Why Participate?

By

I was struggling with how to make this a local article when it dawned on me: my kids. Like most kids in school these days, my kids have been given a lot of material on climate change by Bellingham Public Schools. Being a person who doesn’t believe in just talking about issues but wants to actually do something about them, my kids and I have been going out into the community working on a variety of environmental projects. We’ve also changed our lifestyle to reduce our impact and I work in the field of fiber, which is the most energy efficient communications medium. 

While watching videos, reading articles, and working on projects about climate change, my kids have started asking, “Are we going to die? Will we have clean water to drink? Why is it forecast to be the hottest year on record, didn’t they say that last year?” And if I’m honest with them, I’d have to say I don’t know if things are going to get better. I’d have to acknowledge there is a lot of talk but only small, occasional victories because there are no systemic actions to hold the biggest offenders responsible. But because my kids are young, I usually say, “Someone will think of something.” The truth is, we have thought of lots of new practices and technologies that we’re just not adopting. Further, we keep electing officials who say they’ll do something, but once in office, they don’t.

Before I go on, I should acknowledge that we are all responsible for climate change, we can all do more, and we need to talk about this issue now, whether or not it makes the large abusers bristle.

Recently, after going through content the schools provided, my kids made a list of climate-action items. I was proud of them for not only doing the work, but proposing and taking action. Their suggestions included: renting or sharing big trucks, not owning multiple homes, eating lower on the food chain, using sailboats instead of motorized, turning the thermostat down, driving less and driving smaller vehicles, and restricting international travel for five years. (The Biden administration is working on high speed rail and since France already has it, they have banned all flights under 2.5 hours). There are many reasonable suggestions available.  

I sent their list to friends and family but accidentally included a family member who is a climate change denier. He took the list personally, called me in a rage, and said he would not stop any of the things he was doing, much less apologize for them (we never actually asked for an apology). He used the F-word quite a bit during his rant and ridiculed me for having a hybrid car and riding a bicycle. It was just a well researched list my kids had made, but apparently this is a real flash-point for some people. That’s when I had a revelation. 

Wealthy people who live an ultra-wasteful lifestyle, have an almost scripted defense when trying to justify themselves. In reality, they know their cup is already overfull. When it’s a family member, I usually let them drone on in the background while I do something else, like make dinner. In one ironic encounter, a relative was denying climate change while I installed a new solar cell in a yard light. I am often reminded of a lyric from the Temple of the Dog song, “Hunger Strike:” “But I can't feed on the powerless when my cup's already overfilled.” I often wonder why people aren’t thankful for the many wonderful things in their lives. Why they aren’t thankful enough to recognize their gifts and give back? Is a wasteful lifestyle really a hallmark of the top ten percent of the country or am I being pessimistic? Isn’t the stance they take with the other 90% when we have a problem one of, “Be thankful for what you have.” Well, why aren’t they?

They also often assume I’m jealous, when the truth is I just don’t want my kids to starve. Throughout history, there has always been a class that considers itself better than the rest and is not thankful for what they have. To this group, you, my family, and I are part of a cannon fodder class. They consider themselves superior even though the system that provides their wealth is a fabricated illusion. We are not supposed to challenge our “betters” for their behavior, even indirectly, or ever hold them accountable. If we do, we’re supposed to apologize. Well, I don’t know about you, but I think I’m done apologizing.  

I recall an article illustrating that Americans are the most wasteful people in the world, and yes, I’m an American so that includes me. Americans consume far more resources than anyone else and wealthy Americans generally consume even more than average Americans. In fact, the world’s wealthiest 16 percent consume 80% of the world’s resources. So, in short, they are the problem! Yes, we can all do more, but as the band RUSH reminds us, “The men who hold high places, must be the ones who start to mold a new reality closer to the heart.” So yes, perhaps they could consider a vacation to the San Juans instead of Tahiti. I hear the mansions in the San Juans can be staffed with underpaid servants just as easily as a resort home in Brazil. Why not keep the big parties and oppression local for a change?  

Locally, we say we care about the climate, and some of us do, but our government has been slow to respond with real action, half-assing or not acting on most of the recommendations the Climate Action Task Force put forward, even including mega-polluter PSE on the CATF. In broadband, as I’ve written about many times before, the City of Bellingham knows that fiber optics are the most energy efficient communication medium, yet the city still refuses to Open Access its existing network or establish a Dig Once Policy. The schools don’t own a single electric bus, even though they require less maintenance and can easily do most of the routes. And still they insist on keeping and expanding their bus barn on top of a sensitive salmon bearing stream. Why? Wealthy administrators simply don’t care what the pesky cannon fodder class wants and they won’t consider alternatives and they won’t apologize. I mean, it’s not like our mayor is doing much, so why should any local citizens?

Basically, we want them to think but that makes their brains hurt. So instead of thinking, they demonize people like my kids for wanting to clean up the environment. Or rather, for trying to make them take some responsibility for their large role in its destruction. Remember, as comedian George Carlin reminds us, “The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are! Well, we are going away. Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away and we won’t leave much trace, either, maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet’ll still be here but we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet’ll shake us off like a bad case of fleas.” We need to maintain the planet so it can support us. It doesn’t have much to lose by not having humans around…but as a human, I’d like to remain, along with a lot of other people.

The COVID pandemic has caused many of my colleagues and neighbors to go on unemployment, to be on the brink of losing their homes, and be eating free school meals. (Thanks to the schools for these meals, by the way.) In fact, with 211,000 Washingtonians behind on rent and mortgage payments some legislators are still actively working on lifting the evictions moratorium. On top of all of this, contrary to what the COB and developers are telling you, we have no affordable housing, property taxes keep going up, and we have no plans to address this anytime soon. Quite the contrary, we are building totally unaffordable housing instead. 

Yet this family member declares they will not even consider cutting back on their many international trips and they have added yet another giant truck to their fleet of gigantic vehicles even though I know their neighbors are more than willing to loan them vehicles for their occasional needs. I realize most of these big vehicles have a purpose, but they belong in rental fleets or as ride-shares when their specific abilities are truly called for, not as daily drivers. 

Still, they continue to rationalize. No logical argument, statistic or number can sway them. You see, while the rest of us have suffered during the pandemic, and future generations will suffer for our current obscene energy usage, they “won’t apologize, won’t stop even for a short period of time, and fuck you Jon Humphrey, your family, and the rest of the cannon fodder class.” The funny thing is, no one asked them for an apology. We just suggested that maybe, maybe, they could stop running rough shod over the environment every single chance they get. You know, just for a change. Maybe instead of traveling internationally as many times a year as possible, they could do it less often, and maybe they could limit worker exploitation to this country instead of globally for say five years while we build major high-speed rail systems and move to fiber-optics so we can reduce the need for physical trips all together. That’s all we’re asking for. For the wealthy to consider taking their yoga retreat in Northern California, about 914 miles away instead of in Panama about 5,000 miles away. At least until these new systems can be put in place. 

Personally, after seeing how distressed the current climate change crisis has made my kids, I have decided to make many other changes. For example, I am not going to go back to Ireland anytime soon. Adding more miles than I drive in an entire year to my climate footprint just so I can drink beer with my buddies in Gallway City is not ok. I am an adult, with responsibilities, and no responsibility is higher than the one I have to my family. So I will do what adults are supposed to do. I will make a logical decision and protect our children the best that I can. It would be nice if the top 10% could grow up and join me in this endeavor too.  

So a lot of us are asking ourselves why we should participate in a culture that supports this plutocracy and a class of people that behaves in this manner? There is a better way. The wealthy can afford the newer, cleaner tech. Some of them already do. Airlines in France are upgrading to the 787, which gets 20% better fuel efficiency than the 767 and much better than many older aircraft, because apparently wealthy French people can’t bear to tell children, “Up yours, we’re stealing your future.” Unfortunately, airlines in the U.S. are still mostly refusing to do so. Why? Because they don’t care. 

Remember that these corporations are doing exactly what they are programmed to do, because if the corporation were a person it would be a sociopath. So they steal from younger generations and shove the responsibility of keeping the planet a habitable place onto millennials and younger generations. The most efficient plane trip is the one you don’t take, because planes are a huge direct contributor to global warming. Most domestic routes could easily be replaced by high speed rail. This would already be reality if we hadn’t allowed special interests like the airlines, big oil, and the automotive industry to destroy our rail networks long ago.  

So, after viewing the climate action videos our schools recommend, our kids ask, “Are we going to be ok?” The wealthy say, “Who knows, who cares? I won’t stop gobbling resources even for a little while, and I won’t apologize, kid. I’m going to band my United-American-Delta-Airline together and put them up your planet! And I don’t care how you feel about it cause money and luxury are more important to me than you are!” 

So if you wonder why younger generations are angry, why they want to tear down the current system and build a new one, why they don’t see the point of participation in this culture, why they reject most of our culture’s “values” (whatever “values” means to a culture of self-annihilation and perpetual warfare), please remember my recent conversation when, because my kids produced a reasonable climate action plan, I received a call from one of the top 10% telling me “I won’t apologize, I won’t stop, I won’t change. How dare you even suggest it? In fact, we’re getting ready to consume even more! Oh, and fuck you, your environmentalist friends, and your family!” 

Which in this case happens to be their family, too. Do people even think before they open their mouths, or did Rush Limbaugh give climate change deniers permission to just make up whatever information they wanted during his reign of terror? I know where I’m going to put his “presidential medal of freedom” when I see him in hell. 

So let me just pause and make a short list of all of the things my generation and younger are supposed to fix: solve global warming, healthcare, education, the cost of necessities, housing, broadband, the economy, keep us from getting into another unnecessary war, somehow produce food in acidic oceans and poor soil, stop police brutality, end racism, assure all Americans have Maslow’s hierarchy addressed in their lives… That seems like enough for now. No problem, we’ll get right on it after getting home from the two to three inadequate-wage, no-benefits jobs that many of the people I know are working so we can pay for new, unaffordable, waterfront housing, etc. Of course, we could create lots of clean, next-generation jobs with a public fiber network, but the COB is too afraid to hold our wealthy public works and IT directors accountable, so I guess we’ll just keep waiting on that. 

I think the response of all generations from millennials down should be, “I won’t tolerate your class anymore and I’m done asking you to do the right thing.” Then we should tax and regulate the wealthy as much as possible and when they complain they’ve been taxed too much we should tax and regulate them more. Because we have literally tried everything else and on the whole, they just don’t seem to care no matter what is at stake. 

Oh, and Mayor Fleetwood, time to get your ass in gear. Actions speak louder than words. 

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

May 18, 2021

Jon,

I think the emailing of your children’s list to your contrarian relative is what the French would call an  acte manqué  or the  email addressing equivalent of a Freudian slip… and so much for the better that this took place.  Children are unfiltered until we start to “educate” (read indoctrinate) and enculturate them and your relative’s reaction is proof positive of the phenomenon.   Teaching with the objective of the students learning how to think critically is primary.  Of course, there are sciences to learn, history, art, mathematics, languages and philosophy to absorb but these mean little if you cannot critically observe them. 

 

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Wendy Harris

May 20, 2021

These are all connected problems, but we do not think of them as such and because of that, we will never be successful in our solutions.  Most of our problems are environmental and reflect a loss of ecosystem function, but to repair things requires social and economic justice so there is civil stability. It sounds so simple and it could be, but it will shake up the status quo and people with power and money never willingly give them up.  And things like technology are part of the problem. It is just a new shiny toy, not a solution. We need to focus, as you note, on reduced consumption and reduced waste.  Airplanes and cows are similar. They are both far too resource-consuming to be used as freely and casually as they are. 

Americans are particularly clueless about environmental issues and most of us think about climate change as something separate and apart from the environment.  We see it as a technological issue that will be resolved with new forms of alternative energy.  Yes, climate change is an air pollution issue.

There is only one form of renewable energy because it is the only form that closes the circle of life and that is photosynthesis. Plants use sunlight to awaken chemicals in their body that bring it to life and when it dies it becomes food for microbes and insects.  It comes from nothing (at least nothing that has harmful impacts or needs to be extracted or collected) and leaves behind nothing. Thus, it closes the circle.

We need to stop using misleading terms because people do not understand this. We need to talk about less impactful or less harmful forms of energy. But all energy used by humans creates an ecological impact. It is only a matter of how much.  Even self-fueled energy, walking or biking, has some minimal impact, which cumulatively adds up and displaces habitat and creates impervious surface even if only through soil compaction. We need to be aware of this to minimize it to the extent we can. Our goal should be to interfere with natural ecological processes as little as possible, understanding that there will be impacts from our existence. 

A characterization, or a study of each watershed that establishes how the ecosystem functions in that watershed helps us understand what we need to protect or restore and where it is best to develop and cause the least impact. And we need to understand our ecological limits because while nature can absorb some of our impacts and remain healthy, that is not limitless and if we continue down this road, we reach a point where we have exceeded our safe boundaries for existence in an ecosystem and even in the biosphere, making the planet inhospitable to life. We did a wonderful characterization for Birch Bay about 10 years ago based on a joint project that involved the state and federal government and state of the art software for the time and the county promptly ignored it. 

We need to make due with less and as you also note, this is simply not compatible with our current system. We justify this approach with a fairytale… we can have endless growth on a planet with limited resources. There is no one over the age of five who can actually believe such nonsense, especially as we are now living with the consequences of such illogic.

I do not trust people to have enough respect for nature, or the self-control to limit themselves to appropriate safe boundaries for human existence. One popular solution is rewilding. Returning to nature half of what we have stolen. This was the solution suggested by the great E.O. Wilson. Half Earth. Half the earth for humans and the other half for the rest of the 8 million species that live on it and which are vital to ecosystem functions which create the ecosystem benefits and services that we depend on for life. We would create linkages and corridors through private donations and public purchase to connect across the nation and allow wildlife to have movement and access to core habitat in large undeveloped land holdings and public parks, and wilderness areas. And this must also be occurring globally.

We also need to understand that everything is connected and you can not impact one part of an ecosystem without impacting all parts of the ecosystem. We keep pulling out parts.. like stormwater and treating it as something separate from the rest of its ecosystem. This weakens the entire ecosystem, leaving it off balance and less resilient. The parts of an ecosystem have been co-evolving for millions of years to fit perfectly with each other and their particular ecosystem. They are interconnected and suited for a particular niche. Nothing unnecessary is included.  Respecting nature provides us with multiple ecosystem benefits, such as clean air, water, soil and biodiversity.. the things that make this planet inhabitable.  A functional ecosystem has synergy so that sum of the whole is greater than all of its parts. We can not recover until we protect and restore what we have taken or harmed.  Fortunately, nature is wonderful at healing itself if we just leave it alone.  

This must include respect for indigenous people who already live on some of these lands and they must be allowed to stay, even if we can not. And we need to have more equity, which requires a redistribution of wealth. I propose a lifetime earning limit. At a certain point, more money is no different than hoarding. I would love to see one of those hoarding shows visit the Koch brothers or Bill Gates. This would still provide the incentive that Americans value so highly, while not allowing people to sit on money they will never use while others in our nation go hungry or homeless. 

We need social stability and the way you achieve that is by having less stratification in income and by ensuring that women have a right to education and a job in Eastern countries where it is currently denied. This is also where population rates are so high.  They go down quickly when a woman has a choice between her own job and her own rights vs. 15 kids as a result of forced marriage. 

There are solutions but we are not seeing them because we are clinging to the paradigm of a past era.  We no longer live as frontier men who must conquer and exploit nature for our survival. Now survival means protecting nature and each other. We are not off to a great start. 

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Dick Conoboy

May 20, 2021

Wendy,

Amen.

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Tip Johnson

Jun 21, 2021

There’s some great research out there on how plants communicate through a fungal internet. The more we look, the less nature appears “dog eat dog” and more like a collaborative effort.  It is a great shame that even the best human minds are still so puny they can’t visualize beyond an economy based on individuals taking advantage toward one that collectively creates advantage.
I’ll probably be labeled a communist for mentioning collaboration and collective anything, but I think it’s sad we still have so much to learn from plants and mushrooms. 

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Jon Humphrey

Jun 30, 2021

Thanks for your comments everyone. Tip, I actually looked into the idea of using the mycorrhizal network to transmit data after seeing the film “Fantastic Fungi” at The Pickford. It may be worthy of an article. Anyway, there are a lot of problems with this idea, too many to list here, like tracking data packets, but then I started thinking about doing it by growing our own networks of fungus with specific genetic markers. Then “fungal network switches” could be keyed into using specific genetic markers to transmit data on. Since this is an existing network that runs literally everywhere it seems like a great idea with a lot of potential. Although a lot of research needs to be done. obviously. However, I’d bet it could be “installed” (aka planted) with near zero impact when perfected.

Still, this being Bellingham, I’m sure our officials would take any perfect solution we’ve given them and ask how they could turn it into monopoly control for some company that charges 13.5 times or more for access instead. Kind of like what they’re doing with the existing public fiber network in the city and how our officials in the county are trying to give corporate welfare to WAVE instead of competing with them in the interest of the public by building a public network.

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