I woke up this morning filled with joy, elated and proud to be an American.
On Friday, however, I was not sure how to feel or what to think. To say that I was upset is an understatement.
You see, it was Friday that my entire school gathered for convocation and watched the Inauguration of our new President. Although Mr. Trump was not my preferred choice to become our new President, the ceremony itself was not what upset me. No, not at all.
White House climate change web page as of January 20th, 2017
It was later in the day when one of our school’s College Counselors, Ms. Armato, shared the news that the White House website had already removed its LGBT and Climate Change pages that the Obama administration had built and embraced. After seven years on campus for Middle and High School I’m known, I suppose, for many things and two of those are my passion for diversity, as a member of our school’s Diversity Council, and the other is my work related to the environment, especially climate change.
Washington D.C. Women’s March, January 21st, 2017
In a simultaneous change, at the same time that our new President was being sworn into office, his new administration was taking one of, if not their very first, actions in leading his vision of America by removing these pages from the world’s eyes and in doing so sending a strong, disheartening message. His message could not be more clear: LGBT rights and climate change are unimportant to him and his followers. That reality, those actions, made me sad. So sad that I was in tears multiple times on Friday. Click here to read an article about the website changes.
But today is, thankfully, different.
My elation has to do with the millions of amazing women and men that marched in Washington D.C., here in Miami and all over the world yesterday to send a message to Mr. Trump that we will not allow our voices to be silenced or our concerns diminished. The women, and those with them, who descended on Washington one day after the Inauguration far outnumbered those who attended Mr. Trump’s ceremony and that, too, gives me great hope. Their powerful passion can (and must) now be turned into votes.
Demonstrators in New York, January 21st, 2017
Until then, we cannot forget the first actions of our new President. How he attacked our LGBT friends or the environment. Or learning a day later that the National Park system’s leadership was banned from using social media after publishing pictures of Washington’s Mall, the park it oversees between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capital, that compared Trump’s Inauguration day with that of President Obama’s eight years earlier. Or any of the disturbing, terrible things that we will likely witness over the next four years.
National Park Service retweets comparison of Obama and Trump inauguration
Let us use all of these things to motivate us to work hard to make progress and positive changes wherever possible within our own communities. Speak up. Speak out. And when it comes to the environment remember that science trumps politics.
Let us use these events to register to vote and then to voice our views by turning out to express ourselves in record numbers.
That’s my plan.
To work hard to make a positive difference wherever possible while fighting for what’s right and fixing what’s broken. I do hope that you will join me and, while you are at it, please bring a friend or two, we can use all of the help we can find.
Together we can do great things in this amazing place called the United States of America. And along the way when you suffer from doubt or fear or shed a tear, please think of those patriotic people that marched all over the world yesterday. They are my inspiration and this is my plan.
I have only ever written the blogs that you have read here at The Sink or Swim Project, but I am delighted to say that changes today. I am honored to introduce to you a guest blog from my good friend Mr. Dick Jacobs. Dick is a lawyer by education and today, as a man in his eighties, continues to thankfully practice law with a focus on our environment. I met Dick as a result of his amazing work with Our Children’s Trust, a group of inspired youth that are fighting for climate justice in state and federal court all over the our country. If you have not learned about Our Children’s Trust, please click here and keep an eye out for news about my future involvement in the organization’s pursuit of climate justice here in Florida.
What today’s guest blogger really is, is an explorer and a photographer and a writer and a very passionate man when it comes to our planet. Dick Jacobs has traveled the world many times over and has visited all seven continents from Africa (where I will be heading in a few weeks) to Antarctica, from North America to the Himalaya Mountains. Dick’s book, Wonderlust, is a gorgeous coffee table size reflection in story and photographs of his life, as he says, “wondering while wandering,” that I highly suggest.
So, without further adieu, allow me to share with you Dick’s latest blog; a piece that is most certainly topical given the changing climate of American politics and the fact that, as Dick says, “democracy is not a spectator sport.”
HOW WILL WE FILL AMERICA’S MOST IMPORTANT OFFICES?
Sunrise or Sunset?
Chapter 26, the final chapter of Wonderlust, Where Will Our Stories Lead Us: Sunrise or Sunset?, poses the question:
“Where will the stories we’ve gathered on our Wanderings and fixed within our belief systems lead us?”
And makes a suggestion:
“What must we do? Create the right stories for our inner self that will lead to the right actions by our outer self. Our choices of stories will carry us on a journey of illuminating Sunrise or a journey of darkening Sunset.”
As 2017 is now upon us, and we consider our “new beginnings” and reflect on 2016, I could not help but consider the Chapter 26 question.
For 2016 will surely go down as the “Year of the Stories” – the year shaped by invented truths and fake news, with yet-to-be-determined real-world consequences.
A few weeks after our 2016 election, Story Hinckley wrote Why fake news holds such allure, pointing out that for many voters, “Fake news sites are essentially the only outlets these readers say they can trust.” When what’s going on, or being advocated, in our world challenges our deeply-held beliefs, fake news that’s in sync with our attitudes and propensities insulates us. It reaffirms our world views and validity. It’s the comforting theme underpinning fake news, not the accuracy or inaccuracy of the facts it touts, that resonates with us.
“But here’s where problem lies with fake news and the human mind. . . . [O]ur minds make value judgments about what to keep. Humor tips the scales in favor of being remembered and recalled, even when counterarguments are strong. . . . ‘When you have exposure to fake news or satire, or any content at all, as soon as those constructs have been accessed and brought into working memory, they are there. You can’t un-think them.’ This mental reflex may explain why caricature traits — ‘Al Gore is stiff and robotic’ or ‘George W. Bush is dumb’ — persist in the zeitgeist for so long despite being untrue.”
Of course, fake election news is not the only volume of incorrect news we experience. Fake news has shaped our thoughts and reactions about such important issues as: the safety of vaccinations, the virtues of smoking, the superiority of a race, and climate change being a hoax. In fact, fake news is an industry with high-paying jobs for those who master its persuasion. Oreskes’s and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt – How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, provides a sobering, unsettling look at the industry.
Were this year’s election winners and losers the products of 2016 being the “Year of the Stories?” The election results certainly reflect an uprising of “America’s Forgotten Class”, those living in small towns and cities, particularly in the Rust Belt.
Many of the Forgotten Class never voted before. Did fake news drive them to action?
It would be easy to criticize these energized voters for being swayed by the propaganda effect of false news. We could lament for the Forgotten Class being energized by impossible political dreams. Dreams about making America Great Again. Dreams about restoring jobs and ways of life displaced by global markets and automation. After all, Brookings and JP Morgan Chase’s reports in Redefining Global Cities:
“In the United States, a useful proxy for other advanced economies, already demonstrated technologies have the potential to automate 45% of the work activities in the United States.”
But I’ve heard arguments before that “naive” folks like those who are members of the Forgotten Class must be wrong and were misled when I was in Eugene, Oregon. I was attending the hearing brought by the fossil fuel industry and our Federal government. They were asking the Court to dismiss the lawsuit filed by 21 Gutsy Kids claiming they had a right to an unpolluted environment. Not included in my blogs about the hearing were comments in The Register Guard, Eugene’s local newspaper, in response to its article, Protesting for their future. Several comments were like this:
“Using children to press a high-profile lawsuit is a waste of public resources and a shameful exploitation of children who are largely incapable of processing the requisite amount of information and making the necessary calculations to understand climate science in the slightest.”
As you consider the validity of the comments about the 21 gutsy kids being exploited, check out:
• Earth Guardians, the webpage of a 15 year old, one of the teenagers bringing the federal suit.
• Teenager Delaney Reynolds’ Ted Talk. Although not a Federal plaintiff, Delaney’s a Florida activist, whose theme is quite simple:
“Kids get it, why don’t adults?”
Yes, when it comes to what’s going wrong with our care of the environment kids get it. And the first-time Rust Belt and other red-state political activists are on to something we should be paying attention to. In Revenge of the Forgotten Class, Alec MacGillis quotes a Trump supporter:
“I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.”
Okay – so, how does all this affect the answer to our question: How Will We Fill America’s Most Important Offices?
Take three minutes and watch Texas Tech’s Pollitically-Challenged “educated élite.”
We can laugh at the Texas Tech kids wrong answers about our government or their unerring knowledge about entertainers. But their responses tell us something important is missing: understanding necessary to make our system of government work. This brings us to those important political offices we have to fill in 2017.
The most important offices we have to fill for 2017 and beyond are not those occupied by our President, his cabinet or the Supreme Court. The most important offices we have to fill are what the late Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis called the “Office of Private Citizen:”
“The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.”
Frederick M. Lawrence elaborated in the Key Reporter: “There are three sets of skills needed to perform the duties of the ‘office of private citizen:’ . . .
“First, a private citizen must be able to turn raw information into knowledge. Much of our information inundation comes to us without the benefit of curation, editing or vetting in any form. …
“Second, a private citizen must be able to evaluate arguments. Just as statements of fact must be proven, not merely asserted, arguments must be rational and logical and not simply propounded. …
“Finally, a private citizen must be able to engage in reasoned debate with others. Presenting one’s own rational claims, based on provable truths, as well as being prepared to listen thoughtfully to those of others, is the hallmark of liberal education.”
We can be concerned about the effect of 2016 being the Year of the Stories and about false news influencing the Forgotten Class.
But, we can’t ignore the legitimate concerns that underlie their populist revolt. In his New Yorker article about the Populist Revolt, George Packer writes the Democrats morphed from the “working class” to the “educationalist élites” and the main-stream Republicans to the very rich. Packer concludes:
“This new populism is no kind of blind rebellion …. It is rather an effort to bring our governing élites to their senses. … The great truth was that large numbers of Republican voters, especially less educated ones, weren’t constitutional originalists, libertarian free traders, members of the Federalist Society, or devout readers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. They actually wanted government to do more things that bene!tted them (as opposed to benefitting people they saw as undeserving).”
And we can’t ignore that too many of the rest of us aren’t fulfilling our Office of Private Citizen. Consider:
• When it comes to voting, CNN reports that only 55.4% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 election. Trump won by achieving the support of 26.3% of the eligible voters. Apathy by the many empowered the few.
• Like the “educated élite” from Texas Tech, too many of us are Politically Challenged. We may be well-educated consumers, but we’re poorly educated citizens. UNESCO defines citizen educationn as “educating children, from early childhood to become clear-thinking and enlightened citizens who participate in decisions concerning society.”
The lesson? Democracy is not a spectator sport.
What must we do?
Take Lawrence’s three steps seriously: Develop a broad-base of knowledge so we can evaluate and engage in reasoned discussions across the political spectrum, not merely with those who “think” like us.
That requires careful listening and consideration of others, particularly their concerns and thoughts. It may require us to compromise and reconsider many of our prevailing beliefs, whether liberal or conservative. But, doing so will lead us to the right stories for us to operate our Office of Private Citizen. Armed with those stories, our inner-self will lead us to the right actions by our outer-self.
When we’re politically apathetic, disengaged and “challenged” as the Texas Tech kids are, we have no chance at all.
Lawrence is right. Russon-Gilman is right. The stories we chose to frame how we operate our Offices of Private Citizen will carry us on a journey of illuminating Sunrise or a journey of darkening Sunset.
That’s our hefty Office of Private Citizen responsibility!
Thanks, Dick, for your lifelong pursuit of justice and your passion for the environment, as well as for your friendship to me personally. Thanks also for a wonderful blog posting and for being the very first guest blogger here at The Sink or Swim Project. To learn more about Mr. Jacobs and his work, please visit Wonderlust Journeys.
When I created The Sink or Swim Project and began my work on climate change, I immediately noticed that the old fashioned ways of our world were nearly always protected by politicians motivated to protect special interest groups that poured money into their hands to allow ‘business as usual’. In the years since I’ve seen politics protect established industries, businesses and approaches time and time again, often without regards to the existence of better approaches or, for that matter, facts or science.
Last summer’s Amendment One fight, a case where Florida’s electrical utilities lead by Flower Power & Light (or as I wrote in a blog, FP&Lies) spent about $22 Million to try to mislead voters into supporting a deceptive new law that would limit solar power here in the Sunshine State as has happened in other states. The good news is that as a result of a grass-root effort to educate voters of the truth that was led by Floridians for Solar Choice, Jimmy Buffet and many others, including The Sink or Swim Project, the Amendment was defeated. The ‘bad’ news is that it has been reported that the electrical utility industry is also spending another $20 Million in political donations to Florida lawmakers in hopes that Florida Senators and Representatives will help them achieve what Florida voters stopped.
It verges on despicable that these businesses would do this but not surprising that they want to protect their profits. Yet, if we are ever going to move from a fossil fuel based economy of oil and coal that pumps carbon into our atmosphere to one that’s sustainable, then we are going to need to focus on science and place it and the good of our environment over the profits of established businesses that sure don’t seem sincere about evolving towards sustainability.
And as 2017 begins doing just that, having many of our national and state elected officials put science over politics is, I suspect, going to be more challenging than has been the case in nearly a decade but that’s what we must fight for every day from now on. All of us must set politics aside whenever possible and focus on facts. Facts such as that our planet has never been warmer since man invented the thermometer. Unless one does not believe that a thermometer measures the temperature around us then there’s no way to dispute that our planet is hotter than ever in recorded history and that heat records are set nearly every single year now. The science and that little scientific instrument called a thermometer tell us that (please see my blog from last year on temperature).
And before someone again disputes man’s impact, or that we are warming our planet to alarming levels, then consider that I expect that any day now we will hear scientists conclude that 2016 was the hottest year on record, breaking the record set in 2015 which broke the prior record set in 2014 and so it goes. And if thermometers don’t convince some that earth has been warming as a result of man-made carbon from fossil fuels then perhaps the science related to the melting Antarctic ice will help prove the point.
In The Washington Post’s article (click hereto read the entire article) entitled; 2016’s warm Arctic winter is ‘extreme’ even in era of fossil fuels, scientists say, numerous scientists explain that the melting ice in the Antarctic is caused by man. As the article, and the science, noted:
The analysis found that the temperatures above 80 degrees North latitude were “unprecedented in the satellite era from 1979 onwards.” It also found that these temperatures would be highly unlikely in a climate that is unperturbed by human influences and that even in our current climate, heavily influenced by humans, they are pretty unexpected.
And if these facts don’t lead those who deny what’s happening to become enlightened then perhaps simple images will do the trick. Pictures such as these that I took from late last year all over Miami when places that historically did not flood on sunny days, days where high tides during the full moon phase combined with the ever increasing levels of our oceans, now routinely flood with salt water, are becoming common. Unless someone simply wants to overlook these pictures, or science, it should be obvious that we humans have created a problem that must be fixed by we humans.
As 2017 starts, the good news is that despite the challenges that we will likely face over the next few years the solutions are already trending in the right direction. In a few years it’s predicted that man’s use of fossil fuels will reach its peak as people and many businesses begin to demand the use of sustainable solutions over those such as oil and coal.
It is also good news that after our success on Amendment One last summer, America’s largest solar installation company, Elon Musk’s’ Solar City, announced plans to begin business in Florida and to expand rapidly here (to learn more, click here). That, along with the dramatically lower cost to install solar (much less the free energy it generates forever once installed) are signs that coal producers and traditional utilities can’t dispute. One of my dreams, that The Sunshine State can become The Solar State is, thankfully, alive and well and trending in the right direction.
And speaking of Mr. Musk, one of today’s most important innovators, he just might be single handedly helping move the auto industry away from fossil fuels (oil) to batteries through his Tesla brand that in a year or two will mass produce affordable battery operated cars at a cost of about $35,000 each. And if that’s not enough, then perhaps the Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ for batteries in Nevada is proof. Why is such an innovative businessman doing these things? It’s because he knows that these are the products that consumers of the future demand and that, for him and his employees, that is good business.
And it’s those trend examples along with the science, that all of us should focus on, support and advocate as these are the things that hold the hope and promise of our future more than any short sighted politician, stale business or old fashioned industry ever will.
Allow me to begin the end of this New Year blog by sharing a letter to the editor that appeared in this week’s Miami Herald that makes my point as well or better than I can. I don’t know Mr. Schwartz, its author, but I sure do agree with him and feel his sentiments are worth all of us keeping in mind no matter how challenging 2017 or the next few years might seem. Progress is being made and much is trending in the right direction and that’s mostly because of the science and the truth…
SCIENCE AND TRUTH
The whole point of science is that it is objective.
It is not limited to one person’s subjective opinion or ideas. And it is backed with empirical evidence, which is reproducible independently. It is the closest we will ever come to truth on this planet.
The fact that it is being attacked because some people don’t like the consequences of what it is telling us, specifically climate change, is dangerous.
It is the same as when the pope, during the Roman Catholic Inquisition, had Galileo arrested and excommunicated because he discovered that the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.
This nation was founded on the principles of the Enlightenment, and to attack those principles is to attack the very foundations of this country. It is what demagogues and tyrants do when they want total power.
We cannot allow this to happen.
Regardless of our particular political persuasion, we are all patriots first and we must defend our country against those who want to divide and conquer us.
– David Schwartz, Miami
As an example of what we can do when average people focus on the science and the truth is what we accomplished in North Dakota by, at least temporarily, putting a stop to the expansion of an oil pipeline that places the Indian tribe’s water supply and heritage, much less our environment, at risk. I know that the fight in North Dakota is far from over, but the fact that Americans of all types could rise up to protect the tribe and our environment (you can read more about this in my blog from late last year by clicking here) is a good sign and gives me hope for the future.
And what should any of us want on the first day of a new year but hope. Lots of hope. Science and truth give me great hope but so do other signs that can found brewing all around us. So, during what might seem like the dark days ahead please don’t forget the good signs and progress that is being made. Please. Progress is being made and were are now at a point, or nearly so, where a sustainable future cannot be denied.
Here’s to you and your family having a Happy, Healthy (and Hopeful) New Year!
New Year’s Postscripts
Thanks to my friends at former Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Reality for the phrase Science Trumps Politics. I suspect that I will be using it often over the next four years. To learn more about Climate Reality or to consider attending a Climate Reality Training, which I highly suggest, click here.
Thanks also to the University of Miami for the most excellent news that arrived in the mail at my home just before Christmas of my being accepted to one of the world’s most renowned marine science schools on earth, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (http://www.rsmas.miami.edu/), much less being honored with a President’s Scholarship. I can’t wait for my undergrad studies to start in August and officially be a CANE!
And lastly, allow me to share with you that The Sink or Swim Project is now officially and formally a 503(c) non-profit corporation (Federal Identification # 81-4570941) under the Internal Revenue Code Public Charity Section 170 (b) (1) (A) (vi). Tax deductible donations can be made to The Sink or Swim Project Inc., can be deducted under the IRC’s Sections 170, 2055, 2106 or 2522 and so the next time you decide to support our work, whether with a donation or by buying some of our merch (click here to find out latest offerings) you can do so on a bonafide tax deductible basis.