I just followed up on a resolution I made for the New Year 2016, and the timing turned out to be very important. It was a resolution that Mark Zuckerberg made for 2015 that strongly influenced my decision. I have wanted to read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow for a number of years now. The book has been out since 2012. There has been a lot of talk about it in my Quaker community. Then I read about Zuckerberg’s resolution after he visited San Quentin prison last October . His visit was the result of his resolution to read the book earlier in the year. Reading it has led him to the issue of prison reform and the mass incarceration.
Like Zuckerberg, I had a number of books on my “to read” list and wanted to obtain as many as I could from the public library. The other books were easily obtainable, but the waiting list to check out Alexander’s book was months’ long. I could have put a reservation in and waited, but I decided to just keep checking back until a copy was available on the shelf. In June, I was at Pacific Yearly Meeting, a Quaker gathering in Marin County. As at every gathering, my friends Sandy and Tom Farley ran a bookstore they call Earthlight Books. I was actually there to buy another book and decided to include the New Jim Crow in my purchase. I decided I could pass it along to someone else after finishing it.
At the time, I was still recovering from the shock of the horrendous shootings in Orlando that month. I was able to find healing at yearly meeting, as well as at the baseball game I previously blogged about and by attending SF Pride on the last Sunday of the month. On the evening of July 4th, I passed on the opportunity to watch fireworks. Instead, I opened Alexander’s book and started to read. Within a few days, the lives of two black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille,would be cut short by their encounters with police. I joined a peaceful protest in downtown Oakland on Thursday, sharing pictures on Twitter. It was on Twitter that I read the news coming out of Dallas. Coming away from the protest, I committed myself to finishing that book as soon as possible. I finished reading on Sunday night.
The purpose of this blog entry is to strongly urge everyone to get a copy of The New Jim Crow and read it right away. Whether you find it on the shelf of your local library or bookstore, find it and read it. You will not regret it. In fact, it is imperative that you read it before the November election.
As a white male, I must admit I was a bit skeptical as I read the beginning chapter. I was looking for holes in Alexander’s theory. “Yes, but what about…?” I would keep thinking to myself. Fortunately, Alexander gave a lot of thought to the same concerns. By the end of the book, all of the pieces of the puzzle came together for me. So, if you experience the same skepticism, just keep an open mind and keep reading.
The main focus of the book is the war on drugs and how that war has been selectively fought in the black ghettos. Racism against African Americans did not end with the outlawing of segregation, anymore than it didn’t end with the outlawing of slavery. Instead, it has evolved so not appear so blatant. It hides behind a mask of deniability and preys on our racial biases. While denying explicit bias, it is our implicit bias that subconsciously influences our behavior. An example is the story the late Robert Maynard told when he was the publisher of the Oakland Tribune. Walking the streets of downtown Oakland at night, he noticed that when he encountered groups of white women walking toward him, they would always cross the street and walk on the opposite side. They were fearful of coming in close contact with a black man, even one dressed in a business suit and tie.
Alexander’s most convincing argument is found in the subtitle, “Mass Incarceration in the Age of colorblindness.” It is this illusion of colorblindness that allows the New Jim Crow to perpetuate while appearing to be non-racist. It is this plausible deniability that manifests in very ugly politics. Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin want to convince us that the Black Lives Matter activists are the racists. Donald Trump calls for “Law and Order” just as Nixon did in 1968.
I hope that you will answer this call to make that resolution to yourself. After reading it, I invite you to comment to this blog. I would be happy to start a respectful conversation.
I didn’t want to let the week go by without reflecting on the tragedy in Orlando. I was able to participate in a couple of events since then and tweeted out some photos. The most recent was a baseball game. I am not a big sports fan and neither was my family. In fact, this is only the third professional baseball game I have attended in my life.
On Tuesday, the Oakland Athletics hosted their second annual LGBT Pride game. I really wanted to go this year, as I had attended last year’s game against the San Diego Padres. That was the second game I have attended. I will get to the first one in a bit.
I was invited to the second game by a friend who was celebrating her birthday. A number of us joined her in celebration. For me, it was another example of how far our community had come, and yet how far we have to go; to be celebrated by a conservative institution that is major league baseball; to see people in the stands celebrating our diversity and finding love and acceptance; to find our place in sports history, remembering that one of the first openly gay athletes was Glenn Burke, who played for the A’s. Still, the game was not without controversy. A number of season ticket holders protested that they would not attend the game that night. In response, relief pitcher Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan bought tickets to donate to LGBT youth. That did not change the fact that there were a lot of empty seats that June 17 night. Still, this was another example of how the sports world was changing when heterosexual players become proud allies.
Oh, and we beat the Padres that night. I told my friends that, as a former San Diegan, I wouldn’t have been bothered by the outcome either way. It was nice that the A’s won. They weren’t so fortunate this year against the Texas Rangers.
With my experience at last year’s game, I really wanted to attend again this year and worked to find others to go with me. After I found out that some other friends was already bought their tickets and offered to allow me to join them, I went ahead a bought one ticket for myself. That was before the Orlando shooting.
The signs of love and support for Orlando, the tributes, and the moment of silence; these were all deeply moving. For me the most memorable was the singing of the national anthem by the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus. We all stood and sung along.
Which brings me to the first baseball game I ever attended. I was living in San Diego and attended a Padres game with my some friends. As young radicals, we took it all quite casually, smoking joints in the upper stands and sitting through the prerecorded national anthem being played by some generic orchestra. We laughed at the crowds below us, standing robotically to honor a country we believed did not deserve such honor. This was the country that gave us Jim Crow laws, Watergate, and the debacle of the Vietnam war. We did not care if we were seen as spoiled, selfist brats who refused to serve in the military. We did not see the United States of America as a country worth standing up for.
Michelle Obama received a fair amount of heat in the 2008 campaign when she said, “For the first time in my adult life, I am really proud of my country…” She was immediately attacked as unpatriotic, for not loving this country enough, for not joining in the chorus of those who robotically stand up for the national anthem, not placing a hand on the heart the right way during the pledge of allegiance, etc.
I understood what Ms. Obama meant. She grew up in a different world than those those who called her unpatriotic. She has seen the America of Jim Crow, first hand. She grew up in that America of Watergate and Vietnam. Now she was seeing a new America and the work that was paying off. This is the America of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This is the America of annual LGBT Pride parades created in response to the Stonewall riots. This is the America that comes together and supports each other after tragedies in places like Orlando, Boston, Tucson, Atlanta, and Sandy Hook. That was what I was feeling when I stood and sang the national anthem at the Oakland Coliseum. I have found that pride in my country.
We are still a country with a history of Jim Crow, Watergate, and Vietnam. We are also a country intent on fulfilling the ideals and goals we set for ourselves with our constitution. Our pride comes through the work we do to make our country one we can be proud of.
Some other thoughts
On Sunday night, I joined those gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza in San Francisco for a candlelight vigil and march to City Hall. Being at Milk Plaza reminded me that Orlando was not the first time that hatred of gay people ended with a life being taken by a gun. Nor will it be the last. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was off to the side, rehearsing “We Shall Overcome”. I started to cry. I cried again as the chorus performed at the vigil. Again, we stood and sang along. We sang Holly Near’s “Singing for Our Lives”, reminded that the song comes to us from the first march after the murder of Harvey Milk and George Moscone.
My thoughts turned to a word I have been thinking a lot about this year. That word is gratitude. In this tragedy, our community was coming together and sharing its gifts with each other. The Gay Men’s chorus was sharing the best gifts it could offer, their voices and their songs. Sharing these gifts helps our community to get through these tragedies and find strength to continue.
My last thought is about one victim from last weekend in Orlando. As far as I know, she wasn’t gay or Latina. She wasn’t even shot and killed on the morning of June 12. Her death occurred the morning before. Christina Grimmie was a singer, described as a Christian on her Wikipedia page. I did not know her. I was saddened to read the news that this rising, 22 year old singer was brutally killed by someone who drove from St. Petersburg with the intent of ending her life. She had been signing autographs for fans after a concert. We will never know what really motivated her killer. Like the shooter at the Pulse nightclub, the killer is dead, his thoughts and motivations dying with him.
Within 24 hours, her tragic story was replaced by another. That is not new. Each horrendous killing happens, one after another. We quickly forget the previous tragedy as the new one attracts our attention. It should remind us that the thread that connects all of these events is the easy access to guns. It is time to reject the notion that we can’t do anything about it. We can, and we must. People who have a history of violence should not have access guns, especially ones designed for war, not self defense. We need a change of laws and a change of attitudes. If we see something, we need to say something.
How many times have we read that a shooter had shown violent behavior in the past? How many have revealed their rage and hatred on social media? The shooter of Gabby Giffords had frightened his college classmates. None spoke to police about his potential access to guns. The Santa Barbara shooter openly showed his hatred of women who rejected him. His parents even called the police to check up on him. If the responding officers had taken a few more steps into his apartment, they would have found his arsenal. It is time to end the silence. Speaking up will save lives.
On Sunday, May 22, a group of Quakers of Strawberry Creek Meeting in Berkeley celebrated Bike Month by bicycling to our meeting room. The week of May 22 to 29 was also celebrated as Bike to Worship Week by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
We started at North Berkeley BART Station, pedaling a short distance along the Ohlone Greenway to where it connects to California Street. We then rode California to Channing Way, Channing to Milvia, then Milvia to Derby, where we completed our travel to 2701 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. California, Channing, and Milvia are three of Berkeley’s bicycle boulevards.
Leaving North Berkeley BART, from left: Henri Ducharme, Laura Magnani, Jay Cash, Marian Yu, Beth Rodman, Paul McCold, and Tom Yamaguchi
Arriving at Strawberry Creek Meeting, we were joined by Josh Gallup and Deborah Marks.
The following Sunday, May 29, we walked to meeting. This time we started at the downtown Berkeley BART station. Again, we walked down Milvia Street and right onto Derby. The last two blocks we walked in silence.
Leaving downtown Berkeley BART station. From left: Phyllis Malandra, Beth Rodman, Jay Cash, Paul McCold, and Charlie Lenk. On route, we were joined by Lisa Hubbell (on scooter) and Barbara Birch, who walked up from Emeryville. I took the picture with my iPhone and walked with my bicycle.
Thanks to Jay Cash for helping to organize, as well as bringing bagels, donuts, bike bags, bike stickers, maps, other printed material, and other biking and walking goodies; all given away after meeting.
Leap days have a special meaning for me. It was on Leap Day in 1980 when I moved from San Diego to the San Francisco Bay Area. That was 36 years ago or 9 Leap Years ago. As I enter my 66th year of life, I am amazed that I have spent over half of them here in Berkeley.
I was married then with a four-year-old daughter. Life in the progressive town of Ocean Beach had been exciting,but my wife Melissa and I were beginning to feel claustrophobic.What little culture we had then was mostly within those small town limits. We had the Strand Theater for movies, OB People’s Food for grocery shopping, and house party fundraisers for various political causes. That was a good thing, too, as Proposition 13 had decimated the local bus system. The bus to Ocean Beach stopped running at 8:30 pm, so we could forget going downtown for nighttime events.
Transportation was becoming a major focus of my political activism. The first gas shortage caught me dependent on a car to get to work. I switched to a job that allowed me to commute by bike. It was a long commute, but the ride got me into excellent physical shape. It was that love of cycling that brought me to friendship with Bob Berry, a former a native of OB who had moved to Berkeley to attend UC. Bob was living without a car. When we met, he told me of his commute to work at a freight airline based at SFO. Working graveyard shift, Bob took his bike on BART to Daly City station, which was then at the end of the San Francisco line. He then biked to SFO. The next morning, he loaded his bike on one of the airline’s DC3s, flying from SFO to Oakland airport. Then he would ride to the Coliseum BART station. If he got there early enough, that is before morning commute hours, he would be able to take his bike on BART. If not, he would have to ride back to Berkeley by bike.
After several visits to see Bob in Berkeley, we decided that Berkeley was the place for us. At the end of 1979, I had finished a full time job which was my first as a political organizer. Bill Press had left Governor Jerry Brown’s administration after failing to get the legislature to pass an oil profits tax that would fund public transit and alternative fuel research. When I read that Press was trying to qualify the tax as a ballot initiative, I signed on as a signature gatherer. The Tax Big Oil initiative did get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, though it failed to pass in the following election. The experience did succeed in firing me up to engage in more bike and transit activism. I was ready for Berkeley.
So it was on the early morning of February, 29, 1980, that we loaded up our small pickup truck and drove all day. We arrived in the Bay Area that evening. My daughter Dharma later told me that she did not know we were actually moving to a new home. She thought we were going to her grandparents house and was confused when we passed the exit and kept going.
When we got to Bay Area, Bob took us on a quick cultural tour. First stop was the house where Patty Heart was kidnapped on Benvenue Avenue. We then drove to a house on the north side of the Cal campus, where Bob had heard about a party. When we got there we found that the house was owned by Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Realizing we had ended up at a Moonie party, we left quickly.
Our first home was an apartment in North Oakland. Bob had a friend who was moving out and still had one last month of paid rent. We used up her last month’s rent, hoping that we would be able to stay. That was not to be. We ended up living with Bob in his basement apartment in a South Berkeley Victorian. Space became available in the flat above Bob, and we were able to move out of the cramped basement.
Our roots in the Bay Area became more secure when I was able to find a job in Point Richmond. I was once again a bike commuter. The following year, we bought the house where I am stilling living today. On Leap Day of 1980, I took a leap of faith and am glad I did.
There has been a lot of commotion about the filing of an initiative in California that calls for killing LGBT people and imprisoning their allies.With $200, Huntington Beach attorney Matt McLaughlin filed the Sodomite Suppression Act, which calls for gays to be shot or killed by some other “convenient method.” Lawyers have pointed out a number of ways the proposed law violates the state and federal constitutions. There have been calls to have Mr. McLaughlin disbarred. Attorney General Kamala Harris has asked the state Supreme Court to relieve her of her duties to prepare a summary and title for the initiative that would have to happen before supporters can print copies of the petition and gather signatures. Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom has blasted out an email expressing his outrage, and by the way, reminds us he is running for governor. While I am happy to have their support, I disagree with Harris’ and Newsom’s efforts. How do I feel about the circulation of the Shoot the Gays petition? I say, “Bring it on!”
I would like to see the folks behind the initiative get their chance to gather the 365,880 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The first thing I would do is send a request to Mr. McLaughlin to send me 100 copies. If each copy has space for 10 signatures on a page, I am sure he would be eager to get those 1,000 signatures from me. Then, with petitions in hand, I will head straight to 18th and Castro in San Francisco and set up a table. There, I will invite the voters of California to write on the petitions exactly what they think of Mr. McLaughlin and his Sodomite Suppression Act. Being a believer in free speech, I promise not to censor any of the responses. I will send those “completed” petitions back to Mr. McLaughlin and, of course, ask for another 100 copies.
Even if the Sodomite Suppression Act sees the light of day on the streets of California, I doubt seriously it would becoming to a street corner near me. It takes a lot of money to circulate a petition and usually depends on paid signature gatherers. Initiative backers focus their efforts in places where those efforts will pay off with the most signatures. The plastics industry recently qualified a referendum to overturn the state’s plastic bag ban. I don’t know how many signatures they gathered in the Bay Area, but I did not see any signature gatherers here. I am sure a vast majority of those signatures were obtained from central California and other conservative parts of the state.
When Proposition 8 took away marriage rights from same sex couples, people began to question whether the initiative should be abolished. That was not the first time the California ballot has been used to take away rights. In the November 1964 election, a majority of voters overturned the Rumford Fair Housing Act that had been approved by the legislature and approved a proposition financed by theater owners to ban pay television. As with Prop 8, those propositions were invalidated by the courts.
We learned in history class that the ballot reforms of initiative, referendum, and recall are gifts of the Progressive movement. Progressives were alarmed about the power of the railroads and other big business interests to control the state government and act against the best interests of the people. Through initiatives, people can act when the legislature is inactive. Referendums can repeal unpopular laws enacted by the legislature. Recalls can remove elected officials when the people realize they made a mistake electing them in the first place.
Of the three, the recall has been used the least. The 2003 Gray Davis recall gave the state a ballot with 135 candidates for governor that included a former child actor and a porn actress. As with Prop 8, critics have cited that recall as an example of a dysfunctional process. However, the recall still has a reason to exist. It was an active recall campaign that convinced Bob Filner to resign as mayor of San Diego after being charged with sexual misconduct. While he could have been removed by impeachment, a lengthy trial process would have deprived San Diego of an effective, full time mayor. It should not be easy to recall a public official, but it a tool that should be available when needed.
The initiative process can and should be reformed. One method suggested by a friend is to require that a certain percentage of signatures come from every California county. That means the Shoot the Gays supporters would have to collect signatures from San Francisco and Los Angeles. If most of their signatures came from Kern County and very few from San Francisco, they will fail to make the ballot.
There is one easy way to keep bad propositions off the ballot. When someone approaches you to sign a petition, don’t sign it unless you really understand what the initiative would do and you really want to see it on your ballot. Many initiatives are deceptive and signature gatherers will not tell you what you are really signing, many times because they don’t know themselves. Besides, the time they spend explaining it is less time they have to gather more signatures. To make you feel better, they’ll say, “Just sign it and get it on the ballot. You can still vote against in the election” They assure you that your signature will not count as an endorsement. Of course, when the backers file their petitions with the state, they will boast that all of those signatures show how much support they have.
Many times we sign because we know the gatherer is being paid for each signature. Petitioning has become a creative spare change scheme, a way of giving to a poor person without that change coming from your own pocket. Unfortunately, the money financing the initiative campaign is coming from special interests that are probably working against your interests and the interests of the person asking for your signature. It may be difficult to say no, but there are better ways to give people employment.
Finally, you can keep a lot of petitions off the ballot by doing one simple thing—vote. The number of signatures required to qualify an initiative is based on a percentage of the people who voted in the last general election The more people who vote in a general election, the more signatures the campaigns have to get, and they have go get them within a 3-month time period.
Some of the most satisfying political work I have done involved collecting signatures to get propositions on ballots, both state and local.Sometimes I was paid, and sometimes it was strictly volunteer. When I was paid, it wasn’t much. Sometimes, the campaign was successful, and other times, we fell short. In every case, it was an issue that was really important to me. Even in those losing campaigns, it was an opportunity to meet voters directly and discuss issues they probably would not have considered. I don’t want to abolish the ballot initiative. I want to return it to be what the Progressives intended it to be; a tool to make democracies even more democratic. The judicial branch would continue to protect minorities from being denied their rights, such as Prop 8 or repeal of the Rumford Act. California will certainly survive such silliness as “Shoot the Gays.”
I haven’t blogged in a number of months. I will try to correct that for 2016. I want to share the email I sent earlier to California State Senator Carol Liu, who has introduced a bill to require all adult bicyclists in the state to wear a helmet. Current law requires helmets on children riding bicycles. The bicycling community is divided on the issue.
This is my message to Senator Liu.
Dear Senator Carol Liu:
As a bicyclist, I support your bill, SB 192, to require the wearing of helmets. This is a safety issue that is as important as laws requiring car occupants to wear seat belts. I am disappointed that bicycle advocacy groups that I support would oppose a helmet law. I understand the fear that such a law would send the wrong message on the safety of bike riding. I know because people always express concern for my safety when I tell I am a cyclist. They regard bicycling as too dangerous to do themselves. They scoff when I tell them I have had only a few minor accidents and know more people seriously injured in cars than on bikes. A few of those injured in car accidents had previously expressed concern for my safety on a bike.
There are better ways to convince people that bike riding is safe and to encourage more people to ride. While most accidents between cars and bikes are the fault of the driver, too many accidents occur because of reckless bike riding and many can be prevented if riders adopt defensive driving techniques. Better road design and separated bike lanes can make conditions safer for riders, encouraging more people to take to two wheels on our state’s streets.
A half a century ago, car manufacturers were fighting seat belt laws. They did not want to advertise car safety for fear consumers would steer away from their products. They cited the experience of Ford a decade before, which tried to market its cars as being safer and then suffered by low car sales. Ford gave up on that marketing and went back to selling their models as sex and status symbols. Yet, my parents got the message when they had seat-belts installed in their car years before seat belt laws. They valued the importance of keeping their children safe. I adopted those values as I grew into adulthood. One time, I got into a coworker’s car and immediately buckled my seat belt. She expressed how odd it was to drive in a state where you can get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt. She thought my behavior was being guided only by the fear of a ticket.
When I rediscovered bike riding during the first gas shortage in 1973, I learned the importance of wearing a helmet. It has become natural for me to strap on my helmet before starting my ride. Now that I have learned about climate change, I am even more motivated to ride and encourage more people to ride, as well. I want people to ride and feel safe as they ride. I want them to get on bikes to improve their health with regular physical activity. I want them to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. There are laws requiring bicycles to have adequate reflectors and lights at night. We can do more to improve the safety of riding with improvements to bike infrastructure. We can provide better training for riders. I am sure you support those efforts, as well. California bicyclists should support your efforts to improve safety by requiring riders to wear helmets.
Confession time. I am an unrepentant people watcher. I love watching people: all sizes, all shapes, all sexes, all ages, all colors. I love watching all people, even the proverbial green and blue people. I haven’t seen any blue or green people yet, but if I see any I’ll let you know.
It doesn’t matter if I find the person sexually attractive. In a way, I find all people in a crowd attractive. If they are dancing or walking or running or rolling in wheelchairs or just standing, I like to watch. There is only one thing they have to have in common; they have to be having fun. A smile makes anyone beautiful. People experiencing joy is a beautiful sight to see.
A street fair with food, drink, and live music; a concert or picnic in the park; these are great places to engage in people watching. I know people who say they hate crowds. For me, the more people to watch the better. If I ever go blind, I know that I will find a way to continue to watch people. My only condition for survival in a crowd is access to adequate restrooms. Long lines for the porta-potty is not good when you really have to go. With a clean place to pee when I need it, I am fine. I sit back and watch the passing parade. Or maybe I get up and join the parade.
Of course, I enjoy natural environments, as well, taking the opportunity to escape city life and be in nature, far removed from the civilized environment. I can worship in the cathedral of redwoods, as John Muir once did, or walk along a path far away from roads and parking lots. I found that it doesn’t take far to get to the place where you see no people at all. You just have go go far enough from the nearest parking lot.
For me, the country is a place to escape, to find rest and solitude. The city is a place to live. I negotiate my space with others on a daily basis. I try to mind my manners and share space in the urban environment. I work at acting civilized. I may not always succeed, but I continually try.
Yes, I am a people watcher, and I expect to be one for the rest of my life. If we meet on the street and our eyes connect, my eyes will be saying to yours, “Happy to see you, friend.”
I just ran across a pro nuclear power book from the 1970s called The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear. The title page of this old paperback displays the word Not in red so that we cannot possible mistake the title’s message and meaning. Originally, published in 1976, this updated edition is from 1979, so it includes the Three Mile Island accident. There is an introduction by Edward Teller.
Author Dr. Petr Beckmann, now deceased, really knew his stuff about the safety issues involving nuclear power. In addition to the book, he published a regular newsletter called Access to Energy. That newsletter continues decades after his death, http://www.accesstoenergy.com. The book addresses all the concerns raised by the antinuclear movement, including health risks from radiation exposure, waste storage, nuclear proliferation, and reactor accidents. It does this with well documented facts, geared to the average reader. You do not need a science degree to understand his arguments, even as he goes into some quite technical detail.
Beckmann is clear that he has no love for folks like Ralph Nader, Barry Commoner, and David Brower, as he pulls apart their arguments and exposes their illogic. In his 1979 update, he poses to himself the question if Three Mile Island would change any part of his book. His response, “Not a word.”
In the three decades since Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, Beckman’s book and pro nuclear arguments still stand. They have been restated in books by Stewart Brand (The Whole Earth Discipline) and Gwyneth Cravens (Power to Save the World). These environmentalists now realize that they were wrong about nuclear power and Beckmann was right. (See also the documentary Pandora’s Promise.)
Beckmann’s focus is on the health impacts of nuclear, in contrast to coal and other fossil fuels. The health impacts of radiation exposure are minuscule compared to those from air pollution created by burning fossil fuels. In addition, the dangers of coal mining far outweigh the risks of mining and refining uranium.
Being the late seventies when he wrote it, there is less than one page about carbon emissions and climate change. On page 175, Beckman refers to it as the “greenhouse theory.” He acknowledges that the theory may one day prove true and that some pronuclear advocates were advancing it in their arguments. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough evidence at that time that Beckmann found convincing.
What struck me as I read through Beckmann’s criticism of antinuclear activists is the similarity with today’s climate change deniers. Beckmann was right, our arguments were based on emotion and not on science. We listened to what we wanted to hear and refused to accept any information that contradicted our preconceived world view. We were the climate deniers of the late twentieth century.
Unfortunately, Beckmann goes off the rails when he tries to explain the motivations of the antinuclear movement with the chapter titled Why. His libertarian politics actually start to show when he argues against Environmental Protection Agency regulations. In Why, he rants against activists with little or no data to back him up. He quotes conservative commentators like Irving Kristol. He even engages in red baiting, although backs away from actually calling antinuclear activists communists.
This is not to say that his comments are not entirely without validity. The fringe left of the antinuclear movement do have an anti capitalist and anti corporate agenda. They were a major force in the demonstrations inSeattle during the World Trade Organization meeting and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Of course, those political actions contained a wide spectrum of people, many of whom do not share that “Smash the State” agenda.
Maybe, there are other possible explanations for the rise of the antinuclear movement and why that movement may be currently on the decline.If there is any movement left, Fukushima is keeping it alive. Back in the late twentieth century there arose a backlash against science and technology. This is where we got the bumper sticker Question Authority. Vietnam and Watergate gave us good reason to distrust the authority of government. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which passed 50 years ago this month, was based on a sea battle that did not happen. A government had lied to get us into war. The space program was seen as an instrument of American military power, even though it was civilian based with completely peaceful objectives. The landing on the moon was viewed as another battle in the cold war. Our only objective was to beat the Soviet Union in getting there first. It didn’t help that tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States increased during the Reagan years, heightening the threat of nuclear war. The linking by activists of nuclear power plants and nuclear bombs further fueled the anti technology backlash.
Modern environmentalism rose as a backlash to the excesses of science and technology. There was spiritual aspect to the rise of this movement. The Hippies advocated going Back to the Land, seeking out a simpler life that reconnected to nature. That search for meaning in the context of nature began to resonate with the larger, twentieth century culture. More people returned to religion to find meaning for their lives after failing to find in it in the excesses of materialism and technology.
Then, there could be other explanations that have less to do with politics and more with biology. We humans are not always the rational and objective beings we believe we are. We use our brains to make sense of a complex world and try to do it with the simplest explanations we can find. To do this, we create world views to make sense of all the data that is reaching our brains, Many times, we filter out data that conflicts with that view. We tend to accept what we wish to be true and reject what doesn’t fit with our biases.
In addition, we are not very good at evaluating risk. Many times we act emotionally, especially when we are afraid. When our fight or flight instinct takes control of our brains, our logical reasoning process shuts down. Fear is a strong motivator, and we are strongly motivated by the fear of radiation, cancer, and the atomic bomb.
The good news is that millennials have not shared in much of the technophobia that guided baby boomers for the past few decades. Even many of us older folks have warmed up to technology with our acceptance of personal computers and the Internet. Yes, we are still a bit nervous about Big Brother and the loss of privacy, but that has not stopped us from sharing on Facebook or sending very non secure emails to each other. Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates helped change our attitudes about science and technology by placing that technology in our hands. Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Star Trek, and the Big Bang Theory have helped to make science and scientists look cool. Instead of complaining about the cost of sending people to the moon, we mourn now that we left the moon and never returned. We cheer the rovers sending back photos of Mars.
Now it is the acceptance of science and technology that alerts us to the urgency of climate change, which brings us to the final irony of Beckmann’s legacy. The newsletter he originally published in Boulder, CO now originates from Cave Junction, OR. While Beckmann did not take a position on global warming, the new publisher Art Robinson has. He is in the denial camp. His website links to a petition to reject the Kyoto Protocol, stating, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” The first signer shown on http://www.petitionproject.org is the late Edward Teller.
Scientists are people and make mistakes like other people. They have biases and blind spots as other people do. That should not cause us to suspect the validity of science. Better than I can say it, I refer to Dr. Stuart Jordan, writing for the Skeptical Inquirer in 2007:
“Most people understand that science is a process for seeking the truth about how the natural order works. It is the process itself, not the results of applying it, that lies at the heart of science. Fewer people may realize that this process virtually guarantees the integrity of science in the long run even if individual scientists make mistakes, as all occasionally do, or if a (very) rare individual is actually dishonest and falsifies data. This guaranty results not from any intrinsic moral superiority of scientists themselves, but from the fact that research examined by scientific colleagues in the most prestigious medium, the refereed publications, is quickly subjected to ruthless examination for any errors. Those who detect an error often gain as much credit for their scrutiny as those whose work survives it. Scientists who deliberately avoid this scrutiny by publishing their work in less respected media are understandably and properly given less credence for their efforts.”
A scientific debate should not be a political debate. Unfortunately, the debate on climate change has been caught in politics. Liberals accept that humans are the cause of global warming, while conservatives deny it. Liberals are correct to tell conservatives to listen to scientists on climate change. However, liberals need to listen to scientists, as well, about nuclear power.
I’ve been a bicycle advocate for a long time now, even before I knew about global warming. I started during the first gas shortage in the early seventies. I bought a ten-speed bike and committed myself to finding a job that did not require me to drive to work. Learning how to ride again as an adult showed me how much out of shape I was. Fortunately, I was still young and, through persistence, was able to attain that goal. By the late seventies, I was riding almost 10 miles one way from my home in Ocean Beach in San Diego to my job in Kearny Mesa, much of it uphill. When I moved to the Bay Area, I was able to maintain that commitment to bicycle commuting, first from Berkeley to Point Richmond and later to jobs within Berkeley. I still ride to work today. In addition, I have made a new commitment to never own another car for the rest of my life. I sold my pickup truck a few years after moving to Berkeley.
Today, if I need a car, I use City CarShare. Most of the time, I can get around on bike and public transit. I am much happier that way. I don’t envy those who are stuck in their cars on crowded freeways. People express fear for my safety on a bike, but I feel much safer than in a car. I have more visibility on a bike, especially when I’m riding in the rain. I usually ride on residential streets where there is less traffic. Yes, I’ve had a few accidents. Fortunately, the injuries have been minor. I know more people who have gotten more messed up in car accidents than by bikes. The exercise I get on a bike keeps me healthy, both physically and mentally. I call it bicycle therapy, and I am thankful to be able to do it every day.
Sitting in long gas lines during the first gas crisis got me realizing the damage that car culture was doing to the environment and society. Our dependence on cars had led to suburban sprawl. Those who could afford to own cars were able to move out of cities. Jobs followed with them. The poor left behind in the cities were stuck with underfunded public transit systems. Without cars, good jobs and housing were out of their reach.
Today, we see a rebirth of our cities. Cars, freeways, and suburbs have lost their charm. I see more people getting on bikes and have more bike lanes to accommodate them. Public transit has improved as ridership has increased. The challenge now is allow more growth in cities without forcing poor people out through gentrification.
Global warming continues to be a challenge, too. Bicycles alone won’t solve the problem, but bicycles can help a lot. A lot more people could ride that are not riding now. They would ride if they felt safe on the road with other traffic. They would ride if the places they want or need to go are close enough to get to by bike. And they would ride if they realized how fun it is, as well as being a lot cheaper for getting exercise than a yearly gym membership. I would still be a bike advocate, even if there was no global warming. Global warming adds another reason to the list.
This Thursday will be the twentieth annual Bike to Work Day in the Bay Area. I will celebrate by volunteering at the North Berkeley BART station. Maybe, we’ll see you there, 7:00 am to 9:00 am. Have a happy Bike Month.
On Earth Day of 2012 I decided to tweet at least once per day on the issue of climate change. I committed myself to do that until the November election. I was able to keep that commitment, though I did include retweets in that count. My decision was based on the concern that climate change was again being ignored by the candidates and the media. Questions about the climate crisis were being left out of debates. I wanted to do something that would start that conversation on the climate and hoped that people who read my climate tweets would bring these questions directly to the candidates who were asking for their votes. I have no illusions that it made much of a difference, but it was still worth doing. At least, it was better than doing nothing. That is why I am doing it again.
It is Earth Day again on another election year. Activists are concerned about the potential turnout for the November election. The Democratic Party’s hopes for regaining the House are fading, and they face the real possibility of losing the Senate. For people concerned about the climate, this is very troubling. Democrats have been willing to address the issue, while Republicans have been in denial that humans are responsible for global warming. Republicans want to focus on repealing Obamacare and cutting government spending. Democrats are nervous about advocating anything that looks like a tax increase. The most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate are from conservative states that rely on fossil fuels for their economy, such as Alaska and Louisiana. The prospect of passing meaningful legislation does not look good for the near future.
Meanwhile, the media continues to focus who will be running for president in 2016. The speculation started as soon as the 2012 election was over. If stories on Benghazi and the closing of the George Washington Bridge have received so much press attention, it is because of their connection to potential presidential candidates. It becomes too easy to forget there is a national election this year with every House seat and one third of the Senate seats on the ballot. The winners of those races will be determining what legislation gets passed or doesn’t get passed during the next two years.
Climate legislation is caught up in the current polarization of our political parties. Once upon a time, we had liberal and moderate wings in both parties. Today, we are dependent on super majorities for one party to get any legislation passed, being unable to receive even one vote from the minority party. As we celebrate passage of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, we are reminded that it took both Democrats and Republicans to get that bill to Lyndon Johnson’s desk. Conservative Democrats in the South wouldn’t support it, so it passed with the support of liberal and moderate Republicans.
When Earth Day was created in 1970, it was celebrated by both Republicans and Democrats. Can we get that bipartisan support for climate legislation today? I believe we can if there is enough of us willing to do something, anything to focus the attention of both the candidates and the media. So starting today, I will be tweeting at least once per pay for the climate. I invite everyone reading this to tweet, as well. If you are really inspired, you can join a group of concerned activists on the Climate March. They started in Long Beach on March 1 and expect to reach Washington, DC in November. Along the way, they are talking to anyone they can about our need to reduce carbon emissions. Right now, they are in Arizona, headed to the New Mexico border. You can follow them on Twitter @ClimateMarch and visit them at climatemarch.org.
The most important part is getting people to vote. Find candidates who are willing to address the climate issue. Support those candidates with your dollars and your vote. Get the word out to everyone you know that their votes count and make sure they show up at the polls in November. I plan to use the hashtag #climatetweet. I don’t know if we can get that to trend on Twitter, but we can try.
Happy Earth Day