Old West theme parks paint a false picture of pioneer California

Reprinted from the August 30, 2017 edition of The Conversation

Editor’s Note: The nostalgia for California’s past is still very much an influence throughout much of the state, and is especially conspicuous in the Gold Country, where many old-timers long to re-open old polluting gold mines, such as the Idaho-Maryland mine here in Grass Valley.

By Amanda Tewes

Old West, as seen through 1967 Orange County eyes. Orange County Archives, CC BY

In 1940, just a year before Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into a world war, Walter and Cordelia Knott began construction on a notable addition to their thriving berry patch and chicken restaurant in the Orange County, California, city of Buena Park. This new venture was an Old West town celebrating both westward expansion and the California Dream – the notion that this Gold Rush state was a land of easy fortune for all. The Knotts’ romanticized Ghost Town – including a saloon, blacksmith’s shop, jail and “Boot Hill” cemetery – became the cornerstone of the amusement park that is today Knott’s Berry Farm.

While Ghost Town is arguably the first of its kind, since 1940 Old West theme parks have proliferated around the United States and the world. They’re more than just destinations for pleasure seekers. Like Hollywood Westerns and dime novels, these theme parks propagate a particular myth of “the West.”

The relationship between history and entertainment is especially complex when these theme parks exist in California – a place that actually experienced “the Wild West.” Visitors can have a hard time differentiating between fantasy landscapes and local history.

In studying California’s Old West theme parks and their version of the state’s past, I’ve conducted oral histories, visited these sites and observed continued nostalgia for these places. What do these imagined spaces reveal about cultural conflicts of politics and regional identity in midcentury California? How do they demonstrate the attraction of a fantasy past that has captivated Californians?

Knott’s original berry stand, Buena Park, California, circa 1926. Orange County ArchivesCC BY

Chicken with a side of ‘pioneer spirit’

The addition of a Ghost Town may seem an odd choice for the Knotts, who were farmers and restaurateurs. But it was a calculated move to entertain guests waiting upwards of three hours in line for their chicken dinner – as well as to tell a particular story about the California Dream.

Walter Knott grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales about traveling across the Mojave Desert to California in a covered wagon, with her young daughter (Walter’s mother) in tow. Knott admired his grandmother’s “pioneering spirit,” which influenced his own decisions to homestead (unsuccessfully) in the desert. For Knott, his grandmother’s account sparked ongoing admiration for independence and adventure, qualities that embody the myth of the West but not necessarily the realities of California’s past.

And it was this personal connection to California’s past that colored Knott’s critique of his present. Looking back over the devastation the Great Depression wrought on California, the farmer – a lifelong proponent of free enterprise – concluded federal interference had prolonged the situation by offering aid and social welfare programs, instead of encouraging struggling residents to work harder.

In the 1930s, Orange County was starting to transition from a land of orange groves and strawberry fields.Orange County Archives, CC BY

This assessment ignores the fact that an agricultural hub like Orange County gained much from New Deal programs. The Agricultural Adjustment Act, for instance, offered farmers price support for their crops, which Orange County growers accepted.

But Knott remained steadfast. In an oral history from 1963, he explained,

“We felt that if [Ghost Town visitors] looked back, they would see the little that the pioneer people had to work with and all the struggles and problems that they had to overcome and that they’d all done it without any government aid.”

This virulent independence shaped Ghost Town and ensured that Knott’s Berry Farm’s memorial to California history was a political statement as much as a place of leisure.

Beyond its political message about the past, Walter Knott wanted Ghost Town “to be an educational feature as well as a place of entertainment.” Indeed, the first edition of the theme park’s printed paper Ghost Town News in October 1941 explained, “…we hope it will prove of real tangible educational advantage and a lasting monument to California.” By 1963, Knott asserted,

“I suppose there’s hundreds of thousands of kids today that know what you mean when you say, ‘pan gold.’ I mean, when they read it in a book they understand it because they’ve gone down and actually done it [at Ghost Town].”

Indeed, the message reached generations of visitors.

Perpetuating the myth of rugged individualism

But Knott learned – and taught – the wrong lesson from the past. Certainly 19th-century Anglo pioneers faced financial, physical and psychological challenges in reaching California. But these individuals did actually benefit from the “government aid” Knott scorned.

Federal funds and policies supported land grants in the West, a military to expand territory and fight indigenous peoples and even the development of the railroad that eventually connected California to the rest of the country. Government intervention helped support these Anglo pioneers as much as it did their Depression-era descendants.

What’s left out of this picture? Orange County Archives, CC BY

Despite the fantasy past it represented, the premise of Ghost Town inspired local appreciation. Visitors to Knott’s Berry Farm saw evidence of California’s financial greatness when they panned for gold. Stories about the trials Walter Knott’s own relatives faced crossing the Mojave Desert reinforced the fortitude of those who settled in the Golden State. Indeed, by midcentury many Orange County residents had themselves moved west to California and could well identify with the theme of 19th-century migration.

Ghost Town played on mid-20th-century nostalgia for simpler and more adventurous times in California, especially as the area began to rapidly shed its agricultural past in the years following World War II. The Knotts’ nod to California’s 19th-century history was a welcome distraction from the modernization efforts in Orange County’s backyard.

Richard Nixon pans for gold with Walter Knott in 1959. Orange County Archives, CC BY

The romantic and often whitewashed version of California’s past embodied by Ghost Town played an ongoing role in shaping midcentury cultural and political identity in the region. The Knotts used the living they earned from Ghost Town and their other attractions to support conservative causes locally and nationally. In 1960, Ghost Town and the Old California it represented was the literal backdrop of a Richard Nixon rally during his first presidential run.

Later, fellow conservative and the Knotts’ personal friend Ronald Reagan produced a segment about their attraction on his political radio show. On the July 15, 1978 episode, Reagan said, “Walter Knott’s farm is a classic American success story…And, it still reflects its founder’s deep love and patriotism for his country.” Reagan celebrated the theme park as the pinnacle of free enterprise and the California Dream.

Among California’s Old West theme parks, Ghost Town at Knott’s Berry Farm is not unique in tweaking the state’s 19th-century past to more closely align with a Hollywood Western than the complex racial, cultural and political reality. Today Ghost Town serves millions of domestic and foreign visitors annually and continues to sell a fantasy version of the Golden State’s history. But this fantasy memorializes mid-20th-century conservative values rather than 19th-century California.

With renewed debates about public memory and monuments, it’s more important than ever to examine sites like historical theme parks as places where individuals learn (false) history. These romantic and politicized versions of the Old West can leave visitors longing for a past that never was.


Disclosure statement

Amanda Tewes does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

A legal snarl in Idaho portends future conflicts over water

As the climate changes, dams face new challenges for water rights and releases.

By Emily Benson, High Country News

On a sunny day in late April, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released hundreds of millions of gallons of water from Idaho’s Lucky Peak Dam, a dozen miles upstream of Boise. The dam operators call it a “rooster tail” display; thousands of observers took in the spectacle. The water, roaring out of a dam gate, arced high above the Boise River, rainbows shimmering in its spray.

Rooster tails are one way the Corps releases excess water to reduce the risk of flooding — a partially empty reservoir can capture spring runoff before it can race downstream and inundate Boise. Releases are necessary about seven years out of every 10, including this year, when basin flows were among the highest recorded. Lucky Peak and two associated reservoirs also store water for irrigation. In snow-heavy years, that means dam operators must strike a balance between letting enough water go early in the spring and retaining sufficient water for the hot, dry days to come.

Getting releases right is crucial for the farmers who depend on the Boise River to irrigate crops like sugar beets and seed corn. The river also waters lawns and parks, and supplies about 30 percent of Boise’s drinking water. As in other Western states, water users with older rights get first dibs. But since 2013, several irrigation companies and the Idaho Department of Water Resources have been fighting over administrative details that determine which water Lucky Peak irrigators are entitled to use during a wet year: flood-control releases, or the “refill” water that collects after releases are done. The case is now before the Idaho Supreme Court. Its outcome will determine how the water in the Boise River system is doled out — no small consequence for the people and fish that depend on it. The fight itself, however, highlights a larger challenge water managers across the West are confronting: How do you operate dams effectively as climate change alters the historical patterns used to predict runoff timing and volume?

Water being released from Lucky Peak Dam creates a rooster tail flowing into the Boise River.
David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock

The Department of Water Resources contends that water counts toward storage rights upon entering the reservoir. That means flood-control releases could include already-allotted water. But irrigators say those releases arrive too early in the season to be useful, sometimes while snow still covers their fields. They claim they are entitled to the water that subsequently refills the reservoir, which is distributed later in the summer when they need it most.

While the department does dole out refill water, it considers it to be excess and unappropriated water that doesn’t fulfill any reservoir storage rights. In September 2016, District Court Judge Eric Wildman ruled partially in favor of the department, writing that water entering the reservoir satisfies users’ rights. However, he also pronounced the department’s practice of allocating refill unlawful, leaving the refill water distribution in limbo. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by year’s end. “For anybody to say that (releases) should be counted against our storage rights, as water that we’re actually using — it’s ridiculous,” says Roger Batt, executive director of the Treasure Valley Water Users Association, the irrigation companies’ lobbying group.

Regardless of its legality, the department’s method has largely kept water flowing to the irrigators. Since its implementation in 1986, there’s only been a single year in which there were flood-control releases but users didn’t get their full amount.

But the problem isn’t purely theoretical, says Mathew Weaver, Idaho Department of Water Resources deputy director. With no rights attached to the refill, future demands could take water that current users have come to rely upon. Extremely wet years could, paradoxically, leave fields and lawns parched if big flood-control releases happen and the refill water has been claimed for other uses. A similar case occurred in Idaho’s Upper Snake River Basin, where large diversions for groundwater recharge spurred a 2015 settlement in which irrigators gained legal rights to refill water. Those rights, however, date to 2014, meaning they have lower priority than older water rights.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, refilling reservoirs may be getting more difficult, thanks in part to shifting precipitation patterns caused by climate change. Greater extremes — wetter wet years and drier dry years — and earlier spring thaws could make it harder to manage dams, says Doug Kenney, the director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado. “All these operating guidelines that you built up based on data from the last century just don’t work very well anymore,” he says.

Whether next year is wet enough to warrant a rooster tail display at Lucky Peak depends on nature; exactly how flood-control releases will be accounted for, however, is up to the Idaho Supreme Court. Whatever the decision, climate change will continue to impact water in the West. “We really need to use our reservoirs more skillfully than we have in the past,” Kenney says. “And it’s a challenge.”


Emily Benson is an HCN editorial fellow.

This story was originally published at High Country News (hcn.org) on August 4, 2017.

 

Centrist Democrats Riled as Warren Says Days of ‘Lukewarm’ Policies Are Over

“The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) addresses a rally against Trump Administration budget cuts to education funding outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) addresses a rally against Trump administration budget cuts to education funding outside the U.S. Capitol July 19, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In a wide-ranging and fiery keynote speech last weekend at the 12th annual Netroots Nation conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) relentlessly derided moderate Democratic pundits calling for the party to move “back to the center” and declared that Democrats must unequivocally “fight for progressive solutions to our nation’s challenges.”

“We’re not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren

As The Hill‘s Amie Parnes reported on Friday, Warren’s assertion during the weekend gathering that progressives are “the heart and soul of today’s Democratic Party”—and not merely a “wing”—raised the ire of so-called “moderate” Democrats, who have insisted that progressive policies won’t sell in swing states.

But recent survey results have consistently shown that policies like single-payer healthcare, progressive taxation, a higher minimum wage, and tuition-free public college are extremely popularamong the broader electorate. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—the most prominent advocate of an ambitious, far-reaching progressive agenda—has consistently polled as the most popular politician in the country.

For Warren, these are all indicators that those pining for a rightward shift “back to the center” are deeply mistaken.

Specifically, Warren took aim at a recent New York Times op-ed by Democratic commentators Mark Penn and Andrew Stein, who argued that Democrats must moderate their positions in order to take back Congress and, ultimately, the presidency.

Warren ridiculed this argument as a call for a return to Bill Clinton-era policies that “lock[ed] up non-violent drug offenders and ripp[ed] more holes in our economic safety net.”

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

“The Democratic Party isn’t going back to the days of welfare reform and the crime bill,” Warren said. “We’re not going back to the days of being lukewarm on choice. We’re not going back to the days when universal healthcare was something Democrats talked about on the campaign trail but were too chicken to fight for after they got elected.”

“And,” Warren concluded, “we’re not going back to the days when a Democrat who wanted to run for a seat in Washington first had to grovel on Wall Street.”

For months media outlets have speculated that Warren is gearing up for a 2020 presidential run, but she has denied the rumors.

Warren’s remarks came as a large coalition of progressive groups is mobilizing during the congressional recess to pressure Democrats to formally endorse the “People’s Platform,” a slate of ambitious legislation that includes Rep. John Conyers’ (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill.

Watch Warren’s full speech at Netroots Nation:

Republicans Once Again Disregard States Rights (Water Rights This Time)

From High Country News:

“This July, California Republicans cheered when the Gaining Responsibility on Water (GROW) Act passed the U.S. House. Rep. David Valadao, a Central Valley Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation was necessary to “modernize” the state’s water policies following prolonged drought.

“Specifically, Valadao wants to boost water deliveries to valley farms — which grow most of the country’s avocados, almonds and broccoli, among other crops — leaving less water in rivers to help threatened fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

“That trade-off has environmentalists and Democrats calling the GROW Act a water grab and an attack on state and federal environmental protections. And it could have repercussions for the entire Delta system, which provides much of the state’s surface water supplies.

“The bill, H.R. 23, would basically block or override several state water laws —contrary to conservatives’ often-stated goal of reducing the federal government’s role and giving states greater power to manage resources. “They are trying to pre-empt the state from managing its rivers to balance the benefits to the economy with the need to protect the environment,” says Doug Obegi, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.”

Read the complete article here:
“U.S. House moves to streamline water projects: A controversial bill would weaken states’ control over water”

Smoking Marijuana Triples Risk Of High Blood Pressure Death, Study Say

CBS Local — A new study is warning that people who smoke marijuana have three times the risk of dying from high blood pressure than those who don’t use the drug. Scientists, publishing their findings in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, added that the risk of dying from hypertension grew with each year of smoking marijuana.

The study revealed that of the 1,200 people tested, those who smoked pot were 3.4 times more likely to die from hypertension. The risk of suffering a fatal blood pressure condition also went up by 1.04 times for each year the person had smoked the substance. The study did not find a link between marijuana use and dying from heart diseases or strokes.

 

Show Up at NID Today at 1 pm & Oppose CA Taxpayer Dollars for Centennial Dam

From South Yuba River Citizen’s League:

Show  Up at NID Today & Oppose CA Taxpayer Dollars for Centennial Dam

 

KNOW & GO: 
Who: Dam Watchdogs
What: Show up for NID’s Special Board Meeting; Tell them to vote “NO” on Resolution No. 2017-24
When: Today, Wednesday, August 9, beginning at 1pm
Where: 1036 W Main St, Grass Valley
Why: NID Board will be voting on a resolution to apply for CA taxpayer money to fund Centennial Dam

Today, the NID Board will hold a special meeting and vote on a resolution to approve an application that would put NID in line for California state taxpayer money to build Centennial Dam. Help fill the room tomorrow and encourage the Board to vote “NO” on Resolution No. 2017-24.

A successful application to the California Water Commission (CWC) burdens NID with numerous requirements including supplying water outside the County of Origin in direct contradiction to the project’s statement of purpose to benefit NID customers. The Centennial Dam project, which began as a $160 million project is now estimated to cost over a billion dollars.

It is alarming that NID appears to be changing the direction for the Centennial Dam project without providing any information or time for the public to consider it – especially since the application is due to the CWC in two business days.

This is another unfortunate example of NID taking actions important to the community without adequate public notice and participation.

The deadline for this application was known six months ago. Given this project is controversial, financially risky, and will provide an uncertain benefit, the NID Board and staff should be operating with full transparency and inviting public participation. Rather, staff is attempting to pass this item through on the consent agenda, two days before it’s due, with no copy of the application nor supporting materials, at a “special” board meeting scheduled at the very last minute.

Come to the meeting so that we can question NID about this application:

  • What are the implications for NID if this funding application is successful? The public has a right to know.
  • What will NID ratepayers, taxpayers, and customers be obligated to do if this application goes through?
  • How much money does the application request from the California Water Commission (CWC) and what is the money for?
  • How much water is NID committing to send out of the district?
  • Does NID have a qualified consultant working on the application, and if so, who are they and when were they hired? How much has and will the application cost to submit and follow up on?
  • Why is the funding application action being revealed to the Board and public two business days before the due date, when the deadline has been known for six months?

‘Earth Is Exhausted’: Humans Have Already Consumed the Planet’s Annual Resources

“The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident around the world.”

by Jake Johnson, staff writer, Commondreams
Reprinted from Commondreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

"This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period," World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement.

“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period,” World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement. (Photo: Guy Gorek/Flickr/cc)

With several months left until the end of 2017, humans have already used up more natural resources than the planet can regenerate in a year, making today Earth Overshoot Day. For the rest of the year, humanity is “living on credit.”

“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s.”
—Mathis Wackernagel, Global Footprint Network

“This means that in seven months, we emitted more carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb in a year, we caught more fish, felled more trees, harvested more, and consumed more water than the Earth was able to produce in the same period,” World Wildlife Fund and Global Footprint Network said in a statement.

“The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident around the world,” the groups added, “in the form of deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on August 8, an indication that the world’s population is accelerating the pace with which it blows through the planet’s annual resource budget from year to year.

When viewed over the longer-term—Earth Overshoot Day has been marked annually since 1983—the acceleration becomes even more glaring.

According to environmental groups and climate scientists, Earth Overshoot Day is just one of many urgent indicators that only rapid and systemic restructuring of our energy systems can reverse the trends that continue to deplete and degrade the planet.

“Humanity’s carbon footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s and remains the fastest growing component of the widening gap between the Ecological Footprint and the planet’s biocapacity,” Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network, said in a statement. “To achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, humanity would need to exit the fossil fuel economy before 2050.”

But recent moves by U.S. President Donald Trump have significantly undercut hopes that the global community can work together to accomplish this necessarily ambitious transformation.

Imperfect as it may be, the Paris Climate Accord generated global goodwill and hope that humanity was ready at last to tackle its biggest challenge yet,” writes The Telegraph‘s Patrick Scott. “However, the deal suffered a huge blow in June when Trump announced his plans to withdraw from the agreement.”

According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like the U.S. population, we would need five Earths to sustain the level of consumption.

(Image Source: Global Footprint Network)

Watch “An Inconvenient Sequel” This Weekend—But Then Do This

Actions to take after you see Al Gore’s new documentary

By Mark Rahner
Reprinted from Yes! Magazine under a Creative Commons License

Al-Gore-Inconvenient-Sequel.jpg
Al Gore with former Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Typhoon Haiyan survivor Demi Raya, in the Raya family home. Tacloban City, Philippines, March 12, 2016.
Photo by Jensen Walker.

What’s changed since Al Gore first gave us An Inconvenient Truth?

It’s hotter. In 1999, Seattle friends thought I was an asshole for having air conditioning in my car. Now everyone does. Have air conditioning, that is.

Gore is older, grayer, and maybe thicker in the middle.

There’s an anti-science party running the White House and both chambers of Congress that would make Galileo feel like he really didn’t have it so bad in the Inquisition.

And there’s a sequel.

Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now.

A decade after the former vice president’s Oscar-winning documentary comes his follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. I went to a screening in Seattle where Gore stopped on his tour to promote it, and he might think I’m an asshole, too. Because as effectively sobering, terrifying, and infuriating as the documentary is, it doesn’t go far enough.

Another change: Gore wants us to call it the “climate crisis” now. Seems fair, if not an understatement.

Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, the film follows the tireless Gore—understandably weary—as he visits glaciers that aren’t just melting, but also exploding like strings of firecrackers; wades with local officials through waterlogged Florida; and works behind the scenes to get India on board for the Paris climate agreement. Meanwhile, he gives slideshows similar—but more dire—to the ones in the first film to climate leadership training groups.

More dire, because the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters have increased along with the denialism funded by the Koch brothers and other polluters. Gore notes the barbs aimed at him for predicting climate change’s threat to New York’s 9/11 memorial site, then shows footage of it being flooded by Hurricane Sandy just a few years later.

The U.S. boasts the only major party in the industrial world that denies climate change science.

Someone sitting behind me sighed heavily and a couple minutes later said, “Jesus …” They continued doing that throughout the entire film.

I fought back my own profanities watching the climate-caused deaths in the Philippines and other horrors documented.

After the credits rolled, Gore walked out to a standing ovation and a fawning fluff session of a Q&A with an awestruck moderator. I was in a theater full of Seattle liberals who didn’t need to be convinced of any of this.

The people who really need to see the movie—in red states or even red regions on the other side of my state—won’t go near it. They wouldn’t listen to Gore if their houses were on fire and he was standing there with a hose. And they’re no more likely to listen to any graduate of his climate leadership groups than they are to read David Wallace-Wells’ July 9 gut punch of a New York magazine article, “The Uninhabitable Earth.”

If I’m raining on and submerging the parade, look:

From oncology to engineering, if 97 percent of the experts in any field other than climate science warned us of something, everyone would listen to them and not the outliers. The U.S. boasts the only major political party in the industrial world that denies climate change science. There’s some American exceptionalism.

Deniers appear not to understand that skepticism toward basic science literacy should consist of more than “No, it isn’t,” and that the scientific method has already been applied to climate science. (See: Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt and “red team.”)

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

These are people who think we can treat the environment like a toilet for 150 years with no repercussions. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe bringing a snowball to the Senate floor is our real-world equivalent of Kryptonians laughing at Jor-El before their planet goes boom. Inconvenient Sequelincludes footage of an exchange between Gore and Inhofe in which the senator won’t even let Gore finish a sentence.

I’m saying the people who really need to see this movie are The Unreachables.

Now add a president who said climate change is a Chinese hoax and has promised to bail on the Paris agreement. Consider his picks to run the EPA, departments of Energy, Interior, Education … and here we are.

Actual headline, July 31: “EPA museum to scrap climate change displays, add coal exhibit.” Heavy sigh and Jesus, indeed.

Gore and the filmmakers don’t spend a lot of time documenting The Unreachables (my term, not his) and the political polarization that threatens the poles as much as carbon emissions. Trump’s Paris betrayal comes near the end, but Gore leans heavily on optimism. He compares the climate crisis to the fight for civil rights and marriage equality in a moving climactic speech.

“If President Trump refuses to lead, the American people will.”

It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

To that end, Gore urges people to vote the Kryptonians—I mean, deniers—out of office, and the film offers resources for action. You can sign a pledge, organize a screening of the film, download a 10-minute version of Gore’s slideshow, follow the movie across social media. There’s information on voting, reaching out to lean on elected officials, and more.

It’s not nearly as aggressive as the situation demands, given the added threat of The Unreachables.

I think this would be an appropriate action: Trump and every other Republican who’s blocked efforts to mitigate climate change should be charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and everyone at Exxon Mobil who knew about the damage for decades.

Short of that, I have some other suggestions:

Demand that news media end the phony “balance” that gives deniers a platform, let alone equal time with those who understand climate science.

Research the deniers’ talking points so that you can refute them any time they come up in conversation or social media—from Al Gore’s carbon footprint making him a hypocrite to all that sweet dough climate scientists stand to rake in.

Be less polite. No, you don’t respect deniers’ opinions. It’s appropriate to mock and shame ignorance and lies, particularly with stakes this high.

More climate-related lawsuits. Evidence and facts matter in courts.

Protest by phone, email, town hall, or social media any time a science denier or science illiterate is put in charge of a government science department at any level. Remember Rep. Paul Broun who called evolution and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell” and who served on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? And Inhofe, who chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works? People like that need to go do something else.

Agitate to get the money out of politics. That’s at the Koch-fueled root of denialism. Always follow the money.

Until then, no matter where you live, you’re gonna need a car with air conditioning.


Mark Rahner wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Mark is a veteran journalist, talk radio host, comic book author, and podcaster based in Seattle.  

Are We Doomed? Let’s Have a Talk

We’re not all ready to have the same conversation, but perhaps that’s a good place to start

      Reprinted from CommonDreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

 

A placard warning against the dangers of climate change used in the March on Washington stands by an overflowing garbage can on Saturday, January 21, 2017. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)

 

My most recent essay, in which I discussed a highly publicized controversy over the efficacy of plans for a comprehensive transition to an all-renewable energy future, garnered some strong responses. “If you are right,” one Facebook commenter opined, “we are doomed. Fortunately you are not right.” (The commenter didn’t explain why.) What had I said to provoke an expectation of cataclysmic oblivion? Simply that there is probably no technically and financially feasible energy pathway to enable those of us in highly industrialized countries to maintain current levels of energy usage very far into the future.

My piece happened to be published right around the same time New York Magazine released a controversial article, titled “The Uninhabitable Earth,” in which author David Wallace Wells portrayed a dire future if the most pessimistic climate change models turn to reality. “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” wrote Wells. “If your anxiety about global warming is dominated by fears of sea-level rise, you are barely scratching the surface of what terrors are possible, even within the lifetime of a teenager today.” Wells’s article drew rebukes from—of all people—climate scientists, who pointed out a few factual errors, but also insisted that scaring the public just doesn’t help. “Importantly, fear does not motivate,” responded Michael Mann with Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles, “and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.”

“We humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species…”It’s true: apocalyptic warnings don’t move most people. Or, rather, they move most people away from the source of discomfort, so they simply tune out. But it’s also true that people feel a sense of deep, unacknowledged unease when they are fed “solutions” that they instinctively know are false or insufficient.

Others came to Wells’s defense. Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and founder of the climate action group The Climate Mobilization, which advocates for starting a “World War II-scale” emergency mobilization to convert from fossil fuels, writes, “it is OK, indeed imperative, to tell the whole, frightening story. . . . [I]t’s the job of those of us trying to protect humanity and restore a safe climate to tell the truth about the climate crisis and help people process and channel their own feelings—not to preemptively try to manage and constrain those feelings.”

So: Are we doomed if we can’t maintain current and growing energy levels? And are we doomed anyway due to now-inevitable impacts of climate change?

First, the good news. With regard to energy, we should keep in mind the fact that today’s Americans use roughly twice as much per capita as their great-grandparents did in 1925. While people in that era enjoyed less mobility and fewer options for entertainment and communication than we do today, they nevertheless managed to survive and even thrive. And we now have the ability to provide many services (such as lighting) far more efficiently, so it should be possible to reduce per-capita energy usage dramatically while still maintaining a lifestyle that would be considered more than satisfactory by members of previous generations and by people in many parts of the world today. And reducing energy usage would make a whole raft of problems—climate change, resource depletion, the challenge of transitioning to renewable energy sources—much easier to solve.

The main good news with regard to climate change that I can point to (as I did in  this essay posted in June) is that economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves are consistent only with lower-emissions climate change scenarios. As BP and other credible sources for coal, oil, and natural gas reserves figures show, and as more and more researchers are pointing out, the worst-case climate scenarios associated with “business as usual” levels of carbon emissions are in fact unrealistic.

Now, the bad news. While we could live perfectly well with less energy, that’s not what the managers of our economy want. They want growth. Our entire economy is structured to require constant, compounded growth of GDP, and for all practical purposes raising the GDP means using more energy. While fringe economists and environmentalists have for years been proposing ways to back away from our growth addiction (for example, by using alternative economic indices such as Gross National Happiness), none of these proposals has been put into widespread effect. As things now stand, if growth falters the economy crashes.

There’s bad climate news as well: even with current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases, we’re seeing unacceptable and worsening impacts—raging fires, soaring heat levels, and melting icecaps. And there are hints that self-reinforcing feedbacks maybe kicking in: an example is the release of large amounts of methane from thawing tundra and oceanic hydrates, which could lead to a short-term but steep spike in warming.  Also, no one is sure if current metrics of climate sensitivity (used to estimate the response of the global climate system to a given level of forcing) are accurate, or whether the climate is actually more sensitive than we have assumed. There’s some worrisome evidence the latter is case.

But let’s step back a bit. If we’re interested in signs of impending global crisis, there’s no need to stop with just these two global challenges. The world is losing 25 billion tons of topsoil a year due to current industrial agricultural practices; if we don’t deal with that issue, civilization still crash even if we do manage to ace our energy and climate test. Humanity is also over-using fresh water: ancient aquifers are depleting, while other water sources are being polluted. If we don’t deal with our water crisis, we still crash. Species are going extinct at a thousand times the pre-industrial rate; if we don’t deal with the biodiversity dilemma, we still crash. Then there are social and economic problems that could cause nations to crumble even if we manage to protect the environment; this threat category includes the menaces of over-reliance on debt and increasing economic inequality.

If we attack each of these problems piecemeal with technological fixes (for example, with desalination technology to solve the water crisis or geo-engineering to stabilize the climate) we may still crash because our techno-fixes are likely to have unintended consequences, as all technological interventions do. Anyway, the likelihood of successfully identifying and deploying all the needed fixes in time is vanishingly small.

Many problems are converging at once because society is a complex system, and the challenges we have been discussing are aspects of a systemic crisis. A useful way to frame an integrated understanding of the 21st century survival challenge is this: we humans have overshot Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for our species. We’ve been able to do this due to a temporary subsidy of cheap, bountiful energy from fossil fuels, which enabled us to stretch nature’s limits and to support a far larger overall population than would otherwise be possible. But now we are starting to see supply constraints for those fuels, just as the side effects of burning enormous amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas are also coming into view. Meanwhile, using cheap energy to expand resource-extractive and waste-generating economic processes is leading to biodiversity loss; the depletion of soil, water, and minerals; and environmental pollution of many kinds. Just decarbonizing energy, while necessary, doesn’t adequately deal with systemic overshoot. Only a reduction of population and overall resource consumption, along with a rapid reduction in our reliance on fossil fuels and a redesign of industrial systems, can do that.

Economic inequality is a systemic problem too. As we’ve grown our economy, those who were in position to invest in industrial expansion or to loan money to others have reaped the majority of the rewards, while those who got by through selling their time and labor (or whose common cultural heritage was simply appropriated by industrialists) have fallen behind. There’s no technological fix for inequality; dealing with it will require redesigning our economic system and redistributing wealth. Those in wealthy nations would, on average, have to adjust their living standards downward.

Now, can we do all of this without a crash? Probably not. Indeed, many economists would regard the medicine (population reduction, a decline in per-capita energy use, and economic redistribution) as worse than whatever aspects of the disease they are willing to acknowledge. Environmentalists and human rights advocates would disagree. Which is to say, there’s really no way out. Whether we stick with business as usual, or attempt a dramatic multi-pronged intervention, our current “normal” way of life is toast.

Accepting that a crash is more or less inevitable is a big step, psychologically speaking. I call this toxic knowledge: one cannot “un-know” that the current world system hangs by a thread, and this understanding can lead to depression. In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually. Some willfully ignore their own mortality for as long as possible; others grasp at a belief in the afterlife. Still others seek to create meaning and purpose by making a positive difference in the lives of those around them with whatever time they have. Such efforts don’t alter the inevitability of death; however, contributing to one’s community appears to enhance well-being in many ways beyond that of merely prolonging life.

In some ways, the systemic crisis we face is analogous to the individual existential crisis of life and death, which we each have to confront eventually.

But is a crash the same as doom?

Not necessarily. Our best hope at this point would seem to be a controlled crash that enables partial recovery at a lower level of population and resource use, and that therefore doesn’t lead to complete and utter oblivion (human extinction or close to it). Among those who understand the systemic nature of our problems, the controlled crash option is the subject of what may be the most interesting and important conversation that’s taking place on the planet just now. But only informed people who have gotten over denial and self-delusion are part of it.

This discussion started in the 1970s, though I wasn’t part of it then; I joined a couple of decades later. There is no formal membership; the conversation takes place through and among a patchwork of small organizations and scattered individuals. They don’t all know each other and there is no secret handshake. Some have publicly adopted the stance that a global crash is inevitable; most soft-pedal that message on their organizational websites but are privately plenty worried. During the course of the conversation so far, two (not mutually exclusive) strategies have emerged.

The first strategy envisions convincing the managers and power holders of the world to invest in a no-regrets insurance plan. Some systems thinkers who understand our linked global crises are offering to come up with a back-pocket checklist for policy makers, for moments when financial or environmental crisis hits: how, under such circumstances, might the managerial elite be able to prevent, say, a stock market crash from triggering food, energy, and social crises as well? A set of back-up plans wouldn’t require detailed knowledge of when or how crisis will erupt. It wouldn’t even require much of a systemic understanding of global overshoot. It would simply require willingness on the part of societal power holders to agree that there are real or potential threats to global order, and to accept the offer of help. At the moment, those pursuing this strategy are working mostly covertly, for reasons that are not hard to discern.

The second strategy consists of working within communities to build more societal resilience from the ground up. It is easier to get traction with friends and neighbors than with global power holders, and it’s within communities that political decisions are made closest to where the impact is felt. My own organization, Post Carbon Institute, has chosen to pursue this strategy via a series of books, the Community Resilience Guides;  the “Think Resilience” video series; and our forthcoming compendium, The Community Resilience Reader.  Rob Hopkins, who originated the Transition Towns movement, has been perhaps the most public, eloquent, and upbeat proponent of the local resilience strategy, but there are countless others scattered across the globe.

Somehow, the work of resilience building (whether top-down or bottom-up) must focus not just on maintaining supplies of food, water, energy, and other basic necessities, but also on sustaining social cohesion—a culture of understanding, tolerance, and inquiry—during times of great stress. While it’s true that people tend to pull together in remarkable ways during wars and natural disasters, sustained hard times can lead to scapegoating and worse.

Most people are not party to the conversation, not aware that it is happening, and unaware even that such a conversation is warranted. Among those who are worried about the state of the world, most are content to pursue or support efforts to keep crises from occurring by working via political parties, religious organizations, or non-profit advocacy orgs on issues such as climate change, food security, and economic inequality. There is also a small but rapidly growing segment of society that feels disempowered as the era of economic growth wanes, and that views society’s power holders as evil and corrupt. These dispossessed—whether followers of ISIS or Infowars—would prefer to “shake things up,” even to the point of bringing society to destruction, rather than suffer the continuation of the status quo. Unfortunately, this last group may have the easiest path of all.

By comparison, the number of those involved in the conversation is exceedingly small, countable probably in the hundreds of thousands, certainly not millions. Can we succeed? It depends on how one defines “success”—as the ability to maintain, for a little longer, an inherently unsustainable global industrial system? Or as the practical reduction in likely suffering on the part of the survivors of the eventual crash? A related query one often hears after environmental lectures is, Are we doing enough? If “Enough” means “enough to avert a system crash,” then the answer is no: it’s unlikely that anyone can deliver that outcome now. The question should be, What can we do—not to save a way of life that is unsalvageable, but to make a difference to the people and other species in harm’s way?

This is not a conversation about the long-term trajectory of human cultural evolution, though that’s an interesting subject for speculation. Assuming there are survivors, what will human society look like following the crises ensuing from climate change and the end of fossil fuels and capitalism? David Fleming’s book, Surviving the Future, and John Michael Greer’s, The Ecotechnic Future, both  offer useful thoughts in this regard. My own view is that it’s hard for us to envision what comes next because our imaginations are bounded by the reality we have known. What awaits will likely be as far removed from from modern industrial urban life as Iron-Age agrarian empires were from hunting-and-gathering bands. We are approaching one of history’s great discontinuities. The best we can do under the circumstances is to get our priorities and values straight (protect the vulnerable, preserve the best of what we have collectively achieved, and live a life that’s worthy) and put one foot in front of the other.

The conversation I’m pointing to here is about fairly short-term actions. And it doesn’t lend itself to building a big movement. For that, you need villains to blame and promises of revived national or tribal glory. For those engaged in the conversation, there’s only hard work and the satisfaction of honestly facing our predicament with an attitude of curiosity, engagement, and compassion. For us, threats of doom or promises of utopia are distractions or cop-outs.

Only those drawn to the conversation by temperament and education are likely to take it up. Advertising may not work. But having a few more hands on deck, and a few more resources to work with, can only help.

Peter Van Zant: Be Skeptical of NID Scare Tactics

NEVADA CITY, Calif. July 24, 2017 – Nevada Irrigation District (NID) still hasn’t dropped its ill-conceived plan to build Centennial Dam on the Bear River. They have yet to demonstrate the need for the project or explained how they plan to pay for the dam’s construction. And there is no assurance that the ratepayers won’t get stuck with the $1 billion tab either.

In the face of mounting public opposition, NID resorts to using scare tactics. The latest is NID’s claim that someone is going to take our water if we don’t ‘use’ it. However, California water rights laws guarantee that NID will always have priority over any other water agency for the rights to the water needed in the NID service area.

NID ratepayers need to ask the following questions:

Will hydropower sales pay for the dam? NID no longer plans to install hydropower at Centennial. But premium hydro-power revenues will eventually dissipate due to the ongoing construction of alternative electric power storage like PG&E’s recently commissioned Browns Valley battery installation and many others coming on line. Why do you think PG&E wants to sell its local hydro operations to NID?

How much more water do we need? According to NID’s own reports and local general plans there is very little additional water needed locally (including Placer County). And there’s really no new local water need if NID would just lead us to take the modest steps toward wiser water use being implemented elsewhere throughout the State. The number of new rate payers will not be enough to service a new $1 billion debt for the dam.

How will the dam be paid for? Most likely NID will need to finance the $1 billion dam project. So what will NID do? Sell water. That’s right, the huge debt needed to build Centennial will require NID to sell our water out of the area to water the lush lawns of Los Angeles and other Southern California desert towns.

Without the dam debt our water will be safe. The real threat is if NID finances Centennial Dam with out of district water sales. A water sale contract automatically removes county of origin protections for the water sold. When it’s gone, it is gone.

Our complex California water rights laws give NID first rights to this water. No one will ever ‘take’ our water. NID has a variety of water rights, many of which are pre-1927 that cannot be affected by any other filings now or in the future. Also, if a true local need for more water emerges in the future, NID gets first take because of laws passed after 1927 to protect watershed areas like NID’s from out of area water grabs.

Don’t be scared. Be skeptical.


Peter Van Zant- Peter is a former Nevada County Supervisor, a former President of the SYRCL board of directors, and a SYRCL Dam Watchdog. He lives in Nevada City with his wife Mary and three goofy pets.

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