Each year, my friend (Antioch alum, too, we met in college) David Goodman sends a letter to friends with his thoughts of days past and those soon to come. This year's letter, posted with David's permission, is particularly cogent and forward thinking with a lot of downright useful information (be sure to read down to Governance and Public Policy). Hope you enjoy it too.
WINTER SOLSTICE LETTER
FROM DAVID GOODMAN
DECEMBER 21, 2010
Dear Friends, Family and Business Associates:
We are now starting the second decade of the 21st century. This season’s 10 second sound bite seems to be “The American people are angry at their elected politicians. They went to the polls on November 2, and voted accordingly.” My grandfather used to say that when I was angry and blaming someone for a perceived wrongdoing, I should take a deep breath, look inside myself,and see what part I played in causing the problem in the first place.
The seeds of anger leading up to our November mid-term election were sown long before October, 2008 when our economy collapsed. They were sown by unsustainable practices in business, politics and how we live our lives. Didn’t we learn in Sunday school that ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’? What will be the harvest of excessive self-interest and lack of willingness to take responsibility for making changes? Here is my take on some of the problems we face, broken down into 5 interconnected global categories:
Food is something we all need - but US citizens are amongst the most obese in the world. 66% of all Americans are overweight, according to the US Center for Disease Control. Certainly the politicians we voted into office did not force us to SuperSize ourselves by eating unhealthy junk food promoted by Mad Men. When people are either malnourished, or overnourished, psychological problems magnify and may result in extreme frustration and anger. Many people are alarmed about our food stock’s nutritional value. They are angry at food agribusiness practices based on intense chemical fertilization, related soil erosion, patented genetically modified seeds and Roundup Ready herbicides that are poisoning us, the soil and contributing to the demise of agriculture’s most important ally, the pollinating honey bee (Colony Collapse Disorder); all of these practices and more directly affect the quality of our food supply and are unsustainable.
Water is critical to our survival as is food. Globally, humans are either depleting or polluting their water resources at a rapid rate; we have basically run out of potable water in much of the world. None of our politicians told us to despoil our sacred global water resources although they may be doing little or nothing to abate this continuing disaster. Americans consume about 150 gallons of water per day while many in other countries consume less than a ½ gallon per day. In the US, many natural subterranean aquifers are overused and are not renewing. This includes the largest underground reservoir used for irrigation in the United States (and the world) called the Ogallala aquifer which runs from the Dakotas down through Texas. The Ogallala waters one of the most “productive” farming areas in the entire world which is our country’s breadbasket. This depletion of water was not caused by any coordinated effort from our elected representatives, but rather by our collective demand for “cheap” food grown and delivered by big corporations, which includes irreversibly sucking up our water resources...all of which is unsustainable.
Energy is needed by humans for everything; including growing food, lifting water out of the ground for drinking, and purifying water for health and wellness reasons. Much of our energy comes from fossil fuels formed in the Carbonaceous Era 300,000,000 years ago; but in the last 100 years, the world population has used half of the planet’s oil stores. It appears to me we take energy for granted in the United States, where it remains about the cheapest in the richest 33 OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). Gasoline, the oil derivative we consume (and waste) more than any other country, costs about $2.70 per gallon in the US. In Europe, gasoline costs about $7 per gallon because they accept a higher tax to “discourage” wanton consumption. If our government levied a $4 gasoline tax on us, you would see a revolution and politicians wouldn’t be yelled at by the voters, they would be lynched by both voters and corporations. US consumption runs at about 1000 gallons of gasoline per person per year while average global consumption, not counting the United States, is about 140 gallons per person per year (the Chinese consume 100 gallons annually per person). The global result of this massive consumption of fossil fuel is an unprecedented concentration of atmospheric CO2. This is why we have global warming which along with many other energy derived pollutants is unsustainable.
Health and Wellness is a subject about which virtually all US citizens have an opinion – most often unhappy and angry. Politics aside, all of the above three paragraphs describe global dynamics detrimental to our health and wellness. Without a necessary abundance of food, usable and plentiful water, and sufficient sustainable energy, we have no basis for assuming that global health and wellness is likely to continue into the future. Even though the average life expectancy is improving globally, the health and wellness of Homo sapiens in geologic time may be coming to an end if we continue our present ways which are unsustainable.
Governance and Public Policy mixed with public anger often results in a volatile and
unpredictable outcome. Unfortunately, I have seen this “dynamic” up close and personal when my brother was murdered in 1964 by angry extremists (The Ku Klux Klan) who objected to our public policy that all citizens have an inalienable right to vote. I believe the anger we see today manifests as a result of complex challenges humans are facing that are almost overwhelming, but that we have created ourselves. The matter in which Food, Water, Energy and Health and Wellness are dealt with are decreasingly requiring local solutions and increasingly requiring
global public policy solutions. A majority of Americans overwhelmingly voted in a Democratic Administration in 2008 because so many people were fed up with the Republicans. Now, a majority of Americans overwhelmingly voted in more Republicans. It is unlikely that our governance and public policy will be able to address the underlying challenges when so much money and effort goes into “political football” games. If each of us is not paying attention to public policy, someone else will make it for us (most likely the business community). Flip flop
voting and perpetuating the fight among politicians is a net losing game for all of us and is unsustainable.
What can we do to address some of these issues? I have attached Exhibit A with a few
suggestions on improving our condition in all of the five topics above.
I hope you have a good holiday season,
PS: I have taken the 5 topic words of “Food”, “Water”, “Energy”, “Health and Wellness”, and “Governance” from Antioch College’s Pedagogy for the 21st Century in a new initiative called the “Global Seminar”. However, what followed in each of the paragraphs above are my own thoughts, albeit similar to what others are discussing around the world today.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO CHANGE THE WORLD (Just Examples)
1. Eat sustainably produced food. Support small, organic farms and be willing to pay more for better quality. If possible, eat locally grown food that has not traveled 1500 miles to your table; this will help avoid loading our air with unhealthy diesel fumes.
2. Eat more meals at home because it is probably healthier (and less expensive).
3. Cut down on red meat irrespective of where or how it is grown. It is a huge contributor to GHG’s (greenhouse gases)
4. Eat less ocean fish; we are globally exhausting our fish stock and fish we eat are often laced with PBTC’s (perpetually bio-accumulating toxic chemicals), like mercury, which are detrimental to your health.
5. Stop drinking bottled water. If you are concerned about water quality, invest in a filter and re-use bottles. Shipping bottled water, particularly from Europe, does nothing but poison the air with more diesel fumes.
6. Give money to support clean water for underserved US communities and people in
“Third World” countries.
7. Read as much as you can about water practices. Understand water public policy in your community.
8. When your existing incandescent bulbs burn out, buy fluorescent, halogen or LED bulbs which last longer, use a fraction of the electricity and therefore lower pollutants and GHG’s.
9. Try not to use your clothes dryer, one of the biggest users of electricity or gas in your house. You can buy a $10 clothes drying rack instead.
10. Drive a car (Prius or other hybrid) that uses less fuel. Insist that car companies sell electric powered cars and power companies deliver renewable energy, particularly wind and solar. The US has about 1 million megawatts of installed electric generation. There are potentially 4 million megawatts of wind power that could be developed off the US coast and even more inland. Insist on public policy leading to healthy uses of renewable and sustainable energy.
11. If you are buying a new house, make sure it is green certified. See this website for an example www.e-solarproperties.com. It should not cost a lot more and will add big resale value later, and can eliminate most of your energy uses. Buildings of all types generate 40% of US GHG’s.
Health and Wellness:
12. Do all of the above
13. Get rid of your supermarket-purchased cleaning agents and buy green products or use plain soap and vinegar. Many studies show our home air environment is more
concentrated with carcinogens from cleaning fluids than the air outside our houses or
14. You know what to do.
Governance and Public Policy:
15. Be sure to vote since only 41.5% of the eligible voters cast their ballots in 2010.
16. Work hard at understanding what drives public policy. After having been a CEO of an electric generating power company for 23 years, I have seen how business determines most public policy over time. When the voting public does not pay attention (or understand), business gets what they want. Follow the money. Unlike 50 years ago, big corporations are global and less beholden to their country of incorporation, but are still driven by profit. We, the people, must take control of public policy and demand that corporations not only make a profit, but are also socially and environmentally responsible. We may be angry, but let’s not get discouraged and leave public policy to others, particularly corporations, because that is unsustainable.
“Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten”.
-- Cree Native American Prophecy