For a while, we almost had it. Before America’s comprehensive climate and energy bill turned into a devastating failure in 2010, the U.S. seemed to be on the verge of having an energy plan based on a sustainable vision for the future. But today, with “climate,” “clean energy investment” and “green jobs” being dirty words to one major political power, we’ve moved further away from that goal than ever.
That’s why the Rocky Mountain Institute’s recent project, Reinventing Fire — a peer-reviewed, commercially-viable vision for the future of energy — should help inform the future conversation around energy. In typical RMI fashion, it provides an aggressive-but-plausible scenario for economic prosperity based on clean energy and efficiency, blending together the different disciplines from the organization.
RMI’s book Reinventing Fire will be out soon. For now, the organization reminds us where we are today and what the future could be:
The U.S. transportation sector burns 13 million barrels of oil a day (half of it imported), at a cost of $2 billion. Personal transportation is now America’s #2 consumer cost after housing, totaling $740 billion in 2009 and consuming, on average, 17.6% of household expenditures.
America’s 120 million buildings consume 42% of the nation’s energy—more than any other sector. If they were a country, they would rank third after China and the U.S., in primary energy use.
We spend more than $400 billion a year to heat and power buildings, even more than the government spends on Medicare.
U.S. industry employs almost 131 million people and generates more than 40% of U.S. GDP, but uses roughly one-fourth of the nation’s total energy per year.
86% of U.S. electricity is generated in large, centralized power plants.
What could the energy landscape of 2050 under the Reinventing Fire scenario look like?
Efficiency efforts plus switching from oil and coal and one-third less natural gas to renewable energy would save a net $5.0 trillion.
A $2.0 trillion investment to make cars, trucks and planes more efficient, and more effectively used would save $5.8 trillion.
Buildings’ energy use can be 40–60% more efficient in 2050 than today—despite 70% more floorspace.
U.S. industry can produce about 84% more output with 9–13% less energy—without mandates or breakthroughs in innovation.
We can capture and integrate the renewable energy needed to meet 80% or more of our electricity needs by 2050.
Under the plan, we could be looking at $5 trillion in net savings. If you can’t imagine that, just look at the infographic RMI put together below.
From Civil Eats and Grace Links, a map that lists farms needing help in the northeast and benefit events they’ve already scheduled! Yet another way technology can be harnessed to help those in need.
On the morning of August 28th, Hurricane Irene made landfall in the northeast, causing the worst flooding eastern upstate New York and Vermont have seen in centuries. Among those hardest hit were many local farms and dairies. In less than 24 hours, agricultural businesses suffered massive damage in the form of flooded fields, drowned livestock, power outages, and broken infrastructure. We’ve mapped as many as we could find, as well as local events organized to support them.
Map: In an area impacted by Hurricane Irene and wondering how to help? The icons on this map represent farms dealing with the aftermath of the storm, as well as the events, benefits and fundraisers organized to support them. Know of one we missed? Let me know at Jennifer[at]gracelinks.org.
Manfred Max-Neef is a Chilean-German economist noted for his pioneering work in human scale development and his threshold hypothesis on the relation of welfare to GDP, as well as other contributions, for which he received the Right Livelihood Award in 1983. Phillip B. Smith (deceased, 2005) was an American–Dutch physicist with a devotion to social justice that led to an interest in economics. Smith died before this collaborative work was completed, so it fell to Max-Neef to finish it, respecting what Smith had done. Although this results in differences in style and approach between chapters, Max-Neef informs us that they both read and approved eachother’s contributions, so it is a true collaboration. These differences between the physical and social scientists are complementary rather than contradictory.
As clear from the title, the book argues that modern neoclassical economics is a mask for power and greed, a construct designed to justify the status quo. Its claim to serve the common good is specious, and its claim to scientific status is fraudulent. The latter is sought mainly by excessive mathematical formalism to the neglect of concrete facts and real values. The mathematical formalism is in imitation of nineteenth century physics (economics viewed as the mechanics of utility and self-interest), but without any empirical basis remotely comparable to physics. Pareto is identified a villain here, and to a lesser extent Jevons.
The hallmark of a real science is a basic consensus about fundamentals. There is no real consensus in economics, so how can it claim to be a mature science? Easy, by forcing a false “consensus” through the simple expedient of declaring heterodox views to be “not really economics,” eliminating history of economic thought from the curriculum, instigating a pseudo-Nobel Prize in Economics, and attaining a monopoly on faculty positions in economics departments at elite universities. Such a top-down, imposed consensus is the opposite of the true bottom-up consensus that results when independent minds all bow before the power of the same truth. “Mathematics was simply built into the laws that describe the behavior of the atomic nucleus. You didn’t have to impose it on the nucleus.” (p.67). The same cannot be said of people, even atomistic homo economicus.
The authors give due attention to the history of economic thought, drawing most positively on Sismondi (for statements of value and purpose), Karl Polanyi (for his treatment of labor, nature, and money as non commodities that escape the logic of markets), and Frederick Soddy (for his thermodynamics-based analysis of money, wealth, debt, and the impossibility of continuing exponential growth of the economy). Negative references are reserved mainly for Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, with a mixed review for Amartya Sen. While I understand their antipathy to Hayek I found their case against him less than totally convincing. More convincing and fruitful is their building on the neglected work of Sismondi, Polanyi, and Soddy. That effort cries out to be continued by others.
Their criticisms of globalization, free trade, and free capital mobility are well founded. Economists must remember that the first rule of efficiency is to count all costs, not to specialize according to comparative advantage, especially if that “advantage” is based on a standards-lowering competition to externalize environmental and social costs. Indeed comparative advantage is irrelevant in a world of international capital mobility that gives priority to absolute advantage. While specialization according to absolute advantage gives gains from trade, they need not be mutually shared as in the comparative advantage model.
Chapter 10 provides a summary of the basics of ecological economics as “the humane economy for the 21st Century,” as well as a review of Max-Neef’s insightful matrix of needs and satisfiers.
Of particular interest is Chapter 11 on “the United States as an underdeveloping nation” — the process of development in reverse, or retrogression in the U.S. is chronicled in terms of unemployment, wage stagnation, increase in inequality, dependence on food stamps, bankruptcy, foreclosure, health care costs, incarceration, etc. Not happy reading, but a necessary reminder that gains from development are not permanent — they can be squandered by a corrupt elite employing a self-serving economic model to fool a distracted populace.
As a teacher of economics I was especially glad to read Chapter 12 on “the non-toxic teaching of economics.” I concur with the authors’ view that the teaching of economics today is a scandal. Reference has already been made to the dropping of history of economic thought from the curriculum — why study the errors of the past now that we know the truth? That is the arrogant attitude. And we certainly do not want any philosophical or empirical questioning of the canonical assumptions upon which the whole superstructure of mathematical deduction teeters. Growth must not be questioned because it is by definition the solution to all problems — even those that it causes.
As late as the 1960s economics students could study approaches other than the neoclassical — there were the remaining classical economists, institutional economists, the Marxians, the Keynesians, the Austrian School, Labor economics, Fabian Socialists, Market Socialists, Distributists, etc. Now there is a cartel of elite, expensive universities, “the Big Eight” as the authors call them (California, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, Chicago, Yale, and MIT) to which we could add Cambridge, Oxford, and a few others. They all teach the same growth-oriented, globalizing economics. The IMF and the World Bank hire economists from many countries and pride themselves on their diversity. But the diversity of nationality and color masks homogeneity of viewpoint since 90% of these economists graduated from the Big Eight, and are comfortable with both their position and their economic views. One wag succinctly described a frequent career path as: “MIT-PhD-IMF-BMW.”
Further evidence of the corruption of economics arrives daily. The documentary film Inside Job exposed the complicity of some Big Eight faculty in the financial debacle of 2008. I recently read that the Florida State University economics department has accepted a grant from the right-wing Koch Brothers to hire two prestigious economists with acceptable views, no doubt products of the Big Eight, whose presence on the faculty will raise FSU a step on the academic ladder. All corruption in academia cannot be blamed on economics departments, but the toxicity level there is high, and Max-Neef and Smith are right to accuse. One good way for honest economics professors to fight back is to recommend this book to their students!
The book ends with a hopeful review of some concrete, real world, bottom-up, human-scale development initiatives. The World Bank and the IMF are necessarily absent from this final chapter’s discussion of moving from village to global order. Might it be that after globally integrated collapse we will move to village reconstruction, and then to a global federation of separate national economies under the principle of subsidiarity?
I want to begin by explaining how a clinical psychologist ends up giving the final talk at a conference on the military-industrial complex.
Actually, for many years now, I’ve been writing and speaking about—and fighting against—another industrial complex, the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, specifically the psycho-pharmaceutical-industrial complex.
All these industrial complexes are painful similar in their revolving doors of employment. So, for example, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the leading government agency on mental health and funds research. People at the NIMH who have has been friendly to drug companies have been rewarded by drug companies with a high-paying job after they leave NIMH. And just about every influential mental health institution takes money from drug companies. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a consumer group, takes millions of dollars from drug companies, and so does the American Psychiatric Association, which is the professional organization of America’s psychiatrists.
The American Psychiatric Association publishes the official diagnostic manual for the mental health profession. It’s called the DSM. They’re up to the DSM-4 revision, and they’re working on the DSM-5. Each revision gets larger and larger. When I was watching Eugene Jarecki’s documentary about the military-industrial complex, Why We Fight, I remember Chalmers Johnson saying, “I guarantee you when war becomes that profitable, you are going to see more of it.” Same is true in my profession. The more profitable mental illness has become, the more you are seeing of it.
So, lots of my activism really starts with embarrassment with my own profession. One of the things that I became initially embarrassed by was its patholologizing and medicating normal human behavior in order to make a buck. They turned shyness into “avoidant personality disorder,” and turned temper tantrums of three-year olds into “pediatric bipolar disorder” and now give them heavy-duty antipsychotic drugs. What especially troubled me has been the increasing pathologizing of stubbornness, resistance, rebellion, and anti-authoritarianism, especially in children and teenagers.
There are several subtle examples of this kind of pathologizing of rebellion, but the most obvious one is something called “oppositional defiant disorder” (ODD), which when it first appeared in the DSM-3, I told my colleagues that this must be a joke. Symptom of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” I have spent a great deal of time with these previously labeled ODD kids. While some of them may be a “handful” for their parents, many are the hope of the nation. I tell my colleagues, “Don’t you realize that damn near every well-known activist in American history—from Tom Paine, to Emma Goldman, to Malcolm X, to Saul Alinsky—would have been diagnosed with ODD. And sadly, increasing numbers of these kids are being medicated, often on heavily tranquilizing antipsychotic drugs, and this is especially true for more impoverished kids on Medicaid. That’s one reason why the antipsychotic industry is now the largest grossing class of all drugs in the United States.
So, I became very much concerned that my profession had become one more spoke in the wheel that is politically pacifying Americans. There are other spokes that I will also talk about. When I talk about these pacifying forces, it’s not to depress us but so that we recognize that there are multiple “democracy battlefields” —not just national elections and demonstrations—to fight each day and to get back our strength.
The major step in getting me closer to this conference, however, came at the end of 2009. For the previous decade, I had been watching increasing American politically passivity that paralleled increasing American individual depression and immobilization. I found it remarkable that in the face of senseless wars and a loss of liberties and economic and social injustice that—compared to other periods of American history and compared to many other nations today—there was so little political resistance in the United States.
The area of “disputed presidential elections” got me thinking in 2009. In 2009 in Iran, in response to their disputed presidential election, despite hearing that they would be shot at—and some were killed—two to three million Iranians hit the streets of Tehran. Same thing in Mexico when their more progressive guy lost in their disputed presidential election of 2006—millions hit the streets of Mexico City, some surrounding foreign-owned banks. And in the Ukraine in 2004, when their more progressive guy lost in a disputed presidential election, not only did millions demonstrate, there were general strikes that basically closed down the county; their “Orange Revolution” forced the Ukraine’s Supreme Court to call for new elections, and ultimately this Orange Revolution succeeded in righting an election wrong.
But then take a look at the response to U.S. disputed presidential elections. There was relatively little resistance to the 2004 disputed election, but the one that I really thought about was our response to the disputed 2000 presidential election, the one where Al Gore, indisputedly, received a half million more votes than George W. Bush. Now, I’m not this big fan of Al Gore, but more than 50 million people voted for him. You probably remember that there was a major dispute over the Florida vote, and so a recount was ordered, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Florida Supreme Court and basically handed the election over to Bush in December. One of the dissenting U.S. Supreme Court Justices, John Paul Stevens, by no means a radical—he was appointed by Gerald Ford—was so disgusted with his fellow Supreme Court Justices that he said, “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” This was widely reported. So what was the American response? Well, a handful demonstrated outside the Supreme Court, and month later at Bush’s inauguration there were maybe 50,000 people angry with Bush, but there was never any real public battle to dispute this election. And I remember thinking that if I were Bush or Cheney, the lesson that I would have learned was, “We can get away with just about anything,” and that seems to be the lesson that they learned.
And there are several other areas—from the Wall Street bailout, to other corporate welfare, to health care—where the majority of Americans clearly oppose the policy of the corporate-controlled government, but there has been relatively little resistance.
So, in late 2009, I decided to write some articles about this issue of American political passivity in places that would publish me—certainly not the New York Times. I get published in AlterNet, Z Magazine, CounterPunch, Truthout, sort of anti-authoritarian left places. I wanted to see if other Americans also thought that this passivity was remarkable. In these articles, I talked about some of the psychological reasons. For example, the idea of learned helplessness in our presidential elections, in which no matter which party wins, we still get senseless wars and corporate control. And I also talked about the abuse syndrome. I’ve been working with abused people for over 25 years, and when you eat too much crap— physical, emotional abuse—for too long, you can grow weak. I talked about some of the societal and cultural reasons for this passivity, and began to talk about some of the solutions.
I received an overwhelming response to those pieces, more than I had ever received before in terms of comments, emails, response articles, and media requests from people across the political spectrum.
David Swanson wrote an excellent response piece that was helpful, and I incorporated some of his ideas in Get Up, Stand Up.
I also received several media requests from the libertarian anti-war world. Now, there is a big difference between these people and those bigoted-militarist Tea Partiers. Many of these libertarian anti-war folks like me. I’m not exactly sure why. I think it’s because they are happy that somebody writing in these left publications is comfortable with anger and is talking about this issue of passivity. And so, I am able to have enough glue with them so that we can actually have a dialogue and discuss issues that we disagree on, such as healthcare.
Because of this huge response, and because I really felt that I only had touched on some of the reasons for this political passivity, and mostly because I wanted to talk about solutions, I decided to write a book. So I spent a good deal of 2010 researching and writing it.
Diane Wilson isn’t just an inspiring environmental activist, ready to face jail in order to call attention to the wrongs committed against mother nature. She isn’t just a fantastically vivid writer, sharing her antics with the world in books like her latest, Diary of an Eco-Outlaw. And she isn’t just a feisty woman whose ideals are as strong as her resolve–she’s also a mom!
President of Concerned Philosophers for Peace Danielle Poe will present the annual presidential address on Diane Wilson’s environmental activism during the closing plenary session for the CPP annual conference at Austin Community College.
In a paper tentatively titled, “Mothering against the Norms: Diane Wilson and Environmental Activism,” Prof. Poe will explore intersecting meanings of justice and mothering in the writings of the highly respected Texas activist. Here’s how Poe describes the upcoming presidential address:
“When my daughter was five years old, I bought her a book about Diane Wilson, whose nonviolent civil disobedience landed her in jail as she confronted injustice. Wilson’s story inspires me, and I hoped it would inspire my daughter as well. Wilson inadvertently stumbles on information about the pollution of the bay where she and her family
have shrimped for four generations, and she tirelessly confronts those who are causing the pollution in order to save her community and its bay. I want this kind of passion and sense of justice for my children; I want them to speak out against injustice even when the odds are overwhelmingly against them.
“I will analyze the ways in which Wilson’s experience as a mother inspires her to choose nonviolent, civil disobedience that will result in incarceration. As part of this choice, Wilson confronts norms about what it means to be a mother in U.S. society. Her actions
challenge social pressure to raise children who conform to values of capitalism and militarism rather than to justice. While it may seem to be the case that the time that Wilson serves undermines her ability to be a mother by going to jail, I will argue that she fulfills her obligations to her children and provides a creative example to other
mothers on how we can mother and resist oppression such that we work to give our children a better society, a capacity to discern justice from injustice, and a capacity for imagining and creating a better society.”
Poe is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. She will deliver the CPP presidential address at 3pm, Saturday, Nov. 5, at the auditorium of the Riverside Campus of Austin Community College. The event is free and open to the public.
The old fire, the one Prometheus stole from the gods way back when, is undeniably awesome. It heats our homes, cooks our food, and now, in the info-tech-saturated 21st century, it powers our Google mail and our Facebook, arguably the most revolutionary social tools since amish friendship bread…
But it’s also hot, dirty, and you just simply cannot have it without producing greenhouse gasses. They’re sort of automatically part of the equation when you’re burning something. Don’t you remember balancing equations in high school chemistry class? No? Believe me, it’s not possible.
Which is why it’s time to overhaul the whole shebang. And it’s why we’re so excited to share with you our first review for Rocky Mountain Institute’s new book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era
Hazel Henderson, author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, has just reviewed the book over at Seeking Alpha.
In “Reinventing Fire,” Amory Lovins and RMI are summarizing their case for shifting from digging and drilling to collecting our energy as nature does by photosynthesis and other chemical and thermal processes: from the daily photon shower arriving free from our sun.This book is meticulously researched, relying on their own scientific team as well as many outside studies.
“Reinventing Fire” is an essential, in-depth summary of all the evidence of the great energy transition now under way.…We think the transition is inevitable, a result of better science and technologies and a huge opportunity for a prosperous, fair, equitable, sustainable future for all.
We are thrilled to release our new fall titles. Whether you are looking for the a crash course on Afghanistan history; following a country Doctor with touching stories full of wit and humor; the fundamental resource for how to have a sustainable, natural approach to raising poultry; or building sustainable homes we have the right book for you.
Save 25% when you purchase any of our exciting new fall titles.
Make sure to pay special attention to the free chapter download for Killing the Cranes. David Swanson called it a ‘Scathing Indictment of the Afghan War’ and for a limited time we are offering a free download of Chapter 2 - A Coward in Afghanistan.
Happy reading from the friendly folks at Chelsea Green Publishing.
Killing the Cranes
A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan
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This September marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11/2001. That’s probably when you first started thinking about Afghanistan, but the longer history of the troubled nation reveals much more than the influence of Al Qaeda. Killing the Cranes is a crash course in Afghan history and a scathing indictment of the Afghan War.
For thirty years, Edward Girardet risked his life reporting from the world’s most notoriously troubled country. Now, in Killing the Cranes, he delivers a firsthand account of his years on the ground amid war, chaos, and strife that have come to define Afghanistan.
“After reading Killing the Cranes, I felt like I had spent three decades in Afghanistan at Girardet’s side. This is the most thorough and knowledgeable book on Afghanistan I have come across, and his conclusions about what has gone wrong and what can be done about it are unassailable.”
-Howard Dean, former Vermont governor
It’s Probably Nothing
More Adventures of a Vermont Country Doctor
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‘It’s Probably Nothing is actually quite wonderful. With wit and humility, but above all with deep affection, Beach Conger captures perfectly what it is to be a Vermonter. This book is a must-read for doctors and patients alike.
An All-Natural Approach to Raising Chickens and Other Fowl for Home and Market Growers
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The most comprehensive and definitive guide to date on raising all-natural poultry, for homesteaders or farmers seeking to close their loop, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock offers a practical and integrative model for working with chickens and other domestic fowl, based entirely on natural systems.
“The poultry husbandry suggested in this book is based on allowing the flock to live as closely as possible to the way Ms. Natural Chicken would live on her own in the wild. And the observation that, if we do so, the birds in return can help us imporove the homstead or farm and make it more productive. One reason those ideas sound so good to me now is because that’s not exactly how we started out.” Continue reading reading an excerpt from the book by clicking here.
Heating, Cooling, Ventilation, Daylighting, and More Using Natural Flows
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‘We now have the ability to provide 60-90 percent of the heating needs in buildings by ultilizing different passive strategies tuned to the microclimate fo the place.’ This book is a must have if you ever thought about bringing sustainability to our homes.
“This book is a major work. It uniquely emphasizes the interplay between passive solar building and the other elements of sustainable design, and relates real-world examples of building design to broader issues of sustainability.Passive Solar Architecture is a welcome addition to any bookshelf on green architecture and sustainability.
- Margot McDonald, professor of architecture, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and past-president, American Solar Energy Society
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A global clean energy race has emerged with astounding speed. The ability to operate without fossil fuels will define winners and losers in business-and among nations.
Whether you care most about profits and jobs, national security, health, or environmental stewardship, Reinventing Fire charts a pragmatic course that makes sense and makes money. With clarity and mastery, Amory Lovins and RMI reveal the astounding opportunities for enterprise to create the new energy era.
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“Wild Flavors is a down-to-earth book rich in ideas and inspiration for people seeking to eat from their gardens and local areas. It’s filled with mouth-watering recipes and valuable cultivation, shopping, and storage tips. But more than anything, this book is a celebration of the ethics and wisdom of Eva Sommaripa, the farmer whose herbs and outlook transformed Didi Emmons and prompted her to write this book… May this sharing of Eva’s story help empower more people to realize their dreams of becoming more connected to the land and other creatures.”
-Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved
Coming in October
In this disaster-preparednes s manual, Mat Stein outlines the materials you’ll need-from food and water, to shelter and energy, to first-aid and survival skills-to help you safely live through the worst.When Disaster Strikes covers how to find and store food, water, and clothing, as well as the basics of installing back-up power and lights. You’ll learn how to gather and sterilize water, build a fire, treat injuries in an emergency, and use alternative medical sources when conventional ones are unavailable.
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Coming in October
Transition is the most vital social experiment of our times. The Transition movement has already motivated thousands to begin to adapt their lives to the twin challenge of peak oil and climate change. Drawing on this collective experience, The Transition Companion offers communities a combination of practical guidance and real vision for the future.
- Tim Jackson, author of Prosperity without Growth
NEWS RELEASE: Influential National Hispanic Civil Rights Organization Votes to Oppose Water Fluoridation
League of United Latin American Citizens Condemns Fluoridation as a Civil Rights Violation
Ellijay, GA – In an action with far-reaching national ramifications, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, has adopted a resolution opposing the practice of water fluoridation.
The resolution was passed at the 2011 LULAC national convention in Cincinnati.
The news adds Hispanic leaders to a growing list of groups and prominent individuals now speaking out against the controversial practice of fluoridation, including former Atlanta mayor and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter and niece Dr. Bernice A. King and Dr. Alveda King, Coalition of African American Pastors President Rev. William Owens, and civil rights leader and minister Dr. Gerald Durley.
“The Hispanic community is no longer going to be silent on this issue,” says Henry Rodriguez, LULAC’s Texas civil rights chairman. “This is about forcing us to be medicated through our drinking water without our consent or full disclosure of the risks.”
“Fluoridation is a civil rights violation,” he says. “Opposition to fluoridation is going to continue building and there is no stopping it. There are millions of Hispanics and other minorities in the U.S. who don’t have the funds to avoid fluoridated water for making their babies’ milk formula. And millions of families don’t know they’re being medicated in their drinking water, or about possible risks for kidney patients and diabetics.”
Human rights advocate Dr. Bernice A. King states, “Water fluoridation needs to end. It is good that organizations are lending their support to help push this outdated and harmful practice of fluoridation toward collapse. This is wonderful news.”
Babies, diabetics, kidney patients, and other groups are listed by the National Research Council as susceptible groups especially vulnerable to harm from ingested fluorides.
Water utilities add fluoride chemicals to drinking water to help prevent cavities. They are the only chemicals specifically added to treat or prevent a health condition in the body, rather than to treat the water itself.
“Fluorides are listed in the ‘Drug Facts’ information on boxes of fluoridated toothpaste sold to help prevent cavities,” says Daniel G. Stockin of The Lillie Center Inc., a firm working to end water fluoridation. “But water utilities haven’t been acknowledging fluorides as a medication when they are added to drinking water for the same purpose.”
The Gerber company now sells an unfluoridated bottled water so parents of young babies can avoid using fluoridated water when mixing milk formula. Major toothpaste manufacturers are also now selling unfluoridated toothpaste for toddlers marked “Fluoride-free. Safe if swallowed.”
After decades of water fluoridation, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that Hispanics have significantly higher levels of untreated cavities than whites, and that Hispanics have disproportionate amounts of “fluorosis” stains disfiguring their teeth.
“Fluoridation certainly hasn’t been very effective at preventing cavities in Hispanics,” states Stockin. “Oral health education and access to dental care for disadvantaged families, this is what Hispanic families need.”
The LULAC resolution notes the National Research Council’s 2006 acknowledgement of large gaps in research on fluoride’s effects on the body, and that these gaps contradict assurances made by public health officials that fluorides and fluoridation have been exhaustively researched.
The resolution also demands to know why health agencies are “more protective of the public policy of fluoridation than they are of public health.”
“Watch what develops now as members of the Hispanic legal community are awakening to this issue,” Stockin says. “This issue of disproportionate fluoride harm to minorities is gaining attention because it is real and we have science supporting it. The train has left the station. Fluoridation is ending. You can look for a quickening cascade of cities, water utilities, health officials and others distancing themselves from fluoridation.”
One need not look far to see the evidence of a deflated population. Quality of life for the poor and middle classes in America is careening toward untenable, with the most draconian cuts to government services since Nixon advanced by a Democrat promising change. We live in the most economically prosperous country in the world, and the story we are told over and over is that we are bankrupt. While spirited protests and committed individuals surround social and economic justice issues, overall, movements for change involve only the tiniest sliver of the general population. Are we rallying around the wrong issues? Is protest dated and ineffective? Or are we too sad and helpless to believe that anything can change?
I had the opportunity to sit down with Cincinnati’s own Bruce Levine, whose recent book Get up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated and Battling the Corporate Elite is the latest addition to a growing body of work that attempts to explain and diagnose the passivity of the general public in the face of increasing austerity. Levine is a self-described “dissident shrink” and posits that most Americans are not lazy, greedy and selfish; rather, many have become psychologically incapable of rebellion. I spoke with him last week at a local coffee shop in his eclectic Cincinnati neighborhood.
Bruce’s take on contemporary American life is painfully acute. We are in an “abusive relationship” with our society; we live in a cycle of dependency where violence takes the form of complete corporate control of our lives. Efforts to resist are criminalized, medicated, and co-opted. “Most people know that money controls the world, but are either too depressed or drugged to do anything about it.” We learn helplessness: our lives at work, home and school isolate us from each other, compromise our integrity and reward money and ego worship. Drugs, both illegal and prescribed, and television are simply filling the holes in our hearts. Our psychic malaise serves an increasingly empowered elite, enriched on the backs of working people, without any risk of reprisal.
Levine’s book carefully reconstructs the terrain of struggle for progressives: we need to focus less on information, and more on creating energy. He points a compassionate yet honest finger at traditional forms of activism, noting that the ever-present lectures and reform campaigns often serve to burden our already heavy hearts. What we need instead, Levine says, are communities formed in struggle that provide a platform for reverberation, a sense of belonging, and small victories that build our morale.
“Strategically, when we recognize that large corporations cannot stomach losing any money, then one realizes that boycotts and bad publicity can be quite effective. Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an organization of mostly immigrant and undocumented farmworkers, decided to fight the biggest food corporations on earth—and they won. Ten years ago they started a campaign for “fair food,” pressuring the major buyers of those tomatoes to pay more. Within four years, they got Taco Bell to meet all their demands, and by 2007 McDonald’s had fallen in line. When one experiences some sense of potency, this can be antidote to demoralization and defeatism.”
Movements for change must build self-respect and collective self-confidence to summon the energy needed to win our battles. “Collective self-confidence—or the belief that it is actually possibly to overcome corporatocracy domination—can comes with even small victories. So, for example the Boston based group City Life has won victories over banks, stopping evictions, foreclosures by organizing blockades, vigils and other actions, that exert public pressure on the banks, and these victories energize those City Life activists to take on larger systems.”
“People must believe that they are worthy of power” says Levine, and contends that the institutions supposedly anchoring our democracy, like the electoral system and higher education, actually erode our collective self confidence, providing a false and hollow sense of control. “If one is only caring about electoral politics on the national level, this can create learned helplessness and be disempowering. After all, whether a Republican or a Democrat wins, we still get senseless wars and corporate control, and because of the power of money in our election system is almost impossible for a third party such as the Green Party that opposes corporate control and senseless wars to win. So, it is important to keep in mind that national elections are only one ‘democracy battlefield’, and we should put more energy into battlefields that are less controlled by big money.”
Progressive books of this sort are often predictably formulaic: seven chapters of hyperbolic doomsday scenarios proceed one chapter of simplistic utopian vision, with a case study of an organization that is doing it right. Get Up, Stand Up is a refreshing anomaly. Levine instructs us to navigate what might lie in between global meltdown and democratic, self-sustaining bioregions. While some of his critique of schools and government seemed to be rooted in strongly held yet unsubstantiated opinion, Levine’s book does offer something new and hopeful to the tired reiterations of what is wrong with the world.
“Academics sometimes stress only information and seem to believe that the truth alone is enough to set people free, but all democratic movements—from anti-war, to labor, to civil rights—have always required risk and courage. In the U.S., unlike some other authoritarian societies, there is less risk of being killed for opposing the corporate elite but there is a great risk—almost certainty—of economic marginalization. That’s a big way how the U.S. corporatocracy keeps us in line. So, we must begin to do what old-time activists did, which is that you have create more economic self-sufficiency and a community that supports one another financially. Many of us would like to ‘do the right thing’ but fears including financial ones break us. So activists must begin to do what America’s most successful activists such as those in our great agrarian revolt, the Populist Movement in the 1880s and 1890s, This was to implement practices such as producer cooperatives that reduced the financial pain of its members. That’s how one recruits and sustains a movement so I spend a great deal of time in Get Up, Stand Up talking about the lessons from that Populist Movement.”
Levine’s revolutionary suggestion is that we approach both activism and mental health in ways that are democratic, human-centered, and give us a sense of our own power. Treading lightly around the questions of ideology, Populism is used (perhaps too casually) to illustrate a vision of a movement that meets both the material and spiritual needs of working class people. In fact, Levine suggests that traditional divisions of right and left prevent us from building strategic alliances with positive outcomes. “When it comes to horrors of the senseless wars that wasteful military spending, one failure of many left activists is to be unwilling—perhaps out of fear that it is not politically correct—to form alliances with anti-war libertarians who passionately oppose these wars. By they way, these anti-authoritarian libertarians also oppose the Wall Street bailout, the PATRIOT Act, NAFTA, the War on Drugs, and other issues that left-antiauthoritarians also oppose. Alliances among different political camps on these issues don’t prevent debate and disagreements on other issues, such as the proper use of government and markets. In fact alliances on war opposition can turn these other debates into more productive dialogues, and I have actually had libertarian antiauthoritarians tell me, after such dialogues about the corporatocracy, that maybe they will move over to being left anti-authoritarians.”
The old left has been accused of favoring the material over the spiritual. The new left tends to uphold the therapeutic over the concrete. Levine helps us strike a balance. He posits that change cannot occur until we begin to heal our broken hearts. The book stands to change much of what we think about political engagement. Courage, hope and solidarity are more than just buzzwords, indeed, these intangible qualities are the difference between a winning and losing battle.
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