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Ted Glick: Why Climate Activists Should Support Bernie Sanders

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Ted Glick: Why Climate Activists Should Support Bernie Sanders

About 7 months ago I wrote An Open Letter to Naomi Klein, a column raising questions about how Naomi, in her excellent book “This Changes Everything,” took the position that what is most significant about the deepening climate crisis is that it “could form the basis of a powerful mass movement ... to protect humanity from the ravages of both a savagely unjust economic system and a destabilized climate system. I have written this book because I came to the conclusion that climate action could provide just such a rare catalyst.”

Crowd at a rally for Bernie Sanders in Burlington, Vermont.

Elsewhere she wrote, “climate change can be a People’s Shock, a blow from below. It can disperse power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it in the hands of the few.”

I didn’t and still don’t disagree with the need to build a mass movement to fundamentally transform that “unjust economic system,” not at all. I’ve been part of those and related efforts—like anti-racism and anti-war—for decades and continue to be part of them. The concern I have is that we, humanity, have a very real time limit when it comes to slowing, stopping and reversing the climate crisis. There are climate tipping points which, if passed, will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop an escalating series of environmental, social and economic breakdowns worldwide, no matter what kind of economic system we have, capitalist, socialist or something else.

I’ve been thinking again about these questions as a result of a couple of recent developments. One is the very hopeful and positive development of the Bernie Sanders' campaign for president, which is effectively linking issues of economic injustice, illegitimate ultra-rich-guy power and the climate crisis. The other was an article, “Want to fix the climate? First, we have to change everything,” published in early April on Grist.

The Grist article was about the launch of The Next System, a project endorsed by a pretty broad cross-section of people “that seeks to disrupt or replace our traditional institutions for creating progressive change.” Gar Alperowitz is the leader of this effort. In the article he is interviewed, and a couple of the things he said caught my attention. One was where he talked about how we had to think in terms of “three or four decades” as far as making institutional change. When asked this question in response to that position—“Of course, with climate change, there are many who will contest that we don’t have decades to build the next system”—his response was:

What happens when they push that argument is people think that it’s not going to happen. The trends are going to continue to get worse before they get better and there’s going to be a lot of loss. As a realist, we’re going to see a lot of damage and destruction, and we’ve got to build whatever we can—a combination of adaptation and command-and-control. The conversation’s changed. It used to be, "It’s got to be done now and if not, then the world will explode." Now, it’s more, "You know we’re not going to get it done tomorrow, so we have to do the best we can, otherwise it’s going to get worse."

Alperowitz’s position is different than Klein’s. Klein appreciates the immediacy of the climate crisis in a way that he does not. Throughout her book she talks about us having “years,” “a few years,” not Gar’s “decades.” Yet their positions are similar in that both see the need for fundamental transformation of the economic system as either a prerequisite for stabilizing the climate or something which must go hand in hand with that process.

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The Bernie Sanders for President campaign has brought a whole new lens on these issues. The campaign has taken off since Bernie announced a month or so ago. Hundreds of thousands of people have contributed. Thousands of people are coming out to some of his events in Iowa, and he's had a strong showing other states as well. He is coming up in the polls as Hillary Clinton goes down. And this is happening because he is effectively and consistently making the connections between key issues.

The Bernie for President campaign is a mass people’s movement for fundamental change of the political and economic system and for strong action to be taken now to get off fossil fuels and onto the jobs-creating, efficiency and renewables path.

It seems to me that the successes so far of the Sanders campaign strengthen Klein’s position. Sanders' success is a concrete manifestation of her view that the struggles for economic and climate justice must be and can be linked. I wonder if she sees the Sanders campaign that way.

I know that some activists who see themselves as more radical than Bernie—and who indeed are—or who don’t believe in electoral politics may have difficulty appreciating the importance of what is happening with his campaign. It has immense potential to shake things up in the most positive of ways and to create openings for the progressive movement that would not exist without it. I hope some people will re-think their positions.

This doesn’t mean that constructive criticism of Bernie’s campaign is uncalled for. Just recently the United Electrical Workers Union, which has worked closely with Sanders for years, came out with a statement supporting him but also urging him to be more outspoken on issues of war and peace. The issues section of his website lists only three issues: income and wealth inequality, getting big money out of politics, and climate change and environment. Clearly, this needs to be filled out in a whole range of issue areas.

What about the Sanders campaign and the climate movement?

I think it is strategic for climate activists to support or become involved with the Sanders campaign, but I don’t believe that everyone should drop what they’re doing to become active in it. There are lots and lots of specific struggles and campaigns underway that need continuing focus and work—no Keystone XL pipeline, no Shell drilling in the Arctic, stop fracking and FERC’s rubberstamping of fracking infrastructure, stop mountaintop removal, no offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast, for state support of renewables targets, for a price on carbon, no TPP or Fast Track, etc. These campaigns must continue to be built. After all, Bernie Sanders is certainly a long shot as far as winning the presidency, and even if his odds improve, which I think is likely, the need is great for a focused climate movement that is independent and able to bring pressure on whomever is in a position of power.

Our situation is critical. Most climate scientists think we still have time to reverse this insane path toward societal and ecological devastation, but the window is closing. It is difficult to see how we can avoid full-on climate catastrophe if major steps are not taken this decade to undercut the power of the fossil fuel industry so that rapid progress can be made toward an energy efficient and renewable energy-based economic system.

Is this possible? I think it is, given the growth, breadth and deep roots that the climate movement has built in the last decade or so. The turnout of hundreds of thousands of people for the People’s Climate March last September in NYC, with hundreds of companion actions worldwide, is the clearest indicator of this fact. The Sanders campaign is tapping into that movement and helping to propel it forward.

It’s a good time to be alive and active; the movements are rising.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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