Real Progress

Progress is difficult even in the best of times, and this is far from the best of times. Increasingly I am shocked and dismayed by actions of Republicans in control of our government.  No only are some people doing things that are unethical but some verge on criminal, certainly unconstitutional.

Watching the Democratic National Convention as an Independent moderate I’m pleased with their choice of speakers but somewhat concerned about complaints by Progressive Democrats (“AOC should have been given more time to speak”).  I wonder if they realize that Biden could easily lose if he doesn’t attract votes of Independents and moderate Republicans.  And if Trump wins what will another four years of his actions do to our country?

I think the DNC has done a very good job reaching out to the middle.  I admire AOC’s passion and think she has the potential to become a stateswoman, but her leadership will only be proven over decades of public service. Can she move the Green New Deal off paper and enact legislation that brings necessary changes to our country? Time will tell, but the one thing that will prevent such change is partisanship. If Progressive Democrats and Conservative Republicans refuse to cross the isle and work together, our government will fail to meet the needs of our times.

I support the goals of the New Green Deal because as an environmental scientist and engineer I see the extreme danger to life on earth if we don’t curb the use of fossil energy and reduce consumption and growth. I support strengthening the middle class because income inequality destabilizes and demoralizes a population. I’m not convinced we can make growth “green”, but I am convinced that Americans need to greatly reduce the share of the world’s resources we currently consume.

“Healthcare for all”, heck yeah, we should have been able to accomplish this long ago. Unfortunately the current cost of healthcare in our country is prohibitive. Too many Americans suffer from too many chronic diseases that are preventable, but instead we take a pill (or a dozen) and don’t try to change our diet and exercise patterns. We can’t afford “heath care for all” at these exorbitant prices. We may be able to afford basic healthcare for all, but we also need to care more about our own health. Americans are notoriously poor at taking care of their health.  We too often act like children eating what we want, refusing to eat what we should.  Many diseases we currently suffer from are preventable.  It isn’t just about access to health insurance and medical care, it’s also about reducing disease risk in our life. Every problem requires three avenues of change; government policy, business models, and personal behavior.

Even if our government passed laws to redistribute taxes and reduce income inequality, this won’t address the rate of our consumption.  We also need to start asking hard questions in order to understand what change is really possible. For example, how much resources would the US consume in order to provide a “good” lifestyle for every American? And what level is “good” enough? Are we willing and able to do more physical labor that will be required if we eliminate all fossil fuels? Are we willing to eat less meat and dairy, grow and cook more fresh food, preserve food for winter, change our diet to improve our health? Are we willing to live in smaller homes, drive fewer miles in smaller cars, stop flying for vacations, waste less food and energy? It’s one thing to demand change, and another thing to roll up your sleeves and do what is necessary to make changes a reality.

I’m not convinced we can convert our nation to 100% renewable energy, at least not quickly. We can definitely do better than business-as-usual, and a carbon tax and targeted redistribution policy could dramatically reduce our consumption of energy.  Our civilization will run out of resources and be overwhelmed by our wastes, if we don’t reduce and recycle  all of the wasted materials we currently generate.  Our consumption is causing tremendous environmental destruction from mining and manufacturing, to polluting the atmosphere in ways that exacerbate climate change. Yes, fifty years ago we passed laws to clean up our air, water, and land but then we began importing goods from countries that still polluted theirs.

Change takes knowledge, resources, and time. We need to know the magnitude of the problems in order to come up with a plan to address them. We need resources to actually address the problems. And we need time and effort to work towards our goals. We have to accept that some problems are not solvable. We may not have the resources to solve them, or the time.  We may disagree on what approach to change will work the best.  Unfortunately the longer we wait the more our problems magnify.  If we wait too long to address problems they become dilemmas, situations we live through not solve.  Problems left untended have consequences. Change will always happen, whether we like it or not. If we don’t actively work together to change in the direction we can all live with, we will suffer the consequences of whatever change happens.

A significant problem I have with the New Green Deal is that it only seeks to address the needs of Americans, not the needs of the planet.  To demand that Americans have access to a good life without addressing how our consumption impacts the rest of the world, is selfish and self-serving.  It’s also hypocritical.  Americans are a small portion of the world’s population yet we consume roughly 25% of the world’s resources.  How can we claim to be world leaders if we avoid how our own actions are affecting the world?  What amount of resources will it take for all Americans to receive universal healthcare, universal education, a living wage, a clean environment, 100% renewable energy, and a growing “green” economy?  What about the other 7.2 billion people on the planet? What about the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others species with which we share this planet?  Until the majority of Americans are  willing to change their lifestyle we cannot solve the climate crisis, reduce the rate of extinctions, or repair earth’s damaged ecosystems.  We cannot make any progress at all.

The pictures above were taken at one of the many sharing gardens in my community.  Unlike community gardens in which plots are assigned to individuals, sharing gardens are cared for and shared by everyone.  A dedicated group of volunteers do much of the planting and management, but everyone is welcome to   “Pick a veggie. Pull a weed.”  The gardens are spread through out the community making them easily within walking distance of most neighborhoods.   Earlier this spring garden managers recognized that the pandemic was causing unprecedented food insecurity and planned for larger plantings.  What I love about this organization is that it is entirely run by volunteers.  People who simply want to help other people.  The sweat equity they put into their effort to make our community a better place is truly “progress”.

3 Replies to “Real Progress”

  1. Great post, Jody, welcome back! I especially liked your reporting at the end about the sharing gardens in your community. And the pictures of great stacks of straw bales. It’s funny that shipping straw to Hawaii costs so much that we rarely use straw,. Just one of those little things.
    Much to agree with in your post about the challenge of implementing a Green New Deal, and our present peril as a democracy.

  2. I’ll second Michelle’s opinion of the post. Well done.

    A few things I’d call out:

    Agreed, AOC as new to the national stage and relatively inexperienced in the House needn’t consider her smaller current role a slight by the party. Hers is a fresh and worthy voice, and once tempered with the experience of time against opposing opinion she and a following she can engender may get more time in the spotlight. But having said this… I’m reminded of a slightly more mature woman from a midwestern state. This gal has fine opinions (IMHO) and she expresses them well in written form. And even though she resides in a strongly red state, I have to wonder whether she could lend her voice in political venues. [and as I come closer to my own ‘retirement’ I have to take a closer look in the mirror and ask if I’m sufficiently engaged to help bring about some of the changes she and I seem to agree are necessary]

    On the matter of a Green New Deal being something in US rather than a global deal… in my opinion we need to be wary of telling others what to do. I agree the whole population of humans can and should do more to make our common home a safer and more pleasant habitat. So for me, a GND type of policy would need to come from something like the UN. All stakeholders need a voice. The EU appears to me to be doing a little better job along these lines than we are. But the issue is still more than an EU or US issue.

    The community gardens in Lafayette look like a fantastic feature of your neighborhood. Thanks for mentioning them here!

    1. Thank you both Michelle and Clem for your kind words. I’m not just a “slightly” older woman, Clem! I once toyed with idea of politics but over the years watching what happens to politicians I decided I would never find the experience satisfying. I decided becoming an educator would be a better way of reaching more people. But that path didn’t quite work out the way I planned, and now I’m a business owner.

      I have the freedom and luxury of working to make products I believe are of benefit to the environment as well as the families who buy them. I speak to hundreds of people every year, customers who are starting food gardens and have questions. I spend a lot of time on the phone answering their questions and it is satisfying ‘work’. So I guess I am an educator after all.

      With respect to “telling other countries what to do”, that wasn’t what I was thinking of when I wrote that the GND only expresses goals for Americans. I agree with you that we shouldn’t tell other countries what to do, but I think diplomacy and soft economic power can be powerful tools to help shape democracy around the world. When people have the right to elect leaders they chose they are empowered to influence the direction of their government and its impact on their lives. I very much agree that we should work closely with the UN because this is the world body where diplomacy is carried out.

      I am not even telling Americans what to do, I am only telling them what might happen if they continue to live as they do. My philosophy of life is that people must make up their own minds, this is the only way we can change our society.

      I think it is important that people to reap the rewards of their of their efforts as well as learn from their mistakes by experiencing the outcome of their decisions. When Republican tax and spending policies exacerbate income inequality they are basically saying it’s okay for rich people to reap the rewards of poor people’s labor. This goes against the very heart of Christ’s teachings. Venture capitalists are predators, they buy up successful companies and strip them of profits, harming the people who made the company a success. Yet, Republicans support this type of financialization.
      The Democratic party actually, IMO, expresses more Christian values than the conservative Republicans. Democrats want to help people lift up their life, and I fully support this. But when Democrats claim their tax and spending policies will create free healthcare, free college education, clean and safe streets, etc. I think they mislead us. None of these benefits are free and if we want them we will have to find the resources to make them true. That means significantly reducing the wealth of the upper 5%. These benefits may also not even be feasible if we aren’t willing to work for them. This is why I specifically discussed healthcare. One woman took offense to this on Resilience, saying my position was insulting and illogical.
      Liberals, IMO, are notorious for making promises they can’t keep. Conservatives, IMO, are notorious for outright lying. Yet it is the far ends of the political spectrum that gets the oxygen in the news media. In today’s world of shrinking resources no one should be allowed to become a billionaire, let’s see that position get much traction! No one is “entitled” to a have a good life created for them, I’m sure that is what every American wants to hear. So you can see, my political positions would not endear me to many voters!
      The American economy of the 1950’s and 60’s was built on the the exploitation of cheap oil. It’s not going to come back. At some point the Fed will lose the ability to keep propping up the economy and keeping interest rates low. The pandemic has shown just how little America can respond to threats. As wildfires and derechos destroy people’s lives and livelihoods, communities won’t be able to build back stronger. People will be living among the rubble of a once great society.

      If we want to find a good life we need to find ways build community, to share a modest amount of prosperity, and learn to work hard in ways that are satisfying and rewarding. Politicians need to stop telling people what they want to hear and start telling people the hard reality of what limited resources and climate chaos actually means for our future.

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