Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Opportunities in disasters

The anniversary of September 11 brings back memories of a world, shocked by a tragedy, standing together with the U.S. -- in the famous words of Jean-Marie Colombani, of Paris' Le Monde, "We are all Americans."

But instead of leading to greater wisdom about our place in the world -- as tragedies can do -- or getting smarter about police work, we embarked on wars that ramped up the tragedy, spreading death, maiming, even torture in their wakes. Sadly, there are few people outside the U.S. who would now say "we are all Americans."

Naomi Klein newest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, excerpted in The Guardian, claims that worst excesses of capitalism frequently come into play following natural disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, and human-made disasters like the war in Iraq and the violent overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. These events result in shock and disorientation, according to Klein, and democratic processes and independent action fall by the wayside. Large corporations and their partners in right-wing governments use such moments to sweep away obstacles to centralized power and profit.

But it doesn't have to go that way. With climate change, there will be more and more natural disasters of all sorts. We need to get smarter about how to recover after disasters in ways that strengthen our capacity to take care of each other (including the vulnerable in our communities), preserve our commons, and build for our future.

The Common Ground collective in New Orleans is not only working to rebuild the grassroots strength of hard-hit neighborhoods in that city -- they are teaching other communities around the country how to prepare for disasters. The Community Solutions group is working on how to build resilient communities, and their annual conference is coming up in October. In Britain, communities are calling themselves "transition communities," and undertaking the process of shifting to a post-carbon way of life. In addition to contributing to the solution to global heating, this level of organization and resilience will position them to weather an increasing disrupted world.

As for me, I'm heading to Washington DC on Friday to attend the International Forum on Globalization's teach in on climate change, peak oil, and resource depletion.

Here's my thought on peak oil going in -- perhaps it will change once I listen to the international cast of speakers, including our own David Korten.

I think there is sufficient coal in the ground to keep the industrial world functioning for a long time after petroleum goes into decline. True, coal functions differently than liquid fossil fuels, but burned to generate electricity, coal can fuel transportation, and it can be liquefied. There is now a boom in the building of coal-fired plants across China and the United States, and Appalachian mountain tops are being removed to feed these plants.

To me, this is the danger -- not that we run out of energy, but that we switch to a fuel that is so poisonous to life. I am not at all confident in the claims that we can sequester the CO2 emissions from these plants, which is evidently what the NRDC believes, but we had better find out.

Meanwhile, at YES! we are looking at what it will take to transition to ways of life, transportation, land use, buildings, and policies that will avert the global emergency we now face with global heating. Stay tuned for our spring issue.


At 3:55 AM, Anonymous Liz said...

I'm more and more encouraged every day as I see people beginning to shed their denial--and their sense of helplessness. I live in a collective house where we share resources and work to live more sustainably; people who initially didn't understand what we were all about are now asking for more information! www.lizseymour.wordpress.com


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