Flotsam & Jetsam
A Solar Monument to Cesar Chavez, World Environment Day -- Green Sabbath? Black Sabbath?, Gross National Happiness: Bhutan's Altruistic Economics, AND San Francisco Declares Energy Independence
June 4, 2004
A Monument to Cesar Chavez
|A sketch of the initial design of the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar|
Berkeley, California plans to honor labor leader, environmental crusader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez with a large stone plaza on the Berkeley Marina designed in the shape of a solar calendar.
The Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar was conceived by sociologist Santiago Casal. Marking Chavez' life with a natural calendar "makes perfect sense, Casal reasoned, since "solar calendars were rooted in an agricultural way of life [and] farmworkers have always lived by understanding the cycle of the seasons."
Like the solar calendars at Stonehenge in England, the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and the Cahohia Indian Sun Circle in Illinois, Casals believes the Chavez sundial will "provide us with a link to our ancestral past."
The solar calendar will become a permanent part of the city's existing Cesar E. Chavez Park. Situated atop a two-acre site within the 90-acre waterfront park, the calendar will command a 360-degree panorama of the Bay and surrounding foothills.
A 90-foot-diameter Solar Calendar/Sky Observatory will be enclosed by two crescent-shaped earthen berms. The wall on the sunset side would be low enough to permit views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tamalpais rising across the Bay in Marin County. "It will be a naked-eye observatory, so you will be in the same shoes as your ancestors," Casal says.
Casal's words echo a passage from Berkeley author Malcolm Margolin book The Ohlone Way (Heyday Books): "Before the coming of the Europeans, for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, the Ohlones rose before dawn, stood in front of their tule houses and, facing the east, shouted words of greeting and encouragement to the rising sun. They talked to the sun because they believed that the sun was listening to them, that it would heed their advice and their pleas. They shouted to the sun because, as one missionary later put it, they felt that the sun had 'a nature very much like their own."
Green Sabbath? Black Sabbath?
One of the tandem events surrounding the UN-sponsored World Environment Day on June 6, is the convocation of the Earth Sabbath -- a unique day of worship that transcends denominations and welcomes all faiths to participate in a day of global reverence for the Earth.
On the Earth Sabbath, temples, synagogues, cathedrals, mosques all open their doors to unique expressions of common purpose. Millions of people in thousands of dialects in hundreds of countries raise their voices in chants, songs and prayers for the survival of the living planet.
If this sounds wonderfully sublime, you haven't been listening to the folks at the American Sovereignty Action Project.
To the ASAP, the Earth Sabbath, World Environment Day and the environmental movement are nothing more than neo-pagan "cult-like" activities. According to ASAP's Cliff Kincaid "US taxpayers are being forced to subsidize a new form of state religion which holds that natural resources have to be protected for the sake of Gaia, a so-called Earth spirit."
And who belongs to this unholy cabal of the wrongly faithed? Kincaid isn't afraid to name names. "This religious movement," he writes, "is being promoted by leading figures and organizations such as
Al Gore, broadcaster Ted Turner, and the United Nations." Turner, Kincaid instructs, is the man who "turned his broadcasting empire into a virtual arm of the UN." Turner is a notorious supporter of the UN Population Fund and "a noted critic of Christianity" who plots to warp the mind of young Americans through his "Captain Planet" TV cartoon show "in which characters get magic powers from an Earth spirit or goddess."
ASAP sees the UN Environment Program's Environmental Sabbath as another "variation of the Gaia concept" and UNEP's founder, Canadian entrepreneur Maurice Strong, is seen as a threat because he has "described the global environmental movement in terms suggesting a religious crusade." Further evidence? Strong's "Earth Charter" calls for people to respect "Mother Earth" and animals.
"As Turner's involvement suggests, this Cult of Gaia has a definite anti-Christian orientation," Kincaid argues. Kincaid limns the divide between Christianity and Gaia worship as follows: "Christianity holds that there is a gulf between God and man that is breached by Christ," whereas "the philosophy of Gaia holds that nature is God and that, by experiencing or even worshipping nature, humans can attain oneness with God."
But ASAP's concern isn't limited to religion. As their name suggests, there is a geopolitical motive at work. If people are encouraged to worship the Earth, Kincaid warns, the next thing you know, "the US and other industrial countries" might be forbidden "from certain uses of the world's natural resources." An undue obsession with "sustainable development," Kincaid fears, "could stifle economic growth and promote a drastic decline in the American standard of living."
ASAP accuses environmentalists of seeking to impose a "new state religion" and quotes columnist Alston Chase's dire warning that "It may be only a matter of time before America becomes a complete theocracy -- a place where, in the name of environmentalism, science and religion fuse with civil authority to rule the populace."
Ironically, the Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a similar critique accusing the Bush administration (which is devoutly linked to the goals of evangelical Christianity) of distorting science to promote its religion-based views on life, morality, commerce, religion and marriage.
ASAP has found an ally in Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-ID) who argues that mixing environmentalism with spirituality has "profound Constitutional implications because of the First Amendment prohibition on government establishment of religion."
Only the Bush administration would contemplate an attempt to outlaw "nature worship" as a violation of the First Amendment. It would be the consummate act of chutzpah from an administration that claims to favor "faith-based initiatives."
Gross National Happiness:
|hutan's young king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, has vowed to preserve the 60 percent of his nation that is covered with forests. He has banned satellite dishes. He plays basketball and drives a Toyota. |
Bhutan's Altruistic Economics
The kingdom of Bhutan may be the only country in the world that measures its wellbeing by Gross National Happiness (GNH) instead of Gross National Product (GNP). Led by its young king, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan has followed a cautious path of development since the 1960s, with the intention of preserving its heritage and culture and protecting its environment.
Applying the standard of GNP, the kingdom now limits the number of tourists allowed to visit because the Bhutanese had complained that the environment was being affected and sacred lands were being spoiled by the sight-seers. Further demonstrating that the concept of GNH is inextricably connected to accountability, anyone with a grievance can go to the king and get a hearing.
Material and technological progress is not rejected or banned, but it must not be pursued to the detriment of the value of human life and humanitys soul. GNH has a spiritual aspect to it, as well as an eminently sensible accountability aspect. Mental and psychological wealth are real concerns in Bhutan and happiness is counted as more important than monetary wealth.
The GNH concept was introduced by Bhutan's leaders as a means of placing their Buddhist principles at the heart of life. GNH challenges people to rethink what is truly important: should the success of a nation be judged by its ability to produce and consume, or should it be based on the quality of life in that country and the happiness of its people?
Questioning how altruism, spiritual and moral beliefs, can be integrated into economics challenges people to question the basis assumption of modern economics -- where wellbeing is judged on the acquisition of material goods, consumption and production.
As Sander Tideman points out, in his paper "Gross National Happiness: Towards Buddhist Economics," qualitative distinctions are lost in the measuring of quantity. Economic calculations ignore the value of things such as fresh water, green forests, clean air, traditional ways of life.
In GNP-based economies, money from logging is counted as part of a countrys income while the loss of the forests remains uncalculated. Similarly, the unpaid volunteering, caring and nurturing provided by the informal "Compassionate Economy" also goes untabulated, despite some studies that estimate it represents 50 percent of all productive work in societies. While the traditional GNP labels increased production and consumption as measures of success, there is no accounting for the proportional increase in waste or the destruction of infinite and irreplaceable natural resources.
In Buddhism, happiness is not determined by what one owns, but by knowledge, living skills and imagination -- i.e., by being, not having. Compassion and co-operation are as important to achieving happiness as competition
The growing trend for companies to demonstrate social responsibility due to public pressure points to the need for an altruistic economics. The World Banks Wealth Index now includes the concepts of "human capital" and "environmental capital." The UN Human Development Index measures assets like education, human rights and life expectancy. The Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators incorporate cultural values and activities of self-improvement and group participation.
Tideman argues that such initiatives underscore the need to "base development on spiritual values, transmitted through culture, rather than merely material values."
San Francisco Declares Energy Independence
On May 11, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved legislation to apply the state's "Community Choice" law to switch San Francisco residents and businesses to new "green" electric power suppliers. The City also is preparing to finance a network of renewable energy and conservation projects that should dramatically reduce dependency on natural gas and nuclear power.
The City's Energy Independence ordinance was announced at a February press conference hosted by SF Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Local Power Executive Director Paul Fenn, Sierra Club International Vice President Michele Perrault, California Wind Credit Advocate Tyrone Cashman, Sacramento Solar Program Architect Don Aitken, UC Berkeley Professor Dan Kammen, Toward Utility Rate Normalization (TURN) Representative Mindy Spatt, and Greenpeace USA Representative Kristin Casper.
The move, sponsored by Supervisor Ammiano, follows the California Public Utilities Commission's decision, to free communities like San Francisco to abandon contracts with large suppliers like Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) in order to control their own energy destiny under the Community Choice law (AB117, Migden). The move also reflects the city's 2001 vote to promote a green power transition through a Solar Bond Authority.
San Francisco's Energy Independence ordinance directs City departments and the Board of Supervisors to solicit bids from new eco-friendly Electric Service Providers. As soon as 2005, the city hopes to be installing 360 Megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic panels, distributed-generation fuel cells, wind turbines, hydrogen, energy efficiency, and conservation technologies. Under Community Choice, the new power would be "wheeled" over PG&E's existing lines. Ratepayers would have the option of switching to green power or staying with PG&E.
Proponents argue that conversion would protect consumers from rising natural gas prices, would reduce rates of breast cancer and childhood asthma by closing polluting powerplants, and would make the City a leader in the global effort to slow climate change.
On average, San Francisco consumes 850 MW during the day and 650 MW at night. A 360-MW investment in green power (as called for in the City's Electricity Resource Plan) will far exceed the Renewable Portfolio Standard called for by state law.
Community Choice enables power providers to mix solar with less expensive energy efficiency technologies to bring down the average price of electricity to be competitive with PG&E's rates. And after the initial costs are paid, "this infrastructure will continue to provide power to San Franciscans at considerably lower rates for decades," says Paul Fenn of Oakland-based Local Power .
"Energy independence offers San Franciscans permanent protection against future energy crises, and hard savings that cannot be taken away." Says Supervisor Ammiano. Proposition H, passed in 2001, created a Solar Bond Authority that will allow the City to finance the green power projects, allowing for a more gradual repayment of the solar, wind, conservation and efficiency investments without a rate increase.
"We can work towards closing the City's polluting power plants and make the City comply with the Kyoto Treaty, all at the same rates PG&E charges," say Ammiano, adding, "Now I call that a bargain."
For more information contact: Local Power, 4281 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland CA 9461, (510) 451-1727. www.local.org
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