Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Active Hope

                                                                                              written 22 December 2019
                                                                                          published 29 December 2019

            At this time of the return of the light, the world seems fraught, and compassionate people despair.  We unsuccessfully look for "reasons" for this despair in our immediate experience, but need to open to the larger world to really get to the roots.  
            For decades, Joanna Macy, eco-philosopher and Buddhist scholar, has presented the idea that the despair we feel is due to our fundamental connection with the planet, experiencing the grief of the sixth mass extinction of life.  "Active Hope", by Macy and Chris Johnstone, excerpted here, explores how to process that despair effectively.
            "The word hope has two different meanings.  The first (passive hope) involves hopefulness, where our preferred outcome seems reasonably likely to happen.  If we require this kind of hope before we commit ourselves to an action, our response gets blocked in areas we don't rate our chances too high, with no point in even trying to do anything."
            "The second meaning (Active Hope) is about desire, what would we like to have happen in the world, the kind of world we long for so much it hurts. It is this second kind of hope that starts our journey, knowing what we hope for and what we'd like, or love, to take place.  It is what we do with this hope that really makes a difference.  Passive hope is about waiting for external agencies to bring about what we desire.  Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for."
            "Active Hope is a practice, something we do rather than have, which we can apply to any situation, and involves three key steps.  First, we take a clear view of reality; second, we identify what we hope for in terms of the direction we would like things to move in or values we'd like to see expressed; and third, we take steps to move ourselves or our situation in that direction."
            "Since Active Hope doesn't require our optimism, we can apply it even in areas where we feel hopeless.  The guiding impetus is intention; we choosewhat we aim to bring about, act for, or express.  Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus our intention and let it be our guide."
            "We can react to world crisis by rising to the occasion with wisdom, courage, and care, or we can shrink from the challenge, blot it out, or look away. When we choose to draw out our best responses, we might even surprise ourselves by what we bring forth.  We can train ourselves to become more courageous, inspired, and connected."
            "The spiral of The Work That Reconnects (see also "Coming Back To Life" with Molly Young Brown) reminds us that we are larger, stronger, deeper, and more creative than we have been brought up to believe.  It maps out an empowerment process through four successive movements or stations; Coming from Gratitude, Honoring Our Pain for the World, Seeing with New Eyes, and Going Forth."
            "Coming from Gratitude, we become more present to the wonder of being alive in this amazing world, to the gifts we receive, to the beauty we appreciate. Yet the very act of looking at what we love in our world brings awareness of the vast violation under way, and we naturally flow to honoring our pain for the world."
            "Admitting the depth of our anguish, Honoring Our Pain, we break the taboos that silence our distress.  Our pain for the world not only alerts us to the danger but also revels our profound caring, derived from our interconnectedness with all life, a healthy expression of our belonging to life."
            "Seeing with New Eyes reveals the wider web of resources within a deeper ecological self, with ancient spiritual wisdom and creative imagination, opening us to new views of what is possible and new understanding of our power to make a difference."
            "Going Forth involves clarifying our vision of how we act for the healing of our world, identifying practical steps that move our vision forward."
            We live in powerful times, when every aspect of what we have known is now challenged to grow and change.  In the New Year, my active hope for everyone is: Gratitude, Love, and Global Awakening.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

A Matter Of Faith

                                                                                                written 15 December 2019
                                                                                            published 22 December 2019

            Religions are born from direct experience of unseen spiritual reality, beyond description by the limitation of words.  But words can help in communication, and every organized religion has sacred text inspired by the direct experience, with advice for living an ethical life.  Like a finger pointing toward the moon, words point the way, but are not the experience itself.  If a person gets lost examining the finger, looking at the color of the skin, how callused the hand, how manicured the fingernails, they can miss experiencing the moon completely.  
            Within each organized religion, there is a mystical population which knows the words are only metaphors and are less concerned with literal interpretations, allowing them to get along with mystics from other religions.  However, this makes them suspect to the larger fundamentalist portion of their own religious community, which often views literality as demonstration of being pious. 
            My maternal grandmother attended a rather limited Christian church all her life, and my mother reacted by raising us non-religious.  My personal spiritual explorations began after college.  Influenced by quantum mechanics, philosophy, and Buddhism, I have become a spiritual mystic.  As a result, I view Christianity from the outside, unburdened by rigid dogma, but able to appreciate its deep spiritual truth.
            The heart of Christ's message is to love God, and love the other as you love yourself.  This Golden Rule is found within every religion around the world, testimony to its fundamental clarity.  Aldous Huxley's book, "The Perennial Philosophy", surveyed world religions looking for common elements.  In addition to the Golden Rule, he found they all suggest the work of humanity is a journey from egoistic self to experience of divine unity.  We are all relative expressions of the same divine reality, so to love God, we must love ourselves, and all the parts which appear as "other".  These instructions for living in a non-dual, unity reality, are very simple in concept, but socially radical, and challenging to accomplish.  People who describe themselves as Christian, but fear God and hate passionately, have missed the mark, and are living contrary to the heart of Christ's message.  
            The money, power, and politics required for the business of an organized religion subverts the mystical spiritual foundation of any faith. Christians have killed non-Christians since becoming the Roman state religion, and Catholics have killed Protestants for centuries, despite worshiping the same text, just as Sunni and Shia Muslims kill each other today.  
            A recent article by Alex Morris of the Rolling Stone, titled "False Idol - Why the Christian Right Worships Donald Trump", describes the history of how the Evangelical movement became politicized over time, leading up to the situation today. Trump, despite living contrary to Christian morality, garners Evangelical support by appointing judges who further narrow Christian social goals, but also put corporate rights above human rights, benefiting wealthy Christian donors.  Rick Perry, former Secretary of Energy, recently declared that Trump was "chosen by God", but a few years earlier described Trump as a "cancer on conservatism".  That kind of religious malleability corrodes the integrity of the system.  
            A conservative political commentator stated that if Democrats pick a candidate too far to the left, they will have to sell socialism to evangelicals, and Trump will win.  From a unity perspective, this is a flawed assessment, because at their heart, evangelical Christians and socialists are fellow travelers, because the foundation of socialism is commitment to the common welfare.  America was founded on the principle that all people are created equal, which is the essence of the Golden Rule.  We are all worthy, so the rule of law must apply to everyone.  When America was founded, this was socially radical, but we became a beacon of hope around the world.  Our communities and fates are united.
            The exclusive gain of our extraction economy is killing the planet and all life on it, for short term profit.  There is need for unity spiritual perspective to balance this, but religion constrained by the duality of fear and hate only makes things worse.  People of faith must call out the limitations within their own religion.  Reality has a socialist bent, as the Golden Rule implies.  We are all being challenged to live the best within us.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Russian Issue

                                                                                                written 8 December 2019
                                                                                          published 15 December 2019

            One factor that has been obscured by the daily Tweets and breaking news is 
how Trump's actions have advanced Russian interests.   
            Putin came to power in the Russian Federation in 1999, eight years after the Soviet Union collapsed, as the Russian economy reorganized into an oligarchy. Following the crash of 2008, Russia's primary export, gas and oil, lost value as the global economy slowed.  In early 2014, to distract growing domestic unrest, Putin invaded Crimea, and then eastern Ukraine, claiming them for Russia. 
            Concerned that Russian aggression might expand into NATO territory, international reaction was swift.  By June, 2014, the US funded billions of dollars to increase NATO training, preposition material, and upgrade infrastructure for rapid response.  With bipartisan support, Congress imposed strong sanctions, limiting credit from western banks and kicked Russia out of the G-8 global summit meetings.  Military aid to Ukraine increased by $1.5B.  Sale of oil and gas technology was prohibited, killing a proposed $500B investment by Exxon. 
            In June, 2015, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president. The following spring, hackers accessed Democratic National Committee computers and several state voter registrations.  Attacks on Clinton began on Facebook and Twitter.  US intelligence agencies, suspecting election interference, investigated and concluded Russia was guilty.  December, 2016, Obama signed further economic sanctions against Russia and ejected 35 Russian operatives.
            January, 2017, US intelligence agencies formally reported that it was Russia that interfered, and in August, with almost unanimous bipartisan support, Congress extended the sanctions against Russia.  The Senate intelligence committee reconfirmed it was Russia in May, 2018, and in July, Mueller indicted 12 Russians for election interference.
            Russia needs the sanctions removed to allow investment in their critical oil and gas industry and to continue expanding their geopolitical influence, to Make Russia Great Again.  So, they must destroy the cohesion of the NATO alliance and debunk the conclusion that Russia interfered in our election.
            One of Trump's first appointments was Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, formerly head of Exxon.  From the beginning, Trump suggested that sanctions on Russia should be lifted, Russia should be readmitted to the G-7, and has derided the necessity of NATO.  He and his inner circle began spreading the idea that Ukraine was the source of election interference, not Russia, despite US intelligence conclusions.  The current investigation of the Ukrainian aid holdup, shows Trump had three goals.  One benefited him, dirt on Biden to affect the next election, but the other two were for Russia's benefit.  By switching the narrative to Ukrainian election interference, one of the reasons for economic sanctions could be removed.  By withholding aid, he showed Ukraine that the US was not the strong supporter they need, making them more likely to concede to Russian demands, ending to the fighting, eliminating the other reason for the sanctions.   
            This September, Trump further weakened Ukraine and NATO, when he transferred billions of dollars from the military to fund building his border wall. Those funds were slated to increase our capacity to support Ukraine militarily and rapidly respond to further Russian aggression. 
            When Turkey took delivery on a Russian missile defense system last July, despite the significant national security risk, the Trump administration did nothing, even though he had previously threatened sanctions.  In October, after a call with the leader of Turkey, Trump decided to pull out of Syria, with no warning to our allies, or even our own military leaders. Our withdrawal was so poorly planned, that a new base was left intact, and we had to call in strikes to blow up stored ammunition.  Our Kurdish allies were abandoned, and rather than face genocide from Turkish fighters, switched allegiance, expanding Russian power in the region. 
            It is plausible that Trump is a tool of Russia, because of all the money they loaned him to keep his bankrupt empire afloat.  It is plausible that he doesn't care about American geopolitical power, because everything is only about him.  But why does Republican leadership still support this?  The obvious answer is they wanted to stay in power, and originally thought they could control him.  But Trump's self-serving, erratic nature, is now detrimental to our national security, and continued Republican support is a violation of their oath of office. This is a test of moral integrity.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

On Fire

                                                                                              written 1 December 2019
                                                                                          published 8 December 2019

            Naomi Klein's latest book "On Fire" outlines in stark measure the extent of the climate emergency, and what is required to deal with it.  For over a quarter century the scientific data and understanding has continued to build, and the actual climate impact makes headline news every year with new extremes.  Despite this, climate deniers persist, and even shifted public opinion earlier this century, with well-funded disinformation campaigns.  But the climate crisis is not a hoax or fake news. It is inexorable, global, and indifferent to politics and wealth, so public opinion has shifted back, and climate is a growing concern with a majority of Americans.  
            Over 50 years ago, oil company researchers discovered that their product could harm the climate, perhaps even cause human extinction.  Rather than address the issue, and work for a transition to a less lethal energy source, the companies halted the research, and began funding climate disinformation.  The opportunity for a simple transition was sacrificed for short term corporate profits, which is understandable considering the limited nature of corporate ethics.  But this is only a recent symptom of the deep structural problem: the illusion of separation.
            Five hundred years ago the Pope divided the world between Portugal and Spain, commanding them to explore the non-European world, claiming land for their respective empires.  They were to convert or kill anyone they found, spreading the truth of Catholic Christianity to the heathen "other", contrary to Christ's teaching to love the other.  Vast lands and resources were stolen from people who already lived there, and masses of people were enslaved and moved to other locations to power this new enterprise. The illusion of separation predicates the assumptions that land and resources could be devastated for human gain, and that only Christians were worthy.  The unworthy "other", people or land, was of no concern, and could be sacrificed.  These patterns continue to this day.
            In the last 50 years, humans have consumed as much resource and energy as all of previous human existence, relentlessly increasing consumption for an expanding human population.  Because the Earth is finite, this frenzy of extraction economy is destroying larger portions of the planet, killing life in these "sacrifice zones", leaving the land poisoned and barren.  Massive coral bleaching, enormous plastic gyres and de-oxygenated zones in increasingly acidified oceans, superfund toxic chemical sites, wasted valleys from mountain top removal mining, poisoned areas due to oil spills: all are economic sacrifices to a global consumption economy that is running on fumes.
            The sacrifice of "unworthy people" is also expanding.  The extraction economic model concentrates wealth over time, leaving people behind.  Not only the poor in nations where we take their resources for our use, but now American citizens who can't find living wage jobs, affordable education, or health care for their increasingly toxified bodies.  The immigration floods which have destabilized so much of the world are a consequence of extractive resource depletion, corrupt wealth inequity benefiting the developed world, and adverse climate change.  Increasing climate extremes are eroding economic stability as the destruction happens faster than reconstruction.  
            The climate crisis is just the most universal expression of this systemic dysfunction.  It is living proof that we are all in this together, with no exceptions.  This problem is only going to get worse as the planet continues to burn.  But climate denial persists, especially under this president.  I always thought that if enough facts were presented, logic would convince, and win the day.  But climate denial is now a religious conviction, an article of faith that is immune to reason.  Why?  
            In Klein's second chapter, she presents the best understanding I have encounter so far.  In one way, the ruling class of climate deniers is absolutely correct: addressing the climate emergency will end their life style of massive wealth inequity and exclusive gain.  What the elite knows, but refuses to accept, is that any real solution to the climate crisis will have to simultaneously deal with population limits, consumption styles, gender and racial inequity, and environmental justice.  There can no longer be any sacrificial people or places. The world is whole.  All life is worthy.  We are the last generation that has a chance to make a change.  We need to grow up or die. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Keep The Lights On: Part 4

                                                                                            written 24 November 2019
                                                                                          published 1 December 2019

            After several weeks of discussing the idea of power down resilience, "Keeping The Lights On" in Ukiah, it is time to summarize, and look to the future.
            To avoid ruinous economic losses from ongoing power shutdowns, the city could build a solar power collection and battery storage micro-grid.  One general solution, with the maximum bang for the buck, would be one large array and one large battery designed to power the entire city during the winter solar minimum.  Benefiting from volume discounts, this would cost about $300M (depending on land costs), 2/3 for the array and 1/3 for the battery.  The primary advantage is that none of the existing power system within the city would have to be rewired, but the primary difficulty is finding 200 acres of land for the array.
            The other general solution would produce about 50% of our normal power consumption during power down emergencies, which would keep the lights on and allow businesses to operate on a reduced basis.  The primary advantage is that it could be started incrementally and could be built entirely within the city limits.  The primary disadvantage is that thousands of small arrays on every appropriate roof and parking lot, with battery storage installed in every home and business, will increase system management complexity.  Further, the rewiring involved at each location, the increased array installation expenses, and the loss of volume discounts, makes the 50% solution cost more than $450M (about 1/2 array and 1/2 battery).  
            In either case, funding for arrays could be finance at low, long term, fixed rates, because they produce marketable power for decades.  Funding for batteries would require more ingenuity. They should be considered the cost of not bankrupting our economy due to complete power outages.  Every level of government is beginning to look at this issue, and grant money is becoming available.  Even PG&E is mentioning micro-grids as part of the solution.  For comparison, the recently completed purple pipe project was funded with a $45M grant.
            Considering the future, a single system designed to provide full power in the winter will produce 300MWh per day excess power during the summer months, helping fund the whole project.  This power could be sold wholesale, or it could power value added projects for local economic development.  It could be stored as hydrogen, which has industrial value, or can be converted back to electricity through fuel cells.  Another chemical storage form is ammonia, which can be used by industry, converted back to electricity, or used agriculturally as fertilizer.  Energy intensive industries could be invited to Ukiah, understanding that the energy surplus is seasonal.  Perhaps the surplus could be used to promote electric vehicle tourism.  These are just a few possibilities for handling the overproduction during the summer from a single large array.
            There are economic advantages from the 50% solution as well.  Even though we won't have a summer energy surplus, we will have to create a large workforce of skilled installers to get the job done in a timely manner.  Ukiah area could become a training center for 21st century, good paying jobs.  The shift to renewable power is gaining speed, and will become the new normal everywhere in the world.  
            To maximize distributed power and storage, we will have to get more energy efficient and build creative systems that will be of value everywhere.  For example, traffic lights go dead with a power outage.  Power resilient LED traffic lights could have solar collection and batteries as stand-alone systems, requiring no wiring to the grid, reducing installation costs. Cell towers died during the outage because of limited batteries, or limited generator fuel.  Every site should have stand-alone solar collection and batteries, without need for grid connection.  These systems could be designed and manufactured here, for sale everywhere. 
            If you would like to "Keep The Lights On" in Ukiah during a power outage, share these ideas with friends, and email your support to the City Council members below.  
            There is no single way to accomplish this, and we need a series of workshops to pull together ideas from every part of the community.  If we show there is popular support for the basic concept, the Council will make it happen.