Real Progress

August 20, 2020

Progress is difficult even in the best of times, and this is far from the best of times. Increasingly I am shocked and dismayed by actions of Republicans in control of our government.  No only are some people doing things that are unethical but some verge on criminal, certainly unconstitutional.

Watching the Democratic National Convention as an Independent moderate I’m pleased with their choice of speakers but somewhat concerned about complaints by Progressive Democrats (“AOC should have been given more time to speak”).  I wonder if they realize that Biden could easily lose if he doesn’t attract votes of Independents and moderate Republicans.  And if Trump wins what will another four years of his actions do to our country?

I think the DNC has done a very good job reaching out to the middle.  I admire AOC’s passion and think she has the potential to become a stateswoman, but her leadership will only be proven over decades of public service. Can she move the Green New Deal off paper and enact legislation that brings necessary changes to our country? Time will tell, but the one thing that will prevent such change is partisanship. If Progressive Democrats and Conservative Republicans refuse to cross the aisle and work together, our government will fail to meet the needs of our times.

I support the goals of the New Green Deal because as an environmental scientist and engineer I see the extreme danger to life on earth if we don’t curb the use of fossil energy and reduce consumption and growth. I support strengthening the middle class because income inequality destabilizes and demoralizes a population. I’m not convinced we can make growth “green”, but I am convinced that Americans need to greatly reduce the share of the world’s resources we currently consume.

“Healthcare for all”, heck yeah, we should have been able to accomplish this long ago. Unfortunately the current cost of healthcare in our country is prohibitive. Too many Americans suffer from too many chronic diseases that are preventable, but instead we take a pill (or a dozen) and don’t try to change our diet and exercise patterns. We can’t afford “heath care for all” at these exorbitant prices. We may be able to afford basic healthcare for all, but we also need to care more about our own health. Americans are notoriously poor at taking care of their health.  We too often act like children eating what we want, refusing to eat what we should.  Many diseases we currently suffer from are preventable.  It isn’t just about access to health insurance and medical care, it’s also about reducing disease risk in our life. Every problem requires three avenues of change; government policy, business models, and personal behavior.

Even if our government passed laws to redistribute taxes and reduce income inequality, this won’t address the rate of our consumption.  We also need to start asking hard questions in order to understand what change is really possible. For example, how much resources would the US consume in order to provide a “good” lifestyle for every American? And what level is “good” enough? Are we willing and able to do more physical labor that will be required if we eliminate all fossil fuels? Are we willing to eat less meat and dairy, grow and cook more fresh food, preserve food for winter, change our diet to improve our health? Are we willing to live in smaller homes, drive fewer miles in smaller cars, stop flying for vacations, waste less food and energy? It’s one thing to demand change, and another thing to roll up your sleeves and do what is necessary to make changes a reality.

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I’m not convinced we can convert our nation to 100% renewable energy, at least not quickly. We can definitely do better than business-as-usual, and a carbon tax and targeted redistribution policy could dramatically reduce our consumption of energy.  Our civilization will run out of resources and be overwhelmed by our wastes, if we don’t reduce and recycle  all of the wasted materials we currently generate.  Our consumption is causing tremendous environmental destruction from mining and manufacturing, to polluting the atmosphere in ways that exacerbate climate change. Yes, fifty years ago we passed laws to clean up our air, water, and land but then we began importing goods from countries that still polluted theirs.

Change takes knowledge, resources, and time. We need to know the magnitude of the problems in order to come up with a plan to address them. We need resources to actually address the problems. And we need time and effort to work towards our goals. We have to accept that some problems are not solvable. We may not have the resources to solve them, or the time.  We may disagree on what approach to change will work the best.  Unfortunately the longer we wait the more our problems magnify.  If we wait too long to address problems they become dilemmas, situations we live through not solve.  Problems left untended have consequences. Change will always happen, whether we like it or not. If we don’t actively work together to change in the direction we can all live with, we will suffer the consequences of whatever change happens.

A significant problem I have with the New Green Deal is that it only seeks to address the needs of Americans, not the needs of the planet.  To demand that Americans have access to a good life without addressing how our consumption impacts the rest of the world, is selfish and self-serving.  It’s also hypocritical.  Americans are a small portion of the world’s population yet we consume roughly 25% of the world’s resources.  How can we claim to be world leaders if we avoid how our own actions are affecting the world?  What amount of resources will it take for all Americans to receive universal healthcare, universal education, a living wage, a clean environment, 100% renewable energy, and a growing “green” economy?  What about the other 7.2 billion people on the planet? What about the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of others species with which we share this planet?  Until the majority of Americans are  willing to change their lifestyle we cannot solve the climate crisis, reduce the rate of extinctions, or repair earth’s damaged ecosystems.  We cannot make any progress at all.

The pictures above were taken at one of the many sharing gardens in my community.  Unlike community gardens in which plots are assigned to individuals, sharing gardens are cared for and shared by everyone.  A dedicated group of volunteers do much of the planting and management, but everyone is welcome to   “Pick a veggie. Pull a weed.”  The gardens are spread through out the community making them easily within walking distance of most neighborhoods.   Earlier this spring garden managers recognized that the pandemic was causing unprecedented food insecurity and planned for larger plantings.  What I love about this organization is that it is entirely run by volunteers.  People who simply want to help other people.  The sweat equity they put into their effort to make our community a better place is truly “progress”.

Jody Tishmack

Jody has a Bachelors Degree in Geology, a Masters Degree in Soil Science and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering. She developed a composting and soil manufacturing process at Purdue University in 1996, which has grown into a commercial business called Soilmaker; selling compost, organic soil, and composted mulch. Her family lives in an earth-sheltered home powered by solar PV energy, where she maintains many of the values and traditions... Read more.

Tags: American politics, building resilient communities, powering down, progress