Featured stories in this issue...
Incinerators Are Making a Comeback (or Trying)
Garbage incinerators are trying to make a comeback, claiming that
garbage is a renewable resource, and that energy from garbage will
free us from entanglements in the Middle East. None of it is true.
Forces Join Behind Waste-based Energy
The garbage industry has begun a major campaign to re-define
garbage as a renewable resource. If garbage were a renewable resource
and a renewable source of energy, then making more garbage and more
incinerators would become your patriotic duty. Bogus.
Corporate Campaign To Destroy the Internet
When the internet first blossomed, I said to myself, "If I were a
person committed to corporate power as a political philosophy, I would
make it my first priority to get rid of the internet." And now that's
exactly what's happening. --Peter Montague
The Middle Class Needs To Fight Back Now
"Political, business and academic elites are waging an outright war
on working men and women and their families, and there is no chance
the American middle class will survive this assault if the dominant
forces unleashed over the past five years continue unchecked."
We Can Save the World!
The critical period for a fundamental social shift in is now
compressed into a single lifetime. Without significant and widespread
changes, our global system could collapse into chaos. But a wave of
new thinking and the action it inspires offer us hope for a global
breakthrough that would create a better world for ourselves and our
Why Aren't We Shocked?
We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with
misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected.
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #877, Oct. 19, 2006
INCINERATORS ARE MAKING A COMEBACK (OR TRYING)
By Peter Montague
Cheap waste disposal prevents us from making progress against
So long as waste disposal remains cheap, corporations and governments
have little incentive to recycle, re-use, compost, or avoid making
waste in the first place.
If disposal is cheap, there is no compelling reason to invest in green
chemistry, clean production, alternative energy, green building, or
Cheap disposal = landfills and incinerators. Let's talk incinerators.
Garbage incinerators are making a big comeback in the U.S. -- or
trying to. The City of Los Angeles, California is thinking about
building seven of them. There may be as many as 40 (or more)
proposed incinerators of one kind or another in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto
Rico and the lower 48. All of them promise to take mixed municipal
waste and heat it up to reduce the volume of garbage and extract small
amounts of useful energy in the process.
Heating mixed waste (garbage) creates toxic air emissions and the
toxicant-containing residual -- whether ash or a rock-like "clinker"
-- will be buried in the ground where it remains available forever,
These new incinerators are never called "incinerators" -- they go by
names like pyrolysis or gasification plants, or plasma arc melters, or
simply "conversion" machines. But they all propose to heat mixed
waste, extract some energy, and bury the leftovers in the ground.
Rarely does anyone ask, "How much energy will it take to start from
scratch and re-create all the goods destroyed by the incinerator?" No
one asks because the answer reveals that incinerators are huge energy-
wasters, not energy-savers. As Monica Wilson of GAIA says (quoting
Paul Connett), "Even if you could make an incinerator safe, you
couldn't make one sensible."
Two things seem to be driving the incinerator resurgence:
(a) the recent glimmer of recognition in Washington that dependence on
oil is a bad for the planet and especially bad for the U.S.; and
(b) a federal law that requires electric utilities to buy any
electricity produced by incinerators.
For political reasons, incinerators have always been attractive to
some local officials. Take the proposal being pushed right now in St.
Petersburg, Florida, where Cecil D. Davis IV is running for City
Council. Mr. Davis is proposing to move 500 mostly-black families out
of their homes in south Brooksville to replace them with an
incinerator, which he promises will be built in record time if he gets
elected. The up-front costs to taxpayers will be $500 million.
Local governments rarely get a chance to play around with a huge sum
like $500 million of other people's money. All the political insiders
get to scoop off their own little slice of this huge pie -- lawyers,
bankers, engineers, environmental consultants, construction firms,
labor leaders, regulatory experts, realtors, lobbyists, and all manner
of other hangers-on will get a change to snag their own tenth-of-a-
percent and make a bundle. (A tenth of a percent of $500 million is
Furthermore, all the money will be sloshing around during the short
planning and construction phase. After the machine is built, and the
profits have been taken, the builders and their friends can retire
into the woodwork and disappear, leaving the taxpayers and future City
Councils to deal with mounting problems for the next 30 years or more.
And the problems are substantial. We searched a national database of
newspapers for incinerator stories that were published during the
first three weeks of October, 2006, and here are some of the problems
** In Akron, Ohio a company called Akron Thermal owes the city $5
million in unpaid sewer and water bills, $845,000 in unpaid rent, and
$80,000 in unpaid franchise fees. Akron Thermal also owes the state of
Ohio $3.2 million in unpaid excise taxes, and it owes Summit County
about $300,000 in unpaid public utility personal property tax.
Akron Thermal no longer burns garbage because the plant suffered a
serious explosion in 1984, killing 3 workers, when a New Jersey firm
sent some illegal garbage to the plant. A decade a later, a scam to
avoid paying plant fees resulted in the arrest of a dozen waste
haulers and plant employees, costing the city $500,000. Now the plant
burns wood chips and low-sulphur coal because local businesses are
dependent on the steam from the plant for heat.
** In Passaic County, New Jersey a waste hauler is suing the local
utility authority for $3.5 million it says the county owes. The County
says the finances of its incinerator are so shakey it can't afford to
pay its debts. This situation developed after the U.S. Supreme Court
declared that New Jersey waste producers could ship their wastes out
of county (indeed, out of state) instead of sending them to the
expensive Passaic incinerator. This legal decision in 1997 threw the
incinerator's business plan into a cocked hat. Anyone thinking about
building an incinerator today should think twice -- changing laws and
regulations can cause bankruptcy overnight.
** Biddeford, Maine has spent over two years negotiating with the
Maine Energy Recovery Company, trying to settle lawsuits, disputes
over tax abatements, and disagreements over the assessed value of the
incinerator. Residents of Biddeford have complained about odors from
the plant since it opened in 1987. Reportedly the new agreement
between Biddeford and the incinerator operator imposes financial
penalties on the city if it ever sues the incinerator operator, and
opens the incinerator to a new class of waste -- construction and
demolition debris. In other locales, construction and demolition
debris is being recycled and re-used, not destroyed by incineration.
Suits between incinerator companies and governments are common, so
Biddeford may be getting itself into a weak position by agreeing to
pay penalties if it ever has to sue.
** In Georgia, politics has raised its venal head in the state
legislature, where the waste industry is lobbying to gut the state's
sunshine laws. A Republican proposal would cloak local economic
development decisions -- including the decision to build incinerators
-- in secrecy until after the deal is done. Specifically, the
proposed law "would allow unelected boards to provide incentives for
to provide incentives for companies to build incinerators, waste
disposal sites or other job-creating businesses without having to
disclose them publicly until after the deal had been negotiated,"
according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
** In Peekskill, New York the city tried to charge waste haulers a
special fee for damage and pollution caused by 3000 trucks per year
delivering garbage to the RESCO incinerator. The city claimed that the
incinerator degraded city streets and dripped noxious pollution into
the community from leaky, overfilled trucks. A judge struck down the
Peekskill law as unconstitutional.
** The contribution of now-defunct incinerators to soil and water
contamination is the subject of specific, multi-million dollar
investigations in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida,
California, and Ohio. And remember, this is just a review of news
stories during a one-month period, October, 2006 (and the month isn't
** Federal oversight of incinerators is reportedly less than thorough
-- even in the case of the most dangerous machines, those that burn
hazardous wastes. After the Sierra Club and the American Bottom
Conservancy sued to force EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]
to enforce the law, U.S. EPA demanded that the Onyx Incinerator in
Sauget, Illinois apply for a permit to operate. Onyx operated for
years without a permit. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
the incinerator had been fined repeatedly by state authorities for
uncontrolled releases, accidents, and fires.
** In Texas, the incinerator industry has lobbied for the past three
legislative sessions to try to get municipal garbage defined as a
"renewable energy source." So far the effort has failed, but it is
crystal clear that this redefinition is a main strategy of the
Think about that. If garbage were defined as a "renewable energy
resource," garbage incinerators would naturally become an official
part of the nation's renewable energy strategy. This will be good for
incinerator companies but bad for everyone else.
Burning garbage wastes huge amounts of energy because everything
destroyed in an incinerator must be re-created from scratch starting
with the mining and logging of virgin materials, transportation,
processing, more transportation, and manufacture -- all accompanied by
massive pollution and waste.
There can only be an endless supply of garbage if the U.S. maintains
its wasteful lifestyle. When we get around to adopting a precautionary
waste philosophy (zero waste), garbage will diminish dramatically.
Incinerator companies that need garbage to feed their machines will
oppose sensible solid waste policies by hook and by crook. We must
therefore once again mount a serious campaign against them and their
Our thanks to Monica Wilson and Annie Leonard of GAIA for recent
informative interviews about the resurgence of incineration in the
Return to Table of Contents
From: Waste News, Oct. 9, 2006
FORCES JOIN BEHIND WASTE-BASED ENERGY
By Joe Truini
It's the birth of a new partnership, and a new term, to boot.
Several waste industry groups, along with a professional and a
governmental organization, have formed a loose coalition to promote
recovering energy from waste, what they call waste-based energy.
The coalition wants to educate lawmakers and the public that waste
provides a vast amount of resources to generate energy and that there
is a distinction among the various technologies, said Ted Michaels,
president of the Integrated Waste Services Association, which
represents the waste-to-energy industry.
"To avoid some confusion, we wanted to make it clear that there was a
whole universe of waste-based energy," he said. "Federal and state
policy makers ought to look at developing a full range of incentives
to encourage waste-based energy projects."
Such projects not only include burning waste to create electricity, or
waste-to-energy, but other means of converting waste to energy, such
as capturing landfill gas.
"The energy capacity available from solid waste is largely untapped,"
said John Skinner, executive director and CEO of the Solid Waste
Association of North America.
Joining SWANA and the ISWA in the partnership are the National Solid
Wastes Management Association, the American Society of Mechanical
Engineers and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
But the coalition's efforts simply distract from real waste management
and energy-saving solutions such as waste prevention, reduction and
recycling, said Monica Wilson of the Global Alliance for Incinerator
And pushing waste-to-energy and landfill gas projects under the
umbrella of renewable energy takes away from other sources such wind
and solar power, Wilson said.
"It just sounds like an attempt to take advantage of America's growing
concern over energy costs," she said. "I'd say these folks are trying
to move us in the wrong direction."
But waste-based energy not only provides reliable and affordable
energy, it also can lessen the cost of waste management services for
cities, said Tom Cochran, executive director of the U.S. Conference of
The coalition has not developed an action plan but will work with
Congress, federal agencies, state governments and private companies to
promote waste-based energy. Its goal is to increase incentives and
investment in the industry.
"We are certainly interested in keeping our eyes open on the Hill for
opportunities," Michaels said. "It's a matter of educating folks and
letting them know that there is an awful lot of energy that can be
tapped in the waste stream."
The nation's 89 waste-to-energy plants have total power generation
capacity of nearly 2,700 megawatts, about 20 percent of all renewable
Contact Waste News reporter Joe Truini at (330) 865-6166 or
Return to Table of Contents
From: TomPaine.com, Oct. 16, 2006
AGAINST AN IMPERIAL INTERNET
By Bill Moyers and Scott Fogdall
Bill Moyers is host of "The Net At Risk," a documentary special airing
Wednesday, October 18 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). Scott
Fogdall is with Films Media Group. Visit www.pbs.org/moyers.
It was said that all roads led to Rome. However exaggerated, the image
is imprinted in our imagination, reminding us of the relentless
ingenuity of the ancient Romans and their will to control an empire.
For centuries Roman highways linked far-flung provinces with a
centralized web of power. The might of the imperial legions was for
naught without the means to transport them. The flow of trade -- the
bloodstream of the empire's wealth -- also depended on the integrity
of the roadways. And because Roman citizens could pass everywhere,
more or less unfettered on their travels, ideas and cultural elements
circulated with the same fluidity as commerce.
Like the Romans, we Americans have used our technology to build a
sprawling infrastructure of ports, railroads and interstates which
serves the strength of our economy and the mobility of our society.
Yet as significant as these have been, they pale beside the potential
of the Internet. Almost overnight, it has made sending and receiving
information easier than ever. It has opened a vast new marketplace of
ideas, and it is transforming commerce and culture.
It may also revitalize democracy.
"Wait a minute!" you say. "You can't compare the Internet to the Roman
empire. There's no electronic Caesar, no center, controlling how the
World Wide Web is used."
Right you are -- so far. The Internet is revolutionary because it is
the most democratic of media. All you need to join the revolution is a
computer and a connection. We don't just watch; we participate,
collaborate and create. Unlike television, radio and cable, whose
hirelings create content aimed at us for their own reasons, with the
Internet every citizen is potentially a producer. The conversation of
democracy belongs to us.
That wide-open access is the founding principle of the Internet, but
it may be slipping through our fingers. How ironic if it should pass
irretrievably into history here, at the very dawn of the Internet Age.
The Internet has become the foremost testing ground where the forces
of innovation, corporate power, the public interest and government
regulation converge. Already, the notion of a level playing field --
what's called network neutrality -- is under siege by powerful forces
trying to tilt the field to their advantage. The Bush majority on the
FCC has bowed to the interests of the big cable and telephone
companies to strip away, or undo, the Internet's basic DNA of openness
and non-discrimination. When some members of Congress set out to
restore network neutrality, they were thwarted by the industry's high
spending lobbyists. This happened according to the standard practices
of a rented Congress -- with little public awareness and scarce
attention from the press. There had been a similar blackout 10 years
ago, when, in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress carved up
our media landscape. They drove a dagger in the heart of radio,
triggered a wave of consolidation that let the big media companies get
bigger, and gave away to rich corporations -- for free -- public
airwaves worth billions.
This time, they couldn't keep secret what they were doing. Word got
around that without public participation these changes could lead to
unsettling phenomenon -- the rise of digital empires that limit, or
even destroy, the capabilities of small Internet users. Organizations
across the political spectrum -- from the Christian Coalition to
MoveOn.org -- rallied in protest, flooding Congress with more than a
million letters and petitions to restore network neutrality. Enough
politicians have responded to keep the outcome in play.
At the core this is a struggle about the role and dimensions of human
freedom and free speech. But it is also a contemporary clash of a
centuries-old debate over free-market economics and governmental
regulation, one that finds Adam Smith invoked both by advocates for
government action to protect the average online wayfarer and by
opponents of any regulation at all.
In The Wealth of Nations, Smith argued that only the unfettered
dealings of merchants and customers could ensure economic prosperity.
But he also warned against the formation of monopolies -- mighty
behemoths that face little or no competition. Our history brims with
his legacy. Consider the explosion of industry and the reign of the
robber barons during the first Gilded Age in the last decades of the
19th century. Settlements and cities began to fill the continent,
spirited by a crucial technological advance: the railroad. As railroad
companies sprang up, they merged into monopolies. Merchants and
farmers were often charged outlandish freight prices -- until the
1870s, when the Granger Laws and other forms of public regulation
provided some protection to customers.
At about the same time, chemist Samuel Andrews -- inventor of a new
method for refining oil into kerosene -- partnered with John D.
Rockefeller to create the Standard Oil Company. By century's end
Standard Oil had forged a monopoly, controlling a network of pipelines
and railways that spanned the country. Competition became practically
impossible as the mammoth company manipulated prices and crushed rival
after hapless rival. Only with the passage of the Sherman Anti-Trust
Act in 1890 did the public have hope of recourse against the
overwhelming might of concentrated economic and political power. But,
less than a century later a relative handful of large companies would
assemble monopolies over broadcasting, newspapers, cable and even the
operating system of computers, and their rule would go essentially
unchallenged by the U.S. government.
Now we have an Internet infrastructure that is rapidly evolving, in
more ways than one. As often occurred on Rome's ancient highways,
cyber-sojourners could soon find themselves paying up in order to
travel freely. Our new digital monopolists want to use their new power
to reverse the way the Internet now works for us: allowing those with
the largest bankrolls to route their content on fast lanes, while
placing others in a congested thoroughfare. If they succeed in taking
a medium that has an essential democratic nature and monetizing every
aspect of it, America will divide further between the rich and poor
and between those who have access to knowledge and those who do not.
The companies point out that there have been few Internet neutrality
violations. Don't mess with something that's been working for
everyone, they say; don't add safeguards when none have so far been
needed. But the emerging generation, which will inherit the results of
this Washington battle, gets it. Writing in The Yale Daily News,
Dariush Nothaft, a college junior, after hearing with respect the
industry's case, argues that:
Nevertheless, the Internet's power as a social force counters these
arguments....A non-neutral Internet would discourage competition,
thereby costing consumers money and diminishing the benefits of lower
subscription prices for Internet access. More importantly, people
today pay for Internet access with the understanding that they are
accessing a wide, level field of sites where only their preferences
will guide them. Non-neutrality changes the very essence of the
Internet, thereby making the product provided to users less valuable.
So the Internet is reaching a crucial crossroads in its astonishing
evolution. Will we shape it to enlarge democracy in the digital era?
Will we assure that commerce is not its only contribution to the
The monopolists tell us not to worry: They will take care of us, and
see to it that the public interest is honored and democracy served by
this most remarkable of technologies.
They said the same thing about radio.
And about television.
And about cable.
Will future historians speak of an Internet Golden Age that ended when
the 21st century began?
Copyright 2006 TomPaine.com
Return to Table of Contents
From: CNN.com, Oct. 18, 2006
MIDDLE CLASS NEEDS TO FIGHT BACK NOW
By Lou Dobbs
NEW YORK (CNN) -- I don't know about you, but I can't take seriously
anyone who takes either the Republican Party or Democratic Party
seriously -- in part because neither party takes you and me seriously;
in part because both are bought and paid for by corporate America and
special interests. And neither party gives a damn about the middle
Our country's middle class is not just collateral damage in what has
become all-out class warfare. Political, business and academic elites
are waging an outright war on working men and women and their
families, and there is no chance the American middle class will
survive this assault if the dominant forces unleashed over the past
five years continue unchecked.
They've accomplished this through large campaign contributions, armies
of lobbyists that have swamped Washington, and control of political
and economic think tanks and media. Lobbyists, in fact, are the arms
dealers in the war on the middle class, brokering money, influence and
information between their clients our elected officials.
Yet in my entire career, I've literally never heard anyone in Congress
argue that lobbyists are bad for America. In 1968 there were only 63
lobbyists in Washington. Today, there are more than 34,000, and
lobbyists now outnumber our elected representatives and their staffs
by a 2-to-1 margin.
According to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, from 1998
through 2004, lobbyists spent nearly $12 billion to not only influence
legislation, but in many cases to write the language of the laws and
Individual firms, corporations and national organizations spent a
record $2.14 billion on lobbying members of Congress and 220 other
federal agencies in 2004, according to PoliticalMoneyLine. That's
nearly $6 million a day spent to influence our leaders. We really do
have the best government money can buy.
But as I discuss in my new book, "War on the Middle Class," what if we
all resolved that we would not permit either the Republicans or
Democrats to waste their time and ours with wedge issues? Both parties
love to excite their bases by focusing on wedge issues like gay
marriage, the pledge of allegiance, school prayer, judicial
appointments, gun control, stem cell research and welfare reform.
Each of these wedge issues is important in varying degrees to large
numbers of us, but none of them rises to the level of urgency or the
requirement of immediate change in public policy.
These issues are raised by both political parties to distract and
divert public attention from the profound issues -- like educating our
youth, economic inequality and the war against radical Islamic
terrorists -- that affect our daily lives and the American way of
life. Imagine the consternation in Washington if both parties had to
contend with a national electorate whose political affiliation had
dramatically changed within a matter of weeks or months.
In both Republican and Democratic administrations, Congress has passed
and sustained billions of dollars in royalty payments and subsidies to
big oil companies; pushed through a corporate-written, consumer-
crippling bankruptcy law; embraced the death of the estate tax;
approved every free trade deal brought to a vote; and supported
illegal immigration for the sake of cheap labor.
The party strategists and savants are telling us that fewer Americans
will turn out to the polls than ever before, disgusted by a disgraced
former congressman. But we don't have to wait for the midterm
elections to begin to engage in our new political life.
There's something all of us could do that would have an immediate
impact and send a powerful message to both corporation-dominated
political parties and to our elected officials in Washington. Our so-
called representatives in both parties have been working against the
interests of the middle class for so long that they take our votes for
granted, or they take advantage of the fact that a sizable number of
us don't vote at all.
So what if a majority of us decided once and for all to walk into our
town and city halls all over the country and change our party
affiliation from Republican or Democrat to independent? What if that
sizable number of us who don't vote at all decided to register as
independents? For the first time in decades, working middle-class
Americans might just get the attention of our elected officials in
Our middle class has suffered in silence for far too long, and it
cannot afford to suffer or be silent much longer. Hardworking
Americans have not spoken out about their increasingly marginalized
role in this society, and as a consequence they've all but lost their
Without that strong, clear and vibrant voice, all the major decisions
about America and our future will be made by the elites of government,
big business and the dominant special interests. Those elites treasure
your silence, as it enables them to claim America's future for their
I sincerely hope that we will find the resolve to face these
challenges to our way of life, and we do so soon. George Bernard Shaw
said, "It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid."
I'm stupid enough to be absolutely sincere in the hope that middle-
class America will awake soon and take action.
Return to Table of Contents
From: Ode Magazine, Sept. 1, 2006
WE CAN SAVE THE WORLD!
Humanity faces a choice between collapsing into chaos and evolving
into a sustainable, ethical global community. There's never been a
more powerful moment in all history to make a difference in the world.
By Ervin Laszlo
A Chinese proverb warns, "If we do not change direction, we are likely
to end up exactly where we are headed." Applied to humanity today,
this would be disastrous.
Without a change in direction, we are on the way to a world of
increasing political conflict and war; accelerating climate change and
pollution; food, water and energy shortages. We also run the risk of
mega-disasters caused by nuclear accidents and global warming. Albert
Einstein told us we cannot solve the major problems we face at the
same level of thinking that created them. He was right. Yet we
continue trying to fight terrorism, poverty, environmental
degradation, even obesity and other "sicknesses of civilization" with
exactly the means and methods that produced the problems in the first
A look at history, however, shows that fundamental shifts in societies
have happened at key points throughout our past. Look at the
unprecedented appearance of major civilizations in the Andes, Mexico,
Egypt, China, India and the Euphrates valley. Consider the rise of
democracy in ancient Athens and the emergence and spread of the
Renaissance in medieval Europe. But there is one difference today. In
the past, there was time for new thinking to evolve over generations
or even centuries. This is no longer the case. The critical period for
a fundamental social shift in is now compressed into a single
Without significant and widespread changes, our global system could
collapse into chaos. But a wave of new thinking and the action it
inspires offer us hope for a global breakthrough that would create a
better world for ourselves and our children.
Let me offer one example of how such a breakthrough might look: Faced
with growing problems and shared threats, citizens across the planet
pull together to form associations and networks to pursue their dreams
of peace and environmental sustainability.
Business leaders and entrepreneurs recognize the importance of these
aspirations and respond with new goods and services that help make
them a reality. Soon, global news and entertainment media commit
themselves to chronicling emerging social and cultural innovations. On
the Internet and through other grassroots communication networks,
people everywhere begin exploring new visions of the natural world,
the global community and human existence itself.
Out of all this comes a new culture of solidarity and social
responsibility across the planet. Public support mounts for government
policies that institute social and ecological repairs. Money is
diverted from the military and defence industries to the needs of
people. New measures are implemented to develop sustainable energy,
transportation, industrial, technological and agricultural systems.
Huge numbers of people around the world get better access to food,
jobs, and education.
As a result of these developments, international mistrust, ethnic
conflict, racial oppression, economic inequity, and gender inequality
give way to new traditions of mutual respect. Rather than breaking
down in conflict and war, humanity breaks through to a sustainable
world of self-reliant but co-operating communities, enterprises,
countries and regions.
At this point in our history, human beings have accumulated
unprecedented power -- hence responsibility -- to decide our destiny.
Although the prospect of global breakdown stares us in the face, it is
by no means inevitable.
We also have the unprecedented option of choosing a brighter tomorrow.
Nothing prevents us from shifting our evolutionary path toward a
peaceful and sustainable civilization -- nothing except our own
patterns of thinking and action. The leaders now in power and the
mainstream society they represent have not yet glimpsed a different
future for our civilization. Yet many other people are inspired by
visions of a global breakthrough that are already emerging at the
creative frontiers of our society. Societies are seldom culturally
monolithic in their thinking. This is especially true in eras of
innovation and ferment. Those periods spawn a large number of
subcultures, or alternative cultures, that spring up alongside the
prevailing power structure.
This is what we see happening today, with some of these alternative
cultures devoting themselves to imaginatively rethinking the
priorities, values, and behaviours of society, giving particular
attention to how we can improve environmental sustainability and human
ethics. This sort of fundamental reassessment of how we live, even if
overlooked or ignored by those in power, can spark rapid and
revolutionary change. While barely visible in the major media, a
number of grassroots movements, from global justice to holistic health
to spiritual exploration, are already blazing the trail away from the
usual assumptions of mainstream culture.
Even the people involved with these movements underestimate their own
numbers, in part because most of them go about their business without
trying to convert others and because they lack social and political
cohesion. Yet the more serious and sincere of these alternative
cultures show promise as catalysts of a social breakthrough. Unlike
many subcultures and sects, these people do not relish taking
antisocial stances or want to hide away from everyone else. Rather,
they are quietly but profoundly engaged in the world, as they
challenge accepted beliefs and pursue new avenues of personal and
The people drawn to these sometimes-diffuse movements are united by
the aspiration to live a more simple, healthy, whole and ethical life.
They are appalled by what they see as the heartless impersonality and
mindless destructiveness of contemporary society.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences, founded in California by Apollo
astronaut Edgar Mitchell to explore the potential for expanding human
consciousness, has documented the following changes in values and
behaviour among some of these subcultures now emerging in the United
* A shift from competition to partnership
* A shift from greed to caring
* A shift from feelings of scarcity to feelings of sufficiency
* A shift from reliance on outer sources of "authority" to inner
sources of "knowing"
* A shift from viewing the world as mechanistic system to viewing it
as a living system
* And, perhaps most significant of all, a shift from separation to
wholeness -- a fresh recognition of the interconnectedness of all
aspects of life and reality.
Such a significant redirection of values among a growing number of
people merits serious consideration. Yet mainstream society and media
often dismiss these developments as "New Age," not bothering to
differentiate between the sincere, positive people in alternative
cultures and others more inclined to the narcissism, naivete or
hucksterism. To dismiss everyone in these alternative cultures as cult
members or "flakes" is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
No new chapter in human civilization will ever emerge if we just sit
around with our hands in our laps waiting for a holistic convergence
that will foster a new way of thinking. A critical mass of people in
society must stand up to make it happen. That means you and me, and
many others around the planet. And now is the time to get started.
Following are some decisive things you and I can do right now, on a
personal and a social basis, to promote the shift toward peaceful and
1. Let go of old beliefs that no longer make sense
Here are good places to start:
* Nature is inexhaustible.
* The world operates like a giant mechanism.
* Life is a struggle and only the fittest survive.
* The market is the only means of distributing wealth and benefits.
* The more you earn and consume the more successful and happy you are.
2. Think globally, act morally
In a healthy, high-functioning society, everyone shares a common
morality. But what is moral in one culture may be unacceptable in
another. This is a cause of much international tension and conflict
today. As countries grow more interdependent, economically and
socially, the urgent need surfaces for a morality that can be accepted
by all humans, wherever they live.
What would such a morality look like? Traditionally, setting the norms
of morality was the task of the religions. Today the dominance of
science and economics has reduced the power of religious doctrines in
many nations to regulate human behaviour. The attempts of Marx, Lenin,
and Mao to replace religion with their own moral precepts have failed.
That leaves liberalism (in the classic sense of free-market economics
and elections) as the most widely espoused morality in the world
today. The essence of "liberal" morality is "live and let live":
people are not to be prevented from pursuing self-interest as long as
they observe the rules of civilized society.
But with the growing problems the world faces today, there are serious
risks involved in classical liberalism's insistence that everyone may
do as they please so long as they don't break any laws. The rich and
the powerful consume a disproportionate share of the resources to
which the poor, too, have a legitimate claim. Rich and poor alike
inflict irreversible damage on the environment that all people must
Rather than "live and let live," we need a universal morality better
adapted to the conditions in which humanity finds itself. One
inspiration might be Gandhi's message, "Live more simply, so others
can simply live."
That advice is even more urgent today than it was in Gandhi's day. It
is also easier for us to do. Today it's widely recognized that living
simply is not a form of punishment or sacrifice. On the contrary,
simple living is a sensible choice that offers us greater personal
well-being and a deeper sense of meaning in life. The survival of
humanity is intimately tied to nurturing a sense of solidarity and co-
operation in the global community, as well as a respect for the
integrity of nature.
3. Dream -- and take your dreams seriously
In 1968, when Senator Robert Kennedy ran for president of the U.S., he
said, "Some men see things as they are and say, why? I dream things
that never were and say, why not?" To imagine what you want for the
world is not foolish nor a waste of time. Today, as we face the choice
between a global breakdown or breakthrough, dreams are more important
than ever before.
4. Evolve your consciousness
Expanding your own sense of consciousness can be a powerful tool in
bringing critical changes to the world. How? In a heightened "decision
window" time such as ours, even small shifts can influence the course
of civilization. As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the
world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
One way to do it that may surprise you is by entering a so-called
altered state of consciousness that is typical of deep meditation and
intense prayer. This allows you to experience a profound oneness with
the natural world and other people. whether they are next door, in
distant parts of the world, or part of generations yet to come -- and
realize that the fate of nature and people is not separate from your
Not everybody, of course, is drawn to deep prayer or meditation.
Fortunately, other paths lead to the same place. Another route is to
get in touch with our bodies. We use our bodies as we use our cars or
computers, giving them commands to take us where we want to go and do
what we want to have done. We live in our heads. We can break free of
that cerebral imprisonment with yoga, tai chi, qi gong, Ayurvedic
exercises, as well as simple breathing techniques or deep relaxation.
Even a daily walk can help.
The stresses and strains of existence also have an impact on our
emotional lives. Negative feelings such as anger, hate, fear, anxiety,
suspicion, jealousy, contempt and indifference dominate the tenor of
modern existence. Negative experiences generate negative attitudes
that create further negative experiences. This cycle must be broken.
Take stock of your feelings and make a conscious effort to transform
negative emotions. It is not easy to replace hate with love, suspicion
with trust, contempt with respect, jealousy with appreciation and
anxiety with self-assurance, yet it can be done. All the religions and
spiritual traditions of the world offer ways to do it. Or try secular
techniques, such as therapy or support groups, that allow you to share
your fears and hopes. Positive emotions can be generated by opening
ourselves to experiences of nature, beholding the beauty of a sunset
or making time to relax and play with our friends and family.
Addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress in February of 1990,
Vaclav Havel, then the president of Czechoslovakia, said, "Without a
global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will
change for the better... and the catastrophe toward which this world
is headed -- the ecological, social, demographic or general breakdown
of civilization -- will be unavoidable."
Havel did not mean to discourage us with pessimism, but challenge us
to re-examine our thinking and evolve our consciousness. If we do so,
the brave but small movement seeking a more holistic, peaceful and
sustainable civilization could turn into a powerful force that washes
away the old mindset that's ruled the world for too long. We can
change the world and leave our children with a better place to live.
Adapted with kind permission from Ervin Laszlo's new book, The Chaos
Point: The World at the Crossroads (Hampton Roads, 2006, ISBN
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From: New York Times, Oct. 16, 2006
WHY AREN'T WE SHOCKED?
By Bob Herbert
"Who needs a brain when you have these?" -- message on an Abercrombie
& Fitch T-shirt for young women
In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania
and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of
their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately
attacked only the girls.
Ten girls were shot and five killed at the Amish school. One girl was
killed and a number of others were molested in the Colorado attack. In
the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was
made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman
had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or
religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids.
Or only the Jews.
There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first
recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that
kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and
reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really
was: a hate crime.
None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have
become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny
that violence against females is more or less to be expected. Stories
about the rape, murder and mutilation of women and girls are staples
of the news, as familiar to us as weather forecasts. The startling
aspect of the Pennsylvania attack was that this terrible thing
happened at a school in Amish country, not that it happened to girls.
The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so
pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to
shock. Guys at sporting events and other public venues have shown no
qualms about raising an insistent chant to nearby women to show their
breasts. An ad for a major long-distance telephone carrier shows three
apparently naked women holding a billing statement from a competitor.
The text asks, "When was the last time you got screwed?" An ad for
Clinique moisturizing lotion shows a woman's face with the lotion
spattered across it to simulate the climactic shot of a porn video.
We have a problem. Staggering amounts of violence are unleashed on
women every day, and there is no escaping the fact that in the most
sensational stories, large segments of the population are titillated
by that violence. We've been watching the sexualized image of the
murdered 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey for 10 years. JonBenet is dead.
Her mother is dead. And we're still watching the video of this poor
child prancing in lipstick and high heels.
What have we learned since then? That there's big money to be made
from thongs, spandex tops and sexy makeovers for little girls. In a
misogynistic culture, it's never too early to drill into the minds of
girls that what really matters is their appearance and their ability
to please men sexually.
A girl or woman is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so in
the U.S. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far
beyond the ability of any agency to count. We're all implicated in
this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls
is linked at its core to the wider society's casual willingness to
dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual
vessels -- objects -- and never, ever as the equals of men.
"Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible," said Taina
Bien-Aime, executive director of the women's advocacy group Equality
That was never clearer than in some of the extreme forms of
pornography that have spread like nuclear waste across mainstream
America. Forget the embarrassed, inhibited raincoat crowd of the old
days. Now Mr. Solid Citizen can come home, log on to this $7 billion
mega-industry and get his kicks watching real women being beaten and
sexually assaulted on Web sites with names like "Ravished Bride" and
"Rough Sex -- Where Whores Get Owned."
Then, of course, there's gangsta rap, and the video games where the
players themselves get to maul and molest women, the rise of pimp
culture (the Academy Award-winning song this year was "It's Hard Out
Here for a Pimp"), and on and on.
You're deluded if you think this is all about fun and games. It's all
part of a devastating continuum of misogyny that at its farthest
extreme touches down in places like the one-room Amish schoolhouse in
normally quiet Nickel Mines, Pa.
Return to Table of Contents
Rachel's Democracy & Health News (formerly Rachel's Environment &
Health News) highlights the connections between issues that are
often considered separately or not at all.
The natural world is deteriorating and human health is declining
because those who make the important decisions aren't the ones who
bear the brunt. Our purpose is to connect the dots between human
health, the destruction of nature, the decline of community, the
rise of economic insecurity and inequalities, growing stress among
workers and families, and the crippling legacies of patriarchy,
intolerance, and racial injustice that allow us to be divided and
therefore ruled by the few.
In a democracy, there are no more fundamental questions than, "Who
gets to decide?" And, "How do the few control the many, and what
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