. Skip the blogs and go to the source, starting with the websites of NOAA, NASA, ESSP, UK Met, and IPCC. Lovejoy emphasized that the global crisis is graver than we imagine, and he wrote that scientists are convinced that we have already transgressed three planetary boundaries for human life on Earth. In the last paragraph Lovejoy calls the planet and its people a “Biophysical system”, which is a well supported fact in Earth System science. There is no doubt that people are changing the planet and the planet is changing people, which is our FIRST CLUE to what Americans can do, to join with people of other nations around the world to sustain life on Earth. Go to the ESSP website and use the descriptors, “ecosystems”, “biodiversity”, and “human health and wellbeing”. Research Will Steffen and Johan Rockström. The March 2012 issue of Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability provides essential information, and the March 2012 issue of Global Change: International Geosphere-biosphere Programme is of critical importance.
At Planet Under Pressure the people-planet biophysical system was not news. Scientists focused on asking big questions like “Can science save us?” and “What can be done to sustain the planet for future generations?” The focus was on “climate extremes”, “impacts of changing planetary pressures”, “life in extreme environments”, “disaster risk reduction” and “adaptation”. At the conference there were intense debates taking place about “barriers to action”. Delegates from all five continents participated in sessions that focused on what must be done to sustain the planet and its people. “What are the opportunities?” they asked. “What are the challenges?” Presenters spoke of the “lack of strong leadership”, “deficient authority”, the “lack of willingness of governments to act”, “political inertia”, the need for a “paradigm shift” and a “shift in discourse”, “a move from national security to collective security” and a “need for global action”.
In one session delegates met in small groups, and wrote on large sheets of paper about “rights and responsibilities” using descriptors including: “accountability”, “cooperation”, “agreements”, linking “human rights” and “Earth rights. Taking turns, they wrote, “democratize”, “humanise”, “values versus money”, and in large bold letters “stake holder participation on a planetary scale”. Other delegates focused on: “living within means” with “specific goals for resource consumption”. At other tables they wrote: “encourage participation”, and of the importance of “bringing in individuals, not just governments”. “Equity” was a recurring theme. One delegate wrote “the market has no morals”. Another wrote: “capitalism and globalisation rely on rich v poor so need different system to allow equity and balance”. Questions were also asked: “How can we use what we know? Combine? Make sure we are not constrained by the past?” And, “How do we measure the progress of a country, by the government or the people?”
“We are not talking about the elephant in the room”, one delegate called out. Simultaneously, from different tables, in different parts of the room, three delegates called back, “The U.S.A!” The atmosphere of collaboration changed to one of dissonance and dissent. There were murmurs of agreement around the room and another delegate called out, “Americans are the most overworked miserable people on the planet”. Negative views of America reverberated throughout the conference, with off-the-cuff comments invariably critical. The U.S. consumes one third of the planet’s available resources, but is recalcitrant about addressing the impact of its excesses on the planet and its people, giving rise to anger and resentment on a global scale. People suffer because of us. Here’s the SECOND CLUE: The first step to American’s participation in saving the world is the recognition of the legitimacy of global concerns about U.S. overconsumption of the Earth’s finite resources, and the negative impact it is having on the planet and its people.
Empirical evidence that the U.S. is a social outlier in the developed world was presented at Planet Under Pressure by Richard Wilkinson. Wilkinson is gently spoken and he did not single the U.S. out. He did not have to. The fact that the US falls short on every social indicator that he discussed was in plain view on the graphs he used in an international comparative analysis of human well being in more equal and less equal countries. In every category the US was the most unequal.
Before more than 2,000 delegates, and live streamed to an audience around the world, Wilkinson made the connections between what is happening to the planet, global sustainability, and income inequality, providing us with our THIRD CLUE: Extreme social inequality in the U.S. negatively impacts American society, increases the pressures on the planet and has a cascading adverse effect on global sustainability. Wilkinson spoke of the negative relationships between income inequality, and of a series of health and well being indicators. The scientific evidence he presented has been published in peer reviewed medical and social science journals, is available on the Equality Trust website, and is compiled in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, which Wilkinson co-authored with Kate Pickett. Again, skip the blogs and go to the source. The Equality Trust website will give you not only the original research data, but it will also provide you with citations to access the primary research studies on which the meta-analysis is based.
“We all do better in more equal societies,” Wilkinson said, noting that income inequality is greatest in the U.S. He stated that mental illness is more prevalent in unequal countries, and that the U.S. has the highest levels of mental illness in relation to international measures of income inequality. He reported that the use of illicit drugs is also highest in the U.S.
Wilkinson emphasized that unequal societies imprison more peoplethan societies that are more equal, and once again the U.S. is an outlier with more people imprisoned than any other country in the developed world. Violent crime is higher in unequal societies and the U.S. is number one in homicides per million, with a child killed by a gun every three hours in the U.S. in 2005-2006. Obesity is higher in unequal societies and again the U.S. has the highest rates of obesity in the developed world. Teenage births are higher in unequal states and again the U.S. stands alone with by far the highest teenage pregnancy rates.
In Wilkinson’s presentation he stated that child well-being is better in more equal societies, and from the graphics he presented it was clearly evident that children in the in the U.S. live in highly stressful environments that negatively impact their everyday lives. “Improvement in child well-being in rich societies will depend more on reduction in inequality than on further economic growth,” Wilkinson states on the Equality Trust website. When combined with the three previous clues, there you will also find the basis for our FOURTH CLUE: In the U.S. further economic growth will not improve the health or well-being of the American people. Greater emphasis on income equality and less emphasis on economic growth will diminish U.S. over exploitation of planet’s irreplaceable resources.
Wilkinson spoke of social mobility, which is greater in more equal societies. Again, the U.S. does not fare well. He also presented the evidence for education that “children do better at school in more equal societies”. “Disadvantaged children do less well at school and miss out on the benefits of education,” Wilkinson states on the website. “In an international analysis published in Lancet, and an analysis of the 50 U.S. states published in Social Science and Medicine, we have shown that scores in maths and reading are related to inequality”.
Other measures Wilkinson presented include cohesion and trust, with the U.S. society one of the most fragmented and distrustful. “There has been little recognition that greater equality is an important pre-condition for strengthening community life,” the Equality Trust website states, where the interconnectedness of the measures is made evident. “High levels of trust are linked to low levels of inequality, both internationally and among the 50 U.S. states, and trust is linked to health and well-being.” And so, our FIFTH CLUE: Inequality in America is bad for the planet as well as for people, and increases our ethical responsibility to act.
Wilkinson closed the circle on human well being, by emphasizing the urgent need to reduce the human pressures on the planet. He argued that for a better quality of life, we need greater income equality. Once again the Equality Trust website provides an accurate reiteration of the data that he presented at Planet Under Pressure to support the finding that measures of well-being or of happiness no longer rise with economic growth:
Not only has economic growth in the rich countries ceased to bring the social benefits it once brought (and continues to bring in poorer countries), but it now threatens the planet. We are therefore the first generation to have to find ways of improving the real quality of life. The evidence suggests that we need to shift our attention away from increasing material wealth, to the social environment and the quality of social relations in our societies. For rich countries to get even richer makes little or no difference to the prevalence of health and social problems but, as other pages on this web site make clear, the social problems which beset many rich societies are much more common in more unequal societies. …
It is sometimes said that societies have to choose between greater equality and economic growth. If that were true, people in the rich countries have clearly reached a point where the rational choice would be equality: If our aim is to improve the quality of life while avoiding further damage to the planet, greater equality can do both whereas economic growth can do neither.
Deftly, and without fanfare, Wilkinson provides the answer to how Americans can save the world, not alone, but in cooperation with other countries, in a global effort to slow the changes to the planet that will make it difficult for future generations to inhabit. If only it were that simple.
If we are proactive, go right to the source. The State of the World’s Mothers 2012 report makes the case that neither women’s rights nor children’s rights are protected in the U.S. The report states, “Apart from the United States, all developed countries now have laws mandating some form of paid compensation for women after giving birth”. The report points out that the U.S. “has the least generous maternity leave policy of any wealthy nation” and is “one of only a handful of countries in the world that does not guarantee working mothers paid leave” (p. 51).
The U.S. is ranked last or “poor” on nearly every measure. The lifetime risk of maternal mortality is higher in the U.S. than any other industrialized nation. The report states, “A woman in the U.S. is more than 7 times as likely as a woman in Ireland or Italy to die from a pregnancy-related cause and her risk of maternal death is 15 times that of a woman in Greece”. The report also focuses on children under five. More children die before the age of five in the U.S. than in nearly every other developed country. Forty countries performed better than the U.S., and on this indicator of childhood mortality in the U.S. is on par with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The State of the World’s Mothers report brings home our SIXTH CLUE: While poor women and children in the U.S, are the most disadvantaged, all American women and children are disadvantaged when compared with women and children in other developed countries. In the U.S. Mothers have the least amount of maternity leave and no guarantee of wage benefits. The estimated female to male ratio of earned income is amongst the lowest, and the percentage of women in national government is well below that of most countries in the developed world.
Digging deeper, the U.S. is the only country in Western Hemisphere and the only industrialized “democracy” that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), or the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. One argument made in the U.S. by right wing adversaries to the ratification of these documents of basic human rights is that both women and children are protected by federal and state laws, but Wilkinson provides irrefutable evidence that they are not. When will human rights become a woman’s right? When will the U.S. ratify the U.N. Treaty for the Rights of Women in the World, and no longer stand alongside Iran and Sudan as one of only seven countries in the world that have refused to sign the treaty? When will human rights become a child’s right? When will the U.S. stand down as the only country in the world that has not signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child?
When we combine the NYT’s Op-ed, “The Greatest Challenge of Our Species”, with the one on the State of the World’s Mothers, and with the sleuthing for clues on the primary source websites, our SEVENTH CLUE can be stated thus: The planet cannot be protected unless the rights of women and children are protected, and we know what we must do.
Let’s go back to the New York Times. In an editorial on May 20th, “The Attack is Real: The Republican assault on women’s rights and health is undeniable, severe and continuing”. The editorial is unequivocal: “New laws in some states could mean a death sentence for a woman who suffers a life threatening condition”. The editorial also focuses on women’s lack of access to health care, their unequal pay, and their lack of protection from domestic violence. The editorial ends as follows: “Whether this pattern of disturbing developments constitutes a war on women is a political argument. That women’s rights and health are casualties of Republican policy is indisputable”. The hostile ideological stance of Republicans on women’s rights is similar to the pattern of the Republican attack on Earth system scientists over climate change. Given this, it is not much of a stretch to consider that the elephant in the room at the Planet Under Pressure conference was the Republican Party, which has delayed action on climate change and global warming, and has increased the gap between the health and well being of women and children in the U.S. and women and children in the developed world.
So here is our EIGHTH CLUE: In the U.S. the war on climate science and on the health and wellbeing of women and children is a symptom of a pathological political ideology that negatively impacts global stability and sustainability of life on the planet. This clue complicates our search for other clues. Cold logic will not work. In the past, men of power who we think of as rational have come close to the total destruction of their own societies. Robert McNamara made this statement in The Fog of War in his recounting of the nuclear Cuban Missile Crisis. He also stated that the same danger exists today. The threat of nuclear war has not gone away, but it is entirely possible that the human assault on land, sea, and air might be even more devastating.
Which brings us not to a clue but to the enduring question, the QoQ , the Question of Questions: “How can timely actions be undertaken at unprecedented and multiple geopolitical scales, when the issues involve people of widely differing—and—disconnected values, ethics, emotions, spiritual beliefs, levels of trust, interests and power?” It’s the unwritten question that dogged McNamara, and that President Kennedy responded to even though he did not have an answer, on a day that could have ended in nuclear annihilation. “We looked down the gun barrel to nuclear war,” McNamara said in The Fog of War. “I want to say and this is very important,” he said. “In the end we lucked out. It was luck that prevented nuclear war.”
At the time that I write the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reports that the U.S. House of Representatives has approvedEnergy and Water and Homeland Security spending bills. Paraphrasing, AAAS estimates (PDF tables or summary), atomic defense-related R&D would be increased by 8.4 percent, while the Office of Science R&D would be cut by 1.6 percent. Overall R&D in the Department’s energy technology programs would be cut by 11.6 percent. This is mostly due to funding reductions for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and low-carbon innovations. At the same time R&D funding would nearly double in FY 2012 for the Defense Nuclear Detection Office of the Department of Homeland Security. These numbers are virtually the same as those that have emerged in the Senate version of the bill, which passed committee on May 22 and awaits floor action. See Chapter 11 of the AAAS FY 2013 R&D budget report for more on R&D at DHS (PDF). Tedious as it might be to read, it is another indication that while the U.S. government supports R&D for nuclear defense technology, support for R&D on renewable energy is not a high priority. A tactical error. A nuclear attack is a possibility, but the cataclysmic impact of climate change is now inevitable.
Today, when our luck is running out, the QoQ, which is ubiquitous in life, is rarely asked, certainly not in Washington where ideology blinds politicians, and fogs their minds to the imminent dangers to humanity caused by the adverse anthropogenic changes to the planet. McNamara used the space between his thumb and index finger when they were almost touching to show us how close we had come to men of power totally destroying their societies and much of the world. Imagine that we are that close to an infinite number of cataclysmic events, and will be so for the next one hundred years, and the men of power are so blinded by ideologically they are incapable of asking the QoQ.
The QoQ is the question that we are really trying to address when we search for clues to respond to the question: “Can the American people save the world?” We would have to find ways to move beyond the great divisions in U.S. society. We would have to address the systemic risks to people and the planet of the multiple platforms of U.S. power brokers and decision makers. We know that the President is the only man who has the power to press the nuclear button, but men of power have many buttons that they have already pressed, political corporate and financial, with destructive effects that have the potential to destroy human societies. Here is the NINTH CLUE: In the U.S. the cascading effects of power brokers’ maladaptive decision making is quite literally changing the geology of the planet, the chemistry of the air we breathe, and the water we drink. But the decisions that are made by men of power, (and I do mean men, very few women are in the top echelon of political, corporate, and decision makers), are fraught by their own frailties and the ideological distortions of short term victories, and not the long term consequences of their actions.
It is easy to discount the cascading effects of human fallibility on the world in which we live. Many problems that are of global significance seem to be problems that we are just facing in our local communities, and it is difficult to look beyond what is happening to our families and to our children. The QoQ seems like an academic abstraction, but it’s not. On every level, it is the question that frames the ways in which we live. So the search is on for an article in the New York Times that will uncover some of the negative cascading effects of button presses by political, corporate, and financial decision makers. The article that makes the case focused on a task force that was actually co-chaired by one of America’s most powerful women, but the views expressed are nevertheless reflect the platform of powerful men.
Type in “Panel says “Schools’ Failings Could Threaten Economy and National Security”’, and a link should pop up to a piece from the Associated Press which was published in the New York Times on March 19th, 2012. Here’s the first two lines: “WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s security and economic prosperity are at risk if schools do not improve, warns a report by a panel led by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Joel I. Klein, a former chancellor of New York City’s school system”. AP quotes from the report include: “The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital”, and “failure to produce that capital will undermine American security’”. The takeaway from the piece is that schools are sites of insecurity and children are human capital. Once again, skip the blogs and go right to the report.
We know that human well-being and global sustainability go hand in hand, and that inequality has negative consequences, not only for people, but also for the planet, and that the U.S. leads the developed world on every indicator of inequality. But the Rice-Klein Task Force Report on U.S. K-12 public education is not about the anthropogenic challenges that the U.S. must address, which will require a rethinking of education for sustainable development and global security. Instead, the report focuses on U.S. national security, and makes no mention of the threats right now to this generation and future generations of children, as a result of the U.S. over consumption of Earth’s limited resources.
No consideration is given in the Klein and Rice report to the fact that we are transgressing planetary boundaries for human life on Earth, or that the temperature is rising and our children can expect to live on a much hotter planet than it is now, or to the fact that wars endanger ecosystems and other species as well as maim and kill people. Again, go to the source. Look up “War and Conflict” in Sustaining Life, by Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein (2008). Then go to costsofwar.org and get the data on the environmental impact of war. On this site you will also find data on the financial cost of war. The U.S. is spending more than all other countries combined on the wars we are now fighting, increasing corporate power and the opportunities for corporate profiteering, which makes the case for the perfect marriage of Klein promoting corporate profits from Rice’s advocacy for the schooling of K-12 children to prepare for war.
The worldview of this report is irrationally ideological, and the rhetoric is militaristic and threatening. Children are “humancapital”, and the task of teachers, predominantly disenfranchised women, is to prepare them for whatever future conflict the U.S. might have with the rest of the world. Richard Haas, President, Council on Foreign Relations, states, “this report calls on state governors, working in conjunction with the federal government, to establish a national security readiness audit that holds educators responsiblefor meeting national expectations in education” (p. x).
In the Chair’s Preface, Klein and Rice call the report “a clarion call to the nation” (p. xiv), but their intent is not to humanize or democratize. They state, “No country in the twenty-first century can be truly secure by military might alone. The dominant power of the twenty-first century will depend on human capital. The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security” (p. xiii). It is not difficult to imagine what Wilkinson’s response to this worldview would be.
The purpose is to “catalyze national change”, and “mere tweaks to the status quo will not create the necessary transformation”. The Klein and Rice Task Force argues that “urgent shifts in education policy are necessary to help the country hold onto its status as an educational, economic, military, and diplomatic global leader” (pp. 5-6). Similar statements appear throughout the report. Words and phrases used in the report include “threat”, “crisis, and “negative impact”, not engagement, and not participation. The Task Force advises that the United States should “aggressively implement assessments that more appropriately track student outcomes” (p. 48). To ensure aggressive implementation the Task Force recommends that:
The Defense Policy Board, which advises the secretary of defense, and other leaders from the public and private sectors should evaluate the learning standards of education in America and periodically assess whether what and how students are learning is sufficiently rigorous to protect the country’s national security interests” (p. 50).
States and schools are advised to “remain vigilant”, and that “in order to catalyze reform and innovation and better safeguard American national security, it is essential to measure how well students, teachers, and schools are measuring up”, and that “accountability must also engender consequences and public awareness”(p. 53).
Thus, three key recommendations are made:
Implement educational expectations and assessment in subjects vital to protecting national security;
Make structural changes to provide students with good choices, which the report states will enhance choice and competition; and
Launch a “national security readiness audit” to hold schools and policy makers accountable for results and to raise public awareness.
The report is nothing less than a call to arms in preparation for future wars, and not a call for arms to hold our children and protect them from the damage to the planet which we have caused. While the concept of children as human capital and K-12 public education as training for the military is deeply troubling for U.S. parents and educators, it is also undoubtedly of serious concern to the global community, given the immediate response that is needed from the U.S. to the great acceleration of the pressures on the planet, and the transgression of planetary boundaries for life on Earth as we know it. Which brings us to the TENTH CLUE: Global action to avoid social or planetary tipping points will require the active participation of the U.S., in rethinking K-12 education to make schools more equitable and just, and to reconnect children with the natural world.
Political progress is urgently needed, but the shift in the discourse from national security to global security is unlikely to happen in the U.S. any time soon. Washington is in no mood to participate in any collective action that might jeopardize U.S. global supremacy. The exhaustion of twentieth century economic structures and a predilection to go to war has left the U.S. government fragmented, stagnated, ideologically polarized, and dangerously dysfunctional.
In addition to the militarization of U.S. public schools, the Rice-Klein Task Force recommends privatization, competition, and market-based approaches to education reform, all of which are deeply problematic, given the global concerns about the negative impact of overconsumption on the planet. The idea that public institutions can be privately owned, that the purpose of education is to compete or that consumerism is the basis for school reform, is not widely supported by the public. Many groups are organizing including: Children Are More than Test Score; Fait Test; New York Principals, Parents Across America, Save Our Schools; Unite Drop Out. But the widening gap between the U.S. government and the American people does not seem to bother those in power. The use of propaganda to manipulate public thinking is endemic in the U.S. The Task Force makes this case, writing that it “believes the annual audit should be aggressively publicized to help all members of society understand educational challenges and opportunities facing the country.” Rice and Klein state:
This public awareness campaign should be managed by a coalition of government, business, and military leaders. It should aim to keep everyone in the country focused on the national goal of improving education to safeguard America’s security today and in the future.
Astute use of media and communications have a proven ability to effect changes in mindsets and actions, and the group believes that a targeted, annual campaign, led by the Department of Education in collaboration with the U.S. States, the Department of Defense and State, and the intelligence agencies could have this impact (p. 55, emphasis added).
There is no doubt that while espousing democratic principles of liberty, equality, and freedom, the minds of Americans are constantly exposed to smoking gun—mushroom cloud mind manipulations by politicians, policy makers, and government agencies. Even so, the high numbers of U.S. casualties in the armed forces, many experiencing brain injuries, limb amputation, and other crippling body conditions, combined with the deaths and casualties of military personnel in Afghanistan, makes the Task Force report on the preparation of K-12 children for armed service seem more life ending than mind bending.
In the case of the U.S. public schools, the erosion of democratic principles by politicians and policy makers is catastrophic, but for the people of the world and the future of the planet, the cascading effects of these covert and overt mind manipulations are potentially disastrous. But the situation could be cataclysmic, when the clarion call by U.S. policy makers and government agencies is for K-12 public schools to prepare the nation’s “human capital” for military service to protect U.S. global supremacy, is combined with the pressures exerted by the U.S. government, corporations, and billionaire plutocrats to dismantle the U.S. public school system.
But the devil is in the details, and it takes a specific example to bring to the attention of both the U.S. and global community how far the U.S. has slipped from its democratic principles. “Without examining the full range of privatization actors, our understanding of educational and institutional arrangements is attenuated, the shift in power relationships becomes opaque, and the profound alterations to leadership, teachers’ work, and community participation in democratic governance receive insufficient attention,” Janelle Scott and Catherine DiMartino (2009) write. Digging deeply, they describe the power structures that un-Earthed the New York public school system:
In 2002, when the state legislature gave the mayor control of the public schools, he became the ultimate gatekeeper in New York City. Upon gaining control of the public schools, Mayor Bloomberg, the former CEO and founder of Bloomberg LLP, chose to hire corporate sector professionals to be key leaders within the Department of Education (DOE). For example, he hired Joel Klein, the chairman and CEO of Bertelsmann, Inc., to be chancellor of the New York City Public Schools. In turn, Chancellor Klein hired McKinsey and Company, and Alvarez and Marshal, private management consulting firms, to help with the reorganization of governance and operational structures within the NYC DOE. Chancellor Klein hired Chris Cerf, the former president of the EMO, Edison Schools, Inc., to be the deputy chancellor of operational strategy, human capital and external affairs. Espousing market ideologies and the positive potential of competition, these leaders invited private sector organizations to partner with the DOE to provide educational services to further their vision of schools reform (p. 441).
Scott and DiMartino provide the private sector, market driven, ideological connection between Klein the CEO, Klein the Chancellor of NYC Public Schools, and Klein the Co-Chair of the U.S. Education Reform and National Security Task Force Report. Add the admitted mind manipulations to militarize K-12 schools, and all that stands between U.S. democracy and plutocracy are the teachers and parents of America’s school children, who are doing their best to resist. (B: again, listed)
Back to the New York Times and the May 7th article, “Steering Murdoch in Scandal, Klein Put School Goals Aside”, by Amy Chozick. “While Mr. Klein still worked for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Klein became close friends,” Chozick writes. “They talked frequently about the state of public schools and Mr. Klein was lured to New Corporation with the promise that he could use the company’s deep coffers to put in place his vision of revolutionizing K-12 education. Mr. Murdoch said he would be “thrilled” if education were to account for 10 percent of News Corporation’s $34 billion annual revenue in the next five years”. Klein was paid more than $4.5 million by Murdoch in 2011, and so a principal advisor to Murdoch, who the British parliamentary report has stated was “not a fit person” to run a major corporation, continues to have enormous influence on the U.S. K-12 public education system.
Given that the News Corp scandal began with the hacking of the phone of 13 year old Milly Dowler who had been brutally murdered, there is something perverse about the fact that Wireless Generation, for which Murdoch’s News Corporation paid $360 million, has Klein at the helm in the development and use of educational data systems and assessment tools used in U.S. K-12 public schools. Chozick writes, “Mr. Klein’s education unit is now one of the few areas within the company that is currently growing, both through investment in Wireless Generation and potential acquisitions”. She also states that “Wireless generation said more than 2,500 United States school districts, 200,000 teachers and three million schoolchildren currently use its products”.
Back again to the New York Times, and an article on May 11, “E-Mails Provide Inside Look at Mayor’s Charter School Battle”, by Anna M. Phillips. The e-mails were written during Bloomberg’s 2010 campaign to expand charter schools, and Phillips writes that they were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The “fight of our life”, Phillips writes, was the way one email described it. “We need to mobilize,” Phillips reports that Klein wrote to James Merriman, the head of the New York City Charter School Center, on January 18, 2010, “Every time we keep our powder dry, we shoot ourselves.” The following dialogue ends Phillip’s article:
“You were terrific,” Mr. Klein wrote to Bradley Tusk, a consultant for Education Reform Now. “Perfect pitch, perfect message.”
“Who’s the heavy breather on the call?” wrote a participant, whose name was redacted. “Normally, I’d ask them to mute their phone but I don’t want to alienate any donors.”
“Some overweight billionaire,” Mr. Klein replied.
Go to the source. The emails provide concrete verification of the nefarious activities of political, corporate, and financial powerbrokers, and the gendering of the struggle that is taking place in the U.S. for the health and well being of American children as well as their academic development. The email exchange is grossly disparaging of the women scholars and educators who are vocal in protecting the rights of children.
Public schools by definition belong to the people, and cannot be owned by private sector. The extremely rich cannot own the extremely poor, nor can they use the poor to increase corporate profits. In Wilkinson’s international research on equality the U.S. is an outlier, but that descriptor does not come close to describing the scorched earth policies of the business elites working with billionaires and the Federal and state governments, destroying any hope that children in U.S. public schools might have of responding to the challenges they will face on a planetary scale. A hundred years of solid empirical research on child development has been trashed, and research on human learning in the fields of anthropology, linguistics, medicine, psychology, and sociology has been thrown out.
If people in America do only one thing to save the planet, they should protect both their children and their teachers in public schools, because it is in these public places that great transformations in human learning and understanding can take place about the relationships that exist between people and the planet. And so our ELEVENTH CLUE: In teaching the young we teach ourselves, and we will come to understand that the Earth is not an infinite resource to be exploited, but a finite life force that we must care for and sustain. Go back to Lovejoy, revisit the websites of NOAA, NASA, ESSP, UK Met, and IPCC, add the site for the Planet Under Pressure conference, read the State of the Planet Declaration that was crafted by Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford Smith. Follow it with the 2001 Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change, and then read the Potsdam Memorandum written by the Nobel Laureates who participated in the 2007 Global Sustainability — Nobel Cause Interdisciplinary Symposium in Potsdam, Germany. They state, “Humanity is standing at a moment in history when a Great Transformation is needed to respond to the immense threat to the Earth. … Nobel Laureates from all disciplines, high level representatives from politics and world-renowned experts have called for this transformation to begin immediately.” The Nobel Laureates state, “It is essential to remove the persisting cognitive divides … to win over young minds … for the well-being of the generations further down the line.”
These documents shed a very different light on the unenlightened Klein-Rice call for the militarization and privatization of K-12 public education. In a dissenting view in the Rice-Klein report, Carole Artigiani, founder of Global Kids, Inc, writes of public schools as the “bedrock” of communities in “an interconnected, global society”. She states:
The current political environment is a clear demonstration of what happens when we have a public—and public officials—who are uniformed and/or ill-informed about our nation’s history, our political system, and the values upon which it was built.
Certainly schools must play a critical role in assuring that these needs of national security can be met. Yet, while some of the data are disturbing, nothing in this report convinces me that our public schools “constitute a very grave national security threat facing this country.” Indeed, claims of alarm can only set the state for dramatic actions unsupported by evidence: in this case, market-based approaches to school reform, that, overall, have not demonstrated their effectiveness. Indeed, charter schools and vouchers are diverting funds and energy away from neighborhood schools, and the more successful ones rely on additional support from private sources (“voluntary taxation”), a situation that is neither sustainable nor scalable. Moreover, the drive toward “competition” can diminish individual commitment to the common good, thus undermining the very nature and purpose of public education: preparing young people of all background to become informed and active citizens who understand their rights and responsibilities to contribute to society and participate in the shaping of policies that affect their communities and larger world (p.60-61).
Stephen Walt, Harvard Kennedy School, Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University, and Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers, all signed Artigiani’s dissenting view. In his own dissenting statement, Walt writes that the recommendation of privatization encourages “a policy course that could do more harm than good” and describes the recommendations as “not a reliable blueprint for reform” (p. 66). And Weingarten writes, “In this country, no other public service essential to the nation’s well-being—not law enforcement, firefighting, or armed forces—has forsaken being a public entity. Public education has been a cornerstone of democracy and a means of acculturation for generations of Americans, as well as a crucial vehicle by which those generations have not simply dreamed their dreams but achieved them (p. 69).
In her dissenting view, Linda Darling-Hammond first notes her agreement with the Task force on the importance of science, technology, engineering, and foreign languages as well as the English language arts and mathematics, before focusing on her opposition to public school privatization. “The report ignores the fact that our highest-achieving states have all built high-quality systems without charters, vouchers, educational management companies, or other forms of privatization”, she states. “The path forward should be focused on building capacity to ensure high-quality options in all schools within a robust public education sector, as all high-achieving nations have done” (p. 63).
A vivid portrait of inequality in the U.S. that is damaging people and the planet is provided by Darling-Hammond in “Why is Congress Redlining Our Schools? published in The Nation on January 10, 2012 where she writes of racial and economic segregation. Here two quotes from the article underscores the urgency of the actions that need to be taken and when combined form our TWELTH CLUE: One in four American children lives in poverty, nearly 60 percent more than in 1974, and the number of people living in severe poverty has reached a record high. A national study in 2009 found that one in fifty children in America is homeless and living in a shelter, motel, car, shared housing, abandoned building, park or orphanage. The proportions in some school districts exceed one in ten, and the number is growing rapidly.
Darling-Hammond writes of poverty concentrated in increasingly re-segregated communities with more than 70 percent of black and Latino students attending predominantly minority schools. Writing of California, she states, “With inadequate budgets, crumbling buildings, class sizes of more than thirty (in some cases fifty) and not enough desks or books, many schools serving the neediest students have long ago cancelled art, music, and physical education, shut down libraries and fired librarians, nurses and counselors”. Inexorably she continues writing of California, but it could be New York, any state, any city, small town or rural community, “They have lost reading specialists, science teachers, and school psychologists. As they suffer cut after cut while they seek to meet the needs of children who are often hungry and homeless as well as shortchanged in terms of education opportunities, these schools must decide how they will underserve their students, not whether they will”.
Writing of test-and-punish school reforms, Darling-Hammond states, “Blaming teachers for the ills of high-needs schools lets policy-makers off the hook and keep the more fundamental problems of severe poverty, a tattered safety net and inequitable funding under the rug”. Poverty is ubiquitous, and the myths perpetuated by “blame the victim” policies, practices, and reforms are endemic in the U.S. The country is a sick place for children to have to go to school. There is credible evidence that in Texas students who test low have been ousted from their schools, but what happened to the New Orleans public schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina takes the U.S. to a new moral low. Darling-Hammond writes, “In the brave new world of New Orleans, composed almost entirely of charter schools, the Southern Poverty Law Center had to sue because the disabled students could not get access to public schools”.
In countries that care more about equality, the political status of women is more equitable with that of men, and the health and well being of children, as well as their academic development, is a priority. But in the U.S., where women’s lives are increasingly placed in jeopardy, teachers, who are predominantly women, are vilified, denigrated, and bullied by political and corporate power brokers. Many teachers are being “pink slipped” or “excessed”. In K-12 “public” schools, children are beaten up by batteries of for-profit, empirically indefensible, for-profit commercial tests, mandated by Federal and state governments, that provide no useful pedagogical information that can be used by teachers as a basis for instruction. Increasingly, administrators and teachers are expressing alarm at the visible impact on K-12 students, many of whom are suffering from test taking anxiety disorders. Public schools have become 21st century sweat shops in the mass production of lucrative fill in the bubble tests items that distort the learning process. Again, go to the source. Click on or type in the “Pineapple and the Hare”, which is an exemplar of this lucrative sweat shop activity.
The trail of pedagogical malpractice can be traced back to the 1990’s, when George W. Bush was Governor of Texas. With the White House in his future, education became the center piece of his political agenda. With the help of McGraw-Hill – the Bushes and McGraws were old family friends – and with the participation of Reid Lyon at NICHD, research was conducted in Texas on how young children learn to read. The fudging of data is documented in Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science . The media campaign made sure that the findings supported the use of commercial skill and drill programs, and it privileged Open Court published by McGraw-Hill. With billions of dollars at stake the PR was relentless, and the big text book adoption states – Texas, California, Florida, Michigan and New York — quickly fell. The genesis of current nefarious practices in the commercialization and privatization of the U.S. K-12 public school system can be traced back to that time.
Despite protests from educators, the “No Child Left Behind” Act, which was pushed into law by the Bush Administration and the Republican controlled Congress, was based on the falsified evidence of the Texas reading studies. “Race to the Top” is built on the same findings, and today all commercial reading programs, testing programs, and teacher evaluation protocols can be traced back to the falsification of the research findings in the Texas studies. Pearson has been is the biggest beneficiary of the political and corporate billions in PR to instill and constantly reinforce beliefs too complicated to be easily unpackaged about children’s learning, that makes it mandatory for schools districts to purchase commercial skills programs, as well as the batteries of tests and all the evaluative paraphernalia that goes with them. Pearson produces and sells the commercial reading programs and the test preparation materials, produces and sells the tests, evaluates children’s test taking, and then sells the evaluative procedures that hold teachers responsible if children fail. Pearson is a key player in a billion dollar, profit-producing, pedagogically indefensible enterprise, that siphons much needed funding from K-12 public schools and has cascading negative effects. The schools that are the hardest hit are the schools of children living in poverty who lack many other forms of basic social services. Because of the huge disparities in the “poor schools get less, rich schools get more” funding of public schools, critical educational funds are siphoned off into the private sector, to companies like Pearson, Media Corp, and Wireless Generation. All of which are under investigation, but the products they sell are still sold to our schools, as our schools are sold out to the private sector.
The complexity of the political-corporate-financial connections in the private takeover of public schools makes for a complex and difficult crossword puzzle, but once again it is important to follow up. One piece to read would be Gail Collins’s “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us”, in the New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012 for an inside view of how very rich Texans determine what children learn through text book adoptions in 50-80% of U.S. K-12 schools. Collins writes that the theory of evolution, global warming, and the separation of church and state are all regarded as “factual errors” by the Texas State School Board which is elected because of “some extremely rich Texans have gotten into the board of education election game, putting their money at the disposal of the conservative populists” (p. 18). But here, in our quest for clues in the New York Times I have picked up the thread in the article “Land of Cheese and Rancor: How did Wisconsin get to be the most politically divisive place in America?” by Dan Kaufman in the New York Times Magazine, May 27th, which focuses on the activities of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known stateside in the personified form, as “ALEC”.
In the 1980 and 1990’s, researchers in the educational community believed that the scientific evidence that they presented would counter the fudged findings of the Texas research. The relationships between politicians, the Business Round Table, and the decisions that were made about the teaching of children in U.S. schools were difficult to grasp. Not so now, which provides the THIRTEENTH CLUE: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) makes it easy to understand how the great wealth and vast power of the private sector is undermining not only the U.S. K—12 public school system, but is also undermining the U.S. response to climate change. With billions at stake, hundreds of millions are going into the Republican coffers and Mitt Romney who was proactive in responding to climate change when he was Governor of Massachusetts no longer thinks climate change is a threat.
Kaufman, in Land of Cheese and Rancor, reports that he interviewed Mark Pocan, who is a member of ALEC. Quoting from Kaufman’s article, here’s the strategy that Pocan explained that ALEC advises its members to use:
“You have to introduce a 14-point platform,” he said, “so that you can make it harder for them to focus and for the press to cover 14 different planks.” He pointed to several bills introduced in the past two sessions, including one that allows more children to enroll in virtual charter schools. “It sounds good,” Pocan said. “Kids could access virtual schools for home schooling. But again,” he emphasized, the real purpose is “taking apart public schools, drip by drip.”
Kaufman then confirms one of the key points made in this article, “Beside education, ALEC maintains seven other wide-ranging task forces, like “Tax and Fiscal Policy” and Energy, Environment, Agriculture,” which promotes, among other things, legislation opposing climate-change initiatives” (p.32). Ideology has become policy. Given the increasing harmful effects on children of the corporate takeover of K-12 public schools (the statistics are available), and the misery and deaths caused by extreme weather events caused by climate change (as evidenced by the 2011 Munich Re Report), it would not be much of a stretch to make an argument for a Federal investigation under RICO Act. Not likely, however. The Supreme Court’s legalization of super PACs legalized illegal activities that, before the deregulation of the campaign finance system, would have been considered dirty tricks.
Let’s get back to the private takeover of K-12 public schools that are political sites of conflict, and which represent huge revenues and enormous profits for corporations. Following hard on the heels of ALEC is the FOURTEENTH CLUE: A public education should be an inalienable right of every child that policy makers must protect. It is their responsibility not to sell children to private corporations that force children to become captive consumers of products that damage their minds and increase the levels of anxiety. The tests are protected, but children are not. The research evidence is solid. Between 1951 and 2002 there has been a significant decline in the mental health of high school students, and between 1938 and 2007 there has been a significant decline in the mental health of college students (Twenge et al. Clinical Psychology Review 2010, 30:145-154. See also, United Nations Report on the World Social Situation, 2005: The Inequality Predicament.)
If children survive the ordeal of K-12 schooling and then apply to college, they fall prey to financial institutions that suck out every penny that they’ve got, and load them with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. In the U.S., studying at a college or university, indentures many young people to a life of servitude to banks that gouge them with high interest loans and reduce them to penury. In New York City there are college graduates living and begging on the streets. One young woman haunts me. She was standing where Broadway crosses Amsterdam. She could have been one of my graduate students, except for the city-pocked bags she was carrying, and the street grimed blanket. Each week there are more young people living on the streets. One young man’s sign reads: “HOMELESS” NEED A Little HELP GETTING BACK ON MY FEET. ANYTHING YOU CAN DO TO HELP WILL BE GREATLY APPRECIATED. GOD BLESS YOU. And another: HOMELESS & HUNGRY. DOG (STEVIE) COMES FIRST. ALWAYS! EVERYTHING HELPS! THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU! And another, this time of a homeless young woman young enough to be my granddaughter, written in bubble letters: A LITTLE KINDNESS ♡ GOES A LONG WAY.
In the U.S. many young people are on the streets even before they graduate. They have less debt but no skills, and no way to enter the workforce. In the country with the highest GDP in the world, we deliberately renege on our responsibility to educate our children. If students are not pushed out of school, they drop out. In 2011, 39,669 students dropped out of schools in New York City. “We leave because they are getting us ready for prison not college” a high school senior from New York said when he participated in a global conversation at a nearby college. Three students presented from his school; two young women and one young man. They were dynamic speakers, passionate about social justice, articulate about civil rights violations, all hoping to go to college, even though they were receiving letters of rejection at the time that they spoke. There were about twenty high school students and after the presentation we sat and talked about their hopes and fears and their desire to go to university.
We should all feel their unease, as they wonder what will happen to them when they graduate. In the school they attend many students are homeless and hungry. They live with every indicator of inequality that Wilkinson spoke about at Planet Under Pressure. They get the connection between people helping people, and people helping the planet. Among their causes for social activism are petitions and letter writing to keep the neighborhood post office open, making a short film on using condoms to lower the rate of teenage pregnancy and STD’s, an awareness initiative focusing on police racial profiling, and the establishment of a community garden in a part of New York City where schools are being closed in the Bloomberg-Klein public school private sector give-away.
Just before the end of the semester I visited the same high school students in New York. Their social science teacher, principal, and I worked together to recreate the pro-action global café that took place at Planet Under Pressure. Before the students arrived I read their “quote board”, an uncensored place for them to write of their dreams and struggles:
“When the people fear their government there is tyranny; when the government fears the people there is liberty”, Thomas Jefferson/
“Stand for what you believe in, even if your stand alone”, unknown.
“Knowledge speaks; but wisdom listens”, Jimi Hendrix.
“I don’t let school get in the way of my education”, Mark Twain.
“Sometimes when you have too much the good gets lost within you. But when you have a little, then the good does not have to be looked for so hard”, DTMS (Does That Make Sense).
“Put politicians on minimum wage and watch how fast they change”, unknown.
“Why tiptoe through life to arrive at death safely?”
We created the global café with two junior classes and a senior class also joined us. We talked about the research of Earth system scientists and about Wilkinson’s presentation on the negative impact of inequality on the planet. Then the students focused on the questions asked at the global café at Planet Under Pressure. What are the issues that are most important to your lives? What are the opportunities? What are the challenges? What can we achieve together that we can’t achieve alone? In the crowded room the students, who were from many different ethnic, racial and religious groups worked together, leaving me reflect on the QoQ and imagining the possibilities of overcoming many human problems if we create spaces for young people to have such experiences.
In a similar way to the Planet Under Pressure global café, each group had one large sheet of paper on which they all wrote, and a representative from each group shared the discussion that had taken place in their group during the writing. One senior began by stating his group focused on social class and that they thought every other issue they discussed was caused by the domination of one class over the other. In every presentation social class was an issue. On one piece of paper, a student had written: “class warfare caused by ignorant closed minded people”, another had written, “when the rich rob from the poor its called business, when the poor fight back its called violence”. Students across the groups wrote and talked about: “racial profiling”; “police brutality”; “getting harassed”; “racism makes you suspect”; “walking down the street and getting pulled over”; “the police searching us for no reason”; and “we are all equal no matter what color”.
Many of the issues were personal: “I’m poor but I have the same goals as a rich person”; “overcoming fears”; “being someone you don’t want to be”; “having to grow up at a young age”; “not being able to help my mother since finding a job is hard”. Many concerns were expressed, but issues of class and race dominated the discussion. One young woman spoke about sexual slavery, and she said that the young women who became prostitutes in her community are no different from sexual slaves who are brought into the U.S. illegally. The students also focused on what we can achieve together that we cannot achieve alone. One group wrote as a heading: “The Necessities We Strive For”. They put “education” at the center of their piece of paper and connected it with an arrow to a green and blue planet which had “Safety” in red written above it. In addition to “advocacy” and “awareness” students also wrote “protest”, “revolution” and “retaliation”.
My lasting impression of this global café is not only of the generosity of the students and their sincerity in discussing the issues that confront them, but also of how hurt they are by the way they are positioned by U.S. society. One young man spoke of being poor but wanting to be an intellectual. Others spoke of their anxiety about the “culture shock” they would experience when they go on to college. They expressed concern about the lack of resources in urban schools. They shared their worries about whether or not they would be as prepared for college as students from rich schools that have much greater resources. They also named one of the most affluent communities close to New York City, and expressed concern that the wealthy people who lived there do not care what happens to people who are poor.
“The truth is that NYC doesn’t care at all about anyone from the bottom class receiving an education, black, white or purple,” Elsie (she gives no other name) writes in a letter published in the New York Times, May 20th “This is a city for rich people. If you’re poor, you are treated like a nuisance at best. You will be sent to schools that feel closer to prisons.” She ends the letter, “the hypocrisy and denial are an abomination. NYC shows no signs of changing. The gap between rich and poor, black and white is absolutely staggering and deeply, deeply shameful”.
Some of the high school students who participated in the global café talked about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and of going to Zuccotti Park. It is their discussion of the Occupy protests that connects us to the next article in our quest for clues to what we can do to respond to what’s happening to people and the planet. This time we use a news thread and travel back to 2011, to view the Occupy Wall Street movement in light of the more recent articles that have framed this work. “Protesters Against Wall Street”, a New York Times editorial, appeared on October 8, 2011. “The message — and the solutions — should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention” the editorial states, providing the FIFTEENTH CLUE: “The problem is that no one in Washington is listening”.
“At this point, protest is the message: income inequality is grinding down the middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass, of able willing, but jobless people”, the editorial states. “This initial outrage has been compounded by bailouts and by elected officials’ hunger for campaign cash from Wall Street, a toxic combination that has reaffirmed the economic and political power of banks and bankers, while ordinary Americans suffer.” And then, confirming Wilkinson and Pickett’s empirical research, “Extreme inequality is the hallmark of a dysfunctional economy, dominated by a financial sector that is driven as much by speculation, gouging and government backing as by productive investment”.
“It seems to me that the Occupy Wall Street Movement is moral in nature, that the occupiers want the country to change its moral focus,” George Lakoff (2011), the Berkeley cognitive scientist and linguist writes. “It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested. It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands. If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail”.
Holding up their placards in Zuccotti Park, the protest movement brought to the attention of the American people the gross inequities in U.S. society. “People Before Profit”; “Human Need, Not Corporate Greed”; “Exclusive Wealth and Excessive Consumption are Dying Paradigms”; “Wall Street is a Casino”; “Too Big to Fail Too Big to Allow”; “Because They Are Going to Drive Our Planet Off a Cliff”; “Our Children Deserve Better”; “We Are You”; “If Your Neighbors Are Poor, You Are Poor”; “You are going to die. What will you leave behind?” Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”, was written on one placard, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street, October. 2011
Zuccotti Park is empty now, and on National Public Radio a reporter says that “the protesters would not dare return”. But the protesters did not have to stay. Their protests are indelibly marked on the U.S. psyche, and their refusal to accept the inequalities in U.S. society has not gone unnoticed in other countries around the world. Human rights activists traveled from Japan to protest the human tragedy and environmental destruction caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and at least one renowned Egyptian feminist scholar, Nawal El Saadawi, who is eighty years old and participated in Tahrir Square, traveled to New York to support the social justice demonstrators in Zuccotti Park. On the streets of Manhattan “revolution” is written on signs and tee shirts and “occupy” has a new meaning. In a country that has not seen mass protests since the 1960’s civil rights movement, and anti-Vietnam war protests, and the 1992 L.A. riot, the possibilities of speaking truth to power is in the air we breathe, and will morph, is morphing, in a thousand ways.
From an analysis of the placards and signs at Zuccotti Park, it is quickly evident that the Occupy Movement is living evidence of Wilkinson’s Planet Under Pressure presentation on the importance of equality for people and the planet. The placards that protesters were holding up were authentic reflections of the inequality in the U.S., and provide verification that the U.S. is an unequal outlier in the developed world. It is also quickly evident that even though few politicians still ask it, the QoQ is one of the questions that undergirds the Occupy Movement, uniting the protesters both with global resistance movements and with the Earth System science movement, to transform human societies that are damaging the possibilities of human life on Earth.
Once more, here’s the QoQ: “How can timely actions be undertaken at unprecedented and multiple geopolitical scales, when the issues involve people of widely differing—and—disconnected values, ethics, emotions, spiritual beliefs, levels of trust, interests and power?” It is the people-planet question that the U.S. will not be able to address until the great disparities between the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor are addressed. The struggle for equality in the U.S. is a global struggle that will impact what happens on Earth and to Earth for many centuries to come. It is the reason that at Planet Under Pressure, the U.S. was called the “elephant in the room”.
I have used articles from the New York Times to open up the possibilities for us to search for the primary source data that we need to make informed decisions about the profound relationships between people and the planet that make it imperative that we address the inequalities in U.S. society that are no longer tolerable. We can argue about ideology, but when we are in a tight corner it’s best to rely on science. In this case the data that has been presented to us from the physical sciences is supported by the research that has been presented to us from the social sciences. What is happening to the planet necessitates a step change in every aspect of our lives.
TheQoQ, has its origins in the working draft of the 2010 ICSU Grand Challenges that I have written extensively in other works. The question creates many opportunities for great conversations between people to unpackage human enterprise, to consider how we have become so unearthed, why our governments vie for global power, why our financial systems have become so predatory, and why the intent and purpose of our educational systems is to ratchet up the competition between the super powers and to increase the extreme wealth of the already extremely wealthy.
But, here’s the caveat. In the U. S., these conversations will not happen while billionaires and big business control the political process. The discussions will be dead on arrival if the U.S. does not first address the issues of inequality that are crippling American society. If the people of the U.S. do not act to redress the enormous imbalances that exist, the consequences will be devastating both nationally and internationally, for people and the planet. But, and here comes the next clue, which is much more of a declarative statement: SIXTEENTH CLUE: At no time in the future will U.S. political, corporate or financial decision makers, Democrats, Republicans or Plutocrats, be able to deny knowledge of the anthropogenic changes that are taking place, or to cover up the fact that for power, privilege, and profit they did nothing about it. It is with considerable foreboding that I write we will all be left saying to them that they did too little, too late.
There are more clues of course, more than enough to fill the books that I am writing, but it’s time to find a set of new clues, to see what we can make of both the information presented here and the sources that are referenced, to come up with a “people’s course of action”. In the May 24, 2012, London Review of Books, Malcolm Bull has written a review entitled “What is the rational response?” of Stephen Gardiner’s book: A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change. In the review, Bull asks, “Will it get warmer still? Very probably.” “Is there anything we can do about it? Potentially yes.” And then he writes, “Climate change skeptics are an assortment of cussed old men, mostly without relevant scientific training, who disagree with one or more of these answers” (p. 3). This is the ubiquitous idea that from the get-go disadvantages us as we contemplate collective action. They might be cussed old men, but in the U.S. they are formidable, with vast wealth, power, and privilege, and they have made challenging climate change a political platform. Which leaves us asking: Given that the opponents to any action are some of the most powerful men in the history of the world, what can we do? Bull almost shrugs and he writes, as if in answer to our question: “Even someone who both accepted anthropogenic global warming and believed that it was possible to do something about it might look at the odds and think that fatalism was the most appropriate response”.
Over the years I have been criticized for presenting a problem and not following up with what can done. Once, in a conference presentation about homelessness, someone in the audience stood up and said, “By sharing their stories you have made us feel responsible, but you haven’t told us what we can do”. Others have made similar statements. Like the scientist at Planet Under Pressure who when challenged for not focusing on what governments can do said, “The job of scientists is to provide the evidence and that’s that”. It has always seemed to me that suggesting possible solutions is presumptive. But this is not the time for any of us to stand back. Bull frames the problem for us when he writes, “The real question is whether such fatalism is ethically defensible”. I think it is not. He ends, “Climate ethics is not morality applied but morality discovered, a new chapter in the moral education of mankind. It may tell us things we do not wish to know (about democracy, perhaps) but the future development of humanity may depend on what, if anything, it can teach us”. I agree with Bull, but would add if we want to act to mitigate climate change, any discussion of ethics must begin by unpackaging our understandings of power.
It’s time for a clue from Paul Krugman. In “Egos and Immorality”, published in the New York Times on May 24th 2012,Krugman calls Wall Street’s elites “self-centered”, “self-absorbed” and “deeply immoral”. He writes, “Think about where we are right now, in the fifth year of a slump brought on by irresponsible bankers. The bankers themselves have been bailed out, but the rest of the nation continues to suffer terribly, with long-term unemployment still at levels not seen since the Great Depression, with a whole cohort of young Americans graduating into an abysmal job market”.
Let’s return to Occupy Wall Street for a moment, Lakoff’s comment on the moral focus of the movement, and to his warning that if there is not a change of moral focus, “the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail”. What the Occupy movement teaches us is that we are less fatalistic than Bull thinks. Occupy has made us more aware that the extreme inequality of life in the U.S. cannot be separated from the extreme inequality of wealth, the 99% and the 1%. It has also made us aware that the right to assemble is restricted, and that there are consequences to speaking truth to power, including a battering by the right wing media that grossly misrepresented and denigrated the movement and was very effective at limiting public support for it.
In The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp writes that most of us know very little about “the nature of power”. Sharp, who is an Oxford scholar, conducted his research under the auspices of Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. He states:
One can see people as dependent upon the good will, the decision and the support of their government or of any other hierarchical system to which they belong. Or, conversely, one can see the government or system dependent on the people’s good will, decisions and support. One can see the power of a government as emitted from the few who stand at the pinnacle of command. Or one can see that power, in all governments, as continually rising from many parts of society. One can also see power as self perpetuating, durable, not easily or quickly controlled or destroyed. Or political power can be viewed as fragile, always dependent for its strength and existence upon a replenishment of its resources by the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people—cooperation which may or may not continue (p.8).
Sharp supports the view that power is pluralistic, and “that political power is fragile because it depends on many groups for reinforcement of its power sources” (p. 8). In the U.S. many of the groups that reinforce the pluralism of power are under attack. In this text I have focused on scientists and teachers because of the critical role education must play in preparing future generations for climate change, but many other groups are also under attack, including health professional and workers in union protected industries. A shift in power, a well orchestrated coup d’état from democracy to plutocracy, has taken place, and it will take the cooperation of many groups of people to reverse the shift.
Here’s our SEVENTEENTH CLUE: There are signs of hope within U.S. society. There are many groups of people working together and acting as our guides in re-Earthing. One site of resistance is K-12 schools. Even though the pressures are great, teachers, principals and parents are organizing, establishing websites, arranging meetings, holding rallies, signing petitions, opting out of testing, and sending unopened boxes of tests back to Pearson. The dismantling of K-12 schools is dirty work, and in the last few weeks “I’m scared” is the comment I have heard a lot. Nevertheless, many educators, predominantly women, are resisting the corporate takeover of public schools. Across the U.S. many administrators and teachers are being bullied and psychologically battered, but many are standing their ground. The situation is particularly dire in New York City where teachers are “pink slipped”, “excessed”, schools are closed and then reopened with only some of the teachers hired back.
In a democratic society concerned about the negative impact corporate and financial institutions are having on the planet, public schools cannot be private. In a society concerned about the adverse effects of corporate and financial institutions on human wellbeing, children cannot spend their days in school preparing for and taking corporate tests, which reproduce and perpetuate the pressures on the planet and the stressors on people, that are the cause of the catastrophic physical and social tipping points that we now face.
Across the U.S., teachers are speaking out against the harmful effects of the privatization of public schools, but they are no match for the billionaire power brokers, media moguls, corporate lobbyists, market strategists, and data management companies who have orchestrated the hostile takeover that is having such a negative impact on U.S. children and youth. In the book on which this article is based I have urged scientists and policy makers to work with teachers to restore public education, to make schools child safe zones in which children can participate in projects and activities that will help them appreciate the intricate connections between their lives and the natural world. Public action to take back K-12 public schools would increase he pressures on policy makers to take back the power they have given away to the corporate and financial sectors.
It is not a radical position, although to political, corporate and financial power brokers it will be described as one. Maybe, maybe not. In The Fog of War, Robert McNamara is unflinching in questioning the actions of men of power in the U.S. Included with the documentary is a list of ten lessons from his life in politics. Here’s McNamara: “We are the most powerful nation in the world—economically, politically and militarily—and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient”. Of equal importance is McNamara’s statement that, “We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health and employment”. And finally, “corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to stockholders, but they have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole”.
McNamara lived in tumultuous times. He spent three years in the military during the Second World War and was Secretary of Defense for seven years during the Vietnam War. He was at President Kennedy’s side during the Cuban missile crisis, at Jackie Kennedy’s side soon after President Kennedy was assassinated, picking the place in Arlington National Cemetery where the President was buried. He was at Lyndon Johnson’s side when he inherited the Presidency and the Vietnam War. He was Secretary of Defense at a time when antiwar protesters had a national and international presence, and few would no doubt that it was the impact of the public protests across the U.S. that played a vital role in ending the Vietnam War. The question we must now ask is: “What is the role of groups protesting today?”
In the sixth age of extinction, which is the name scientists have given to the time in which we live, are we really so fatalistic that we will stand by and witness our own demise? When do we become “dedicated to the great task remaining before us” of which Abraham Lincoln spoke in his Gettysburg Address? When will we begin to participate in “a new birth of freedom” to “ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”? When will we stand up and say that “government of the people, by the rich, for the rich” is no longer acceptable? When will we get it that we must act now if we want future generations not to perish on Earth?
In a technologically advanced society with vast wealth and with more Nobel Laureates than any other country in the world how can we tolerate such inequality? Equality is a societal responsibility. No country can be first amongst nations when it treats its people in such a callous way. In the U.S. people go hungry even though vast amounts of food are thrown away. We cannot house them. Children live on the streets, while we build mansions like palaces, and apartments in New York City can cost more than eighty million dollars.
Inequality reigns. I have never understood why the consequences of the huge disparities between the rich and the poor that are politically, economically, and socially constructed, do not constitute human rights violations. The U.S. is quick to hold accountable other countries that commit human rights violations, but does not even seem to be aware of the human rights violations that take place at home. People die in the U.S., and they do die, not only as a consequence of a political system that denies them their human rights, but also because of a welfare system that is bureaucratically constructed to root out deviancy and fraud and not to provide basic social services to the poor. As an ethnographer I have spent much of my life working with men, women, and children who live in the margins of U.S. society. Some were living on the streets or in abandoned buildings, others were struggling to keep their homes and feed their families. The families with whom I have worked have not had enough to eat, they have been denied medical care, and their children were not on the freedom trail, but found themselves instead in the pipeline from school to prison. Young men who could have gone to college were incarcerated, and the young man who was the most gifted among them was sent to prison for twenty years, which given the conditions, and the high recidivism, was in actuality a life sentence.
Black, white, men, women, some have died, an African American father with two children, a white mother with three children. The life history of one father who died is documented in Growing Up Literate, and the life of a mother who died is documented in Toxic Literacies. Here it is Laurie’s struggle for life and her death that jolts us out of the abstraction of “inequality” and makes us confront the meaning of the word. Two years before I met her Laurie had cervical cancer and no health insurance. The decision was made not to operate. She was treated with external beam radiation and intracavity cesium insertion. Laurie never recovered. She was told she developed ulcerative hemorrhagic cystitis, or that the bleeding and bladder changes could be due to radiation cystitis, or to further malignancy. When I visited her in winter in subzero temperatures she was sick, wrapped in a blanket, alone with her children and no heat.
It was 1992 and Newt Gingrich and the Republican House were changing the rules. States were scrambling to reduce benefits to the poor. Laurie had to verify her eligibility for welfare and be recertified. She was asked if she had a bank account. She gave the caseworker her bank account and told him, “There was three dollars in it but that was about two years ago”.
“Is there any money in it now?” the caseworker asked. “I don’t know if the three dollars are still there,” Laurie said.
“Do you have a burial plot or an agreement with a funeral home?”
Laurie grimaced. “No.”
“What if she did?” I asked.
“Assets,” the caseworker said. “A burial plot is counted as an asset.” He looked straight at Laurie. “You would have to declare it.”
“I don’t have one,” Laurie’s voice was barely audible.
Several weeks later Laurie received a letter stating that she was mandated to attend GED classes at high school. She was told if she did not she would lose her welfare benefits. She enrolled in January 1993 and began attending classes, but she was in so much pain she could not sit through the three hour classes. Sometimes she was so sick she was unable to walk to school. Her case technician was notified. She got a note from her doctor but it was rejected. After several weeks of document gathering, and a letter that I wrote on her behalf, Laurie was temporarily released from her “obligation” to attend GED classes. She rarely left her home. In constant pain she lay on the couch, burning and bleeding, knowing that she would have to return to school, and that if she did not her benefits would be taken away. And so we petitioned the state to allow me to teach Laurie, although I always knew it was Laurie who was teaching me. I arranged for Laurie to receive her lessons via the postal service from a mail-order GED program, and we did them together for a while with her three children playing around us. When I left the state we kept in touch and just before Toxic Literacies went to press I received word that Laurie had died. There is a memorial to her at the end of the book.
I have thought of Laurie a lot in writing this article. At the Planet Under Pressure conference in London when Wilkinson spoke of inequality, I also thought about her. If you are poor and a woman you have no rights in America. I think of Laurie when I see the young women on the streets in New York City. They might not have cancer, but their life expectancy is foreshortened by the conditions of their lives. It is twenty years since I first worked with Laurie, and inequality has become a large gaping hole in the soul of America. “So much of what we’re asked is to obey—” Tracy K. Smith wrote in her poem, Solstice, “Our time is brief. We dwindle by the day.”
Economic growth does not necessarily translate into expenditures that increase the well-being of members of society. Instead of spending on public health, education, infrastructure and other essential components of good lives and functioning communities, such wealth may simply be used to increase the luxuries available to a few. As resources (clean water, timber, farmland, oil reserves, and others) become less abundant, continued growth in their utilization is no longer an option. Finally, the negative impacts to the biosphere of ever-increasing production, consumption, and waste disposal, including greenhouse gases, generate significant risks to human kind as well as to biodiversity and the environment (p. 63).
Rogers and her colleagues write that “environmental sustainability requires human societies that function well”. These researchers write, “We have been measuring societal success on the basis of a production indicator for more than half a century”, and reason that GDP can no longer be used to measure societal progress. They state, “Today, there is a wide consensus in the literature that we should go beyond GDP to measure well-being in a more comprehensive way (p. 69). Finally, they advance the proposition that:
In return for these changes, communities and societies may experience better social relationships and less conflict within and between societies. The material demands placed on the environment can be reduced to a sustainable level. A commitment to addressing human well-being in an equitable way will make possible the kinds of joint decision-making and collaborations needed to solve the world’s problems. Best of all, once success and happiness are no longer defined solely in terms of material wealth, human happiness and well-being can continue to grow without exceeding sustainability limits and planetary boundaries (p. 70).
Such great transformations in human societies will not happen without great transformations in the political, corporate, and financial power bases in the U.S., which is unlikely to happen anytime soon without the active encouragement of the many groups within American society who have the capacity to work together to shift the power base if they so chose.
During the global conversation at Planet Under Pressure, where the U.S. was called “the elephant in the room”, the delegates gave us the EIGHTEENTH CLUE: The key components in the struggle for social and environmental sustainability identified by the delegates at the Planet Under Pressure global conversation were: (1) the active engagement of people; (2) the participation of diverse social groups working together; (3) a focus on human well being; (4) the development of political will; and (5) ethical and principled global agreements. In the abstract it seems irrational to write, let alone read, partly because “adaptation” is not an intellectual construct that can be written neatly on the page and then simply carried out. It is made up of purposeful behaviors, thinking, willing, and doing. We have not faced up to the consequences to the U.S. and to the world of the destructive behaviors of the political, corporate and financial sectors, or the corporate takeover of people’s lives, exemplified here by the privatization of public schools and the indenturing of young people with debts for their education they will pay for the rest of their lives.
Twenty years ago at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the world made a commitment to eradicate poverty (principle 5), while conserving, protecting and restoring the health and integrity of Earth’s ecosystems (principle 7). The U.S. egregiously reneged on this commitment, and now we are running out of time. It is not humanly possible to save the planet without the full cooperation and active participation of all sectors of U.S. society. Political progress is urgently needed, and yet in the run up to the 2012 presidential election, neither eradicating poverty nor restoring the health and integrity of ecosystems are even a footnote on the political platforms presented. We know the drivers of poverty in U.S. society, and we can eradicate them. We know what must be done to reduce inequality, and we can make U.S. society more equal. We know what must be done to conserve, protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecosystems and we can do it. At both the Planet Under Pressure and Occupy Wall Street these were critical issues that were addressed. Making the planet A Child Safe Zonehas become the transformative idea that gives purpose and passion to my work. If it’s not good for kids it’s not good for the planet. It’s that simple.
In the great transformation that scientists are urging us to make, the U.S. could begin by taking care of its own children, making sure both that they have homes and food to eat, and that the government does not sell them for corporate profit. Schools could become new sites of engagement where the stories of people and the planet are told, imparting to our children a different sort of message, a different sense of their own life histories and of their future, engaging them in projects and activities in the sciences and the arts, and rejecting the pathological obsession of grill, drill, and test them. Our children could learn to be active, critical thinkers, who ask questions about humanity and the planet, and then use their imagination and creativity to address them. For that to happen administrators, teachers, and parents will have to reoccupy the schools, from which they have been ousted, and dump the corporate raiders, beginning with Pearson and Wireless Generation.
The human species is degrading the environment at all spatial scales, from local to global. … The survival of our societies, our civilizations and our cultures are dependent on a stable climate, natural resources and ecosystem services. We have become a force of nature, but individually we continue to be vulnerable. Business-as-usual is not an option. The time for action is now. … There is no time to lose.
The State of the Planet Declaration, crafted by Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford Smith to represent the views of Earth System scientists from around the world, state:
Research now demonstrates that the continued functioning of Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk. Without urgent action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources; these threats risk intensifying economic, ecological and social crises, creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale (p.1).
Society is taking substantial risks by delaying urgent and large-scale action. We must show leadership at all levels. … We urge the world to grasp this moment and make history (p 4).
It’s time for one last clue. On May 9 James Hansen has an Op-ed piece in the New York Times entitled, “Game Over for Climate Change”. Since the 1980’s, Hansen has taken more criticism than any other scientist in the U.S. because of his dogged determination to raise public awareness that human activity is imperiling the planet. “GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening,” Hansen writes. In the Op-ed he sounds the alarm about Canada’s exploitation of the oil in its vast tar sands reserves, stating without equivocation that it will mean “game over for climate change”. Once again it is important to go to the primary sources. Hansen’s concerns are real. He states:
The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. This is a plan that can unify conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and business. Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.
In letters and on blogs he is slammed for exaggerating and derided for stating that “every major national science academy in the world” agrees that climate change is real. It is Hansen who provides the NINETEETH CLUE: The brute power of ideology and great wealth is used to distort and discredit science, but it cannot change the scientific evidence and is no match for the courage and endurance of scientists who stand their ground or for the people who support them. The politically motivated media campaign to inspire and provoke the public to question climate change has been devastatingly effective. Bull is back with his “climate change skeptics are an assortment of cussed old men”. They are also dangerous and destructive. Don’t be taken in.
We have covered enormous ground in our search for clues to what the people of the United States can do. Much of what is written here is presented in more detail in my other writings, but I hope I have written enough to convince you to go to the primary sources and find out for yourselves the veracity of the concerns of scientists about the impact on humanity of the great acceleration of the anthropogenic changes that are taking place. In the end it is up to us. We have to ask: What can be done to sustain the planet for future generations? How can we lessen the impact of changing planetary pressures; prepare for life in extreme environments; reduce the risk of disaster, and adapt? What can we do to overcome barriers to action; political inertia; the lack of strong leadership; deficient authority; and the unwillingness of governments to act? Before addressing these questions let’s take another look at the nineteen clues.
Responding to U.S. Disasters and Global Catastrophes
The Nineteen Clues to Solving the QoQ
Here’s the Question of Questions (QoQ): How can timely actions be undertaken at unprecedented and multiple geopolitical scales, when the issues involve people of widely differing—and—disconnected values, ethics, emotions, spiritual beliefs, levels of trust, interests and power?
FIRST CLUE: People are changing the planet and the planet is changing people
SECOND CLUE: The first step to American’s participation in saving the world is the recognition of the legitimacy of global concerns about U.S. overconsumption of the Earth’s finite resources, and the negative impact it is having on the planet and its people.
THIRD CLUE: Extreme social inequality in the U.S. negatively impacts American society, increases the pressures on the planet and has a cascading adverse effect on global stability and sustainability.
FOURTH CLUE: In the U.S. further economic growth will not improve the health or well-being of the American people. Greater emphasis on income equality and less emphasis on economic growth will diminish U.S. over exploitation of planet’s irreplaceable resources.
FIFTH CLUE: Inequality in America is bad for the planet as well as for people, and increases our ethical responsibility to act.
SIXTH CLUE: While poor women and children in the U.S. are the most disadvantaged, all American women and children are disadvantaged when compared with women and children in other developed countries
SEVENTH CLUE: The planet cannot be protected unless the rights of women and children are protected.
EIGHTH CLUE: In the U.S. the war on climate science and on the health and wellbeing of women and children is a symptom of a pathological political ideology that negatively impacts global stability and sustainability of life on the planet.
NINETH CLUE: In the U.S. the cascading effects of power brokers’ maladaptive decision making is quite literally changing the geology of the planet, the chemistry of the air we breathe, and the water we drink.
TENTH CLUE: Global action to avoid social or planetary tipping points will require the active participation of the U.S., in rethinking K-12 education to make schools more equitable and just, and to reconnect children with the natural world.
ELEVENTH CLUE: In teaching the young we teach ourselves, and we will come to understand that the Earth is not an infinite resource to be exploited, but a finite life force that we must care for and sustain.
TWELTH CLUE: One in four American children lives in poverty, nearly 60 percent more than in 1974, and the number of people living in severe poverty has reached a record high. A national study in 2009 found that one in fifty children in America is homeless and living in a shelter, motel, car, shared housing, abandoned building, park or orphanage. The proportions in some school districts exceed one in ten, and the number is growing rapidly (Darling Hammond, 2012).
THIRTEENTH CLUE: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) makes it easy to understand how the great wealth and vast power and of the private sector is undermining not only the U.S. K—12 public school system, but is also undermining the U.S. response to climate change.
FOURTEENTH CLUE: A public education should be an inalienable right of every child that policy makers must protect. It is their responsibility not to sell children to private corporations that force children to become captive consumers of products that damage their minds and increase their levels of anxiety.
FIFTEENTH CLUE: The problem is that no one in Washington is listening.
SIXTEENTH CLUE: At no time in the future will U.S. political, corporate or financial decision makers, Democrats, Republicans or Plutocrats, be able to deny knowledge of the anthropogenic changes that are taking place, or to cover up the fact that for power, privilege, and profit they did nothing about it.
SEVENTEENTH CLUE: There are signs of hope within U.S. society. There are many groups of people working together and acting as our guides in re-Earthing. One site of resistance is K-12 schools. Even though the pressures are great, teachers, principals and parents are organizing, establishing websites arranging meetings, holding rallies, signing petitions, opting out of testing, and sending unopened boxes of tests back to Pearson.
EIGHTEENTH CLUE: The key components in the struggle for social and environmental sustainability identified by the delegates at the Planet Under Pressure global conversation were: (1) the active engagement of people; (2) the participation of diverse social groups working together; (3) a focus on human well being; (4) the development of political will; and (5) ethical and principled global agreements.
NINETEENTH CLUE: The brute power of ideology and great wealth is used to distort and discredit science, but it cannot change the scientific evidence and is no match for the courage and endurance of scientists who stand their ground or for the people who support them.
Emergency Response Initiatives to Make the Planet
A Child Safe Zone
What happens next is up to us, whether we opt for fatalism or activism, whether we focus on eradicating poverty, taking back our schools, or work in one of the many other areas that are of grave concern, we have to act. If we do the U.S. will no longer be viewed as an impediment to global action, but will take its place alongside other countries, large and small, rich and poor, working for equality as Wilkinson and Pickett would have us do, not as a utopian dream, but as the best hope we have to stop the temperature rising and to sustain the wellbeing of human life on the planet. And yes, the people of the U.S. can become part of the global community that takes seriously the idea that if people work together we can save the world.
At the Planet Under Pressure Will Steffen said there is not much time left. Steffen’s consistent message is that we are facing faster change and more risk. At the conference there was no contestation of the science. Delegates agreed, as one delegate put it, that “this is serious stuff”. There was agreement that we must “re-learn together”, “create a new philosophy of life”, “shift our paradigm”, “be critical of world views and mental models”, “recognize limitations of resources”, and take a “seven generation view in policy making”. At the global café delegates were immersed in conversation. Now, I read what they wrote as if they were shouting.
“Stop amassing unnecessary wealth, especially if you not going to share it!”
“WE NEED NON-GROWTH MODELS NOW!”
“How you believe change happens, influences the process by which you think decisions should be made.”
“Envisage the cultural values we will need in 2050 then backdate them.”
“We concur on core issues so tackle inequality.”
“There’s a lack of equality, a lack of trust.”
“So start with empowerment.”
“We need to invite people to the table.”
“Involve the poor in making decisions.”
“Encourage people to network to facilitate participation.”
“Are we communicating in ways that all can talk?”
“We need actions not words.”
“Bring individuals from nations not just their governments.”
“Change starts from small groups of people after reaching tipping points.”
“Do you believe you can have impact?”
“Equality is absolutely needed as a prerequisite (or an outcome of a process).”
“We need to start now, holding a vision of equality.”
“People need a local participatory lens, focus on what really matters to a community, and then on action and communication.”
“Local progress on global indicators.”
“Make it cool for popular culture, make it cool.”
The clarion call at the conference was for a revolution of mind and spirit, a rethinking of our very being in and of the world, which would require a fundamental change in the ways in which we live. Almost daily now there are scientific reports and research articles published about the social and ecological disasters associated with climate change. At the time that I write there is a press announcement from the University of Berkeley and an article in Ecosphere, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal of the Ecological Society of America, by Max Moritz, fire specialist, on the rapid increase in global fire risks that are attributable to climate change. In the Berkeley press release Sarah Yang writes, “Almost all of North America and most of Europe is projected to see a jump in the frequency of wildfires, primarily because of increasing temperature trends”. She quotes Moritz, who states, “In the long run, we found what most fear — increasing fire activity across large parts of the planet. But the speed and extent to which some of these changes may happen is surprising. These abrupt changes in fire patterns not only affect people’s livelihoods, but they add stress to native plants and animals that are already struggling to adapt to habitat loss.”
Americans have been shaken up. Great transformations in people’s thinking are already taking place, but few writers are making the connections that were made between people and the planet or between equality and social and environmental sustainability that were made at Planet Under Pressure. For the sake of our children we must make social equality our life’s work. It is possible that through human endeavor equality, stability, and sustainability can become the key indicators that we use as the measure of a society’s success or failure. If these indicators were used today, the U.S. would be considered a failed state, or more troubling, a rogue state. Both descriptors apply. Aggressive competition to be first in GDP exacerbates the inequalities that destabilize not only U.S. society, but other societies in both the developed and developing world, jeopardizing global social and environmental sustainability.
For our children and our grandchildren we have to act now to make the planet a child safe zone. I have called this “the impossible project”. If we think of the great transformations that are needed as many, many, small changes, then we can start. One place to begin is by organizing global cafés using the frameworks which were established at the Planet Under Pressure and then were recreated with the junior and senior high school students in New York. Both events began with a presentation about the connections between social equality and environmental stability and sustainability. The questions that were introduced earlier in the text apply: What are the issues that are most important to your lives? What are the opportunities? What are the challenges? What can we achieve together that we can’t achieve alone? It might be that an invitation is made by a grandmother who gathers her friends, and together they research the primary sources and find out as much as they can about the climate and environmental changes that are taking place, and then address the questions presented at the global café. Educators and health professional could do the same. The EIGHTEENTH CLUE provides a framework for what it will take if great transformations are to occur in our thinking about the connections between people and the planet. This framework will have to include: (1) the active engagement of people; (2) the participation of diverse social groups working together; (3) a focus on human well being; (4) the development of political will; and (5) ethical and principled global agreements.
The global cafés have the potential to increase the possibilities for peaceful collective action. Gene Sharp provides many examples of non-violent resistance, with the erosion of democratic principles in the U.S. makes his texts more and more relevant to the struggle against the increasing disenfranchisement of many groups within U.S. society. Addressing the critical issues identified both in real and virtual spaces would increase the possibility of finding ways to respond to the QoQ by bringing together people with widely differing and disconnected values, ethics, emotions, spiritual beliefs, levels of trust, interests, and power who are willing to work together so that timely actions can be undertaken at unprecedented and multiple geopolitical scales.
It is entirely possible that the greatest contribution the American people can make to the reduction of the accelerating risk of the temperature rising more than 4 ⁰ C (7⁰ F) by the middle of the 21st century, or to reducing the risk of the rapidly occurring transgression of planetary boundaries for life on Earth, is to reign in the U.S. government, corporations, and financial institutions at home. We the people, of the people, not only for the people in the U.S., but for the people of the world. What happens here matters. If the super PAC’s billionaires win the White House, the gap between the rich and the poor will increase, regulations to keep the air and water clean will be in jeopardy, the degradation of the environment will continue at an alarming rate, and the destructive financial practices that have caused so much misery and suffering will transgress planetary boundaries in a deregulated state.
One week to Rio+20 and on the front page of the Guardian Weekly (June 15-21, 2012) the headline reads “Ecological web is badly tangled”, and John Vidal, the Guardian’s environmental reporter writes that, “ecosystem decline is increasing, climate change is speeding, soil and ocean degradation continues, air and water pollution are growing, and we are still getting sustainable development disastrously wrong”. Vidal quotes from the UNEP annual Global Environmental Outlook report which someone in your group should get so that you can all read. UNEP reports there has been some progress on “Little or no” progress on global agreements on climate change, fish stocks, desertification and drought. Vidal writes, “Governments spend years negotiating environmental agreements, then willfully ignore them. So what is the point?” He writes, “The question is, are all these agreements no more than vain promises by cynical governments to wave a piece of paper in front of gullible electorates?” Further on he writes, “Rich countries have consistently promoted a global economic agenda that deliberately opens up poor countries to powerful corporations that can lobby, bully, cajole, or just ignore national and international environmental laws and agreements”. He concludes by stating “it’s not in the interests of governments to change the status quo” (p.2).
Pick up the thread in another article in the same issue of the Guardian Weekly, and Jonathan Watts, the Guardian’s Asia environment correspondent, writes of the Rio “once-in-a-generation” Earth Summit of heads of state, in which he describes the deep divisions between nations and the low expectations for success. He writes that President Obama has not confirmed that he will attend, David Cameron, the U.K. prime minister, will send a deputy, as will the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Watts states no new legally binding treaties are expected, and points out that according to UNEP, in the last two decades carbon emissions have increased 40% and biodiversity loss has risen 30%. Watts quotes the UNEP director, Achim Steiner, who warns, “If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decouple’, then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation” (p. 13). Watts writes that ahead of the Earth Summit, Rio is hosting a Peoples Summit which 50,000 people from around the world are expected to attend to share best practices and make commitments to action.
In the end the human struggle for our own survival and for the survival of the planet as we know it will come down to the ways in which we think about it. In her 1984 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Toni Morrison writes of language withheld for “certain nefarious purposes”, and she encourages us to think of “language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency – as an act with consequences”. Morrison helps position us as we think about the “unyielding” language of political, corporate, and financial decision makers who actively work against the people. Morrison writes:
Like statist language, censored and censoring. Ruthless in its policing duties, it has no desire or purpose other than maintaining the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusivity and dominance. However moribund, it is not without effect for it actively thwarts the intellect, stalls conscience, suppresses human potential. Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences. Official language smitheryed to sanction ignorance and preserve privilege is a suit of armor polished to shocking glitter, a husk from which the knight departed long ago. Yet there it is: dumb, predatory, sentimental. Exciting reverence in schoolchildren, providing shelter for despots, summoning false memories of stability, harmony among the public.
Yet there it is: dumb, predatory, but not so sentimental, a “yes-we-can’ that means “no-we-cannot”, super PACs that take us apart bit-by-bit, ALEC that will do the same drip-by-drip. Resist the deceptive self aggrandizing polemics of despots, one of whom has given $35,000,000 to buy the next President on the United States. Do not be taken in. Read Gene Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation. Organize global cafés in any place where there is room for a few people to meet. Explore other options. Participate in ethical responsible resistance. Find ways to act.
Earth Summit Rio+20 Post Script
Finally, I am ready to send this paper out. It is grounded in twelve years of intensive transdisciplinary research and writing. It is a work of hope that will not be dashed away by the Rio disaster. The Earth Summit is taking place today and tomorrow and I have been data mining, reading every news report, blog, tweet, official and unofficial, that I can find on the Internet. Kumi Naidoo, the South African scholar and activist for whom I have immense respect, has sent a message that will be read by people around the world. He wrote, “This is Rio Minus 20 which Fails on equity, fails on ecology, fails on economy (and the) #rio+20 #earthsummit text (is the) longest suicide note in history”.
The director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, has warned that pollution is killing millions of people a year, that ecosystem decline is increasing, that climate change is speeding up, and soil and ocean degradation is worsening. Steiner said: “If [the] trends continue … governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation. Earth systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits.”
Dame Barbara Stocking, Oxfam’s director, said: “This is urgent. As the people with the least struggle to survive, the consumption habits of the richest are stripping the Earth of its resources. The situation is dire. We cannot go on living beyond the Earth’s boundaries. The people suffering are the poorest. These are issues that will affect us all for ever.”
Visit the website of the G77, and then go right to the source. A copy of the June 2nd, 5:00 p.m. draft of the U.N. main text: The Future We Want: Our Common Visionhas been leaked to the Guardian and is not available on the web. Often early marked up copies of documents are more revealing than the finished text. A brief analysis of the language of the document quickly reveals that the U.S. delegation is resisting the inclusion of “equity” and “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR), and is back tracking on the agreement that was made at the Earth Summit in Rio 1992. For people in the U.S. this should come as no surprise given the political, corporate and financial sectors well documented lack of concern about equity or CGDR in America.
The following excerpt lifts the curtain on the pro-corporate stance of the U.S. while at the same time reveals the dynamic complexity of the global negotiations, and the tension between the U.S. and other countries, especially the G77, but also countries in the developed world:
52. We affirm that green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should:
(a) respect each country’s [national sovereignty [over their natural resources in accordance with Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration –G77; US delete] [and [the –G77] right to development- Liechtenstein, US delete] [the right of each country to choose its own vision, models and approaches towards sustainable development and policy space –G77; US delete], as well as its –US, EU, Japan, RoK delete] national circumstances, objectives and priorities with regard to the three dimensions of sustainable development [, with a view to enhancing the implementation of the right to development –Liechtenstein; US delete];
In the end the whole text was purged, all life lost. David Naussbaum, WWWF-UK explained:
What they did was take all the ‘bracketed’ issues out of the text altogether. Text gets bracketed when it’s controversial – and here in Rio, it’s proved to be controversial when it’s been ambitious and looking to change the status quo.
And so the controversies have been addressed through compromise and capitulation in varying measures. The result is a weak text, lacking in much ambition in terms of clear actions and dates, and it doesn’t measure up to the vision we have of a safe world for both people and nature.
Here is the final text for 52 which is now 58:
58. We affirm that green economy policies in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication should:
(a) be consistent with international law;
(b) respect each country’s national sovereignty over their natural resources taking into account its national circumstances, objectives, responsibilities, priorities and policy space with regard to the three dimensions of sustainable development;
On June 19, James Leap sent the following message from Rio: “Brazil has released new text. If this becomes final text, the past year of negotiations has been a colossal waste of time. #RioPlus20@WWF. Connie Hedegaard, wrote: (It was) telling that nobody in that room adopting the text was happy. That’s how weak it is. And they all knew. Disappointing #Rio20.
The final word in this interactive text is not written but spoken. The opening speech at the Earth Summit delivered Brittany Trilford who is seventeen and comes from New Zealand:
If you are reading a paper copy here are excerpts: “I stand here with fire in my heart.” We are all aware that time is ticking and we are quickly running out.” “You have seventy two hours to decide the fate of your children, my children and my children’s children, and I start the clock now.” Brittany told the delegates. “We the next generation, demand change, demand action, so that we can have a future. We trust you in the next 72 hours to put our interests before all other interests and boldly do the right thing. I am here to fight for my future, that’s why I am here. And I would like to end today by asking you to consider why you are here, and what you can do. Are you here to save face or are you here to save us?”