Climate Change And the Need for a Transformational Movement– Theory & Practice

I want to thank blog readers who responded to the “What’s enough?” question in my June blog via e-mail. My reply to one blog reader’s response on this question and on climate change follows. Pursuant to that is a more nuanced response that connects the environment, peace, human rights, and labor movements with specific examples and the upcoming, all important climate march on Sunday, September 21st, NYC.

P.S. For those who can make it, I will be doing a book talk on my memoir, Moon Shadow Of War, at the Mitchell (Westville) Library of New Haven, on Harrison St., Monday, September 22nd, 6:30 PM.
Directions – From Rt. 69 or 63 into New Haven, go down Whaley Ave. Turn right onto Harrison Street. It’s the second right after McDonald’s. The Mitchell Branch Library is the first building on the left.
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“For if one link in nature’s chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish piecemeal.”
– Thomas Jefferson

One blog reader, an active supporter of efforts to mitigate climate change through community-supported agriculture, told me that climate change is “more than a theory”. While well meaning, that statement tends to diminish climate theory and the good science behind it. It is just a cut above the “It’s only a theory” that is leveled at the science of evolution.

As with evolutionary theory, the grouping of ideas around climate change contains facts, tested and to be tested hypotheses, and laws. The most important criterion of a theory is its predictive qualities. For example, scientists said with global warming, storm surges would reach new levels e.g. witness hurricane Sandy’s disastrous impact on New Jersey and New York City in 2012. Now, let’s dig both deeper and more broadly.

Last week, I received two of the many emergency e-mails that are, unfortunately, so common in the environmental movement. One was quite local. Herbicides were applied along the road of the Gunntown Passive Park And Nature Preserve in Naugatuck, Connecticut. The second was a petition call, with the usual and important plea for money. This had to do with pesticides applied to agricultural fields where workers, many immigrants, toiled. Let’s take them one at a time.

The Gunntown Passive Park & Nature Preserve was the result of a protracted 15-year battle to save incredibly important land, ecologically speaking, in Naugatuck, CT. A grassroots environmental group composed of young and old, people of color, trade unionists, and others waged battle with an entrenched power structure.
The greens clearly defined the goal, centering on the need for passive recreation for all citizens and saving land that was festooned with wonderfully diverse wetlands. They explained time and again that those wetlands were critically important for wildlife and people. They clearly defined the enemy as a cabal of relators, lawyers, certain banking interests, administrative self-interested elements, and political hacks all too willing to go along with plowing and paving critical habitat for an outdoor sports facility.

The greens fought off attempts to divide the community, particularly winning the sports-minded, as well as people physically challenged, to the need for passive open space. They educated themselves by doing research and sharing the data and conclusions with the group and the community. They eschewed legal entanglements but when such challenges arose, learned how to raise money and support such efforts to save land. They began putting people on key local commissions e.g. wetland commission. Greens entered the electoral arena where much political power lies. And they won. Now a different but very important challenge – pesticides.

We owe a continuing debt of gratitude to government worker, and writer, Rachel Carson. Through her seminal book, Silent Spring, Ms. Carson exposed the chemical and pesticide producing companies, particularly those producing DDT, as willfully poisoning the environment, wildlife, and people. She won the enduring enmity of the owners of the chemical industry and the enduring gratitude of the people.

The green movement in Naugatuck set up a steward system to protect the land just as trade unionists have stewards to help protect workers at workplaces. It was one of those stewards who reported the poisoning of the land. Here’s how one blog reader responded.

“Pesticides WILL get into ground water, contaminating the ultimate source of water for all local wildlife, pets, and humans. Runoff after rains can carry the pesticides many miles, creating not only a potential local catastrophe, but also one downstream in the Naugatuck River and Long Island Sound.

Pesticides should not be used ESPECIALLY near naturally preserved corridors such as the Gunntown parcel on Gunntown Road. The roadside is the upper perimeter of the park, and gravity will take the spray directly down into the wetlands, meadow, and Longmeadow Brook. This poison will first affect microorganisms, then work its way up the food chain. Each organism that eats another with toxins inside, will show an increase of 10 fold as far as the amount of toxins in its tissues.”

The toxic process this reader writes about is called biological magnification. Many of these pesticides get caught up in organic tissues, take up permanent residence, and are not excreted by organisms. Thus the poisons accumulate has they spread through the myriad of food webs in an ecosystem.

A network of green groups is now being alerted through electronic newsletters. The community is being alerted via letters-to-the-editor in the local print and regional electronic press. The poisoning of the environment is being connected to the severe cutbacks of public services, including the park department. Usually Park Department workers would carry out this roadside work mechanically with various kinds of mowers. Using chemicals as a quick way to control roadside flora is a direct result of the loss of jobs at Naugatuck’s Park Department. But is alerting the community of the dangers here going to be enough?

At this juncture, let’s entertain the question posited in my last blog. What is enough?
Let’s bring in the second e-mail I received. It concerned a petition call to aid agricultural workers toiling in fields with pesticides. We can discern the same mentality concerning chemical use experienced with the application of herbicides at the Gunntown natural area. With the latter, it is purported that the massive cutbacks in public works, thus the lack of workers, necessitated the faster way to clear brush for vehicular visibility along roadsides. As the above blog reader responded, this leads to the toxic chemicals making their way through the ecosystem to all levels of wildlife, magnifying their impact through the web of food chains. Of course, since people in this relatively rural area have wells, this means peoples’ washing and drinking water. Double ugh.

With the former, the Farm Workers Union negotiated contracts with growers to eliminate pesticide applications while workers are in the fields. Good but multiple problems remain. First is that many migrant field workers, with children in tow, do not have union coverage nor benefit from negotiated contracts. Second, even if workers are not present when the chemical application occurs, chemicals don’t instantly disappear. Third, and consumer-wise, how much of these chemicals remain internally in the fruit we consume, no matter how long we wash them externally?

So, given all the above, what’s enough? My simple, preliminary answer is that when material conditions of life reach a point where significant sectors of people quest for answers and for solutions in a deeper way. It’s happening but neither in all sectors of life, nor where motion around issues like the environment, labor and/or peace, is detected. It is uneven. It is also complicated.

One of the problems and complications is that not enough people are questing. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey asked people if they were satisfied with, dissatisfied, or didn’t know enough about the how the USA was dealing with the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the conflict in the Ukraine, and Israel/Gaza? Depending on the conflict involved, between 30 to 42% responded that they did not know enough to have an opinion. That translates to tens of millions of people not knowing even the ABC’s of these conflicted areas to render an opinion.

When people did respond with an opinion, those who were dissatisfied considerably outnumbered those who said they were satisfied. Most of the dissatisfied(s), however, said the USA should do more. My guess is the “more” meant more military intervention versus humanitarian aid. The survey did not go there.

So here we have our people either disengaged or willing to go along with military intervention. How can this be? The US War in Vietnam generated one to three million deaths, depending on who’s counting and geography, with more than 50,000 being USA military men and women. Even if we take the lower figure of one million killed, that’s a 20 to one ratio and the people on the wrong side of that ratio are said to have “won.”
The conflict in Gaza alone is said to have generated 1,814 Palestinians killed and 67 Israeli’s killed. (Figures based on 8/14/2014 data.) That’s a 27 to one ratio. What have we learned?

The peace movements, here and internationally, have learned that those ratios indicate that justice cannot be served with continuing warfare. Battlefronts dissipate and citizens, especially women and children, make up much of the casualty lists. All involved will “lose.” But that message is not getting across to our citizens in a big enough way. So that begs another question. Why not?`

Corporate power, and the wealthy people behind that power, controls the content and flow of information. For example, General Electric owns NBC and Viacom owns CBS. By and large the ownership of those large corporate entities are extremely wealthy, and conservative, including reactionary.

Here’s an example from my direct experience, detailed in Moon Shadow Of War. The Pape family, with a lineage to military secret service, owns the Waterbury Republican newspaper in CT. “On October 15th, 1969, a newspaper reporter wrote and published the names of Waterbury people killed in the U.S. War in Vietnam. A black outline framed the names of the dead. The Waterbury Republican fired the reporter the next day. I’ll let your imagination picture what the editorials of that paper said on a day -to -day basis about the U.S. War in Vietnam. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, famous basketball player and writer, recently said it best when referring to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

“How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.”

But even if the peace movements here could break that strangle hold on “news”, would it be enough? While it would help, the limited answer is no. Forces promulgating military solutions and war have a like-wise strangle hold on elected officials, just as the fossil fuel industry has a strangle hold on energy matters with those same officials. But in stating those two facts lies a partial answer to the “What’s enough” question. We need cooperation between movements to take on an entrench power structure. Let’s move on to a related question connected to the military and war.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is an unfortunate example. So how is it related? Police there look more like an invading U.S. force in the Middle East. And why so? The Department of Public Security in Missouri received about $69 million from the federal government in just the last five years. It showed on the streets of Ferguson. “Warrior” cops, replete with military hardware including armored vehicles and heavy weaponry, dominated news pictures. One has to ask does a “warrior” mentality run through the police department there with the death of this black youth just one example? (How often during a sporting event have you heard of players referred to as “warriors”?)

One must ask, what if the millions used to militarize our state and hometown police were used to help fund our towns so that massive layoffs would be a thing of the past and the pesticides wantonly sprayed into the nature preserve in Naugatuck, CT, would never have happened? In a related question, what if the military budget was cutback, say 50%, to raise even more funds for our beleaguered towns? Wouldn’t that relieve the amount of carbon spewed into the air, as the US military is the largest fossil fuel consumer in the world?

With the permanent war policy, the renewed bombing of Iraq, the violence in Ferguson, vicious cutbacks in municipal budgets, and wanton pesticide use, raises the question again. What’s enough? An important part of the answer lies with yet a third movement that we touched upon with farm workers– organized labor.
Thomas Jefferson recognized that there are key links in the chain of nature (See epigraph above.). If lost, that species or link could have a ripple effect throughout the ecosystem. Let’s look at this both ecologically and politically.

Ospreys are good representatives of one of Jefferson’s links. In modern science lingo, these large birds are a signal species. Connecticut, in the 1960s, saw a rapid decline in these fish eagles, as they are sometimes called. They prey on large fish e.g. pike in saltwater environments. It was a Wesleyan University graduate student who discovered that the pesticide DDT was weakening Osprey eggshells to a point where they broke during the incubation period. These birds “signaled” us that something was very wrong. This chemical was then found splattered throughout complex food webs in tiny organisms and then magnified in larger ones like pike and osprey. This chemical was eventually found in mothers’ milk of our species.

Now the good news. Thanks to the environmental movement, DDT was banned and ospreys have made a comeback along Connecticut’s coast. These sky diving birds are beginning to reestablish territories up major rivers in the state. Thanks to volunteer groups, like the Naugatuck River Revival Group, nests are monitored, and threats to the same, are made public. Now let’s go to our species.

In my home state of Connecticut, Pratt & Whitney Co. (United Technologies Inc.) was a mainstay of the economy and jobs. Where certain organisms e.g. ospreys, are the bellwethers of ecosystems, P & W “signals” the overall health of the economy in CT. The signal has not been good for some time. Jobs in this military dependent company have plummeted from over 40,000 to 4,000. Gaboom. But P & W isn’t just a bellwether of CT’s economy. To grasp this, let’s use yet another ecological example – coral.

Central to climate theory is that CO2 anthropogenically released into the atmosphere impacts climate. There are other processes at work. Oceans are usually at pH 8.2. The thrusting of carbon dioxide in the air with industrial production, and product use, has also tossed CO2 into our oceans. The interaction of CO2 and H2O produces carbonic acid. This, in turn, has lowered the pH of ocean water to 8.1.

Now that doesn’t sound like any big deal, except for the following. The pH scale is logarithmic. That 0.1 drop equals a 30% DECLINE in ocean pH. That, in turn, has impacted oceanic species, especially coral. How? Let’s use an example any farmer or gardener can relate to. One can have all the potassium, phosphorus and other essential nutrients needed to grow crops, but if the pH is not in a range useable by those crops, those essential nutrients will never be released and available for use by fruit bearing plants e.g. tomatoes.
It is the same for the array of organisms, many microscopic, we call corals. If the pH drops in a range they are not adapted to, the corals cannot take in calcium and other minerals. What happens? The corals die off and take with them the myriad of oceanic organisms dependent on them. Thus corals are what scientists call a keystone species. Just as a failing keystone in an old roman arch leads to the failure of the entire structure, the failure of coral leads to the collapse of entire reef ecosystems. Thus the white “skeletal” remains of reefs seen by divers.

One important role of reefs is as incubators for fish. Along with the shear number of our species and the market driven frenzy leading to over fishing, reef collapse is contributing to ecosystem imbalance in our oceans and the decline of staple fish for diets all over the world. Welcome to fish farms and their dependency on an array of chemicals including, ouch, pesticides.

Now let’s tie these threads together.

Back to Pratt and Whitney in CT. The downward spiral of this military dependent industry sent the union representing the workers there, the International Association of Machinists union (IAM), on a quest. They were bleeding members along with the many union and nonunion workers in related industries also dependent on those military contracts. What to do?

The good news is IAM reached out to the peace and environmental movements. They were embraced by progressive elements in those movements. A coalition was born. That coalition in turn moved politicians to help seek a viable solution. That solution, which was passed by the State Assembly in Hartford, was in the form of a Future’s Commission. It is charged with helping develop a plan for the peacetime conversion of this military dependent industry and state to green production protocols.

The message here is straight-forward. Organized labors shrinking numbers were a signal of distress, just as the shrinking numbers of ospreys in the 1950s and 60s were a signal of ecosystem distress. Furthermore, organized labor is a key link in the chain of political change. Let’s draw this out a bit further.
Organized labor is the keystone of the growing cooperation between peoples’ movements. All movements must relate to organized labor and unions, in turn, must relate to the array of peoples’ movements. Unions face the General Electrics , the Viacoms, the DuPonts, and large corporate controlled newspapers on a daily basis. Unlike other peoples’ movements, the Labor movement has a presence in every major community in our country. And they have the resources. Like coral in reef ecosystems, they are the keystone of the growing web of interconnecting peoples’ movements.

The company, whose chemicals were used in the town of Naugatuck that are now leeching into its nature preserve, was DuPont Corporation. That should ring important bells for those active in the peace movement. It was the same corporation that brought the world Agent Orange. Two million gallons of that herbicide were used to clear an area the size of Massachusetts in Vietnam. Along with that massive destruction of plant and wildlife, came the deaths of 400,000 Vietnamese and genetic damage felt to this day. When President Obama announced earlier in the year that if President Assad of Syria used chemical weapons, he would be crossing a threshold, did he forget these war crimes in the U.S. War in Vietnam?

One link in the chain of peoples’ movements needs special emphasis. With the events, marches, and struggles in Ferguson, Missouri, it is critically important that this connection be made. It’s the reason the United Auto Workers (UAW) were heavily involved during the civil rights battles of the mid-20th century. It’s the reason the President of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, went to Ferguson. That town and its struggles are also sending up a signal. It’s a distress signal and, concurrently, in its struggles there is a sign of hope. Furthermore, if there is a keystone on the community side, it is African Americans, so eloquently written about by Vincent Harding in There Is A River.

“So we black people are the river: the river is us. The river in us, created by us, flowing out of us, surrounding us, re-creating us and this entire nation. I refer to the American nation without hesitation, for the black river in the United States has always taken on more than blackness. The dynamics and justice of its movement have continually gathered others to itself, have persistently filled other men and women with the force of its vision, its indomitable hope. And at its best the river of our struggle has moved consistently toward the ocean of mankind’s most courageous hopes for freedom and dignity . . .“

As was said during the civil rights movement, let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We need that single-minded focus. What’s the next logical step? Easy. The national march on climate change in New York City on Sunday, September 21st. The focus is the United Nations as a major international climate change conference is going to be held there.

There has been much talk in progressive circles about the need of a transformational movement in our country. Why? Because no movement alone can bring about the changes across the board that are needed. No movement alone can confront the challenges to peace, to the environment, to civil and human rights and achieve anything approaching a lasting victory. Need evidence? The interconnected web of issues and struggles outlined above; Gaza, fossil fuels, pesticides, and the “Fergusons” all of which keep going on and on.

No movement can battle the large chemical companies, the financial military industrial complex, and the structural racism endemic in the USA alone. No movement can bring about the change needed across the interconnected issues that abound here.

So what to do? Individually, commit to the climate march and recruit friends. Going and/or in lieu of that, notify your union, community group, church, to commit marchers and/or money. Help publicize the march in your local, state newspapers and via Facebook, tweets, blogs, and other electronic sources. For additional information, go to Sierra Club and 350.org which initiated the statewide organizing effort in CT this summer and nationally.

If we were to peel back in history, who would be marching with us? How about Tom Paine, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, W.E.B. DuBois, Chief Seattle, Paul Robeson, Rachel Carson, Caesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, and, representing the international community, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela? What made them such effective leaders? They made the connections, helped others see them, and took action.

How far along are we in developing an electoral expression of such a collaborative peoples’ movement? Can we bring the movements mentioned above to see their self-interest in the battle against climate change? The climate march will be a test of how far along the path we are of developing the cooperation between movements, and at the level that is needed, for lasting change. You’ll want to tell your children and grandchildren about your experiences during this moment in time. Let’s hold on and move on. Let’s also get to work.

P.S. My next blog will evaluate the climate march and continue to grapple with the question of -What’s Enough?