Larry Miller's Blog: Educate All Students!

December 31, 2013

Yes Magazine:10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come

Beyond the headlines of conflict and catastrophe, this year’s top stories offered us some powerful proof that the world can still change—for the better.

There was something almost apocalyptic about 2013. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded on land. It killed more than 6,000 people and affected millions. But it was just one of the 39 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2013.

 

In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. Massive wildfires swept through California, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado, and tornadoes swept through the Midwest, destroying towns like Moore, Okla. Millions of people are on the move, seeking to escape the effects of climate-related disasters.

 

CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time this year, and yet governments have done little to curb emissions. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars—much of it from secret sources—flow to climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups.

 

Pop culture often explores a change before politicians do, and 2013 saw a rash of post-apocalyptic movies—from World War Z to Oblivion—and zombie apocalypse role-playing games.

 

Much happened that was hopeful this year—a new pope focused on inequality, successful minimum wage campaigns spread across the country, and the number of states allowing gay marriage doubled.

 

But responses to the threat of the climate crisis lead off this year’s top stories as we look at seeds sown this year that could make 2014 transformational.

 

1. We saw surprising new leadership on the climate issue

 

In northeast Nebraska, Native Americans and local ranchers formed a new alliance to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. Seven thousand activists gathered in Pittsburgh to press for action on a wide range of environmental justice issues. Students across North America persuaded nine colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of climate activists walked out of the COP19 climate talks in Poland to hold their own climate talks.

 

The governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have committed to taking action on the climate crisis. But Congress remains deadlocked and in denial, and climate scientists—when they let down their careful professional demeanor—express astonishment that world governments have failed to act on what is fast becoming a global emergency.

 

A new potential ally is coming from an unexpected source. Some investors are beginning to worry that fossil fuel companies may not be a good bet. Investors worry about a “carbon bubble.”

 

The reserves of oil, gas, and coal counted as assets by the big energy corporations would be enormously destructive to life on Earth if they were allowed to burn. Many believe that new regulation or pricing will keep a large portion of those reserves safely in the ground.

 

If that happens, the companies’ reserves, and thus their stock, may be worth far less than believed. Savvy investors are placing their bets elsewhere: Warren Buffett, for example, is investing $1 billion in wind energy, which, along with solar energy, is looking better all the time.

 

2. Native peoples took the lead in the fossil fuel fight

 

In response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on Native lands, Idle No More blossomed across Canada this year. First Nations people held flash mob round dances, blockaded roads, and appealed to government at all levels to protect land and water.

 

And it’s not just Canada. In Washington state, the Lummi Tribe is among those resisting massive new coal transport infrastructure, which would make exported coal cheap to burn in Asia.

 

In Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe is teaming up with local ranchers to resist construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Andes, Malaysia, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere are also at the front lines of resistance to yet more dangerous fossil fuel extraction. Many are turning to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and the new Rights of Nature movement for support.

 

Indigenous peoples developed ways of life that could sustain human life and the natural environment over thousands of years. The rest of the world is starting to recognize the critical importance of these perspectives, and there is growing willingness to listen to the perspectives of indigenous peoples.

 

3. The middle and lower classes fought for economic justice

 

Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. People stuck in long-term unemployment are running out of options, and those who do find work often can’t cover basic living expenses. The issue is now getting attention from mainstream media, becoming one of the defining issues of our time, as President Obama said.

 

Now a movement is building to create a new economy that can work for all. Voters this year passed minimum wage laws in SeaTac, Wash., ($15 an hour) and the state of New Jersey. An overwhelming majority favors raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Domestic workers won the right to a minimum wage after years of organizing.

 

The message was also clear in the election of Bill de Blasio, a founder of the Working Families Party, as mayor of New York City. Inequality is a top plank of his platform and his public record. At the national level, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s defense of the rights of student borrowers and her proposal to strengthen Social Security (instead of weaken it, as leaders in both party are discussing) is winning widespread support. There is even talk of drafting Warren to run for president.

 

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4. A new economy is in the making

 

At the grassroots, National People’s Action and the New Economy Institute are leading new conversations about what it takes to build an economy that works for all and can function in harmony with the environment. Thousands of people are taking part.

 

And a growing cooperatives movement is linking up with unions and social movements. Some are working with large “anchor” institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can provide a steady market for their products and services. Credit unions, too, are proving their value as they keep lending to local businesses and homeowners as Wall Street-owned banks pulled back.

 

And a new DIY sharing economy is taking off, as people do peer-to-peer car-sharing, fundraising, and skill-sharing, and bring open-source technology to new levels.

 

5. U.S. military strikes didn’t happen

 

The big news of the year may be the two wars the United States refused to instigate.

 

The United States did continue its drone strikes, and the civilian casualties are causing an international uproar, with some calling for an outright ban on drones. And military spending continues to devastate the country’s budget. (The United States spent more on the military in 2013 than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.) Few dared to call for the same fiscal discipline from the military and its many contractors as they expect from schools and services for the poor.

 

On the other hand, the United States stepped back from the brink of military strikes against Syria and Iran—a step in the right direction.

 

6. Pope Francis called for care and justice for the poor …

 

…and for an end to the idolatry of money and consumerism. He also criticized “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”

 

In his “Evangelii Gaudium” he says: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”

 

This call is provoking outrage from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News commentators, but elsewhere, it’s leading to a new questioning of the moral foundation for a system that concentrates wealth and power while causing widespread poverty.

 

7. Gays and lesbians got some respect

 

On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits once reserved for straight couples. The year saw a doubling of the number of states allowing gay marriages, and a third of all Americans now live in such states.

 

Support for gay marriage has flipped from a slight majority opposing it to a majority now supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. As a wider range of gender identities has become acceptable, men and women, gay and straight, are freer to shed gender stereotypes without fear of bullying and humiliation.

 

8. There were new openings for a third party

 

Just 26 percent of Americans believe the Democratic and Republican parties are doing “an adequate job,” according to an October Gallup poll; 60 percent say a third party is needed. Eighty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Even cockroaches (along with zombies, hemorrhoids, and Wall Street) have a higher approval rating according to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling.

 

But it’s not the Tea Party that Americans are looking to as the alternative. Support for the Tea Party has fallen: In an October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the party.

 

New space has opened for independent political work. The Working Family Party (see #3 above) is an especially interesting model.

 

9. Alternatives to Obamacare are in the works

 

Democratic leadership believed that the big profits the Affordable Care Act guaranteed to private insurance companies would make the act popular with conservatives.

 

But the resulting system, with all its complications and expenses—and requirements—is frustrating millions. There are features that benefit ordinary people, but it compares poorly to the simpler and more cost-effective systems that exists in most of the developed world. Canadian-style single-payer health care, for example, had the support of a majority of Americans. Some jurisdictions are still looking for alternatives. Cooperative health insurance is available in some states and others are working to establish statewide single-payer healthcare.

 

10. An education uprising began

 

The momentum behind the education reform agendas of Presidents Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) is stalling. The combination of austerity budgets, an ethic of blame directed at teachers, high-stakes testing, and private charter schools has stressed teachers and students—but it has not resulted in improved performance.

 

Peaceful Uprising photo by David Newkirk
Get Apocalyptic: Why Radical Is the New Normal

 

Seattle’s Garfield High School teachers, students, and parents launched an open rebellion last spring, joining a handful of others in refusing to administer required standardized tests. The movement is spreading around the country, with more rebellions expected in the spring of 2014 (stay tuned for an in-depth report in the Spring issue of YES!)

 

We live in interesting times, indeed. The growing climate emergency could eclipse all the other issues, and the sooner we get on it, the more we can use the transition for innovations that have other positive spin-offs.

 

There’s not a moment to lose.

April 19, 2012

Teaching About the Environment: Where is the Urgency in Education About the Climate Crisis?

Filed under: Curriculum and Instruction,Environment — millerlf @ 2:37 pm

Changing the Climate in School

Posted: 04/17/2012  Bill Bigelow and Bill McKibben

Maybe you’ve heard. We are facing a climate crisis that threatens life on our planet. Climate scientists are unequivocal: We are changing the world in deep, measurable, dangerous ways — and the pace of this change will accelerate dramatically in the decades to come.

Then again, if you’ve been a middle school or high school student recently, you may not know this.

That’s because the gap between our climate emergency and the attention paid to climate change in the school curriculum is immense. Individual teachers around the country are doing outstanding work, but the educational establishment is not. Look at our textbooks. The widely used Pearson/Prentice Hall text, Physical Science: Concepts in Action, waits until page 782 to tell high school students about climate change, but then only in four oh-by-the-way paragraphs. A photo of a bustling city includes the caption: “Carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, and other sources may contribute to global warming.” Or they may not, the book seems to suggest.

IAT’s Coordinated Science: Physical, Earth and Space Science devotes several pages late in the book to climate change, and concludes with this doubt-soaked passage:

Some people take the position that the increase in carbon dioxide should be reversed. They believe this is necessary even though the size of the contribution to global warming is not certain. It is their belief that the consequences would be very difficult to handle. Other people take a different position. They consider that it would be unwise to disrupt the world’s present economy. They consider the future danger to be questionable. The big problem is that no one is certain that rapid global warming will take place. If it does, it may be too late to do anything about it!

The danger of climate change as “questionable”? ExxonMobil itself could not have produced a more skeptical approach.

These textbooks are not mere egregious outliers; they are typical of commercially produced science and social studies teaching materials. In fact, a partnership between the American Coal Foundation and Scholastic to create a propagandistic 4th grade curriculum was ended only last year, when educators and environmentalists exposed the lessons’ absurd pro-industry biases. Scholastic’s curriculum, The United States of Energy, was distributed free to tens of thousands of elementary teachers. It showed gleaming piles of coal, along with many of its alleged benefits. Students didn’t learn of a single problem, including coal’s huge contribution to climate change.

But as state legislatures get into the business of writing school curricula, things may go from awful to worse. Take Tennessee. It just became the fourth state — following Louisiana, Texas, and South Dakota — to pass a law that requires global warming to be taught as one of a number of “scientific controversies.”

The fact that Tennessee is home of the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial makes the new law ironic, but not funny. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science explains, “Asserting that there are significant scientific controversies about the overall nature of these concepts when there are none will only confuse students, not enlighten them.”

(more…)

April 17, 2011

Republicans Willing to Pollute U.S. Water Supply to Harvest Natural Gas

Filed under: Environment,Right Wing Agenda — millerlf @ 8:58 am

Environmentalists expose gas and oil companies use of a technique called fracking, hydraulic fracking or hydrofracking.

Three House Democrats have published a report exposing its use and danger.

Republican Tea Party favorite Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana, recently in speaking to the right-wing CPAC conference in Washington D.C., said  “…treat domestic energy production as the economic necessity it is and the job creator it can be. Drill, and frack, and lease, and license, unleash in every way the jobs potential in the enormous energy resources we have been denying ourselves.”

To better understand fracking, hydraulic fracking, and hydrofracking go to:

What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Chemicals Were Injected Into Wells, Report Says

By IAN URBINA April 16, 2011 NYTimes

WASHINGTON — Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats.

The chemicals were used by companies during a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives into rock formations deep underground. The process, which is being used to tap into large reserves of natural gas around the country, opens fissures in the rock to stimulate the release of oil and gas.

Hydrofracking has attracted increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists in part because of fears that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water.

“Questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” said the report, which was written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

The report, released late Saturday, also faulted companies for at times “injecting fluids containing chemicals that they themselves cannot identify.”

The inquiry over hydrofracking, which was initiated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee when Mr. Waxman led it last year, also found that 14 of the nation’s most active hydraulic fracturing companies used 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products — not including water. More than 650 of these products contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or are listed as hazardous air pollutants, the report said.

A request for comment from the American Petroleum Institute about the report received no reply.

Some ingredients mixed into the hydraulic fracturing fluids were common and generally harmless, like salt and citric acid. Others were unexpected, like instant coffee and walnut hulls, the report said. Many ingredients were “extremely toxic,” including benzene, a known human carcinogen, and lead.

Companies injected large amounts of other hazardous chemicals, including 11.4 million gallons of fluids containing at least one of the toxic or carcinogenic B.T.E.X. chemicals — benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The companies used the highest volume of fluids containing one or more carcinogens in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas.

(more…)

March 28, 2011

Scott Walker’s Mentor, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, on the Environment: Frack the Earth

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is a new presidential hopeful among Tea Partiers for 2012.

Here is a sample from a speech in February (See full speech at: A Must Read: Indiana Governor and Presidential Hopeful Compares Budget Issues to “Red Menace” and the Cold War) on the issue of energy and the environment.

Basically he’s saying let’s hand over the environment to the Koch brothers and other oil companies from Appalachia to the Rockies. “…treat domestic energy production as the economic necessity it is and the job creator it can be. Drill, and frack, and lease, and license, unleash in every way the jobs potential in the enormous energy resources we have been denying ourselves.”

What is fracking for natural gas?

To See a visual explanation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) go to:

What is Hydraulic Fracturing?

Following is list of valuable articles from ProPublica on the “fracking debate.”

1st Posted in ProPublica, Feb. 28, 2011

Top of Form

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the fracking and natural gas drilling debate, with the documentary film Gasland [1] nominated for an Academy Award and a front-page story [2] in Sunday’s New York Times on the dangers posed by the technology.

The Times story underscored the findings of dozens of reports that ProPublica has published over the past three years, adding new details from previously undisclosed government documents. The increasing public interest in the possible dangers of gas drilling comes as the world’s energy companies are placing a multi-billion dollar bet on its potential. At the request of Vice President Dick Cheney, Congress exempted gas drilling from federal regulation in 2005. Since then, industry officials have successfully lobbied against calls in Washington to change the law, calls that have intensified in recent months with new attention on the issue.

For those who want to dive deeper into the complex science and regulatory issues of fracking, we offer a quick breakdown of the key issues.

It’s a subject reporter Abrahm Lustgarten has been covering for ProPublica since July of 2008. In the years since then, Lustgarten and his ProPublica colleagues have criss-crossed the country, interviewing drillers, industry officials and residents from Wyoming to Colorado to Pennsylvania. To listen to a podcast from Lustgarten, click here [3]. To read a detailed account of one man’s fight against water contamination in Wyoming, click here [4]. (Lustgarten received the 2009 George Polk Award for environmental reporting for his investigation of hydraulic fracturing as well as the 2009 Stokes Award for Best Energy Writing from the National Press Foundation.)

Below is a list of 19 of our most important stories, arranged by topic so you can quickly find the information you need. For a list of all the 100 or so stories we’ve written about gas drilling since 2008, you can also visit our gas drilling home page [5].

Radioactivity

  • Is Marcellus Shale Too Hot to Handle? [6] – A 2009 analysis of wastewater samples from wells in New York showed levels of radioactivity more than 250 times the federal drinking water standard.

Wastewater

Methane Contamination

Overview

Regulation

Air Pollution

November 29, 2010

Walker “Open for Business” with Green Out the Door

Filed under: Environment,Scott Walker — millerlf @ 1:44 pm

Businesses expect friendlier DNR under Walker

By Eric Decker , of BizTimes Published November 26, 2010

Business interests are hopeful that Governor-elect Scott Walker will make changes to the state’s environmental policies that will make Wisconsin more business-friendly.

The Walker administration is likely to pursue several changes to Wisconsin’s environmental policies as they relate to manufacturing and business, and it will almost certainly make changes to the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), political observers say.

Such changes would reflect Walker’s mantra that Wisconsin is “open for business.”

“The main thing is changing the tone in our regulatory agencies from an adversarial relationship to a partnering relationship,” said Steve Baas, director of governmental affairs with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC). “Businesses should not be assumed guilty until proven innocent in regulatory matters.”

The MMAC and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) hope Walker will put a high priority on changing the culture at the DNR because of the regulatory powers that agency has over manufacturing, which is one of the state’s largest employment sectors.

“The DNR must not view environmental protection and economic growth as mutually exclusive goals,” Baas said. “More than any individual piece of legislation, making a change in tone (at the DNR) will set the table for whether the governor-elect is able to deliver on his goal of making Wisconsin open for business.”

The MMAC and the WMC also expect the Walker administration to speed up the DNR’s permit approval process.

“Time certainty is a huge thing, as is responsiveness,” Baas said. “It speaks to our competitiveness. (Currently) our regulators, without explicitly rejecting an application, can kill one by tying it up in red tape so that businesses will say it’s not worth doing business in Wisconsin.”

Scott Manley, environmental policy director with the WMC, agreed and said the Walker administration should focus on making sure Wisconsin’s policies match up with federal standards and those in place in neighboring states.

“If we can align ourselves with neighboring states and the EPA and get some streamlining done without sacrificing environmental quality (that will be a good thing),” Manley said. “Permit streamlining is a great place to start. They should look at air permitting and water permitting.”

The new Walker administration may not need to introduce radical rule changes at the DNR and other state agencies, Manley said. Instead, it could encourage use of existing rules that are not being enforced now.

“(Wisconsin) enacted some comprehensive regulation reform in 2004, and I think many of those reforms haven’t been fully implemented,” Manley said. “Many of the tools that were given to the DNR to streamline (the permit) process haven’t been fully taken advantage of. In many respects, Walker’s administration has the ability to take those tools and make the regulatory process better and more efficient in Wisconsin.”

Walker will be able to appoint a new DNR secretary when he takes office in January. Next year, the new governor also will be able to appoint two new members to the state’s Natural Resources Board, which sets policy for the DNR.

“Even though the majority of the board won’t be his appointees right away, via the secretary position, the governor can set the tone and make significant changes to the board,” Baas said. “The accountability (of the Natural Resources Board and DNR) and the ability to make changes in the way they do business lands in the governor’s lap.”

State Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon), who is also the new Assembly Republican leader, said Assembly Republicans also will put a high priority on changing the culture at the DNR.

“We’ve seen the DNR as an adversary of businesses in the state, and that’s something the Walker administration and Republicans in charge would like to see changed,” Fitzgerald said. “(We need to) get a (DNR) secretary that understands jobs and the economy and will do what it takes to get businesses in Wisconsin.”

Fitzgerald predicts that the Walker administration and Republicans in the state Assembly will work on job-creating and state deficit reducing measures, beginning in January. The Assembly may take up issues relating to emissions permitting and other environmental regulations, he said, but there are no specific pieces of legislation he or other Republicans are planning to introduce at this point.

“The first half (of the session) will be devoted to getting people back to work and our state on fiscal track, which will help the overall business environment,” Fitzgerald said.

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