On the Transition to a Sustainable Paradigm
Barack Obama has been called everything from a gun-hating, closet-Muslim hiding socialist to a big-government loving, deficit exploding, tax increasing, class-warfare waging liberal elitist. He's been compared to Hitler and denounced for wanting to destroy capitalism and/or America. He pals around with terrorists. They say he wasn't born in America and secretly hates white people.
For partisan Democrats, the Right's diluge of attacks on Obama over the years might be seen as a great gift, as it has understandably painted conservatives who echo these sentiments as laughably crazy (or brilliant propagandists adept at appealing to the fears of their base). But for those that get their news from outside the right-wing echo chamber, the truth of these smears is well understood. Criticism from MSNBC or the mainstream left on the other hand has been largely shallow or non-existent (although I confess I rarely watch any mainstream TV to keep score).
But from what I have seen, I've observed a great tragedy, as this partisan jockeying has given the mainstream debate about Obama's successes and failures a false illusion of depth. On one hand you have all the lies and myths of the Republicans representing Obama's fiercest critique, and on the other hand you have all the defenders of Obama singing his accomplishments and virtues while debunking all the myths constructed by the Right.
What this left/right positioning of the debate has accomplished is to shut out and marginalize legitimate, reality-based, deeply meaningful and truly damning critiques of the Obama presidency and his administration.
Moderates, independents, and casual progressives not tuned in to alternative media are left to wonder, "If Republicans hate him so much, and the baseless attacks from Republicans is all they have to complain about, he must be doing something right... right?"
The following 5 articles and two videos challenges this falsely constructed spectrum of opinion and offers a true (reality-based) critique of Obama. Just imagine if these perspectives were allowed to enter the mainstream debate.
Original source: Films For Action
Note to readers: This article does not advocate 9/11 conspiracy theories. No where in the article does the author state "9/11 was an inside job," or even imply as much.
All that said, to properly understand the context of this article, readers should know that dozens of high-ranking government officials have called for a new investigation, and over 220+ senior Military, Intelligence Service, Law Enforcement, and Government Officials have also criticized the official story. This includes 41 U.S. Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence Agency Veterans*. Hopefully this makes clear that criticizing the 9/11 commission does not imply inside job or conspiracy. Rather, there is a wide degree of middle ground which is the focus of this article.
With the 11th anniversary of September 11th, 2001 just around the corner, we can expect America and our media to look back once again on this turning point in our nation's history.
But like every year before it, we will look back with our eyes half open, not wanting to look at the full complexity of this enormously influential event, preferring to remember and reflect on a simplified caricature of our history instead. It's the story that our government and nation's media settled on quickly in the days and months following the attack, and despite all the new information that has come to light, it is the story that sticks with us today.
It's a story of a great nation taken by surprise, of a country built by a love of freedom attacked by those who hate it. It's a simple story. You know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are immediately. Our government may have been neglectful or incompetent, but it was essentially innocent - a victim of a tragic act as much as the people who died that day. The 9/11 Commission confirmed this, placing the blame nowhere in particular but on Osama Bin Laden and the hijackers that aided him. And a comic book for kids further iconified our story for a whole new generation to help come to grips with this event.
What's most sad, to me, is that this story is a fiction. Not because it doesn't contain some truth, but because it doesn't contain all of it. To do this story justice, you have to tell the whole story, so far as we know it, and it's fair to say that story has never been told.
But to tell the whole story of 9/11 is impossible in our current cultural climate. To criticize this story at all will have you quickly branded a "conspiracy theorist." Because when it comes to 9/11, there is no room for gray area, no room for nuance or complexity (or a deep memory of history for that matter). Those reading this may even be holding their breath for that regrettable moment when I declare that "9/11 was an inside job" simply because this article didn't begin with the implicit acknowledgment of the official story.
And that's the terrible position that most journalists and citizens find themselves boxed into: Either you implicitly acknowledge the official story or you get lumped into the other extreme as a "9/11 truther" - a label which could be associated with the most respectable beliefs among the movement or the most ludicrous and absurd, depending on what media exposure has shaped your opinion of what the label implies. Either Osama did it and our government is blameless or Osama had nothing to do with it and our government staged the whole thing. Really? Is the truth really found in one of these extremes?
I think it's time this black and white thinking is challenged. America deserves a grown-up telling of this story and journalists have a professional responsibility to provide it.
It's true, there is a lot of misinformation on the subject, from official sources and from activist voices. That is why it is the journalist's job to impartially look at all the available evidence, sift out the unsubstantiated claims (no matter the source) and report on the facts as best as they can be discerned. Will this evidence disprove some official claims? Yes it will. Will it disprove some 9/11 truth movement claims? Yes it will. The responsibility of journalists is to weave complex narratives that deal in nuance and gray area.
To say this story can be summed up in a black and white fashion, making our government out to be blameless or the only blame, is a disservice to reality. So that is the tough job Films For Action has embarked on. It is the job all journalists should aspire to, despite that being largely an exception to the rule.
The sad, hard truth of the matter is that, to tell the whole truth, you're going to have to piss off a lot of people.
The government would prefer a black and white conclusion because the "you're either with us or against us" rhetoric makes it easier to promote aggressive foreign and domestic policy without dissent.
The media prefers it because it makes writing stories easier and they don't have to stick their necks out or risk getting fired, as Dan Rather did for a story critical of then-president Bush.
The 9/11 truth movement, while dealing in grey area more than most, can jump to conclusions too quickly, suffers from one-sidedness, and can overestimate their case in an effort to counteract the imbalance of the current debate.
People in general would prefer to think in terms of black and white, because no one would rationally want to consider that their government is anything but universally a force of good.
No matter which way you cut it, it's hard to deal with complexities. And you can't sum that up in a slogan or a soundbite.
Of course, all these words are meaningless unless it can be proved that a critical view of the official story is a credible and principled position to take. And to demonstrate this, this author would point you to one compilation of news stories.
Although widely under-reported by even 9/11 justice advocates, the mainstream media itself has verified and reported on enough contradictory news stories to justify the movement's basic call for a new investigation.*1
Taken together, this 25 page timeline of 9/11 may be one of the best, highly nuanced, full accounts of this story that has been compiled so far. And all of it has been sourced by mainstream news outlets.
The fact that this information has actually been reported on by established, credible news organizations with rigorous fact-checking departments may come as a shock to many. After all, we're led to believe that all the good, honest reporting on the subject unanimously supports the clear-cut 9/11 commission's findings, and that anything critical of this story was put together by amateur alternative media which can easily be debunked. But of course, such stereotypes are false as well.
This is one of the more incredible stories behind the story of how the media has reported on 9/11. The mainstream media has, in the course of hundreds of news stories, written a powerful "unofficial" history of 9/11. It is exactly the story that must be told, and it is anything but black or white.
In fact, it severely undercuts the official story. Some might say it completely "destroys it." But you cannot sum it up with any slogan or simple conclusion. To say "9/11 was an inside job" is as much a disservice to the truth as saying "they hate us for our freedoms." To get the full truth, so much as we know it today, you simply have to read it yourself.
*1 -- It's also worth noting that "the movement" is not the only direction this demand is coming from. Dozens of high-ranking government officials, many even personally involved in the 9/11 Commission, are calling for a new investigation - making this legitimate, high-profile story one of the most under-reported and ignored news stories in recent memory.
For more on Films For Action official position on 9/11, see our F.A.Q.
Note to readers: Please note that this is not an article about 9/11 conspiracy theories. No where in the article does the author state "9/11 was an inside job," or even imply as much. Also of note, there are not "two sides to this story" - criticizing the 9/11 commission does not imply inside job or conspiracy. In fact, criticism does not imply or necessitate conclusions being made, despite everyone wanting to jump to conclusions.
What is the full truth of 9/11/2001? It is, quite simply, to tell all sides of the story. It means weaving together all the known facts, unanswered questions, significant actors and conflicting viewpoints into a single complex narrative that gives fair weight and context to all the relevant perspectives. It means writing the news - and the analysis of that news - independent from government, advertising, corporate, and cultural pressures.
Very few journalists, sadly, have done this, or are capable of this. But I believe it remains the duty of all good journalists to feature critical perspectives on 9/11. They should be prepared to do this regardless of the political cost or potential loss in support this may cause. Once a journalist or citizen becomes aware of the legitimate and unreported aspects of this story, it is simply the right thing to do.
Of course, all of this hinges on the question of credibility.
All serious journalists must acknowledge that if there is credible, verifiable information which supports a critical view of the government's story, that voice deserves fair representation. To side-step this moral dilemma, a majority of the media would have the reader believe that there are no valid questions or facts that deserve your attention, and so almost universally we see writers attacking 9/11 skeptics with ridicule and straw man arguments without ever giving context to their claims.
But the truth is, there are dozens of news-worthy stories that contradict or muddy the official narrative, the facts of which have even been verified and reported on by mainstream outlets. But these stories are almost always buried or insulated from related stories which obscure their significance.
Briefly, here are just 25 examples, taken from WanttoKnow.info (Please take note of the sources):
1996-2001: On multiple occasions spies give detailed reports on bin Laden's location. Each time, the CIA director or White House officials prevent bin Laden's elimination. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/04, New York Times, 12/30/01, more]
2000-2001: 15 of the 19 hijackers fail to fill in visa documents properly in Saudi Arabia. Only six are interviewed. All 15 should have been denied entry to the US. [Washington Post, 10/22/02, ABC, 10/23/02] Two top Republican senators say if State Department personnel had merely followed the law, 9/11 would not have happened. [AP, 12/18/02, more]
2000-2001: The military conducts exercises simulating hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets causing mass casualties. One target is the World Trade Center (WTC), another the Pentagon. Yet after 9/11, over and over the White House and security officials say they're shocked that terrorists hijacked airliners and crashed them into landmark buildings. [USA Today, 4/19/04, Military District of Washington, 11/3/00, New York Times, 10/3/01, more]
Jan 2001: After the November 2000 elections, US intelligence agencies are told to "back off" investigating the bin Ladens and Saudi royals. There have always been constraints on investigating Saudi Arabians. [BBC, 11/6/01, more]
May 2001: For the third time, US security chiefs reject Sudan's offer of thick files on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. A senior CIA source calls it "the worst single intelligence failure in the business." [Guardian, 9/30/01, more]
June-Aug 2001: German intelligence warns the CIA that Middle Eastern terrorists are training for hijackings and targeting American interests. Russian President Vladimir Putin alerts the US of suicide pilots training for attacks on US targets. In late July, a Taliban emissary warns the US that bin Laden is planning a huge attack on American soil. In August, Israel warns of an imminent Al Qaeda attack. [Fox News, 5/17/02, Independent, 9/7/02, CNN, 9/12/02, more]
July 26, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft stops flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment. [CBS, 7/26/01] In May 2002, Ashcroft walks out of his office rather than answer questions about it. [Fox News/AP, 5/16/02, more]
Aug 6, 2001: President Bush receives an intelligence briefing warning that bin Laden might be planning to hijack airliners. Titled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US," the briefing specifically mentions the WTC. Yet Bush later claims it "said nothing about an attack on America." [CNN, 4/12/04, Washington Post, 4/12/04, Briefing, 8/6/01, more]
Aug 27, 2001: An FBI supervisor tries to ensure that a hijacker doesn't "take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center." [Senate Report, 10/17/02] Headquarters chastises him for notifying the CIA. [Time, 5/21/02, more]
Sept 10, 2001: A number of top Pentagon brass suddenly cancel travel plans for the next morning, apparently because of security concerns. Why isn't this news spread widely? [Newsweek, 9/13/01, Newsweek, 9/24/01, more]
Sept 11, 2001: Data recovery experts extract data from 32 damaged WTC computer drives. The data reveals a surge in financial transactions shortly before the attacks. Illegal transfers of over $100 million may have been made through WTC computer systems immediately before and during the 9/11 disaster. [Reuters, 12/18/01, CNN, 12/20/01, more]
Sept 11, 2001: Described as a bizarre coincidence, a US intelligence agency was set for an exercise on Sept 11 at 9 AM in which an aircraft would crash into one of its buildings near Washington, DC. [USA Today/AP, 8/22/02, more]
Sept 11, 2001: Hours after the attacks, a "shadow government" is formed. Key congressional leaders say they didn't know this government-in-waiting had been established. [CBS, 3/2/02, Washington Post, 3/2/02, more]
Sept 11, 2001: Six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners make a tape recording describing the events within hours of the attacks. The tape is never turned over to the FBI. It is later illegally destroyed by a supervisor without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it. [Washington Post, 5/6/04, NY Times, 5/6/04]
Sept 13-19, 2001: Bin Laden's family is taken under FBI supervision to a secret assembly point. They leave the country by private plane when airports reopen days after the attacks. [New York Times, 9/30/01, Boston Globe, 9/20/01, more]
Sept 15-16, 2001: Several of the 9/11 hijackers, including lead hijacker Mohamed Atta, may have had training at secure US military installations. [Newsweek, 9/15/01, Washington Post, 9/16/01, Los Angeles Times, 9/15/01, more]
Sept 20, 2001: Several 9/11 hijackers later mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report turn up alive. "Five of the alleged hijackers have emerged, alive, innocent and astonished to see their names and photographs appearing on satellite television...The hijackers were using stolen identities." [quote Times of London, 9/20/01, see also BBC, 9/23/01, more]
Dec 2001-Feb 2002: The US engineers the rise to power of two former Unocal Oil employees: Hamid Karzai, the interim president of Afghanistan, and Zalmay Khalizad, the US envoy. The big American bases created in the Afghan war are identical to the route of the projected oil pipeline. [Chicago Tribune, 3/18/02, more]
May 17, 2002: Dan Rather says that he and other journalists haven't been properly investigating since 9/11. He graphically describes the pressures to conform that built up after the attacks. [BBC, 5/16/02, Guardian, 5/17/02, more]
May 23, 2002: President Bush says he is opposed to establishing an independent commission to probe 9/11. [CBS, 5/23/02] Vice President Cheney earlier opposed any public hearings on 9/11. [CNN, 1/29/02, Newsweek, 2/4/02, more]
May 30, 2002: FBI Agent Wright formally accuses the FBI of deliberately curtailing investigations that might have prevented 9/11. He is threatened with retribution if he talks to Congress about this. [Fox News/Reuters, 5/30/02, more]
July 22, 2004: The 9/11 Commission Report is published. It fails to mention that a year before the attacks a secret Pentagon project had identified four 9/11 hijackers, including leader Mohamed Atta. The Commission spokesperson initially states members were not informed of this, but later acknowledges they were. [New York Times, 8/11/05, more]
2004 - 2005: A growing number of top government officials and public leaders express disbelief in the official story of 9/11. 100 prominent leaders and 40 9/11 family members sign a statement calling for an unbiased inquiry into evidence suggesting high-level government officials may have deliberately allowed the attacks to occur. [Various Publications]
Aug 9, 2006: A book by 9/11 Commission chairmen Kean and Hamilton outlines repeated deceptions by the Pentagon and FAA, including the timelines of Flights 77 and 93. CNN News: "The fact that the government would ... perpetuate the lie suggests that we need a full investigation of what is going on." [CNN, 8/9/06 , MSNBC/AP, 8/4/06, more]
2006-2011: Over 50 senior government officials, 100 respected professors, and 1,500 architects and engineers criticize The 9/11 Commission Report as flawed, and call for a new, independent investigation. [Officials, Professors, Architects]
And here is 60 pages worth of examples, all sourced and fact-checked by established media.
Why have these stories not been more widely reported, even among the so-called alternative press? Project Censored published an excellent investigative report looking into this issue of media censorship. Looking at a dozen news-worthy stories as case studies (including stories on 9/11) that were either not covered by the alternative press or were covered poorly, they examine why even much of the alternative press suffers from the same "propaganda model" that affects larger media conglomerates. "The propaganda model of news" that Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outlined goes a long way to explain the abject moral and professional failure of most media to put their journalist principles ahead of political expediency.
Journalists can safely report on the above stories in isolation, but present them in their entirety and the "flak filter" that keeps other journalists in check will quickly have you branded a "conspiracy theorist," one of the most toxic and effective means of ensuring that self-censorship remains the norm.
If journalists did put all these dozens of mainstream verified stories together into a single narrative (something any journalist is physically capable of doing) it would be quite clear to their readers that questioning the official story and demanding a new investigation is more than a valid, rational, and respectable response to this information.
In fact, a number of the 9/11 Commissioners and other prominent government officials themselves have made statements claiming they don’t believe the government’s description of events and believe another investigation is necessary. But of course, these (obviously newsworthy) stories haven't been widely reported either.
All that said, many courageous journalists *have* stuck their neck out to cover this subject with greater scrutiny, and I applaud their decision to do so. In writing this article, it is my hope that the reader will come to respect this decision and see the value in it as well. I hope you'll come to see that reporting honestly on all sides of a story, no matter how taboo or politically costly, is the principled position that all media should be taking, if our media was not beholden to so many conflicting interests. Beyond that, I hope you will go a step further to do what you can to create some more breathing room in our culture for uncomfortable but necessary discussion.
A society which values the principles of democracy and freedom of the press should welcome such discussion. It should also be the first to defend this speech when it is under attack.
In April 2007, Films For Action screened The End of Suburbia to an audience of 180 people, and launched a campaign to have the Lawrence City Commission create a Peak Oil Task force, which would study the local impacts of peak oil and propose recommendations for the city to take action on.
At this time, Films For Action mailed to every commissioner and many of the planning commissioners a copy of The End of Suburbia along with many research documents and a proposed resolution for Lawrence. We also met with two of the commissioners to discuss the idea of a task force. After this, the campaign went into hibernation for a year, when it was picked up again by the Sustainability Action Network, a local sustainability advocacy group (of which I am a member). After giving a presentation on the issue to the City Commission, we were successful in seeing the commission pass the resolution, and now, finally, after a lot of hard work from the Task Force, they've finally finished their report!
The final report will be presented to our City commissioners this Tuesday, December 13th at 6:30pm at City Hall. I encourage everyone that's interested and in support of the City adopting this plan to come down and voice and/or show their support. Many thanks go to S.A.N., the City Commission and the Sustainability Advisory board for taking leadership on this issue. It made Lawrence one of around a dozen of the first cities in the U.S. to pass such a resolution.
Of course, after the plan is adopted, the real work begins, so let's all see what we can do to help the city implement the recommended actions, and think of new ideas to take us even further. If it takes a village to raise a child, the same must be true to create sustainable communities. Directing the future of a city is a tough job, and it seems funny sometimes to think a handful of people could do it alone, without much democratic participation from all the other people who live there. Our city planners (and democracy itself) will surely benefit if we can all think about ways we can get involved in improving our city on a regular basis.
Finally, I want to give special thanks to Michael Almon, a member of S.A.N. who also served on the Peak Oil Task Force for the last two years. Michael has been working tirelessly to help make Lawrence a more sustainable and wonderful place to live, for so many years, and I just have to give him my thanks for all the hard work and dedication he has given to these projects.
Since 1997, the biggest shopping day of the year in North America has also been known as Buy Nothing Day - a playful protest against the cultural and commercial pressures that compel us to consume more every year, grow more in debt to prove our love to our loved ones, and find temporary happiness in that euphoric moment of purchase.
It's a movement that has been growing internationally every year, and will likely see its biggest year yet from all the creative energy coming from the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Here's a roundup of a few of the best articles and films on the shopping free holiday from alternative and traditional media:
http://www.adbusters.org/campaigns/bnd "On Nov 25/26th we escape the mayhem and unease of the biggest shopping day in North America and put the breaks on rabid consumerism for 24 hours. Flash mobs, consumer fasts, mall sit-ins, community events, credit card-ups, whirly-marts and jams, jams, jams! We don’t camp on the sidewalk for a reduced price tag on a flat screen TV or psycho-killer video game. Instead, we occupy the very paradigm that is fueling our eco, social and political decline."
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/buy-nothing-day-adbusters-role-in-the-global-occupy-movement-6263205.html "Of course it feels good that after all this time people are finally starting to get it. But there is also a darkness underpinning that good feeling. It sounds apocalyptic, but I have a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach that the economic pain people are going through is just the beginning. If that's right, then we will really see the young people of the world stand up in a way that is many times bigger than they have up until now. We need to find ways to capture the imagination of the rest of the world. If we can do that then I believe this movement may well pull off some incredible radical transformation that needs to happen to make the future of our planet work."
http://www.filmsforaction.org/Watch/What_Would_Jesus_Buy/ "Rob VanAlkemade’s ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’ is a rousing, irreverent and simultaneously sobering documentary about the year round destructive shopaholic obsession that spins into an out of control buying and spending orgy by the time Christmas rolls around. The movie follows performance activist Reverend Billy and his ragtag cross country caravan, The Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, to bring the voice of reason a few holiday seasons ago, to compulsive consumers everywhere. The intent of this countdown to Christmas is to save the holiday from what Reverend Billy has dubbed only slightly in jest, the Shopocalypse. Ironically, many of his group are injured when one of their buses collides on a highway with a truck rushing to deliver Christmas merchandise to stores. Meanwhile, the Reverend muses, ‘everyone in a car is driving to a television."
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/business/some-consumers-object-to-sales-on-thanksgiving.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all "Ms. Nyberg is drawing the line now that major chains like Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and Kohl’s say they will open for the first time at midnight on Thanksgiving, and Wal-Mart will go even further, with a 10 p.m. Thanksgiving start for deals on some merchandise. "
http://www.filmsforaction.org/Watch/The_Story_of_Stuff/ (Not directly about BND but does a great job of explaining the motivation behind it) "From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever."
What will you be doing on Buy Nothing Day/Black Friday?
Reaching out to young people is especially critical at this time. With mounting psycho-social stress attributed to an increasingly uncertain future, young people are going to need support grappling with the social effects of the coming collapse. (If this statement seems strong, click the link for context)
The world is rife with uncertainty about our fate on the planet. Declining ecosystems and biodiversity, a quickly destabilizing climate and an end to the cheap energy we're currently addicted to leaves a lot to question. With all this going on, I think it's more important than ever to have elders that can guide young people through this initiation into adulthood - towards fully realizing the world with eyes wide open.
As for myself, I had my personal awakening to this information on my own, when I was 22 - circa 2005. My parents weren't aware of much of this information. My friends were not that political at the time. None of it was taught in school and the mainstream media was still promoting the fantasy-notion that the status quo can just keep rolling along, into a sunset of infinite growth and record-breaking profits.
It was strange to wake up to this world of understanding relatively on my own. My early companions were books like Ishmael, Culture Jam, and The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. There was no one in my community that was there to say, "Yes I understand what you're going through. I had my own moment of insight and it was difficult to come to terms with. You feel like everything you were told as a kid was a bill of lies. American democracy, the free-enterprise system, our heroic national history, the ideal of the American dream - where anybody can make it rich if you just try hard enough - all of these cultural memes - together what Kalle Lasn calls "Brand America" appear to have been a sham."
"I hear you. It's a tough pill to swallow, and certainly it must be frustrating to realize you were born into this crazy world. That the world had gone mad long before you were even born. I felt the same thing, but I want to reassure you: a far more joyous and beautiful meaning to the world awaits on the other side of this difficulty. And with so many mass illusions being shattered by the economic collapse and all the other challenges we're facing, everything is now on the table. The world may be crazy, but this is an amazing opportunity, too. We have the potential to completely rethink and redesign virtually every facet of modern life. What kind of paradigm we transition to in the next generation is entirely up to our own imaginations and creativity."
I want to tell the kids growing up today this message. I would have loved to have been told this when I was young, to have some guidance that seemed trustworthy. As more people wake up and abandon the "just go to school, get a job and make lots of money" mantra, we are left without any real sense of an alternative path. What does a young kid do when she realizes that the map she's been given by her parents and school teachers to navigate this world is almost entirely out-dated?
We need new maps to help us navigate the transition, and we need to make these maps available to people of all ages, at a community level as well as a purely informational level.
On an informational level, it has been Films For Action's goal to create this map on our website, divided into the 42 general subjects that we believe are essential to building a society that is just, sustainable and socially fulfilling. As people dive into these sections we believe that a personal and collectively-shared map will begin to reveal itself, where all the dots will start connecting and we'll find the strength and confidence in our life's direction. We'll have a new map to navigate the transition from "Empire to Earth Community," as David Korten puts it.
At a community level, we need to build relationships that support each other during these challenging times, both informally and in our educational institutions. We need each other to "carry the light for each other," as my friend Michael Weil puts it. We need to support the people who are going through this transformation right now, and to be a light to the people who are still asleep, dreaming the old American dream.
More formally, we need to engage with our local schools and colleges. Amazingly, as eco-literacy advocate David Orr writes, "we are still educating the young as if there were no planetary emergency." Schools by and large continue to prepare students for the status quo jobs and market conditions that existed in the 1950s. We need schools that are preparing students for the world that is actually going to exist when they get out of school, not the fantasy world of infinite growth and business-as-usual that is currently being presented.
I was inspired by my friend Brady Karlin's idea to create "transition" mentoring associations, where college students mentor high school students, high school students mentor Jr. High students, and so on down the ages - enabling young kids to have slightly older peers that support them, while allowing the older generation to get a sense of their own confidence and autonomy - their worth as someone who has something important to teach as well as to learn.
They would embody the transition movement in that these mentoring relationships would focus on helping each other navigate the challenges our society faces, learning the skills that will be essential in a low-carbon world. Ultimately, we need to bring the lexicon and understandings of the transition movement into the curriculum of every class room and department in higher and lower education.
Being the creative research labs of our society, our educational centers have a critical role to play in cultivating a brain trust of creative young minds that are approaching their careers and life path with a firm understanding of the challenges and opportunities they'll have to create a new world.
Today's LJWorld editorial about voter apathy got me thinking. I also find our abysmal voter turnout deeply troubling, and I think I may have a solution.
If we want to inspire more people to go to the polls, they need something to get excited about. We're going to be facing some serious challenges in the coming years, and this can easily get pretty depressing to think about. Simply trying to figure out how we can get back to the 'good old days' (pre 2008 financial collapse) isn't going to get people jazzed up, because frankly I think most people know those days are long gone.
What we really need right now is a city commission that can see ways for Lawrence to become a vibrant ecological city as we transition into an era where climate change and peak oil are major realities. Our city commission has done some great things so far. Forming climate change and peak oil task forces were both a great start, and hiring a dedicated sustainability director was a great move. Now it's time we move from these foundation-building efforts to start implementing some really bold actions.
If we can get ahead of the curve now, we have the potential for Lawrence to thrive and attract people and jobs to our city when times get tough, because we spent time preparing while other cities floundered with the status quo.
We have to look at peak oil the way any innovative company would: identify the challenges that $150+ barrel oil is going to bring, understand how that's going to negatively impact your current business model, then think of ways that you can change these negatives into positives, especially considering many companies are going to be blindsided by this change, since they'd prefer to milk short-term profits. Understanding the geological certainty that conventional crude oil has now peaked and is going to get increasingly more expensive is the same as getting a sure-fire stock tip that gold is going to double or triple in the next several years, so dump the Enron stocks before the bubble bursts and make your investments in the coming low-carbon economy now.
All this labors one single point. What we need is vision - a comprehensive view of an alternative paradigm that is better than the one we have now, and which takes the science of climate change and peak oil seriously.
I personally believe that a world with expensive oil could be preferable to a world with cheap oil, if we have the vision to see it.
For example, the end of cheap energy is going to cause globalization to reverse: Wal-Mart's business model is going to stagnate, and local businesses will thrive because the cost of long-distant imports from China, for example, will no longer be subsidized by cheap transport fuels. Local is going to become competitive again.
Relocalization is going to be an essential strategy for cities to thrive in the future - fostering the growth of a fully functioning local food economy, and cottage industries providing essential goods and services. We also need to create incentives for businesses and individuals to start investing in local renewable energy sources and for the city to rapidly support alternative transportation. These options may not be used immediately, but will once gasoline costs more than $5 a gallon (and it's already this expensive in many countries around the world).
What a more localized world means to us as citizens is the re-birth of community. It means strengthening local relationships, and finding happiness in people more than things. It means growing food with your neighbors, slowing down our overly stressful schedules and enjoying more time with our family and friends. There's a new film out called "The Economics of Happiness," and it lays out beautifully how globalization isn't actually making the world happier past a certain point, and that a new economic paradigm based on local community is providing a more promising alternative.
Acknowledging peak oil and climate change does not necessitate a gloomy outlook - it simply means acknowledging the trends of the future and finding creative, positive solutions to adapt to these new realities.
No matter who wins this year's election, I hope all of our commissioners will seize this moment to think creatively and differently about our economic problems, and not rely on the advice of the old economic strategies of the past. They certainly worked once, but it's clear we need to start thinking outside of the Chamber of Commerce's playbook (I can't speak for the local chapter, but the national organization didn't even recognize that climate change was real until very recently, and to my knowledge they're still not even mentioning peak oil).
With a fresh perspective, we can stop trying to make the future less bad, worrying about what we might have to lose; we can start thinking about everything we have to gain from imagining a way of life that's even better than the one we have now.
To jump start this conversation, I want to outline 7 policy positions that I hope all five of our next city commissioners will adopt as a common platform to help inspire and give direction to their time in office:
1) In favor of adopting the Environmental Chapter of the Horizon 2020 Comprehensive Plan, which would ensure that prime agricultural soils around the city would be preserved http://www.lawrenceplanning.org/documents/Environment_Approved.pdf
2) In favor of significantly increasing bike lanes - also known as "Complete Streets" - in the city http://www.completestreets.org/
3) In favor of mixed-use, high-density development - also known as New Urbanism http://www.newurbanism.org/
4) In favor of creating a city feed-in tariff to spur solar power growth by individuals and businesses http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feed-in_...
5) In favor of passing a Food Sovereignty Bill http://www.filmsforaction.org/News/Maine_Town_Becomes_First_to_Declare_Food_Sovereignty/
6) In favor of adopting a Zero-Waste strategy that will aim to reduce landfill waste by 90% by 2040 http://www.garyliss.com/id18.html
7) Supports Richard Register's vision of creating ecologically healthy 'eco-cities' http://ecocitybuilders.org/
A dangerous thing can occur when you start learning about what's really going on in the world. The problems start to seem so complex, and you're just one person, doubts begin to creep in. You sincerely want to help change the world, but from all this knowledge you start to believe that the world is too out of control and too big to change, so you end up not doing anything.
What aspiring change-agents can easily forget is that there is a large amount of meaningful groundwork that still needs to be laid. Many conscious people may take it for granted, but there is still a lot of important information people aren't aware of yet. Some of it may seem quite basic from our perspective. A friend recently admitted, "I take for granted that the mainstream media implicitly neglects serious philosophical concerns about the crises we collectively face, as a species, as a unified human family. I apologize for my demeanor in assuming this was common knowledge."
Yeah. It's good to remember. All of us at one point in time were not aware of all the knowledge we're aware of now. All of us were asleep at one point too, to put it generally, and remembering this builds our own empathy and humility when getting into discussions with people. It also helps us remember how important this first step is in the process of building the mass-movement necessary to realize our idealistic dreams.
Just imagine what would happen if an entire city had seen The Corporation. Just imagine what would be possible if everyone in the country was aware of how unhealthy the mainstream media was for our health and started turning to independent sources in droves.
It really does start with getting informed, and there's lots of subject matter to cover. Our country has to come to terms with the true history of the United States. It has to learn about basic ecology. It needs to understand the basic truths about peak oil, the monetary system, the Federal Reserve, the truth about capitalism and governments. Our society needs a new story to belong to. The old story of empire and dominion over the earth has to be looked at in the full light of day - all of our ambient cultural stories and values that we take for granted and which remain invisible must become visible. And all of this knowledge and introspection, questioning, and discovery is essential for a cultural transformation that addresses root causes. This knowledge is vitally necessary. Taken together, this knowledge, which is documented throughout the 700 videos on the Films For Action website, will lay the foundation on which the next paradigm will be built, post empire.
After becoming familiar with these understandings over the years, it may be easy to internalize, accept, and then be occasionally shocked at how crazy our culture still is. Lots of 'givens' that activists take for granted still need to go mainstream.
That's where you come in. Don't complain about the mainstream media failing to inform people. Become the media. Become a walking, talking distro of quality information that your friends can trust. Who needs FOX and CNN, after all, when you've got your friends?
Host film screenings, forward articles and videos, buy and burn copies of documentaries to give to your elected officials and school faculty, promote Films For Action and other independent media. Get the information out in to your community and you will be laying the foundation for a local movement for mass societal, environmental and economic change.
All you have to do (the first easy thing) is plant the seeds. The community (as the seeds grow) will help with watering, weeding, expanding the garden, harvesting and so on. Social change is a social effort, after all, and you won't be doing this alone. I've often said, why struggle working on these issues with a small group of 10 to 15, when we could be working with a collaboration of 15,000? If we lay the foundation, recruit an army of "culture gardeners," things are going to start happening organically, both organized and spontaneously, all across the cities where we live.
People that are new to this culture of creative activism often ask me, "Yea, I'm on board. I get it. But what can I do?" If we've been involved in this work for some time, part of our responsibility is to offer people tangible ways they can plug in. But the second thing we have to convey is: no one can answer this question but you. Everyone is an expert on their own life. What's your passion? You are the best one to decide the best use of your time and efforts. No one is going to know better than you what your unique gifts and skills are.
And hey, if it takes you some time to figure this out. That's okay. Simmer on it for a minute. Let it stew. While you're figuring things out you can always continue disseminating information. I spent about two years learning about this jigsaw puzzle called changing the world before I figured out a path of action that I could really commit myself to. Of all the issues I could work on, I decided that the problem of the media was the number one bottleneck impeding the progress of every other issue. Focus on education and raising awareness. Break this bottleneck and the rest will follow.
A lot of people knock raising awareness as being too abstract. But when you consider it as a strategic first step in the larger picture, taken concurrently with other actions, I don't think we can underestimate its significance.
So, I was trying to get my friend to read a recent issue of Adbusters magazine.
"You've got to read this!" I said. "There's an article about how the media today is owned by only a handful of corporations, and corporate consolidation is leading to fewer voices getting on the air and stifling the range of debate, which is stifling the health of our democracy. And corporations themselves are legally bound by law to seek a profit over any other competing interest. And because of a judge's ruling that unlawfully declared that corporations are to be deemed legal "persons" - giving rights to corporations that were originally intended for recently freed black slaves - these corporations (due to their vast wealth and influence) now have more rights than people. And these corporate rights are now the source of the power they use to destroy all of humanity!!" I said with a half-laugh, nearly out of breath.
"Yikes," she said.
"Yeah I know. It's crazy."
And then there was a pause. "Yeah, the thing is..." she said with a sigh. "I really don't have time to read that. I mean, look: I know things are bad. Everyone nowadays knows about all these problems at some level. It just seems kind of tiring to keep reading about things that at a basic level, you already know."
And I thought about what she said, and I understand what she's saying - at some level. But here's the problem: When problems are vague, so are the solutions.
When you think about all the world problems... Oh jeez, well don't think about all of them. But if you think about just a few. Take: climate change, deforestation, bought-and-paid-for elections, and the corporate exploitation of millions of people working in sweat-shop factories around the world. How are we even going to begin to solve these problems? Now if we tried to attack each of these issues individually, well, we'll be trying to plant corn in the deserts of the Midwest on a very hot planet before that happens. Climate change and peak oil alone give us a deadline of five to ten years to do most of the significant work to solve these issues (scientists estimate that we need to stabilize our co2 emissions by 2015 to avoid a series of tipping points). We simply do not have the time to keep hacking at individual branches while new branches grow every day.
But what if there was one solution which got at the root of all these problems, and if you solved this one thing, it would quickly solve many of the others?
Now let's say I told you that the laws that give corporations their legal power were the source of all of the problems listed above. You change the laws that govern the corporation and you change the landscape of our economy, environment, and society all at the same time. Now of course, appreciating the significance of this solution can only be grasped when you have a full understanding of the problem. And this means specifics, and this means reading that damn article!
It was at this particular exclamation point that I realized: getting informed on the issues is kind of the whole point. It's the solution that leads to every other solution.
Because clear knowledge leads to clear actions, and clear actions lead to results.
When you understand the problem, you know what needs fixing, and you feel empowered to support actions that can lead to fixing it. And when a whole bunch of people learn about an issue and know what needs to be done to get our country back on track, then the people can start organizing. And as you launch targeted campaigns to solve specific issues, you eventually see results, and your community is the better for it.
It's all about getting informed and taking action. It's the essence of democracy. Not to bust out some history books on your asses, but this goes back to the days our forefathers first drafted the constitution. The first amendment talks about the need for a Free Press. They knew that a democracy could not thrive without the full participation of its citizens, and that you need to be fully informed to truly participate. The two go hand in hand.
Originally, informing the public and arming them with the knowledge they need to act was the cardinal responsibility of the media. It was to foster a free and open "marketplace for ideas," so that all could have a voice within the commons, and the best ideas could rise to the top - regardless of the economic or political power of the people who voiced them.
Today, these ideas seem quaint in comparison to the profit-driven, consolidated, and corrupt media we have now. Most of us are aware of how bad the mainstream media has gotten. It reveals itself every time a Lady Gaga story makes headline news, and when political pundits paid by the Pentagon debate the pros of more war, and lots of war.
You could stock a website full of examples. Between the unashamedly partisan coverage on FOX and the infotainment and soft-ball fluff predominant on CNN and the rest of the mainstream press, there is clearly a gap in quality news, and this gap represents the bottleneck that impedes the progress of nearly every social cause we care about.
Getting our elections free from corporate cash and undoing Citizens United is a big one. You can bet amending the Constitution to abolish corporate person-hood isn't going to be easy. It's going to require a mass movement of people all across this country demanding it, and to get to this stage, we need mass awareness.
So, what solution will go right to the thick, deep root that will reach every other rotten root and heal every branch and make those proverbial flowers bloom?
We fix the media. And rather than wait for these massive media conglomerates to reform themselves, or wait for congress to step in - we're going to create our own media. We're going to declare independence from the Corporate Media by creating new information channels that serve the public's interest and speaks with the public's voice. And we're going to do if from the bottom up.
We start in our communities, working on creating a communications infrastructure that will allow everyone to get the real deal on a given issue, so that the people have the power to mobilize in great numbers when the time is needed. Then as we build momentum we expand the scope of this network to eventually include the entire city. We'll accomplish this with documentary film screenings, public access TV, low-power FM radio, street team promotion, and a central indy-media website dedicated to keeping our city connected and informed.
Building on the classic IndyMedia model, these city sites will allow anyone to contribute content, and let the community decide what content is promoted to the front page. From here we can network with other city indy-media websites, allowing us to communicate news, mass actions and events with millions of people through these networks of city chapters. We will bypass the need to write press releases and get coverage from traditional media altogether. And before we know it, within the next three years, we have the potential to create a nations-wide communications channel that rivals the best of the old corporate giants.
A democratic media breaks the bottleneck. It's the strategic foundation that will allow us to amplify our efforts to build truly sustainable and vibrant new ways of living here in our own city, and in every city around the globe.
This was the work I and the other members of the Films For Action team set out to accomplish when we first began the project four years ago. We have organized over two dozen film screening events, cataloged over 700 world-changing videos on our website, launched several targeted campaigns, and have currently finished work on version 2.0 of the FilmsForAction.org website.
With the recent launch of our site - over a year in development - we've entered the 2nd major phase of the strategy. The new site's infrastructure has been programmed to make it easy to create whole new city chapter sub-sites with just a few clicks. Our original chapter based in Lawrence, KS demonstrates the concept, and shows how these cities will stay networked with our international "main" site. In the coming months, we expect to see dozens of new chapters form.
As I see it, these are all the first few steps in a thousand-step chess game. But there's no way to make progress until you get started on step one.
Tim Hjersted is the director and a co-founder of Films For Action. He will be heading to Boston in April to network and collaborate with thousands of other media activists at this year's National Conference on Media Reform.
You wouldn't know it from the mainstream media's coverage of the BP oil spill, but the 184 million gallons of oil that are now devastating the Gulf region is only a part of a much larger problem. Corporate greed and corrupt government oversight played their roles in the disaster, but so far little attention has been given to why the hell oil companies are drilling miles below the ocean surface for oil in the first place.
It’s now well known how technically unsafe and inherently risky drilling for oil is so far under the ocean surface. And while energy companies may be greedy, and they may be shortsighted, they certainly wouldn’t expose themselves to undue financial risk unless they had no other choice. Sadly, as BP, the Pentagon, and all the other energy companies know, they’re taking these risks because all the cheap, easy-to-get oil has already been drilled or is being drilled. The low-hanging fruit has been picked, and as long as our civilization remains addicted to petroleum, oil companies are going to continue to drill in more dangerous and environmentally hazardous locations to give us our fix. In this respect, the BP disaster represents only the beginning of what a post-Peak Oil world is going to bring.
Since I stopped getting my news from mainstream outlets several years ago, I feel like I’m living in some sort of twilight zone. Peak Oil – what it is, what it means, and why we can’t ignore it – were all questions and discussions that went mainstream in the alternative press back in 2005. That’s why it’s amazing to me that five years later the mainstream press still hasn’t initiated a national dialog on the subject, and many people still remain either uninformed or misinformed.
Now, granted: a serious national discussion of the issue would almost certainly crash the financial markets and drive us into a global depression, but how long can the mainstream media dunk its head into the sand while the signs that we need to urgently address this issue keep smacking us in the face (and washing up on the shore of the Gulf Coast)?
After the $148 price spike of 2008 destroyed demand and sent oil below $100 a barrel again, we’ve been lulled back into a false sense of security. We’ve entered what the International Energy Agency calls the “undulating plateau” of peak oil – a multi-year period where oil prices spike as demand collides with declining supply, then the price goes down as demand is destroyed. Subsequently, as the economy recovers, demand increases and smacks back into declining supply, which sends the price of oil even higher the next time. We’re now in that relatively comforting dip where the price of gas and other petroleum products remains relatively affordable.
We can expect that the next major price spike will come within the next two years, fueled likely not by our own economy recovering, but from rising demand from China and India, among other developing nations.
So for the next two years we have a rather unique opportunity. The next price spike is likely going to make the financial collapse of 2008 feel like the “good old days.” Over the medium term, the continued instability of financial markets, along with the instability of our own finances is going to make it increasingly difficult to prepare for and transition into an oil independent way of life. Since we need fossil fuel energy to build the solar panels and wind turbines and smart electric grids, it makes a whole lot of rational sense to invest in this infrastructure while oil is less expensive. Will we even be able to afford the transition to a “green” economy when oil is $200 to $300 a barrel? Many energy experts have their doubts.
I have to wonder how many people recognize the significance that our choices will have over the next five years on this planet. Many climate scientists have predicted that by 2015 we may hit a series of “tipping points,” where rising global temperatures will trigger enough glacial melting to release further CO2 into the air, causing accelerated glacial melting, and the problem will permanently tip out of our control. That’s only five years away.
I know, I know. Our whole civilization is like the college student that waits till the night before his mid-term paper is due to start writing it. We all love to procrastinate, and maybe, like the college student, we perform better under the pressure of a hard deadline. But let me tell you: that paper is due tomorrow. The deadline is here. It’s time to pull an all-nighter, drink some double espresso lattes and get to work. If we don’t, and we wait for the next spike in energy prices to get our butts moving, we may jeopardize our ability to address global warming with the stability and financial resources necessary to avoid an even greater environmental catastrophe.
Ah man, it’s so annoying right? It’s like hearing your mom tell you it’s time to clean up your room. Well, here’s the good news. The solution for both peak oil and global warming is the same thing: reducing and then eliminating our use of fossil fuels. The more our society transitions to renewable sources of energy, the less we'll emit global warming causing CO2 emissions, and the less we'll be sucker punched by expensive fossil fuel costs.
Ultimately, a post-carbon society is inevitable. Whether that future looks remotely desirable to us depends on what we do now. The sooner businesses, private citizens, and elected officials stop futzing with little tweaks to the status quo, and get serious about the big picture at the end of the road, the better off we'll be. These distractions include ethanol, nuclear power, "clean coal," tar sands, oil shale, hydrogen, Cap & Trade, more efficient cars, and many of the other single-fix responses being proposed by industry and government currently. Many of these approaches may actually exacerbate our problems.
I'll give two examples. The first is with the Alberta tar sands that skeptics often tout as a reason why peak oil is bunk. They claim that there are massive repositories of oil capable of fueling the world's energy needs for the next 100 years. The problem is, on top of the devastating environmental, climate, and human health consequences of using this oil, on an engineering level, this oil is mixed in with thick encrusted sand and rock, making it incredibly energy intensive to process. As a recent report by Environmental Defence Canada found, when you do an energy ROI audit, you find that mining and processing the tar sands requires more energy to produce it than what you get to use.
As the EDC writes, "It is estimated that by 2012 the Tar Sands will use as much gas as is needed to heat all the homes in Canada ... Using huge amounts of relatively clean burning natural gas in order to produce dirty and carbon heavy oil is what commentators have dubbed "reverse alchemy" -- the equivalent of turning gold into lead."
The second example is cars. Though it may help in the short-term, we don't need more efficient cars; we need radically redesigned cities that are not dependent on cars to get us everywhere. We need radically re-localized food and product economies that do not require the importation of food and resources from thousands of miles away.
The city and suburban infrastructure necessary to support the speedy movement of our cars, trucks and semis requires an immense overall supply of energy and resources to build and maintain. Not only that, but we forget oil is not just in the energy we put in our gas tanks. A car's tires are made from oil. Asphalt is made from oil. All the resins and plastics that go into cars are made from oil. And there are currently 800 million cars in the world that were built on this paradigm of cheap energy. Can we honestly expect to build another 800 million electric cars, with all of it's massive supporting infrastructure, with the remaining expensive oil we have left? It's just not going to happen. That's why trading out the gas tank with batteries and going on our way is not going to cut it. We've got to go back to the basics. We need to rethink our whole system.
Solutions that take into account a “whole-systems” approach do exist. In fact, the more I’ve looked, the more I’ve discovered sustainable and innovative ideas that are already being implemented in places all over the world. A resident of Oakland, California, Richard Register presents an inspiring vision of what a post-carbon, ecologically healthy city might look like in his book, “Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature.”
Similar to New Urbanism, the places where people live would be built in close proximity to a mixed combination of work, shopping, food, and recreational spaces, allowing for easy use of bicycle or mass-transit to get where ever you need to go. The city’s economy would be re-localized, from organic food production to basic goods and services. Decentralized wind, solar, and geothermal energy systems would provide energy to a net-metered grid, while advanced efficiencies in building design would reduce energy demand by over seventy percent. Long distance travel would be accommodated by high-speed rail or boat, and electric cars borrowed through community car-share programs would be used for medium distance trips. Urban food gardens and plants would be integrated throughout multiple floors of buildings, in back and front yards of people's homes all over the city, and streams would weave through public centers and parks.
Finding an abundance of ideas for how to create more sustainable cities is not the problem. What we need is a national discussion at all levels of society, and at all levels of our communities, so we can start to talk about how we're going to address peak oil here at the local level. How are we going to get from here to there?
We need to get our schools involved. We need to get our city and planning commissioners involved. Businesses, elected officials, and private citizens all need to come to the table and get to work.
Now, at the end of most problem-themed articles I've read, specifically ones dealing with global warming, I've noticed a curious trend. After spending most of the time talking about the problem, the one paragraph at the end devoted to "things you can do" usually centers solely around personal suggestions: Change your lights to compact fluorescents. Turn down the thermostat. Bike more. Buy less, and try to buy used more than new.
These are all things we should be doing to cut down on our own energy use, but I wonder why it always stops there. Presumably it's because American's are too lazy to expect they'd be willing to do anything more ambitious. I want to prove this assumption wrong.
Great change has never been inspired by small requests. If it seems like people in America haven't been doing much lately to address global warming, it's because not much has been asked of them. Most of the time, our leaders simply ask us to shop or make sure our tires are inflated properly. I think if we do start to expect and ask more of each other, though, we'll be surprised by the results. As Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R, Md) has said, "There is no exhilaration like meeting and overcoming a big problem... and I think that Americans could be exhilarated by the challenge."
So there it is. We're facing some pretty unprecedented challenges. The time for just making small, personal changes is over. As I heard Alex Steffen say recently, "Don't just be the change. Mass-produce it."
Tim Hjersted Lawrence, KS Copy Left/CC