What do the wealthy think and do about climate change?

There is a tide turning in one important area—the recognition of climate change. I can feel it among people and see it in the mainstream media. The fires in California have become a tipping point in public opinion on climate change.

There is a sense—finally!!!—that climate change has become a top progressive priority in the United States, up there with institutional racism and health care. There is even a sense that the large majority of people-beyond progressives-now accept the facts. People have seen that science means something in the real world.

Forest+fire+fighter%2C+climate+change%2C+need%2C+survival+-+CC+image+via+pixabay.jpg

That is good, but…

Progressives turning is not enough. The majority of the public in wealthy countries turning is not enough. Even the mainstream media turning is not enough. Only 25 percent of climate-damaging emissions can be impacted by responsible personal choices in diet, energy use, transportation and so forth.

The vast majority of climate-changing emissions come not from personal choices but from the wealthy, the infrastructure politically controlled by the wealthy and the big industry owned by the wealthy. The demographic that matters most is the top five percent or so of the income scale. those with decision-making power over large industries and public institutions as well as over their own fortunes.

And the picture is still bleak there. Kanye West showed what the attitude of many of the wealthy is when he hired private firefighters to keep his home safe while much of California burned.

I recently conducted a small survey of wealthy people to determine their attitudes and actions regarding climate change. Last summer I surveyed an online social network frequented by many wealthy individuals or at least those who self-identify as exceptionally wealthy. This social network is broad enough to encompass every political leaning but those who answered my survey were self selected.

The survey is not large enough to be a good statistical sample. Still their responses are revealing. Individuals in the network reported on their own beliefs as well as those they observe in their social circle of wealthy friends and acquaintances.

My survey question was, “Do wealthy, educated people A. put a large percent of their resources into fighting human-induced climate change, B. not care or not believe the consequences will affect them, C. feel too despairing or apathetic to do anything about it or D. deny the consensus of the vast majority of scientists on climate change?

Of those who reported on their own beliefs, only one in ten said they would do or previously had done anything to mitigate climate change. One out of ten reported the apathy and despair of option C. The rest were split between B (40 percent) and D (40 percent).

The format encouraged explanation of their views and many of the responses were angry and vehement. Typical explanations include the following excerpts:

“It is not the job of the wealthy to take care of everything. It is the responsibility of people as a whole to take care of the environment.”

”If you are so convinced that major climate change is coming then you better do something about it. I think about it about as much as myths like Bigfoot,”

“Fact is many climate predictions have fallen flat, so you could reasonably conclude the latest climate predictions are probably fiction.”

“The climate change prompters (sic) are very loud, and have tried to shut up their opposition. And there are a significant number of people (sic) think the crisis is much smaller than reported. There are also many people who want to use “climate change” to push their political or cultural agenda, such as urbanization, mass transit, solar power, and even vegetarianism.”

It is particularly troubling that people who identify as wealthy and educated so commonly either deny climate change outright or deny the seriousness of the impacts. The reasons thought up about why scientists might fabricate evidence, including the concept that some people want things like public transit and solar power either as money-making schemes or because of personal enjoyment of them, are depressingly under-thought.

Three out of ten respondents also commented on their beliefs about what other wealthy people do or think about climate change. These responses were split evenly between B, C and D. The despair of option C climbed when the answer described the opinions of others. Somehow few respondents wanted to self-identify as despairing or apathetic, which is one big difference between the responses of the wealthy and those of the general population, in which despair and apathy is commonly self-reported.

Another difference between the response of the wealthy to climate change versus that of the general population was pointed out by a respondent, who wrote; “For wealthy people, climate change isn’t so bad. If there is a food crisis, it means other people will starve, so they feel a tinge of remorse, but it won’t impact them directly. If one of their houses gets flooded, they can just move. They have options… So they all feel like someone should be doing something, but not them, someone else. Because for them, doing something would mean losing the benefit of being wealthy.”

If this respondent is correct, it is possible that some of the wealthy who either claim to deny climate change or simply ignore such a survey, actually are banking on the assumption that climate change will primarily affect the poor and middle classes.

What does this mean for people who are highly concerned about climate change and willing to act on this concern?

Again, my survey isn’t a scientific study but it gives some indication of common reactions to climate change in the top wealth bracket. Those who ignored the survey are likely to be more apathetic, but if there had been individuals in the wealthy social network who were acutely concerned about climate change, some of them would have answered over the course of several months when the survey was displayed. It may be that apathetic respondents did not respond because they were apathetic not just about the issue of climate change but even about discussing it in a survey, but the lack of positive responses clearly indicates a real lack of positive thinking on the issue in this economic class.

Given the disproportionate impact of the wealthy on climate policy and industrial causes, it is clear that this demographic is one that should be addressed by serious climate action. The wealthy may suffer less from climate change than others but they will be impacted negatively. They may need more factual education.

On the other hand, many wealthy people today may know the facts well enough but choose to deny climate change publicly for profit or to avoid the shame of being unresponsive on an issue that will cause massive death and harm to many others. The wealthy are not immune to public pressure and the great impact that even a few wealthy individuals becoming active in combating climate change is worth a significant amount of effort to achieve.

It may be helpful to focus campaigns more on the impact of wealthy lifestyles, industry and policy influence, revealing to the public at large the crucial role of the wealthy in driving climate change. In any event, climate campaigns focused on those with wealth and political power will be more likely to get results in the time available.

When "no politics" isn't neutral

Imagine if a miraculous alien was suddenly transported into our polite, neighborly conversations, to our dinner tables or into our schools, workplaces and places of faith. The alien is miraculous because it can speak English perfectly and can physically participate in our activities without much difference.

The alien wishes to be polite and diplomatic, so it observes table manners and learns to say "please" and "thank you," but its understanding of social niceties is limited. Imagine then that you are appointed as a cultural ambassador charged with guiding the guest through our world.

And because it is 2018, people ask you to above all else avoid involving the alien in the contentious politics of the times. We want to give the alien a good impression of earth's development and human society after all. 

But unfortunately for you, the alien is very observant. First, you offer the alien something to eat and the alien asks what the dish served is. 

Creative Commons image by Fibonacci Blu

Creative Commons image by Fibonacci Blu

"Chicken," you reply.

"Ah, an animal," the alien says, tasting politely. "You humans eat these animals. It's the way your world works."

"Many people eat only plants," you say, feeling a bit uncomfortable. The other guests at dinner also look disturbed. "Would you prefer something vegetarian?"

And someone mutters. "Getting political already." 

The alien raises its equivalent of an eyebrow at you. "Oh, do some humans think it is better to eat plants than animals? Did you ask the plants how they feel about it?"

Someone mentions factory farming and the alien checks its research about earth.

"Oh dear, you're quite right," it remarks. "Factory farming is one of the things killing your planet. Those greenhouse emissions are causing wild fluctuations in your atmosphere. If you don't stop this type of agriculture and your use of fossil fuels, you'll be hard pressed to grow any food in a few decades. I hope those of you here are among the humans who don't contribute to such devastation."

Everyone stares at the alien and then down at their plates. The politicization of lunch isn't welcome.

After lunch you are ready to show the alien around. You go out to get into your car but the alien stops, staring at the vehicle. "Is there no other way to get there? Can't we walk or take one of your trains? This vehicle is contributing to the devastation of your planet."

The rest of the human delegation grumbles. More politics. 

Somehow you persuade the alien to get into the car and you drive to a local high school. At this point the alien needs to go to the bathroom. They do that on their planet too, apparently. So you take the alien to the restrooms. But of course, there are two restrooms. 

"Can I just use whichever one I want?" the alien asks. 

"No!" you reach out a hand urgently to stop the alien. It is your job to keep the alien out of controversy after all and this is a school. There are few places where people are more concerned about gender separation at the toilet bowl. You explain about human gender, a bit about reproduction and that the bathrooms are segregated.

"Oh dear," the alien mutters. "Do you do reproduction in restrooms? Is it necessary to keep the young ones apart to prevent premature reproduction?"

"No no," you explain. "It just makes humans uncomfortable to share a restroom with the opposite gender. So, which are you? Female or male? Do  you... er... grow the babies or fertilize the babies on your world?"

"Both," the alien replies. "We are a species with both of those parts in one individual."

It's hopelessly political to get your alien to the toilet, but you manage it (possibly by clearing everyone out of one of the bathrooms and declaring it temporarily genderfree). 

The alien then follows you into a classroom and sits quietly for a while, listening to the teacher talk about the ten most important authors of the past century. When the teacher opens the class up for questions, the alien raises its hand (or equivalent appendage) and asks how the teacher determined that those were the most important authors of the previous century. 

The teacher points to history books, popularity, cultural impacts and the wealth and fame of the authors. She is proud to point out that the list of ten authors includes one author of color and two women. 

"But I just learned that your female gender makes up half of the population. Are they mostly too busy growing babies to write?" the alien asks innocently. 

The teacher explains about historical inequalities and claims that we are now much more equal. She lists several more well-known female authors, though the alien is confused about why half of them use male pen names. 

Then the alien asks why only one of the authors on the list is a person of color. The teacher tries the same method of explanation, but the alien stops her. "The vast majority of your planet is populated by people of color. Surely, they wrote things, even if you didn't know about it at the time."

The teacher explains about borders and nations and says that while she didn't actually say it, she meant this was a list of the most important authors from your country and... er... well, your allies, which are mostly white.

"Is this why you put so much of your resources into war and killing the humans on other parts of your planet?" the alien asks. 

The teacher glares at you and the alien and states sternly that this is a discussion of literature, not politics, and you need to take your political rants elsewhere. 

You leave school and head toward your workplace. On the way, the alien seeks to clarify its understanding. "These divisions are very important on your planet, I see. You divide people up into two genders and you have all these lines on the ground that divide people and it is very important what color your epidermis is. Why is this? Do different kinds of humans need very different things or have very different abilities?"

"No," you admit. "We don't. But people used to think that we were very different. We now know that we aren't. But some of the divisions remain."

"Even you were concerned about which restroom I should use," the alien says. "So you have not abandoned the divisions."

"That's true," you say. "I was trying not to get political."

"So, keeping one gender out of the other restroom is not political?" the alien asks. "And keeping hungry and endangered humans on the other side of a border is not political and letting them in would be? Bombing other humans is not political but talking about it is? Killing and eating either plants or animals isn't political but talking about it is? And killing your planet isn't political, but mentioning it is?"

"Yes, you're getting the idea," you sigh, already exhausted. 

"You humans don't like it when something is about power or politics. I can tell that," the alien says. "I really want to be polite. How can I avoid political topics when it seems like they crop up everywhere?" 

"You probably should avoid criticizing what we do," you mention hopefully.

The alien nods. This is good diplomatic advice.

At your workplace, you show the alien how the company you work for functions, all of the different jobs and you get into economics and how people work for money in order to then buy those things they need to survive.

The alien is quiet during a lot of this. Finally, it nods and does its equivalent of a smile. "I think I see now. You divide people into these groups by color and nation and gender, so that you know that mostly brown humans should do the hard jobs that get paid very little. Then they can pay to live in places that are broken, polluted and unsafe and eat food treated with chemicals that are destroying your planet. Some paler humans are also doing these hard jobs and living in these unsafe areas too and that causes a lot of strife. I can see now why you try to pay attention to the divisions."

Your colleagues stare at the alien with open-mouthed shock.

The alien continues. "I see that the pale females can do very busy jobs that get paid a bit more than the hard jobs. They are also close to the pale males, so that they can provide pleasure to the males.. Mostly the pale males make much more money and they do jobs that you feel are very important, but they mostly consist of sitting and telling the brown and female humans what to do."

Your superior who asked you to keep the alien out of politics gives you a meaningful glower.

You gently take the alien by something like a shoulder and move away from your colleagues. "I told you not to criticize us," you say with some irritation.

"I wasn't criticizing," the alien says, with a bewildered look in it's ocular nodes. "I was just checking to see that I understand these important realities of your world. I wouldn't want to wander into the wrong restroom or job."

"All right, whatever," you say. "Let's go someplace even you can't make political." 

You take the alien to your community of faith. You belong to a spiritual path that is very tolerant, open-minded and apolitical. Surely, the alien can't find anything to criticize here. 

You walk in and you are greeted by many different kinds of people. Everyone is friendly and loves meeting the alien. They all exchange pleasantries. It's true that mostly the white people are in the center of the room, talking loudly. People of color are there though. They are happy and fairly quiet. The leadership is shared between women and men. The female spiritual leader even does a lot of the talking, while the male leader sits, looking dignified. 

The only person who cannot come in is your friend who uses a wheelchair, but several of the people in your faith community visit him at home. And there is a blind woman who sits at the back of the space. She is included by being there and she is well liked because she mostly smiles quietly.

You listen to an uplifting service about divine love and acceptance, about hope and reassurance for your purpose in life. What a relief! You are glad you came. 

You look around to see how your alien friend liked this apolitical inspiration. The alien is doing the equivalent of putting its head in its hands and sobbing. 

"I thought you said you didn't like being political!" the alien cries.

"This wasn't political. It wasn't about who is in power and who isn't," you explain. "This is a place where we find hope and peace." 

"You find hope by continuing to destroy your planet at an alarming rate without mentioning it? You find peace by enforcing silence about the divisions and inequities in your daily lives?" The alien looks utterly confused. "This is all about power and politics."

---

There are infinite variations of what might happen in that scenario with the miraculous alien. But the bottom line is that what we consider to be political is all about who and what has the power to destroy or gain in our world. That is the heart of politics. 

To stay silent on the most pressing issues of today, the divisions, injustices and destruction in our world is a brazenly political act. It is an open declaration of support for the existing divisions and the ongoing injustices and destruction. 

Many institutions and groups today say they want members to refrain from bringing politics into the group or activity to avoid strife. Whether this is done in a community of faith, a school or other institution or a commercial enterprise, it is not politically neutral. Instead it is a declaration of a political position protecting the status quo. 

Due to toxic rhetoric and events, many of us are exhausted. And this leads to many well-meaning calls for certain spaces to be apolitical, places where injustice, race-relations, environmental problems, human rights issues and war won't be discussed. These topics are stressful and painful for a lot of us.

The problem is that silence is not "neutral." And in fact there is often no "neutral." When the lives of vulnerable refugees, black boys on the streets or any other people are at stake and one side is engaged in killing them and another side is trying to stop the killing, there is no such thing as "neutral." You either defend those being harmed or you are supporting the injustice.

Likewise when one group is being publicly maligned and trashed because of characteristics they could not choose for themselves and that group is either absent or not strong enough to respond, there are no bystanders. 

There is no neutral. If I do not speak up I become part of the bullying and so I have sometimes spoken up in spaces declared apolitical because to remain silent would be a political act. 

Clash: Conversation between the wealthy and the poor at the dawn of a new class war

I love cultural experiences and I've joined a lot of different groups in order to understand different perspectives.

Recently I had a conversation with a group of wealthy intellectuals who I had come to know and enjoy, though their culture is quite different from mine. Yet in this case the clash of cultures and understanding proved too great for much accord and the divide worries me. 

Creative Commons image by Hamza Butt (

Creative Commons image by Hamza Butt (

I will not use names or other identifiers here because the point is not to call anyone out but rather to show a crucial gap of understanding that is developing in our society, due to different groups living inside social bubbles of their own race and class. Because in this particular conversation there was little or no variation between members of the group, I will use an agglomeration of real statements to both shorten and clarify the discussion.

As such, this is a recreation of a lengthy discussion I had with a group that is essentially a foreign culture to me. We are all either Americans or Western Europeans. We are all intellectuals and significantly educated. Most of the group previously had expressed support for the US Democratic Party and/or liberal-leaning views. So we share a great deal, yet I was an exception in the group because I am not of the same economic class. 

I will call one side in this discussion Wealthy Liberal Intellectual (WLI) and the other side Scraping-by Progressive Intellectual (SPI) to illustrate where the divide is, although I was the only person in the latter group at this time. 

Here is how the discussion went:

WLI: Trump's attack on health care is unfortunate. We should be compassionate on health care. However, I doubt the media reports about people in the US being denied essential health care before the ACA are entirely true.  I have certainly never encountered a real person who was denied essential health care in the United States.

SPI: You may not have previously encountered a person who was denied essential health care, but now you have.. I can give you several specific examples in as much detail as you would like. About ten years ago, for instance, I was injured in a fall in the US. My shoulder was partially dislocated, two ribs were broken and one punctured my lung and the lung collapsed 10 percent. I was driven to an emergency room and eventually had an X-ray that showed these issues. I was given a sling and proscribed pain killers. This cost was $3,000. I couldn't pay all of it right away and some was paid for by an emergency fund. However, I was not kept in the hospital for observation. My shoulder was also not repaired but left to heal badly and crooked in a way that causes permanent deformity, pain and weakness in that shoulder. When I later sought advice for the pain from doctors in Europe, I was told that A. the shoulder needed to be operated on immediately to prevent long-term harm and B. the lung issue was life threatening at the time and I was lucky to have survived without adequate medical care. Those interventions would have been extremely expensive and they were beyond what I could pay at the time. I was told that my lung was in a dangerous condition and that I should probably stay in a hospital overnight, however, it would take months to find out if an emergency fund would cover it and I would have to risk putting my family in serious debt to stay. I was not informed at all about the need for an operation to my shoulder. I can give other examples from just my own life and that of my nearest family and friends. This is the reality of the majority of people in the United States before the ACA.

WLI: I'm sorry that you feel life has served you so poorly. You were given health care. You probably shouldn't be complaining about it. And as you can see there was an emergency fund. that you benefited from.

SPI: I didn't say life had served me poorly and I am not complaining. I'm merely presenting the facts of a case. According to medical doctors in Europe this did not constitute "essential emergency medical care." It resulted in long-term harm and deformity. My shoulder is still not the right shape and it never will be because the surgery cannot be done once the injury has healed poorly. There was a very small and inadequate emergency fund. These are simply facts. I have been very fortunate that I did not have much worse complications. In fact, I was fortunate to live and not lose the rest of my sight due to that particular accident. I am also fortunate to have access to European health care, something most Americans don't have. Far from saying life served me poorly, I'm saying I am one of the lucky ones who survived this disastrous system. These problems affected at least half the US population and still affect some. It is immeasurably worse for families with serious and chronic illnesses, such as cancer. 

WLI: This is, if anything, an isolated case. I wonder what you're trying to prove and why it is so important to you to go on about this.

SPI: I read your statement saying that you had not encountered a real person in this kind of situation. I wanted to give you this information and experience outside of your previous experience, because it is the experience of a great many people in the United States.

WLI: Many people still come to the US for health care from countries that have universal health care. Many of our members live in countries, like the UK or Canada, with universal health care. There are major problems there and the United States is still the world leader in medical technology. We would not be able to provide this technology if it didn't offer significant profits. 

SPI: I have experience in a country with universal health care as well, in the Czech Republic, which is not even a particularly wealthy country. I'll admit that health buildings here are often a bit spartan and hospital rooms can be small or if they are large they are shared by multiple patients. But the quality of actual care both in terms of human care and technology is sate of the art. Last winter I had high-risk eye operation to save my residual sight. There have only been about 500 similar operations in the whole world and it is one which requires very specialized technology and a precisely skilled surgeon. 

WLI: You should respect the experience of those who know more than one system. I have heard of there being long wait times for critical procedures in some countries with universal health care. I wouldn't want to give up the benefits of the American system.

SPI: You dismiss any facts I present. When you won't look at specific cases, it is no wonder you haven't noticed any person who was denied health care in the US. Ignoring the facts and continuing to promote this system, when you have said you are for human rights... It's disgusting. It is a life and death issue for a great many people. I have experience with more than one system, in the US, in the Czech Republic and in Germany, even in Zimbabwe and Ecuador. Why is my experience invalid compared with the experience of others? And can you give any specific examples of problems in countries with universal health care? I have never encountered long wait times in countries with universal health care, except for transplants which always entail a wait. 

WLI: You need to apologize. You just won't listen and you want everyone to feel sorry for you. I don't see why we can't all contribute to society, why you seem to think some people should get everything for free. 

SPI: I think it is important to gain experience from beyond your own circle of friends and your own bubble of experience. This is why I'm presenting these facts. I can give details and other cases if that would help. 

WLI: You just honestly don't get it, do you? The group feels you need a time out. 

SPI: I have been considering leaving this group. I have noticed in the past that this group is very dismissive when I post about climate change, even though you claim to be concerned about these types of issues. However, I enjoy other parts of this group and I like to know people from beyond my usual circle as well.

WLI: I have no doubt that our children will have it easier than we do, just as we have it easier than our grandparents did. That really isn't an issue worth worrying about.

SPI: Climate change is already having a devastating impact. You are intelligent and you have seen the data. You know that we have incurred ecological debts that someone will have to pay in the end. 

WLI: There will be other resources in the future. Once it was coal and iron. Now it is oil. In the future it will be wind and solar. Each generation uses different resources, so each generation will be better off than the one before. There is no ecological debt.

SPI: I am not sure the endless resources theory will work in practice, but even if it did, this is more about human-induced climate change, which is already impacting a great many people and making life, let alone business, much harder. It is growing year by year. Do you still say that the next generation will have it easier?

WLI: My son and daughter are successful in business and my granddaughter is looking into modeling. Sure, I think they will have wonderful lives. You think you are the only one who has had a difficult life and had to struggle to get somewhere. That isn't the case. It's just that you talk so much about how rough you've had it. 

SPI: It takes my breath away and makes me sick to my stomach to read this. I don't think I've had it bad. I am much more concerned about the next generation.

WLI: I've had enough of your insults. You're blocked. Have a good life.

Corporate power and free speech

A video interview with author Arie Farnam

This is a repost of the first in a series of video interviews on hope and integrity in a perilous world. This interview focuses on the influence of corporations in society and how individuals respond with integrity. 

While the vast power of corporations often feels indomitable and the manipulation of our culture and media can be demoralizing, understanding of and resistance to tyranny is spreading.

As the progress of the past fifty years in civil, economic and environmental rights is under threat, we come to see that we have come a great distance and have much to believe in and lives worth defending. 

YouTube Link

YouTube Link

This interview also touches on how the struggle for social justice inspired my writing in 2014. The dystopian series that came out of that time is eerily predictive of our waking reality in 2017. That's why I'm reposting the video. As we struggle with immediate danger, we must also remember how we came to this situation in order to prevent its repetition in the future.

I write my stories because I cannot help myself. Writers must write. But I also write them to reach out and wake up the world from the malaise of apathy and despair. Mine are stories of hard-won and authentic hope and these video interviews tell how and why.

How to win the struggle against tyranny today

I received some hard news affecting the health and future of one of my children. And then I had to explain it to my husband after a particularly harrowing day He looks shell-shocked but also resigned, the way a lot of people look when discussing politics these past few months.

These days there seems to be nowhere to go to get away from the hard rain drumming down, whether personal or political. Any media you turn on is likely to either numb you, deepen your despair or coat everything in a somewhat sickening layer of figurative candy.

Creative Commons image by Hartwig HKD

Creative Commons image by Hartwig HKD

After my husband stumbled off to bed, I was about to turn in myself when I got a call from across the world, my adult niece phoning in edits to a manuscript. After that kind of day, there are few conversations I'd gladly stay up for, but this was one. 

Even so, as we decompressed after the editing work was done, she said almost the exact same despairing words that one of the characters in my contemporary dystopian series says, "It just seems like the bad guys win every time." 

I had not yet settled from my own fears or thought about the future for my family. Instead I was jolted into that disturbingly realistic fictional world by her momentary despair. It's a story about a kind of cult that controls hearts and minds in what looks like modern America and promotes corporate interests to the extreme. Those who resist the resulting tyranny always seem to be on the retreat, trying to shelter the most vulnerable among them and to salvage a sense of personal freedom. 

I wrote this some years ago, based on a premise and plot designed twenty years before that. But its relevance today is often uncanny. I wonder if George Orwell ever wished his book 1984 wasn't so right on.

Two years ago, when the Kyrennei Series first became public it was considered a dark and sometimes painful story. This was strange to me because I wrote it out of a sense of hope. Not the "smile and all will be well" sort of hope, but the sort of hope that keeps me going when both the present and the future look bleak. 

I wanted to reach out to my niece across the 5,000 odd miles between us and give her a hug. Not that she can't stand up on her own. She's been doing it for some time. But simply because I understand.

Here is the antidote to despair that another character offers in the story and the answer I gave to my niece on that midnight call: "I don’t know where this tyranny came from, but the hatred and greed that drives it seem to be endemic to humanity. I don’t think it is going to go away. That doesn’t mean we don’t win though. With every kid like Rowan who can raise his head, despite what he has been dealt, we win. With every child who grows up free, with every refugee rescued, we win. We win every day that we remain free in ourselves because that’s a day when we don’t lose."

I wake up in the dawn on too little sleep and muddle through the morning routine, which involves actions of resistance to the corporate and social oppression in the real world--chores for our urban homestead (part of mitigating climate change and ensuring my family's relative independence from corporate, chemical-laced food supplies), getting children ready for school while denying demands for sexualized clothing for an eight-year-old (part of the struggle to foster an informed and free-thinking next generation and to give one young woman time to understand gender dynamics before making her own decisions about her body as an adult) and dispensing herbal medicine that has kept us healthy for ten years without pharmaceuticals (part of the struggle to avoid being held hostage by corporations due to health needs).

Mine is a humble role in the struggle, feeding chickens and children. But every action is part of remaining free.

When there is a moment of peace, I light a candle and take a cup of tea.  Part of my mind is still with the fictional characters who cropped up the night before. A phrase from the freedom fighters in the book is still going through my head, "One more morning."

That's all they say. I made it to another dawn without giving up my hope and inner freedom. This day, I won. 

There are those who hold power in our real world who do resemble villains from a dystopian fantasy. And they have said in no uncertain terms that they want to destroy all who resist them. Larry Klayman, an influential lawyer, is heading efforts to put opponents of the Trump administration in prison. Neo-Nazi groups openly declare that they wish to destroy people of color, people of other faiths, immigrants, refugees and their friends. Donald Trump himself has declared that those who wish to protect the earth from climate change and other effects of corporate excess should be wiped out once and for all. 

It is not fun to contemplate. But contemplate this. They are failing. 

They can do many harmful things, but every time we get back up and resist in public or private ways, we win. Their stated goals are thwarted when we create moments and spaces of freedom. 

This is not a matched fight. One side desires control and mastery over others. The other side wants only peace and freedom in their own homes. While it is terrible in many ways, it gives us many chances to win. 

Know that you are not losing. Your persistence is their worst fear.

If democracy is losing, let's change the rules of the game

I know discussing "elections" can be like being forced to take a math test with something smelly smeared on it.

Now the stakes are much higher than a grade in math class. Tackling fair elections may be the only way to save our own lives, avert climate disaster and have any hope of a vibrant and successful community.

Creative Commons image by  James McNellis

Creative Commons image by  James McNellis

So grab a cup of tea and settle in. I'm going to make this as painless humanly possible.

What stops us from having universal health care, rail-based public transportation, economically sound and family-friendly immigration policies, a fair and environmentally responsive tax system, solar energy as high a priority as coal or oil, sober leadership for those who choose to fight for our country and a host of other things most developed countries have that we don't? 

People will say various things in response to that questin--the two-party system, the swamp, politicians, corporate money in politics, etc... Essentially though, they all come down to the same thing. The people in office are not responsive to the voters.

American public opinion has been percentage-wise vastly more progressive than our elected representatives for decades. Sure, there are Americans with non-progressive viewpoints. I'll bet some readers of my blog don't identify as progressive. But given your tolerance for my posts, it is very unlikely that you are happy voters of the Democrats or Republicans. You may be more fiscally conservative than progressive or concerned with individual freedom or interested in living wages.

Whatever your stance, if it is not directly in alignment with one of the major parties, we share the same number one problem.

That is our system of voting. 

Now I am not dissing the founding fathers. They did pretty darn good for their time. They only had a few European examples of semi-democracy to go on and they took some ideas for the US constitutin from the Iroquois.

Creative Commons image by Alisdare Hickson

Creative Commons image by Alisdare Hickson

Still--due respect to the founding fathers granted--let's face it. As good as it was for its time the Electoral College was a system set up to handle the problem of carrying ballots on horseback over hundreds of miles of open country. And the party system was also based on a pre-technological world. 

We have better options today.

The primary reason for changing our voting system is that it would allow for representatives who more accurately reflect the views of the citizens to be elected. And it would mean that those representatives would be more responsive to the concerns of constituents, because they would know that party loyalty will not balance out lack of popularity among voters. 

You are no doubt familiar with the concept of "spoilers" in elections. That's where you have two main candidates for a position, one from the Democrats and one from the Republicans. And then along comes a third party candidate.

If the third candidate is a Green, it is possible that some of the voters who vote for the Green would not have stayed home if the Green didn't exist. They might have voted for the Democrat. If the candidate is a Libertarian, the voters for that candidate might have voted for the Republican if the Libertarian didn't exist.  

The logic is that if you are a concerned and responsible voter, who really cares about your country, and you go to vote, you must vote for a major party candidate who has a "real chance of winning," because a vote for a third party candidate is just like staying home. It means your vote is wasted and it could have been used to help the better of the two major party candidates.

Creative Commons image by Master Steve Rapport

Creative Commons image by Master Steve Rapport

And when the worse of the two major party candidates bears a striking political resemblance to an early-years Hitler or Stalin, that becomes a real problem. 

Every single American I know has been in that very unpleasant bind while voting, whether they chose to buck the system and vote for an outsider or to tow the line and hope for the best. Whether you're one of those people who says we should vote for the Democrats to avoid people like Trump or one of those who says we have to vote our conscience, we aren't really two different camps. We've been through the same anxiety and frustration.

A change in voting system is an issue that a vast swath of Americans can get behind. Our political, strategy and policy differences don't matter in this, because in the end a voting system that allows each voter to vote their conscience without fear of spoilers is a system in which everyone wins.

Well, almost everyone. The top brass of the Democratic and Republican parties and their corporate backers will lose. And we'll all drink to that just before we part ways and start having a real democracy in which it isn't a dire problem that we disagree on everything else.

So, here in a nutshell is the technical explanation you've been waiting for:

Score Run-off Voting is a system in which the voter gives every candidate on the ballot a score. It's kind of like a beauty contest except it's a policy contest. You rate each candidate on how much you like their stated policies, track-record, ethics and statements. You have a scale of, for instance, 5 to 1, and you look at each candidate in turn and decide if you like them a lot, a little, or don't care, dislike them a little or a lot.   

Let's say you score an independent candidate as a 5 (because you know them well and believe in everything they stand for), a Green as a 4 and a Libertarian as a 4 (because you like most of their policies but not all), a Democrat as a 3 (because you aren't crazy about them but could survive them) and Trump as 1 (because your child will die of type 1 diabetes if he repeals the ACA).

Your scores along with everyone else's scores contribute to each candidate's overall score. You have supported the Democrat over the Republican and you have given support to several possible candidates, while giving the most support to the one you want most. Those scores will be tallied by a fairly simple computer program and two top winners will emerge. 

The computer will then run-off those two candidates using your score for each.

If--as Democrats and Republicans are always predicting--the top two candidates are still the Democrat and the Republican, then when those two are run-off your vote, in the example above, will be a vote for the Democrat. If you gave the Democrat a 3 and the Republican a 1, you have essentially voted for the Democrat in the run-off. 

But because the fear of spoilers would be taken away and the two major parties would no longer have a stranglehold on resources or an argument to journalists and voters claiming that other candidates are irrelevant, it is altogether possible in local and national races that the run-off could be between, say, your favorite independent and the Libertarian you sort of liked. In that case your vote in the run-off would go to the independent and even if she didn't win, you'd be better off than you are now.

Score Run-off Voting has a difficult and technical name and this whole thing may seem like a little technical issue, but in reality everything else develops from the voting system. That is why I argue that if there is one single issue to focus your finite energy for political involvement on, this should be it. Whether you're concerned about the environment or education or Black Lives Matter or health care or a living wage. it all comes down to this. 

We must have a realistic hope of electing those who back policies we need and a guarantee of un-electing those who don't follow through. 

Here are the reasons why:

  • Score Run-off Voting is the system that would actually break the two-party stranglehold on elections. Some other run-of or "approval" systems would help and can be supported as interim measures, but this one is the clincher.
  • It would undermine corporate influence.
  • And it is achievable. Through state-level initiatives for Score Run-off Voting the change can be made within a few years, whereas strategies such as "taking back the Democratic Party" or building up another party have an outlook of decades and a small probability of success. 

There are currently initiatives in Oregon for Score Run-off Voting and interest growing across the country. 

The 2017 List: 13 things to bring into the new year

With some truly depressing 2017 lists out there, I want to add a couple that might actually come in handy... or at least crack a smile.

Here is the Rebel With a Pen list of what to take with you when leaping into 2017:

  1. Chocolate
  2. A solar panel
  3. A manual for communicating with racists
  4. A Canadian passport or at least least a maple leaf bumper sticker
  5. Your entire library of books
  6. Wool socks
  7. A couple of 1960s protest albums
  8. Food stockpiles
  9. A bomb shelter
  10. Your family and near neighbors
  11. A first aid kit with extra bandages
  12. Your ability to laugh in the face of disaster
  13. Your generosity of spirit when it comes to people you might feel like judging

And with some of the bizarre wish lists out there, I figured that my brand of fantasy wouldn't seem far fetched at all. Here's my wish list for 2017:

  1. I wish Donald Trump would get on TV, laugh really loud and say, "Just kidding!" And then go back to his moocher lifestyle and leave us in peace.
  2. I wish everyone in the media would suddenly realize they should actually listen to scientists. Then science and climate discussions would be at the top of the news cycle all year long.
  3. I wish oil executives would realize the Indians own that land in North Dakota and that squeezing every last drop of oil out of the sand in Texas is not going to prolong their gluttonous lifestyle for very long anyway so they might as well start thinking about long-term survival.
  4. I wish my kids would wake up January 1 and realize that bickering defeats fun.
  5. I wish the next president would declare a new New Deal consisting of building solar panels to go on every roof and a light-rail system serving the entire country.
  6. I wish all the teenage ISIS fighters would get a deep hankering to go live with their mothers and watch TV until they're forty. 
  7. I wish all bombs, missiles and munitions as well as all guns not in a safe under lock and key would mysteriously disappear on January 1.
  8. I wish someone brilliant would invent a way for writers and artists to make a living at their craft.
  9. I wish Microsoft would go bankrupt and have to sell off all of its parts to independent programmers who want to make an honest living.
  10. I wish our society would begin taxing the use of natural resources instead of the labor of the working poor and the funds would be put toward educational opportunity, urban greenspaces, rural public transit and subsidies for high quality cottage industries. 
  11. I wish a benign virus would evolve and spread among humans which deactivates the part of the brain that categorizes according to skin color, speech pattern and the appearance of a person's eyes.

With those sweet and optimistic thoughts in mind, I wish you a very happy (and peaceful) new year!

Smrak 3: Gender specific toys and media that promote either ditsy

When my daughter was a baby I thought it would be simple. I would scrimp and save and buy her the best and most beautiful dolls on the market--the big ones with all the accessories, the ones made of good quality materials and none of that cheap plastic that releases toxins. Then she would never want Barbies. End of problem.

Creative Commons image by Thomas Hawk

Creative Commons image by Thomas Hawk

Right…

Where I live cheap Barbie knock-offs are the most common gift given to children, after candy with artificial coloring. My daughter was given one by the organizers of a nature walk we joined. She has been given these horrid bits of soft, easily breakable, toxic plastic with extreme body-image issues, by relatives and visitors to our home on a regular basis. 

And of course, her friends have real Barbies, which are slightly less likely to fill the house with carcinogenic clutter, but are no better for girls to play with. And that’s usually all they play with. 

Why do I have such an issue with Barbies? You might ask. My daughter is incredibly slim with a perfect figure. She’s not one of the girls in most danger of poor-body-image problems. She’s the type others will envy after all. 

My issue is only partly to do with ridiculously long, skinny legs and waists that look like a pulled taffy. Those are problematic. But the feet permanently bent into the shape of shoes that are harmful to kids’ feet and require women to tiptoe through the world are worse. The focus on clothes, clothes, clothes, shoes, shoes, shoes, makeup, makeup, makeup, hair, hair, hair is simply nauseating. Girls should have other interests as well. 

I know the company has made some Barbie firefighter outfits and other less impractical garb, but these outfits are invariably extra baggy and ridiculous looking. Face it. Anything that actually fits on that doll well wouldn't allow for much freedom of movement in real life. Little girls don’t actually use the firefighter outfits and the focus remains on clothing that obviously allows for no activities beyond primping and attracting sexual interest.

That’s my problem. I have given in to everything being pink. What I can’t abide is the fact that the girl’s section of any toy store is entirely focused on appearance and primping, as if that is the only thing girls can be interested in. Some girls resist it. But my daughter doesn’t. She has a natural knack for these things and I want her to have fun learning to do her hair and dress up. Who doesn’t? It’s fun. 

Creative Commons image by Fortune Cookie of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Fortune Cookie of Flickr.com

But I also want her to sometimes do other things. 

On top of toy stores, there are the girl-oriented TV shows. Disney has done a relatively good job with some of their princess movies, despite the close resemblance between Disney princesses and Barbie dolls. At least some of them do things other than primp and they usually use fairly normal voices. 

But these are never the videos my daughter and her friends want to watch most. I made the terrible mistake of buying a Lego Friends DVD to take overseas with us because it claimed to support “diversity” and “friendship.”  The videos make me nauseous. The “friendship” promoted is only that within one’s own little clique and is not open to others. The girls in the video are constantly focused on primping and will often dash back home in the middle of an “adventure” to change clothes or make sure they look dazzling. This is all spelled out in detail and presents such an unhealthy message that as far from English-language videos as we are, I’ve had to disappear it.

The worst part of the video and many others I’ve seen are the little vocalizations that the girl characters emit. There are constant “Ooo!” and “Eeeeh!” noises as if someone is making fun of the women of the 1950s. Except that this is done in all seriousness and presented as girls being pretty and attractive. My daughter now imitates these noises for hours on end.