Saturday, April 03, 2010

Bigger Question than "Can We Save Burma & Darfur" -- Will the Nation & the Planet Go the Way of Burma & Darfur? Can We Save Ourselves from Ourselves?

At a recent panel lecture in Boston, abolitionist scholar Zoe Trodd stated that the average price of a slave in 2010 is about $40. That's compared to the cost of a slave in 1840, which in today's dollars would have been between $30,000 and $50,00 -- as much as a brand new luxury car. Even just ten years ago, experts estimated that the global average for buying a human being was closer to $100 or $200. And, now, it's cheaper in many parts of the world to buy a human being than it is to buy an iPod shuffle. Amanda Kloer,, 4-3-10

Humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes on the planet that we may be ushering in a new period of geological history. Through pollution, population growth, urbanisation, travel, mining and use of fossil fuels we have altered the planet in ways which will be felt for millions of years, experts believe.
It is feared that the damage mankind has inflicted will lead to the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth's history with thousands of plants and animals being wiped out.
The new epoch, called the Anthropocene - meaning new man - would be the first period of geological time shaped by the action of a single species. Although the term has been in informal use among scientists for more than a decade, it is now under consideration as an official term.
Murray Wardrop, Entering New Age of Geological Time, Telegraph/UK, 3-27-10

Bigger Question than "Can We Save Burma & Darfur" -- Will the Nation & the Planet Go the Way of Burma & Darfur? Can We Save Ourselves from Ourselves?

By Richard Power

Ponder this, we are entering "the first period of geological time shaped by the action of a single species" (the species is us, and the action is our unsustainable and destructive growth); at the same time, "it's cheaper in many parts of the world to buy a human being than it is to buy an iPod shuffle."

This is my ninetieth post on Darfur, my sixty-third post on Burma and my one hundred ninetieth post on the Climate Crisis. Increasingly, every post touches on two or more these issues; because, increasingly, they are inter-related.

Burma and Darfur, and yes, the Congo, are not only human rights issues that demand action from people of conscience, they are also laboratories in which our possible future can be glimpsed; and the Climate Crisis (as well as the Hydra-headed Sustainability Crisis it fronts for) is the Great Humbler that threatens to deliver us all to that possible future.

Currently, Sudan and Burma are staggering toward "elections." But in both case, these exercises in democracy are being hopelessly compromised by the ruling thugs.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Tuesday that monitoring Sudan's election next month would be like monitoring a vote in Hitler's Germany. Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo pressed for the arrest warrant issued by the ICC a year ago against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur region. Bashir is contesting the poll.
Speaking a day after Bashir threatened to expel international election monitors for saying the vote may have to be delayed to deal with logistical problems, Moreno-Campo told a Brussels seminar: "It's like monitoring a Hitler election. It's a huge challenge."
Washington Post, 3-23-10

For all the attention Darfur has received and for all the humanitarian assistance that it has been provided, innocent civilians are once again being killed as part of a ruthless counter- insurgency campaign by the Khartoum regime. Poised to retain power in next month’s thoroughly compromised national elections, this regime will continue its 20-year history of civilian destruction throughout Sudan until the world gets serious about pressuring it to stop ... Eric Reeves, Sudan Research, 3-26-10

If Burma’s military regime goes ahead with its promised general election this year, some 27.2 million voters will be deprived of the chance to cast a ballot for the political party that has come to symbolise democratic hope in that oppressed nation. This is the scenario taking shape after the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by pro-democracy icon and party leader Aung San Suu Syi, decided on Monday to boycott the general election ... Suu Kyi, who has been placed under house arrest for over 14 of the past 20 years, had said "she will never accept registration (of her party to contest the poll) under unjust (electoral) laws." BURMA: In Opting for Poll Boycott, Suu Kyi’s Party Goes for Broke, Inter Press Service, 3-31-10

The great nations, and the giant corporations that exert undue influences on the great nations, are using these two elections as cover, just as surely as the thugs in Karthoum and Naypyidaw are using them as cover. Babbling about such elections gives the great nations the cover necessary to avoid taking more forceful action; and it gives giant corporations the cover necessary to avoid disrupting business as usual (which of course involves oil and gas).

I encourage you to help the people of Burma, Darfur, the Congo, Haiti, etc., in whatever way occurs to you -- even if it is simply in your meditation. But I also want you to realize that in caring about them, and working for them, you are fighting for yourselves, and your loved ones. Because the reality is that the fates of the Burmese and the Dafuri are a preview of our own possible future.

Here in the USA, for decades, life has been relentlessly cheapened, infrastructure has been willfully neglected, information has been insidiously contaminated ...

Human rights and sustainability are inextricably entwined. You cannot have one without the other. We must champion them both, and we must deliver on them both -- if we are to survive, and if our life is to be something worth surviving for. The crimes against humanity (and nature) that have been perpetrated in Darfur, Burma and Congo are not far from your door. They really aren't. Nor can you achieve human rights and sustainability in one place while failing to achieve it in another (especially not when your relative human rights and sustainability is predicated in part on the denial of human rights and sustainability elsewhere). One planet, one life, one love ...

Consider the difference that one election cycle can make.

This chart created by Speaker Pelosi's office, and based on U.S. Labor Department Statistics tells you all you need to know about voting against your own best interests (or allowing your elections to be stolen).

Of course, as we have seen before, the difference a single election cycle can make is a very sharp, double-edged sword. And to meet the challenge of the Climate Crisis (and the Hydra-headed Sustainability Crisis it fronts for) we need to summon an indomitable political will to change our way of life, and to restore our democratic institutions in the process, not simply win an election or two.

There is evidence that a way out of our predicament is possible ...

Europe could meet all its electricity needs from renewable sources by mid-century, according to a report released Monday by services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.
A "super-smart" grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, wind farms in northern Europe and the North Sea, hydro-electric from Scandinavia and the Alps and a complement of biomass and marine energy could render carbon-based fuels obsolete for electricity by 2050, said the report.
The goal is achievable even without the use of nuclear energy, the mainstay of electricity in France, it said.
Europe's electricity could be all renewables by 2050, Agence France Press, 3-29-10

But there is also evidence that we are incapable of coming to grips with the imperatives of this moment:

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory ... "I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful."
One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."
James Lovelock: Humans Are Too Stupid to Prevent Climate Change, Guardian, 3-29-10

According to the Smithsonian Institution, it doesn’t matter how toxic your politics are or how dirty your money is, as long as you give the cash to them. Paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, director of the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and curator of anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, defended pollution scion David H. Koch as a “philanthropist who is deeply interested in science.” David Koch’s oil and manufacturing conglomerate Koch Industries is one of the greatest contributors to global warming in the country. Koch also funds the largest network of climate-change-denying organizations and political operatives in the world.” A ‘Grateful’ Smithsonian Denies Greenwashing ‘Philanthropist’ David H. Koch’s Dirty Money, Think Progress, 4-1-10

Climate Progress: Mass media have been a key vehicle by which climate change contrarianism has traveled, according to Maxwell Boykoff, a University of Colorado at Boulder professor and fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES.

Perhaps hope and the power to compel urgent, meaningful change will come from below ...

A different way of fighting global warming will be tried out in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba when government representatives and thousands of activists gather for the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth ... The defence of Mother Earth, championed by Bolivian President Evo Morales, has the support of more than 240 grassroots and indigenous movements, non-governmental organisations, activists and intellectuals who are calling for a charter of rights for the planet ... The agenda priorities are: climate debt, climate change migrants and refugees, greenhouse gas emission cuts, adaptation, technology transfer, financing, forests and climate change, shared visions and indigenous peoples. Franz Chávez, CLIMATE CHANGE: From Copenhagen to Cochabamba, Inter Press Service, 3-30-10

In regard to the Climate Crisis, it is vital that we move beyond the false debate about the reality of Climate Change and our role in it, and move on to a real debate about how much we are doing, and whether it is enough. For this shift to occur, the U.S. Senate must act. (The House already has acted, of course.) And in the end the result will be something similar to the recent healthcare insurance reform legislation; it will not be what we want or need, but it will be enough to start moving us toward what we want and need. That's why I am not going to get exacerbated about President Obama's proposals concerning off-shore drilling, or nuclear energy, or even clean coal. If these reverse bribes to industry are the pound (or two or three) of flesh required to move us forward into a political reality that includes an climate and energy policy signed into law, which can then be debated on its efficacy rather than on talking points from Faux News and the Chamber of Horrors, so be it.

In regard to Darfur, from my perspective, US Special Envoy Scott Gration has been a profound disappointment, and so has the administration's policy on Sudan. There is something terrible happening in the Sudan; the unthinkable is still possible there. I do not know what the answer is, but it is not some Pollyanna ingratiating himself with his offers of cookies.

In regard to Burma, just as in Darfur, the great nations and the giant corporations are complicit. We may not be able to act against the Junta, but we can act against Chevron and say no US corporation should do business in Burma until Aung San Suu Kyi is sworn into to the office she was elected to in 1990! If you can do anything to the Burmese Junta, Madame Secretary, you can't; but you sure could embarrass the Board of Directors of Chevron, and inspire the planetary consciousness in the process.

In regard to Congo, well, the problem is in your hands, literally -- if you are holding a cell phone. Learn more -- read Who Pays the Price? Raped for Technology at A Safe World for Women, and go to the Enough Project's Raise Hope for Congo, and Ben Affleck's Eastern Congo Initiative

As always, I encourage you to follow events in Darfur on Mia Farrow's site, it is the real-time journal of a humanitarian at work; the content is compelling, insightful and fiercely independent.

For an archive of Words of Power posts on the Crisis in Darfur, click here.

Support Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and his six bills to Save Democracy.

For the Words of Power Climate Crisis Updates Archive, click here.

Have you met Al Gore at the Wall yet?

I encourage you to find out why 350 is the most important number in your life and the lives of everyone you love: go to or Google "Bill McKibben" for the answer.

Richard Power's True North on the Pathless Path: Toward 21st Century Spirituality is available from

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available from

Visit Richard Power author's page at

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