David Suzuki famously compared the context of measuring economic progress by removing the quantifiable impacts on the environment and social justice in economic growth to “brain cancer”. This is a topic that readers of GreenWatch have frequently read. The good news is that I can continue to write about it.
Suzuki said that by “measuring the value of the board feet of timber extracted and sold” and counting that as the “economic benefit”, is myopic to say the least. By ignoring the true costs of for example deforestation on the quality of water, air, and the lives of the millions of displaced humans in places that we live, is a false measurement designed to promote the profiteers and does create catastrophic harm the rest of us.
It is not just forests. Using the oceans and waterways as dumps instead of spending on real waste mitigation contributes to the measured growth charts, enriches the 001%, but leaves the rest of us poisoned for profit. Vast agricultural empires underpinned by chemicals have destroyed enormous amounts of the natural world. The use of plastics has created a natural disaster that we are only beginning to wake up to. Plastics have created wealth, but the “external” economic costs of these enveloping poisons will bankrupt human economies, and worse, kill us all. The cost of climate change which can be characterized by damages caused by superstorms, is borne by all of us both with tax payer dollars and by lives lost. The world is in trouble as we desperately seek solutions to access clean water, clean air, and quality of life. The way we measure these costs-externalities, is indeed insane in the brain.
This fundamentalist capitalism approach to using and abusing natural resources that belong to all of us in democratic societies, is free market socialism for the wealthy. Sure they argue that the wealth will trickle down. We know how that goes. Those at the top of the pile call the shots. We are paying for these profits with our health, our well-being, and the future of our planet. The trickle down of environmental abuse in the name of profit extraction is turned now into a torrent that most of us may not escape.
Damage to our environment, which is a great source of wealth for all of us is disregarded as an economic externality. That which sustains all life including ours is almost lost. The Trump administration has sealed the deal, for now. By organizing with corrupt and elite business cabals from around the world, our country has ceded leadership and watered the seeds of the death march of the sustainable planet as we knew it.
Is it too late? No question that the environmental damage done by this administration and the economic political system that created it will take decades or perhaps centuries to reverse. This is true even if a new ecological paradigm political were to arise tomorrow. That scenario seems unlikely. At least in the near term. That said, this is not the time to give up. Humans are at their best when solving problems. We can do this. Today, Trumps seemingly effortless investment in dividing us with his culture wars tweeter storms has us all up in arms about whether to kneel or salute during the National Anthem. Our attention is diverted. Today and tomorrow Resist, fight, stand up for yourself and for future generations. Resistance is not futile.
This morally bankrupt and corrupt ambassador from Broken Arrow Oklahoma is a hired hand, employed to shrink the regulations of the EPA. The mantra started by the equally morally bankrupt Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp was to shrink them until you could “drown them like a baby in a bathtub.” Pruitt’s criminal work at EPA has been comprehensive. If there was a regulation designed to promote human safety or health, and if a business is required to invest in mitigation protecting same, Pruitt and Trumps EPA has proposed to or has eliminated it.
The Trump administration and the potent and organized economic junta’s that it represents have made takings from the environment including but not limited to mining, logging, oil, gas and other hydrocarbon extraction, toxics dumping, climate initiatives, endangered species, National Parks and Monuments and Sanctuaries as primary goals.
It is important to know that regulations are not designed to hurt the rich elite and entitled businesses that prefer to swing unencumbered in the wild wild west of fundamental free markets. Regulations, laws, and best practices, are designed to protect the health, safety and pocketbooks of you and I and to promote a just society. These protect people from poisoned water, air, and injustice -aka the external costs not measured or considered by the economic models that sway the amplitude of the so called free market. Shrinking and drowning the baby puts us on our knees to the king.
Pruitt is of course not alone in the Trump administration in rolling back environmental protections. The Bureau of Land Management, Department of Energy, Department of Interior, Commerce, US Fish And Wildlife Service, and virtually every agency in the administration has proposed significant, and to my eye, horrific rollbacks and eliminations of standards that have taken decades to plan, think through, and implement. This anti-regulatory movement transcends environment and reaches deep into banking, military, medicine, justice, and social contexts. These erosions are designed to empower the powerful and remove those costly safety blankets that help so many of us to live in freedom with healthy, happy, and educated lives.
All of this has left us, the holders of the public trust, vulnerable and worse. How long will we remain on our knees?
Things to Read
There is a potent regional and local angle also. These include rollbacks promoted by monied players that include reducing the impacts and requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Instead of resistance by democrats both in Albany and in Buffalo, the tactic has been to play ball with the disaster capitalists lurking behind our destruction. Politics is a tough game and the democrats seem to believe that the delicate approach of preaching compromise as a successful strategy have negotiated away our future. How often have you heard “half is better than nothing.” Well friends, having half a baby in a bathtub is the same as having no baby. The ceding of environmental and cultural review by the people, our government, and it’s agencies and planning boards to the developers and big stick profit takers are creating harm to the citizens and future generations. As if the hungry fox in the henhouse was a good thing.
In a recent forum hosted by the Investigative Post, Judith Enck, a former NYS environmental official and the EPA’s regional administrator under President Obama, criticized the Cuomo administration for inadequate response to the the federal rollbacks and criticized the effectiveness of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, which has been detoothed under Cuomo. Give a look and listen: Investigative Post June 10, 2018 Interview with Judith Enck
Trumps Western New York Dog Whistler
There is a certain comfort in learning that local conservative hero Michael Caputo is up to his ears in investigations into the Russian Collusion and various corruption scandals that will forever characterize the Trump era. It is still a bit discomforting that Caputo has roiled the local political scene with his Trump leadership. Caputo has been a subsidized player in Western New York. While his PR firm was recently dismissed as the voice of the Erie County Water Authority, he continues to dance to the tune of the King. He is not quite the fixer that Michael Cohen is, but he tries. He has helped local conservative activists and leaders, like their national and international counterparts, to still believe that Trump is the ubiquitous answer. These colonialists have very loud voices because they control much of the cash flow in our region. Caputo continues to be a hired figure on CNN which either gives him credibility, or reduces their credibilty depending on how your confirmation bias slants. This week he appeared on the new Chris Cuomo show and bumbled his way through a weird interview.
Caputo has bamboozled his way onto regular appearances on CNN. I guess Kelly Anne Conway is just too much of an obfuscator. But, Caputo tries to balance the ridiculous with the absurd.
Local mainstream media including the Buffalo News are also struggling to survive the Trump era. Large established media are quite dependent on enormous flows of cash in order to circulate their product and remain relevant. Cash buys coverage. Coverage helps power brokers. Recently the Buffalo News has scrambled to reorganize itself in the new climate, which includes increased paper costs due to Trumps Canadian tariffs. This has also impacted the costs of the print edition of The Public. By one means or another Trump will put the so-called fake media (ie media that criticizes Trump) out of business.
What is Happening with the Buffalo News by Elmer Ploetz
What is Happening with the Buffalo News Part 2 by Elmer Ploetz
The Buffalo News has a wide spectrum of talented reporters and photographers. Criticism of the Buffalo News by this journalist is not about those incredibly hard working, intelligent, and responsible people (for the most part). You know who you are.
In addition to Adam Zyglis, whom I admire despite my occasional criticism, there is a newly emerged journalist giant TJ Pignataro. When his editors give him room, he has become a really important local, regional, and national voice in Environmental Journalism.
Unfortunately, as the Buffalo News is learning, when the cash cows moo, and the moo is a mono message, interested readers, (or consumers as the media business defines us) of the product lose interest and vanish. It is apparently one of those Catch-22’s. Stay on message and get paid, and stay on message and get cashiered by the public. This is certainly true of the Buffalo News which may be a victim of its own management style delusion of grandeur. Clearly their economic relevance is vanishing along with its profitability. Large monocultural media has quickly become a victim of social cost “externalities”. As in the profits of the ultimate profiteer will not be diminished by the consequences of local social stability. “Fogetaboutit” and “Dasvahdanya” to the Buffalo News.
Public Governmental and Educational Access on Cable
Speaking of the vanished- despite the fact that we conditionally like Spectrum’s entry into local and state news coverage, what has happened to the sacred public, government, and educational access (PEG) programming? In the hey day of franchise granting, local cable operators were required to provide these services, which were intended to give an accessible soapbox to local interests and local programming. These channels were required on what was defined as the top tier of channels. (1-30). For years, despite the mismanagement by the City of Buffalo Office of Telecommunications, the local public access channels presented consistent local programming that could be found on channels 18-21. For a while the Educational Access Channel was managed by WNED as Think Bright. Now it seems that Spectrum has relocated these important channels deep into the forest of the unseen. Think Bright has completely vanished. For the record, in Buffalo, you can find public and government and public access on the deeply hidden channel spectrum of 1300-1304. You would know nothing about this if you went to the City’s website managed by the Office of Telecommunication, which theoretically controls the PEG programs. Over a month since the Spectrum transition of channels, this website has no information on where to find the programming, except to refer viewers to the now vanished former channel line-up. Shameful, inadequate, and a terrible mishandling of the public trust by the current administration of this valuable public asset.
Local Economic Conditions
I will wrap up todays Sunday GreenWatch with a few strategic ideas about how we can survive economically, consider externalities as value, and try to protect ourselves in the egregious age of Trump. I believe we can find a way not only to survive, but to thrive. Still it takes a movement, it takes a community. A lot of you are thinking about this stuff and we need a movement to regain control of our destiny.
Taking central stage as always is economic development. Americans do lack a certain economic literacy which may be an intentional consequence of our educational system. I am not saying that we don’t understand how to balance our checking account, or have heard about how important it is to work to pay the rent and cable bill- but we have a very simplistic understanding of where our money comes from, and more importantly, where it goes once we spend it.
For centuries our region has been the centerpiece of a very productive economy. Initially our natural resources and our location combined to create great value. This morphed into industry and commerce. Unfortunately most of our wealth has been extracted by investors and companies that do not live here and have very little at stake here other than insuring a continuing flow out, of our local value. That requires minimum maintenance.
We mentioned our support for Spectrums local and state news coverage as conditional. Spetrum is a brand owned by the huge corporate conglomerate Charter Communications. We are watching, and will keep watching this news operation.
Once we had robust rules for media empires governing local content for instance and or limiting the monopoly. Now, not so much. The FCC under Trump, has watered the rules, trying to drown the baby in the bathtub. Our local quality of life effected by the complete saturation of the corporate media products. Local quality of life is an externality that does not easily effect the bottom line for the non-local corporations. For instance, it is reported that in it’s heyday, the Buffalo News extracted nearly $1 million dollars a week into the pockets of out of town (Omaha) investors. No wonder Warren Buffet bought the news! What is the economic profile of Spectrum our newly established cable provider? Spectrum is the brand name of the nations second largest cable provider, is owned by Charter Communications, which recently merged with or acquired Time Warner. That deal was valued at almost $80 billion. Nice to know that local subscribers are contributing to this international conglomerate’s wealth! We belong, I guess. I know that the corporation argues that maintaining the local monopoly is expensive -but given the high and rising costs of their service, and given the seemingly blue sky of how everyone is getting connected to the services at $200 plus a month, they must be rolling in the local dough. How much they extract on an hourly, daily, monthly, and annual schedule is subject to speculation. But it would be good to know, because, you know, it helps to characterize defines our local economic growth potential.
Most of our television stations and their local news operations are owned by out of town investors including large media conglomerates that only care about local news and information as long as it attracts viewers and or cash. That means controversy, silly cat videos (which I love by the way) , and commercial sponsors that, well, tend to spin topics. Click bait is profoundly influencing our way of thinking and our way of life. Even Thomas Edison understood the marketing angle and one of his very first kinetoscopes involved two boxing cats. (See GreenWatch Sunday Morning Television, below)
How do we keep our wealth here? The first step is to identify and understand our wealth. Way back in 2000 I managed a large conference in Buffalo called “Learning Sustainability, Thinking Like a Region in a Globalized World.” Guests and speakers included David Suzuki, Jane Goodall, Paul Hawken, Sylvia Earle and various representatives of the economic and environmental world. Our audience included elected officials, educators, business leaders, and the general public. It was here that I first heard Suzuki’s message about externalities. We made the connections linking our local wealth, the international extractions of our wealth, and social and environmental justice. We spoke of our local environment and the critical significance of our location on the Great Lakes. To the world of the environment, this relationship meant everything. The value of clean water, almost 20% of all the of fresh drinking water on earth provided conservation contexts that are both job creator, and quality of life issues that would draw people to want to live here and invest here. To a certain sector of the business community, those that did not believe in a local economy, the idea was to extract sell our water elsewhere. China was often mentioned as a consumer to be courted. To those that believed in a local economy the idea was to invest in conservation and market the results to the rest of the world. Not by directly selling gallons of water, but by working and creating a tourism and recreational economy at a clean and uniquely robust ecological paradise, with remarkable green shorelines, waterways, forests, and outdoor places that are both unique to our location, and increasingly rare in the Great Lakes, and in New York, North America, and planet earth. This would, it was proposed, create substantial local economic development tools, local businesses, academic, educational, and research interests dedicated to protecting the Great Lakes, and it would attract substantial investments by people and corporations that care about the environment, care about people, and care about communities. It was a vision based on the public trust, based on building a strong local economy and marketplace, based on people, based on dealing with poverty and inequality, and based on building a long term security strategy that will serve future generations. It is not based on extracting the wealth and a “please would the last person turn out the lights” context that the area has been struggling with.
The age of Trump is severely impacting our ability to succeed as a strong local economic community. Trump and his allies, whomever they are and wherever they hang their hats do not give a fig about our local economy, the people that are impacted, communities in general, or cities. That is because they see their own personal worth as a priority and this is linked to international oligarchs who extract local wealth from around the world. In some ways, the media for instance, Buffalo is a honey-pot. Damn the environmental and social costs that effect you and I, and will effect our families for generations, should we be so lucky to have generations of families ahead. Why should they care? The rich are awarded with fame and glory. The media idolizes people like Trump because they know that they can manipulate them as their own cash moo-cow. Shame on us for enabling. I am as tempted by the silly cats, the Stormy news, and the national anthem issues as anyone. I have an addictive personality. I get suckered and punched on a daily basis. I know I can do better. What do you think?
So the message is this-We must choose our leaders wisely. We must learn to message better. We must master the social media tools that are used to abuse and use us. This requires substantial investments in our personal literacy- political literacy, economic literacy, environmental literacy, media literacy. It is not an easy path. We may need to find our own Thomas Nast-the great Political cartoonist that took down Boss “Tweet” Trump’s philosophical predecessor Boss William Tweed.
GreenWatch Sunday Morning Television
Thomas Edison “Two Cats Boxing”