How High Morals Are Incompatible With Putting Food On the Table

“[H]igh morals do not put food on the table.”

This statement, which PNM, the electricity provider for most New Mexicans, liked, was posted on PNM’s Facebook page in a discussion about retiring the San Juan Generating Station – one of the most polluting coal-fired plants in the country – and transitioning to solar, wind and geothermal energy.

Are high morals incompatible with putting food on the table? No. Pretty much everyone, regardless of morals, puts food on the table one way or another. If necessary costs go up, food remains the highest priority. Maybe there are fewer trips to Cancun or the south of France, or fewer premium channels on the TV. As another reader pointed out, PNM raised prices 250% recently without apparent qualms about the cost to poor New Mexicans. Were those increases good morals or bad? Is anyone starving because of them?

In Germany, gas is the equivalent of $8/gallon (or was when I was there last year). People there ride bikes more, and rarely drive big honking cars. When prices rise, so does the incentive for efficiency.

Germany, which is just a little larger than New Mexico, provided power to 40 million Germans – half their population – one Saturday recently via their newly-increased solar capacity. We have two million people and more sun in New Mexico. Even if you take into account that we are less efficient than Germans (Americans are less efficient than almost everyone) we could still assume that, if we matched Germany’s solar capacity, we could be selling electricity to 40 million neighbors.

I’ll tell you what takes food off the table: a drought and heat wave like the one we are experiencing. Continuing to pump the atmosphere full of carbon when we know its environmental cost and we have proven alternatives is not just a bad long-term investment: it’s morally reprehensible.

Heroes [UPDATED]

Thank You Very Much!

[Update: since posting this I have learned that many firefighters are given no health insurance because they are considered part-time employees. I find this indefensible and profoundly dishonorable. They should be given health care coverage that is at least as good as our military. There is an online petition at Daily Kos that ought to be given overwhelming bipartisan support. The headline specifies Colorado firefighters, but the petition itself is for the benefit of firefighters everywhere. Please join me in signing this petition, and sharing it with all your friends. Thank you.]

If the story of climate change is written, firefighters will be among the greatest heroes.

I can’t say enough about the firefighters who have been dealing with these wildfires in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and floods elsewhere. The conditions that these men and women work in are brutal, the hours inhumanly long, the stakes life-or-death, and their dedication Olympian. I wonder what we can possibly do to show our gratitude. Here are some suggestions. Please add your own, and if you know of any charities or foundations benefitting firefighters – whether those who fight fores fires or those who fight urban fires year-round – please list them in the comments.

1)  Tax amnesty: property tax, income tax, SSI – all of it. Every year these people fight fires, they pay no taxes.

2)  A week’s paid vacation somewhere cool.

3)  Ticker tape parades as a matter of course in the capitals of every state in which they fought fires, and in the towns where they saved homes. (They probably cringe at the thought of this. Heroes in the face of flaming, smokey death; wusses when it comes to subjecting themselves to public acclaim.)

4) Free job placement services in the off-season (if there is one again) or when they retire from firefighting.

5) College fund for their children.

6) ? What do you think?

And now, a little visual inspiration.

A Dark Sense of Humor

Heroes of the Gila

Bodhisattva Fireman

Dear Mom: I Work in Mordor

What’s At Stake

Ironman is Not the Only Hero Who Flies

Firefighters Elect to Sleep Near Work

They Can’t Save Everything. But the Fire Didn’t Stop By Itself

Smokey Speaks For Us All

I will be adding more photos to this post as I come across them. (I have picked almost all of these off of Facebook, and I do not know their provenance. If you do, please let me know, as I would be eager to attribute credit. Thanks.)

Citizens United: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

If you are content to choose between two candidates who are beneficiaries of Citizens United and who can drum up $100 grand with one phone call, pay this no mind.

If you want other, non-corporatized candidates to at least get heard, you should make a donation to a third party candidate, or at least let it be known that there are other candidates out there who represent the views of other Americans. We may have a two-party system, but we are anything but a two party country.

Dr. Jill Stein is the presumptive presidential candidate for the Green Party. In order to obtain federal matching funds, they have to raise a total of $100,000 – $5000 from each of 20 states. They have met this goal in 16 states, and only have four to go as of this writing, but time is running out.

“If they can’t raise $100,000, are they even viable?” We say we hate the dollar derby around politics, but this is the first question asked because we know that without money a candidate is not competitive. Money is a measure of relevance and viability. Which is why corporations love Citizens United and a manageable two party system. Let’s use Dr. Stein’s campaign to examine this.

There are millions of environmentalists in this country. Most of them voted for President Obama before, and may do so this year, though many are not entirely pleased with his record on energy and climate change. They might be expected to value having a more strident voice on environmental issues present in this election cycle.

There are tens of millions of women who are sensitized, due to recent setbacks in women’s rights, to the desirability of having  women in every level of government. Four years ago, Hillary’s campaign galvanized women who thought that, finally, the glass ceiling might get a hole poked in it. We have a woman running for president this year, too. Where’s the press? Has she even been on Rachel Maddow? The View?

There are tens of millions of Americans who abhor the Citizens United ruling – a super majority of Americans want money out of politics and see the Citizens United ruling as being a bad idea.

Almost all Americans are dissatisfied, to say the least, with Congress. In recent polls, 75-86% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Congress consists almost totally of Democrats and Republicans – the only two parties that will benefit from the Citizens United ruling.

The papers talk about the crying need for a third party. But we have  a number of third parties: the Green Party for environmentalists and liberals; the Libertarian Party for those who are fiscally conservative and liberal on social issues, as represented by their candidate, Gary Johnson; the Justice Party, with candidate Rocky Anderson, for progressives; and so on. We’re standing in a stable full of horses, crying, “A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”

So what gives? I chalk it up to the slow process of changing consciousness, and to what I call the Nader Effect. Take Dr. Jill Stein again as an example. A liberal green woman should be cleaning up, just on demographics. But many who might donate, and who loathe Citizens United, think that the fact that she is scrambling for the modest sum of $100,000 means that she is not viable. If they are tempted to donate, they are concerned that, if too many people vote for her, the Nader Effect will be triggered and President Obama – the lesser of two evils for this demographic – might lose to the greater of two evils. And then Armageddon will happen. (Isn’t every election the most important of our time, after all?)

How Bad Could He Be?

Here’s the rub: if we don’t donate to other candidates, their voices will simply not be heard. We will only hear from candidates supported by corporations. Democrats and Republicans will not include other voices in the debates, and if the media try to (fat chance), the bankrolled candidates will bolt and refuse to participate.

Election season is the time when candidates are most susceptible to pressure. MoveOn’s members decided last week by a 91-9% margin to endorse President Obama’s re-election. They gave up all leverage they had, less than 5 months before Election Day.

They may as well have told the President that whatever he wants to do is fine by them, and oh, by the way, here’s a check.

Third parties are valuable, not because their candidates might win – it’s highly unlikely, though Ross Perot and Ralph Nader have had  significant effects on elections in our time – but because they talk about topics that are considered unsafe for the bankrolled candidates (or candidates “rolled” by the banks, as it were) to address.

I will go out on a limb and say that, in this current environment, there is no such thing as a debate. When Democrats and Republicans meet, there is no debate at all. Differences, yes, but on the level of On-Off, Up-Down, Hot-Cold – and most issues are more complex than that.

  • Abortion – Choice
  • Law & Order – Peace & Justice
  • Gay Marriage – Traditional Marriage
  • Renewable Energy – Drill Baby Drill
  • Christian Nation –  Society
  • Be Your Brothers’ Keeper – Teach a Man to Fish

These aren’t debates. These are schoolyard taunts on the level of “Oh, yeah?’ “Yeah!” Remember how refreshing Ron Paul was in the Republican debates? That is what a diversity of voices can accomplish, but we need  a steady supply, rather than just one guy in the primaries.

No corporation will underwrite a candidate who makes the job of controlling the political debate more difficult. We still, at this date, have the ability to give other voices a chance to be heard. Since no one else – not the corporate puppet masters, not the media, and not the two major parties – will do it, it’s up to us.

You will probably end up voting for the corporate client/candidate of your choice. But don’t let it be because you co-conspired to keep other voices silent and off stage. Donate to the third party candidate of your choice. Let’s make it interesting.

#RioFail: Report From the Latest Travesty of an Environmental Summit

News: The Summit at Rio has apparently already failed. Bill McKibben and are walking out – or sitting in. Hard to say from Twitter.

According to McKibben on Twitter, “@billmckibben Rio draft agreement contains the word “encourage” 50 times, the word “support” 99 times – but “we will” just 5 times. #riofail”

A young woman named Hanna Thomas tweeted, “We have #occupied #Rioplus20! Yay! Got a fistbump from Bill McKibben for my mic check.” This was apparently a Canadian youth Occupy action. Go Canucks!

The question before us is, without leadership, what must we the people do?

What Have You Heard About the Woman Running For President?

There is a woman running for president. I had the pleasure of dining with her this week in Santa Fe. I’m not posting this as an endorsement or to ask you to vote for her, but to ask you to consider whether hers is a voice that ought to be heard. You will hear next to nothing about her or other third party candidates from the mainstream media, so I am taking it upon myself, from now until November, to use my blog and Facebook, Twitter and Google+ connections to loan them my small megaphone.

Dr. Jill Stein

Dr. Jill Stein’s campaign for the presidency: No, she will not win. The prize will go to one of the two main candidates. But one reason people give to candidates is to be sure that their voices are heard, whether they have a chance to win or not. At the dinner I attended with Dr. Stein this week, one man – a supporter of another candidate – donated $100 to Dr. Stein’s campaign on the spot.

If you want to be sure that free speech belongs, not only to those with CitizensUnited-era corporate backing, but to those without it, please consider giving to Dr. Stein’s campaign so she can qualify for matching funds. You can double your money by giving now (Early Money Is Like Yeast, you know):

We have until June 30 to qualify for federal matching funds. Every donation you make to Jill Stein for President, up to $250, can be matched dollar-for-dollar by public financing — IF, and only if— we get 20 states to qualify by June 30th.

They need the whopping sum of $5000/state. Can you imagine? Think of those numbers in contrast to the numbers you have heard about major party candidates. This celebrity gave $1 million. That dinner raised $250,000. And this uneven playing field is aided and abetted every election cycle by the mainstream media.

(By the way, the dinner I attended with Dr. Stein was not one of those $1000/plate fund raisers. It cost $20, tax and tip included, and went entirely for the food. Try seeing Barack Obama or Mitt Romney – or any major party candidate – under those conditions.)

The fact that she has no corporate backing is a good reason for me to lend her my support, but my main reason is that her positions accord with my values. If you think we might benefit from President Obama getting some pressure from his left flank on environmental issues, please consider giving Dr. Stein a voice.

When we discuss only those candidates who benefit from Citizens United, we effectively endorse the corporatization of those candidates.

We know, from long experience, that the mainstream media will not cover what third party candidates have to say. They will not be invited to the major debates. Nor will they be permitted even to debate each other and be covered by the media.

Fortunately, things have changed: WE are the media. Will we do the same job as, and take our lead from, the mainstream media? Or will we give voice to those without corporate sponsorships? Once the time has come, as it has, that we can do something about a situation, the time has passed for merely complaining about it.

 As the campaigns continue I intend to talk about the pros and cons of re-electing President Obama; the messages of third party candidates; the low approval rating of Congress – and high percentage of Congressmen and -women who will likely be re-elected; the desire for a third party and lack of support for the same; and more. Stay tuned.

The New Mexico Fire: How Big Is It?

Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in New Mexico. Photo by Zelie Pollon

The fire called the Whitewater-Baldy Complex has covered 271,000 acres, or 423 square miles.

Whitewater-Baldy Map, June 8, 2012.

These numbers are thrown around until we’re numb. How big is that, anyway? When you see the satellite photos, it’s hard to put it in perspective. Perhaps some comparisons might help.

Rhode Island is about 1545 square miles, so it’s about 27%, or more than a quarter, the size of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island. Google Maps.

How about this: Los Angeles – the city alone, not the entire megalopolis – is 469 square miles, so it’s just a neighborhood or two larger than the Whitewater-Baldy Complex.

Map of Los Angeles. Google Maps.

Phoenix and Nashville are both 474 square miles, so it’s a bit smaller than both of those cities.

San Antonio is 407 square miles. So the fire is larger than all of San Antonio.

San Antonio. Google Maps.

The city of Chicago is 227 square miles in area. So this fire is almost twice the size of Chicago.


Washington, D.C. is 61.4 square miles. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire is, therefore, almost 7 times the size of D.C.


I say “almost”. But if you add the other half dozen fires that are now burning or – thank the gods for firefighters – nearly extinguished in New Mexico right now, I’m sure we can claim a full seven D.C’s worth of forest fire.

For international comparisons: this fire is the size of

1.23 Berlins

4.2 Edinburghs

8.8 Jerusalems

9.6 Vancouver BC’s

10.3 Parises, and

2,486 Vatican Cities

Perhaps this series of comparisons will help you understand how large this fire is; how much forest has been lost; and how much smoke is in our air, and why New Mexicans, when you see us, look a little shell-shocked, grief-stricken or nervous. This is what drought and climate change mean to us.


Honest to God Heroes

Bike, Scoot, Boogie

There is a very useful, interesting site that lists a BUNCH of electric bikes and scooters that are now available.

Ride, Lance, Ride!

Some of these make no sense to me, at least where I live, but the variety that’s out there now is shocking – and delightful.

All Weather Bikes, Too!

My guess is that many of us could bike or scoot to wherever we are going 75% of the time and leave our cars at home. We can haul the car out when we are going to haul something or have a hot date or whatnot. Think about it. Consider it. Prices range from the utilitarian to the status symbol. Maybe it won’t work for you. But at least THINK about how it would work, and under what conditions, and whether it makes sense.

When I was in Freiburg, Germany last year, I swear there were nearly as many bikes as cars on the road.

Bikes und Bächles in Freiburg


People rode in their regular street or work clothes, eschewing flashy biker shorts and shirts. I saw at least one person smoking while biking.  Many of the bikes were anything but status symbols: some squeaked, and many had seen better days, but all of them worked. The point is, biking was not for fitness, but for transportation. It was practical, not faddish. Nonetheless, one saw very few overweight people in Freiburg, in spite of all the gelato shops.

We can wait for American utility companies, oil and gas drillers, frackers, and their acolytes in state and national legislatures to get with the program. Or, like most movements, the people can pedal or electronically scoot away and watch the powers that be notice and hurry to catch up so they can claim to be leading us.

So check out the electronic bikes and scooters at the link. Or just ride an old-fashioned human-powered bike, and be immortalized in photo archives like the gentlemen above.

If you don’t believe that the bike has not only evolved, but morphed into forms that deliver nearly every possible function for every level of fitness, check out the web site of the best, most lust-inducing bike store I’ve ever seen, Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon. The following are just a few photos of the variety of bikes they carry or will build for you.

Cargo Bike


The Dutch Gazelle Tour Populair

Surly Big Dummy ~ Yes, That’s Snow

Tern Folding – Yes, Folding – Bike

Every revolution needs such diversity of style.

Oh, and every revolution needs a theme song, too.

Have fun. Pedal on.

New Mexico’s Rich, Sunny Future

According to this article in the Guardian UK, ‎Germany’s solar infrastructure produced 22 GW of power last Saturday.

That was enough to power 40-50% of Germany. That is the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants running at full capacity.

Germany is 138,000 square miles in total area with 81 million people.

Germany increased its solar capacity by 50% in the last year. Its 22 Solar GW provided power for 32 to 40 million people.

New Mexico is 121,500 square miles with 2 million people.

If Germany can generate 22 solar GW, how much more could New Mexico generate – and sell – with its sunnier, more southerly location? It’s true that the average American uses significantly more power than the average German. But not 20 times more.

New Mexico could run entirely on solar power – using coal or gas only for nighttime power until storage issues are resolved – and make a lot of money from selling the surplus to 20 or 30 million people in surrounding states. New Mexico could be to solar power what Alaska is to oil. (Not to mention what Arizona and Texas, with more people and bigger economies, could do. Not to mention wind power, and efficiency initiatives.)

If only PNM, the Public Regulatory Commission (the PRC), and Governor Martinez could be convinced to give up their addiction to coal. If you think they should, their contact info is available at the links just above: drop them a line.

How long would it take for America to cut its coal power by 50%? Not as long as utilities and state and national politicians would have you believe.

Think of All Those Flat Roofs in New Mexico

PNM Is (Not the Only Utility) On the Wrong Track

Do you know about the San Juan Generating Station, owned (in part) and operated by PNM? Or the Four Corners plant on Navajo land nearby, owned mostly by Arizona and Southern California utilities? These plants are each almost 40 years old, and are requiring hundreds of millions of dollars of upkeep because it’s older, therefore dirtier, technology.  Rather than retire these plants, and transitioning to wind, solar, and geothermal – energy sources that don’t generally cause asthma in children, for example – the owner utilities prefer to keep these behemoths limping along.

Bad business loves company, and we are not alone. Apparently much the same problem is occurring in Canada, where protesters, including one Nobel Prize laureate, blocked the train tracks taking coal to the offending plant.

Of course, somehow, the police in Canada have also come to believe that their responsibility is to protect smoke stacks that kill people and damage the environment, rather than helping the people to shut down the plant.

RCMP Police Chief Roseberry, also on the scene in White Rock, stated that her concern was for public safety, and preventing human injury as a result of protesters on the train tracks.

Which must be why she arrested protesters. It’s a crazy world.

“Coal is a likely target for climate stability advocates because it has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy of all fossil fuels and because there is enough economically available coal to trigger run away climate change.”

“Nobel Prize Laureate and SFU professor Dr. Mark Jaccard was among those arrested. “I’m a naïve product of working class Burnaby,” he said. “I’ve never broken a law in my life. I’m very uncomfortable taking this position. If governments were acting to reduce GHG emissions, or slow the rate of increase, I wouldn’t be here today,” he continued. “I’d be helping those governments to do that. But in the last few years, especially in Canada under Harper, the emphasis has been on accelerating the rate at which we are destroying the planet. So I have to ask myself and I have to ask everyone else, ethically, what is the right thing to do? It’s made me read more about civil disobedience, people like Mahandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau.””

PNM is holding their shareholders meeting at their offices at 4th and Silver in Albuquerque on May 15, a week from tomorrow. There will be a protest there that morning.

Inform yourselves. Here is PNM’s info on San Juan. And here is a statement from a New Mexico environmental group that gives an overview of the battle to close down dirty coal.

For the Love of Wendell

Wendell Berry, sui generis

Mark Bittman has a lovely article and interview with Wendell Berry, my favorite author, in the New York Times.

There isn’t a more down-to-earth, inspiring thinker alive today. He’s much more than the “spiritual founder of the food movement,” though he is certainly that. He’s the no-nonsense yet patient father of a vision of a way of living that would foster the goals many of us seek: sustainability, certainly, but also, and as important, enjoyability, neighborliness, and satisfaction. If, in your heart of hearts, you are troubled by what we might have to give up to be what we want to be, Wendell shows that there’s no need to worry. If you have not read him, you have an unassuming new inspiration awaiting you.

Bittman does us the favor of providing a link to a page of Berry quotations, from which I plucked this one, that resonates with me particularly well these days:

“There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the muse of form. It may be then that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction, to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

If you have never read poetry because it’s just so . . . hard, unclear, taken with itself, try Wendell Berry’s poetry. Here is a sample:

The Wild Rose

Sometimes, hidden from me in daily custom and in ritual
I live by you unaware, as if by the beating of my heart.
Suddenly you flare again in my sight
A wild rose at the edge of the thicket where yesterday there was only
And I am blessed and choose again,
That which I chose before.


I had that one made into a calligraphy for my nephew and his bride. If you don’t get a sigh out of your long-time partner from leaving a copy of this poem on his or her nightstand, I’d be surprised.

If you are of a more revolutionary bent, here is a manifesto:

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

See what I mean? It’s almost impossible to stop quoting the man himself, because everything he writes is so much better than what can be said about him.

If I had to decide what kind of inspiration to put in a paper or on a web site to supplement or supplant, say, Biblical quotes and horoscopes, I’d have no trouble deciding: I’d have a regular feature called “A Berry A Day,” and would get a straight shot at heaven for having come up with the idea.


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