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Doing Something Different – A Proposal for an Eco Community at Eldridge

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© By Stephanie Hiller

[Note to readers of this blog. I have been living in Sonoma County, California, since 2014. During this time, a large public property has become available for new use. This proposal has been submitted to the permitting department for consideration in the community planning process about to begin.]


PREFACE

“We are being called to make a transformative leap to a whole new paradigm not only of thinking but of being human—a new consciousness and a whole new stage in the evolutionary trajectory of our species. This great transition, which requires “whole system change,” is probably necessary for sustainably resolving any of the many facets of our larger predicament.” –Terry Patten, The New Republic of the Heart

At the end of 2018, a number of reports confirmed that the climate changes have begun  and that we have a very short time frame – less than twelve years — in which to radically reduce, if not eliminate, all fossil fuel emissions (GHGs) or face devastating consequences. Despite individual and municipal efforts during the past decade to lower emissions, the temperature continues to rise and the glaciers continue to melt. We are seeing unprecedented weather events, horrific fires, drought, violent conflict, and human migrations. At the same time, we have been advised that we have entered the Sixth Mass Extinction. Species are disappearing all over the planet at staggering rates, much of the loss due to changes in climate.

Thanks to these reports – one by the IPCC, another by the UN, another from the National Climate Assessment and even one from the President’s Commission on Climate Security — and despite denials by the current federal administration and others, climate change has finally become the focus of necessary public debate, spurred by the demands of youth and progressive Democrats for a Green New Deal to address all aspects of the catastrophe that looms over our heads.

Here in Sonoma County, we face other pressing issues. The demand for housing has far outpaced housing stock, and the price of real estate has risen beyond the means of most working residents and the retired alike. Tourism brings added pressures, including more traffic and therefore more emissions. The pace of a once rural lifestyle has intensified, and growing urbanization of our beautiful region is taking place.

We absolutely have to make fundamental changes to our lifestyle to respond to these pressures as growing population continues to rise. These changes appear to be drastic. For many people, the fear of lifestyle change is greater than their fear of climate change itself.

But as Rob Hopkins, the originator of Transition Towns, has said, smiling, in the video Demain, this new life style could be “very nice.”

Despite its comforts, modern lifestyle has become hectic, anxious, unhealthy, driven by financial insecurity, long commutes, inflated healthcare costs, and a deteriorating global political situation. We have long suffered high rates of depression, alcoholism and drug addiction, and these rates are rising. Almost everybody has to do battle with cancer. Children’s health is increasingly compromised by allergies, asthma, diabetes and obesity; increasing numbers are born with special needs, putting growing pressure on families and school systems. The aging, meanwhile, though living longer, are also afflicted, their life styles compromised by a rising cost of living that exceeds their resources. Loneliness is common for all age groups; more and more we relate from our screens instead of in person; divorce is commonplace. We suffer from lack of companionship, lack of support, lack of time. Everything, from entertainment to childcare has a price.

This proposal, originally composed in 2017 for the Sonoma Valley Housing Group and revised many times since, is a vision statement. It was written in response to the announced closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center, an institution for the care of the developmentally disabled established in 1891 which sits on a 950-acre property in the unincorporated village of Eldridge. This beautiful property, with some 700 acres of undeveloped open space, is the last of its kind in our valley. It hosts a unique wildlife corridor from the Mayacamas Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. It has abundant water and a rare wetlands recharge area. Bordered on the west by Sonoma Mountain, an ancient Native American sacred site, it has spectacular views of the entire Valley. Many trails offer access to the undeveloped area and are enjoyed by the community.

The SDC, like other institutions of its kind, was almost completely self sufficient, supplying its own food for its large kitchens from its own gardens, chickens and livestock, with stables and corrals for horses, workshops and repair shops of all kinds, schooling and sports facilities. Its infrastructure – water, electricity, heating and cooling – was, with the exception of sewage, self-contained.

Located in a quiet rural area yet only half an hour from the Santa Rosa, the county’s largest city, the old SDC offers a unique opportunity to create an ecological community, providing desperately needed affordable housing, work-live opportunities, fresh organic foods grown on site, cottage industries, offices for environmental nonprofit groups, a clinic, a childcare center, a place for meditation and worship, and a retreat center for those in need of rehabilitation and rest. The possibilities for a “complete community” are endless.

In accord with Sonoma County’s tradition of innovation in the fields of organic farming, natural healing and social development, Eldridge Village could become a model community demonstrating the feasibility of living within the tightening parameters of climate change, where housing is reasonably priced, wild lands are preserved, and the community strives for self-sufficiency in energy, resource management, income generation and regenerative farming.

By “doing something different,” by creating a resilient climate-friendly community, this center could offer a replicable model for families and for the public in general, a very special “transition town” or “intentional community” or “eco-village” demonstrating that the life we are now compelled to create could supply what is most lacking in our gas-driven society: a caring, people-centered way of life, in deep connection with nature.

Real time climate consequences

It’s time to get real about climate change.

Even if the global community responds proactively to the projected 12-year deadline we were given by the IPCC to cut carbon emissions in half or more in order to prevent self-reinforcing feedback loops from taking place place, we can expect a time of austerity during the transition. At the very least we:

• might be in the throes of another Great Recession;

  • may have less money
  • won’t be traveling as much, as far or as often as we are accustomed to doing;
    • may have to manage with less reliable electricity;
    • will have reduced access to foods of all seasons at all hours of the day;
    • may have less access to government services including medical and police;
    • will have less access to accustomed sources of entertainment;
    • will have to DIY and make do with less;
    • could face needy migrants or hungry invaders at the gates;
    • may have to face disasters on our own.

But, in an eco-community we will:

• be able to provide at least some of our own food;
• have the support of friendly neighbors;
• have resources at hand for community festivals, musical performances, theater, art studios, and recreation;
• have more leisure time to dedicate to building our community;
• have workers on hand for maintenance, construction, farming and so forth;
• share childcare and support for elders;
• have therapists or social workers and healers on site;
• be responsible for self-policing and self-governance (please refer to the section on governance).

An eco-community will be a SANCTUARY in a difficult time, as well as an opportunity to create a new paradigm for a better way of life. While it may not appeal to everyone, for some it will offer a (relatively) safe haven from the storm.

Financing

In our society today, in the undertaking of any new project, money comes first. But climate change commands us to put values before money, people before profit, survival before fortune. Herein lies the biggest challenge to transforming our current lifestyle.

Yet in the richest country on earth, in the most affluent state, there’s plenty of money to be found. In the words of Potrero Trust, who authored the first study of the property (2015): “Funders, progressive developers, and community volunteers are often attracted to sites that have a compelling vision.”

We have the vision; we will find the funders. We have to proceed in the faith that an idea whose time has come will find financial support.

Aside from the surprise arrival of a benevolent donor, a number of new financial instruments exist to raise funds for a project like this.

Direct Public Offerings (DPOs) became law in the JOBS Act signed by President Obama in 2012. DPOs allow members of the local community (and others) to buy shares in development of the property (or in specific projects) without having to be personally accredited as in IPOs. The shares can be relatively low cost. Cutting Edge Capital in Oakland is a resource for designing such an investment package perhaps including a number of different instruments.

A number of organizations now exist to support investment in local projects that support the investors’ values. One such group is Slow Money, founded on the principles of Slow Food. Together these programs and individuals are known as Social Impact investing. We know there are many individuals in Sonoma County with resources to engage in this kind of investing and we believe that many of them are committed to the values we intend to embody at Eldridge EcoVillage.

A resource for identifying these investors is the book, Born on Third Base by Chuck Collins, co-Founder of Wealth for the Common Good and head of the Program on Inequality and Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

We will consult with the CDFI Coalition (Community Development Financial Institutions) and the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investments as well as other organizations dedicated to providing funding for the common good. For the Farm, we believe we will find guidance and some support from California FarmLink and the Northern California Community Loan Fund, both CDFIs.

There are also Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD). The District, formed by a government agency like the Board of Supervisors, creates a plan for revitalizing the Eldridge area.  An EIFD would provide a mechanism for borrowing money to update the infrastructure and demolish some of the old buildings. The loan would be repaid by property Tax Increments. Property tax on rental properties and commercial enterprise are the source of those funds. Since some types of affordable housing do not pay taxes, EIDFs may not be applicable here.

Property constraints and possibilities

The SDC property consists of 934 acres, of which some 700 are undeveloped. The open space surrounds the “core campus” of 200 acres with 150 buildings of which the newest date from the 1960s. The open space borders on Jack London State Park to the West, and the Sonoma County Regional Park on the East. All the open space within a designated community separator and cannot be built upon unless the law is changed. The community separators were renewed by the voters in 2016 for another 20 years and could be subject to change thereafter, hence preservation in perpetuity as part of a trust or state park will have to be established.

The infrastructure for the core campus is antiquated and needs to be replaced at a projected cost of $114 million according an assessment performed last year by Wallace Roberts and Todd, which was completed in June 2018. The need for a new system is an opportunity for us to install an all-renewable energy system, state of the art.

According to WRT the buildings are in fairly good shape. Some of them were in use until the campus closed. The residential buildings are all dormitory style, with one kitchen; two adjoining bedrooms share a half bathroom; bathing facilities are shared. The layout makes them unsuitable for families. Renovation would involve dealing with lead paint on the walls and asbestos beneath the floors, an expensive operation because the disturbance will cause the asbestos to be released into air unless contained. According to Tennis Wick (in a private conversation in January, 2019), head of Permit Sonoma, the buildings cannot be used by families and are not worth renovating. For this project, that is good. Utilizing new fire-resistant building materials and sustainable materials, homes can be constructed by individuals or in subdivisions (or both). It would be nice to have buildings of varied design.

Old buildings in good repair can be used for offices. Some are already studios and workshops. We would like to use/re-use as many structures as possible.

Site Plan

The SDC is currently closed and maintained by the state’s Department of General Services. The next step is a community process, scheduled to begin June 15, towards the creation of a  Specific Site Plan that will set the parameters for the development to follow. Permit Sonoma will direct this process, which is slated to take no more than three years.  Until the Specific Plan is produced, only a rough sketch of our design is possible.

The property was purchased by the State in 1889 and opened in 1891 as “The California Association for the Care and Training of Feeble-minded Children.” In 1909 it was renamed the Sonoma State Home. The name was changed to the Sonoma State Hospital in 1953 and an ambitious building process begun, and “the last vestiges of the 19th-century asylum mentality were cleared away to make room for modern client-centered treatment methods.” (WRT Report) Renamed the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) in 1986, the facility closed on December 31, 2018.

The two main areas of the core campus, which lie on either side of Arnold Drive, appear suitable to different uses. The newer section was built in the 1960s on the Eastern side. This area is close to Suttonfield Lake and the “Little Farm”, which at one time supplied the community with produce, dairy, and meat. At its peak, cottage industry in the community supplied most of the residents’ basic needs.

The older, West side area seems suitable for a sort of town center, with multifamily housing, shops, small local businesses, a historical museum, and perhaps a cultural center for concerts, theatrical performances and art showings. A large, older building near the museum (which is likely to be housed in the Superintendent’s House near the Southern edge) might be suitable for offices for nonprofit organizations. The Glen Ellen Forum has proposed the formation of a historical district for this part of the campus. Repair shops and workshops, located along the western edge, could be rented for artist studios and various maintenance activities.

It is the Eastern side where we envision the actual eco-village to be located. These buildings are the newer ones, constructed in the 1960s. Some of them could be retained for various offices. Where the Little Farm existed prior to the Tubb’s Fire of 2017 in which it was destroyed, and in the old soccer field to the south end, there will be an organic farm. There are also lawns along Arnold Drive that could be community gardens. That area, along Arnold Drive, could serve as a Regional Food Hub, helping local farmers distribute their products. A community co-op composed of several farms, CSA members and consumers, like Our Table Cooperative, south of Portland, is a vibrant example of such an operation. A small stable for boarding horses could also be maintained there.

Some of the buildings in the Northeastern quadrant are clustered around a picnic area with big trees next to an old, unused swimming pool. This would make a lovely common area, with or without a pool.

Some of the buildings could be remodeled and used as housing for a rehabilitation program for veterans and/or homeless persons interested in learning to farm. [Please see more details below.] Others could house offices. Some would be demolished. New housing would be built for families.

What is an eco-village?

Eco-villages have sprung up worldwide since the late 60s. One of the first is an actual town, the City of Dawn at Auroville in southern India. Built for 50,000 people, it now houses 3,000. Auroville was built according to the vision of a French woman who had been the principle devotee of a brilliant and highly respected Indian scholar and sage Sri Aurobindo.

In general, eco villages are intentional communities formed by groups choosing to create an alternate eco-friendly life style on the land. They are far more organized than the communes of the 1960s with which they are frequently confused by the public. They use modern technologies and administrative structures, often offer courses in environmental living and cooperative social development, and usually maintain organic farms.  Examples of very sophisticated eco villages may be found at Bioregional – Championing a Better Way to Live. Bio Regional has created several modern eco-villages and is in the process of creating an eco-village here in Sonoma County called Sonoma Mountain Village in nearby Rohnert Park.

The reader is referred to the Global Ecovillage Network for more information. From the website: “The Global Ecovillage Network envisions a world of empowered citizens and communities, designing and implementing pathways to a regenerative future, while building bridges of hope and international solidarity.”

Governance

We understand that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will be the administrative body for this project.

A land trust has been proposed to administer the entire project, along the lines of the highly successful Presidio Trust.

For the eco-village itself, we propose a Community Land Trust (CLT) which would allow more participation by the residents and also help to hold down land prices in the region, which are currently rising at an intolerable rate. It’s possible to have a CLT within the larger land trust. An excellent resource for combining different types of trusts and conservation easements to protect open space is Equity Trust in Burlington, Vermont, “changing the way we think about and hold land”.

CLTs were created during the 1950s as a way to help black farmers obtain land ownership. Since that time, several hundred CLTs have been employed to govern land-based housing communities.

With an agricultural easement on the Little Farm, protecting it in perpetuity, and a conservation easement on the open space area, the CLT would hold title to the land, leasing it to tenants on the property, be they residents, business owners, farmers, or independent nonprofit agencies. Usually the lease is for 99 years. Tenants own the improvements on the property including buildings, fences, and other features which they can sell at lease-restricted prices when they choose to leave, and the lease transferred upon termination, but the land remains in the Trust. Thus it is protected against spiraling prices such as we are seeing now.

A CLT is managed by a Board of Trustees, which includes equal representation of officials of the Trust, the residents, members of the surrounding community, business owners, and the staff.

The benefits of ownership by a CLT include the following:
1) As the land is held by the trust in perpetuity and can never be sold, the price remains stable, with land leased to residents, farmers, and businesses for 99 years. This kind of stability is desperately needed in communities with escalating land prices like ours.
2) The shared administration of the Trust will emphasize participatory democracy.
3) Environmental standards can be set, maintained and revised as necessary, as the property is not going to be placed on the market and tenants participate in decision-making.
4) Members of the community develop strong bonds with each other and with the surrounding community.

Champlain Land Trust is a good example of a large community managed by a CLT. More information may be found at Sustainable Law Economies Center in Oakland and at the National Community Land Trust Network. The Equity Trust in Burlington, Vermont, is available for consultations regarding structuring the CLT. We have a Housing Land Trust in nearby Petaluma.

Infrastructure

According to the assessment done by Wallace Roberts and Todd, the entire plumbing, heating and electrical system, which serves the whole campus, will have to be repaired or replaced. What a perfect opportunity to install the newest technology for management of power and water with the least waste and without reliance on fossil fuels.

Renewable energy

Every effort will be made to procure energy from renewable sources. Appropriate technologies exist. The Drawdown project described 100 ways to actually draw down carbon from the atmosphere. Scientists like Mark Jacobson have shown that with political will, this country could become completely converted to renewables by 2030; see The Solutions Project. Arjun Makhijani, PhD, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research wrote a book entitled Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free. A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy (2007) analyzing how a zero-CO2 US economy without nuclear power can be achieved in 30-50 years. The knowledge is available. A demonstration model is what’s needed.

According to Jerry Bernhaut, a local environmental attorney who has focused on ways to reduce GHGs locally:

“The Eldridge community would meet all or most of its energy needs from a MicroGrid similar to the system at Stone Edge Farm, just west of Sonoma. The MicroGrid would consist of a system of power lines connecting a network of electrical services and integrating various forms of distributed energy generation (solar, microturbine, hydrogen fuel cells) and storage (batteries and hydrogen) with real time monitoring and control. It would be capable of operating either normally, connected to and importing electricity from the larger utility grid, or disconnected from the grid, in island mode. It would also be capable of exporting energy to the larger utility grid.
“Every use will be evaluated for greenhouse gas impacts and carbon footprint. Every effort will be made to engage residents in managing the property, and to develop methods of transportation on the land, and on the roads to neighboring towns, that do not use fossil fuels.”

Bioregional, a company which “champions a better way of living” building eco-communities throughout the world, has established a set of standards for what it calls “one planet living“;  these may be useful in planning and assessing the technologies used at Eldridge.

Water system

To provide for residents and the farm, the Village at Eldridge will utilize its own ample water supplies and two reservoirs, Fern Lake and Lake Suttonfield.

WRT observed that much of the plumbing is barely functional. We will need to consult a highly trained water resources engineer like Sherwood Design Engineers (a consultant on the WRT team) to re-design the water delivery system using state-of-the-art sustainable practices. PVC plastic is not recommended for the pipes because, as the October fires showed, plastic piping can melt in the high fire temperatures, polluting the water supply; that is what happened in the Fountaingrove area. Improving the soil will increase its ability to retain water. Water catchment systems, drip irrigation, protection of riparian areas, and will support diversity of plant and animal life, as well as permeability of all pavement within the campus will all contribute to effective water management.

It remains to be seen, and no doubt will emerge in the community process discussions, who actually owns the water rights and what will be the roles of the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Valley of the Moon Water District.

Waste
Food waste will be composted on site.
All other waste will be recycled to the extent possible or with the services of ReCology.

Carbon Farming
Between 1997 and 2012, the United States lost nearly 25 million acres of farmland to development. In the next two decades, as aging farmers retire, roughly two-thirds of our remaining independently owned agricultural land – more than 573 million acres – is expected to come up for sale due to farmer retirement. But young farmers can’t afford to purchase this land. We need to develop innovative ways to make land available to farmers.

Furthermore, organic, regenerative farming, in addition to being healthier for people and planet than conventional farming, enriches the soil and actually draws down carbon from the atmosphere.

The ability of the soil to draw carbon down from the atmosphere is becoming widely understood and demonstrated. According to Regeneration International, a recent study in Scientific Reports reveals that:

“By better managing farmland soil, the amount of carbon stored in the top 30 centimeters of the soil could increase an extra 0.9 to 1.85 gigatons each year…This is equivalent to carbon globally emitted by the transport sector (1.87 gigatons of Carbon); and equivalent to 3 – 7 billion tonnes of CO2 which could be removed from the atmosphere. For comparison, the US emits 5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year (Edgar database, 2015).”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) had outlined 34 practices that support regenerative farming. Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, which practices no-till farming and other techniques on three acres, demonstrates that a farm can produce a large quantity of food using limited irrigation, producing more income per acre than the average winery.

Our agricultural county is no longer the primary source food for its residents. Although there has been no survey, the Ag Commissioner estimated in 2016 that about three percent of the food we consume in the county is actually grown here. Thus we remain largely dependent on trucks delivering food from as far away as 1500 miles while we grow wine grapes and export our wines all around the globe. As should be obvious, this system of exports and imports sustained by fossil fuels increases our carbon footprint; further, it greatly limits our ability to feed ourselves.

We should produce as much of our own food as possible. There is lots of space on the property for gardens large and small in addition to the “Little Farm” area.

For more information about carbon farming, see “Can Dirt Save the Earth??” in New York Times Magazine, 4/18/2018

It’s a Groundswell, the Farmers Fighting to save the Soil,” the UK Guardian, April 24, 2019
“From Dirt to Soil,” The Nation, May 20/27, 2019


Transportation

Within the property, there will be plenty of bike and walking trails that are also useable by small electric vehicles (such as scooters, jeeps etc). Ideally, no gasoline vehicles will be allowed on the property at all. Walkways on the campus will be permeable.

An electric streetcar would be a great service in the Valley, supplying transportation for the residents from Kenwood to Sonoma as well as members of the Eldridge community. Something has to be done to mitigate traffic throughout the region, and lower carbon emissions.

Housing and other buildings

Affordable housing is essential and desperately needed in our county, which has one of the highest homeless rates in California.

Housing will be clustered so that there is no sprawl and as much open space as possible may be used for gardens, play areas, enjoyment of natural environment and so forth. Some eco-villages locate housing in a circle around fields used for farming, or around a central courtyard used for community socializing. Varied sizes from tiny homes to apartments and individual homes will offer a range of leasing prices. Some provision for people to build their own houses on leased land could be incorporated into the whole.

Construction on the property will emphasize variety, creativity, and natural building materials, with designs that stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

There will also be a large community building with full electric kitchen and some indoor recreation space for indoor exercise, games, a library, a theatre for movies, concerts etc.

There will also be an interfaith center for spiritual renewal, meditation, yoga and small classes.

A small independent health clinic would be included, and also a cooperative childcare center run primarily by the families using the service.
Buildings for other uses TBD, such as a retreat center, will be included in the final architectural design or added later.


Village Life

Multigenerational community

An eco-village is the perfect place for young people looking for a simpler, more earth-friendly lifestyle. Understandably frightened by climate change, which will impact them so directly, and actively demanding solutions, the younger generation has been actively assuming leadership in the field of regenerative agriculture, and this lifestyle has tremendous attraction for their energy and for their need to find sanctuary in these troubled times. With housing they can afford, we will not have to continue to watch as our young people are forced move away from the community in which they were raised. And an eco-village will be a terrific place to raise a family.

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Many elders will be drawn this active lifestyle where they are not separated in isolated “senior housing” and able to enjoy the fruits of their last years. We need a community in which elders are respected and included, where seniors are welcome to play a role in the life of the community in whatever way they choose. They may wish to garden or they might like to spend time with the children. Maybe they’d like to tell stories of what their lives were like long ago, and how

they envisage our future. Some may prefer to live in set-aside senior housing while connected with the rest of human life, others to enjoy multi-generational living, but whatever their housing choices, they will play a valued role in our village. Basic care services and caregiving support will be provided on site.


Cooperative childcare

Childcare will be available to children of residents who work on the property. (Children of residents employed elsewhere may be included if space permits.) Enjoyment of the outdoors, learning from nature, care of the earth, practical DIY skills, sports, music and arts, which children may undertake in following their interests (basic principle of Montessori and Waldorf models). A pre-school or elementary school would be an excellent addition.

Services and Rehabilitation for the unsheltered

A rehabilitation program for veterans and people who have been unsheltered but are motivated to learn new skills and rebuild their lives. The Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, CA, which has been working with homeless people interested in learning to grow food, is an interesting model but does not provide housing.  Possibly the Community Development Commission will be interested in supporting such a project. Nonprofits and church groups will be invited to provide services.

On site employment, work/rent trades

This will be a big project with a lot to do, and in lieu of large amounts of corporate capital, it needs people who live in the Village to share the many tasks associated with maintaining it. In return for their work, they will receive a reduction in rents.

There will be many opportunities to find jobs in the community, and qualified residents will have priority to take them: work in the farm, on the many aspects of property management, in the childcare center and clinic, in the museum, in small businesses (such as a restaurant featuring fresh, organic and “down home” meals, or a cafe) and in various nonprofits working to develop solutions to the consequences of living on a warming planet.

Non-profit research institute

Inasmuch as this ecovillage is intended to demonstrate the viability of living in greater accord with each other and the earth, it will, we hope, be anchored by a research institute where sustainable technologies used on site will be assessed for efficacy, problems will be tackled, and classes will be offered to the public.

Sonoma County is blessed with many innovators and visionaries who will be drawn to the project and offer proposals for advanced applications of the growing body of knowledge of how to live sustainably.

Small business

We would like to see a variety of small local businesses located within the eco village as well as on the West Side. A retreat and conference center, or perhaps a healing sanctuary with spa would be an excellent addition. Other ideas include a nursery, a shop for locally produced hemp clothing, a bakery, and of course a farm-to-table restaurant would contribute to the financial base and bring visitors to the property.

SUMMARY

The Eldridge eco-village, unlike some others, will not be isolated but will be in constant interaction with the community, a source of food, enterprise, community activity and recreation. Trails will be open to the public, festivals will be held, concerts and theatre may be offered as well as speakers and even conferences devoted to the subject of living in a time of climate change. It will be a “complete community” as well as a demonstration model of how to live sustainably in a time of changing climate.

We recognize a deep need for real communities where personal and direct relationships with one another prevail; where nature and care of the earth take precedence over profit; where economic models based on sharing and trust are employed; where youth are given an opportunity to play a role in creating a better future for humanity, and where people of color and immigrants will be valued participants, and the Native American legacy on this land will be honored.

We need to put food, water, energy, housing and justice at the top of our agenda for a livable society, emphasizing those basic elements of life as the foundation for a free society, while wine and tourism are enjoyed as luxuries that enhance but do not sustain life. [People before profit.]

With the help of innovative and local community stakeholders we can co-create a more detailed proposal of what such a project might look like and how it can become economically self sufficient while demonstrating a replicable model for living more lightly on the land. This is the new paradigm, the model of a new society, which we must create to survive climate change.

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This is a work in progress. Please share your thoughts and resources here. You can contact Stephanie Hiller via this blog page.


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Written by stephaniehiller

May 21, 2019 at 5:05 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tackling the Twin Evils before it’s too late

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The energy and attention that used to be applied to the creation of temples, libraries, and settings for higher learning are now devoted to the creation and maintenance of nuclear weapons. It’s a necessity, a matter of life and death. Without that, there would be accidents. Even with all that intensive maintenance, there are accidents, as Eric Schlosser has reported in his massive study, Command and Control. The real miracle, for which we ought to be more grateful and remain unaware, is that none of the accidents have triggered an accidental nuclear war. God apparently is not into Apocalypse Now; that invention by one John the Divine that so captured the Christian imagination may not be an actual transmission after all. That we have survived this far may be enough to make one believe in the divine Creator; but we’re not out of the radioactive woods yet: there’s still time for the Big One.

We are worshipping death, not just death but mass death, likely extinction, and have done so since 1945 when Truman praised America for being the first to get the bomb, and now it’s 70 years and we still scratch our heads when one of our young men runs into an elementary school with automatic weapons and slaughters children; this is what the worship of genocide has produced, and we are all responsible.

In January, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which every year sets the minutes on the Doomsday Clock, alerting us to the nearness of the apocalyptic threat, is freaking out. The board and their 23 Nobel prize winning advisors have determined that it is no longer “five minutes to midnight” on the doomsday clock, but THREE. (See “Three Minutes and Counting,” http://thebulletin.org/three-minutes-and-counting7938). And with this determination The Bulletin has issued a powerful warning to all humankind, and especially to the world’s leaders, stating in no uncertain terms that human failure to react to the proliferation of nuclear weapons AND the imminent disaster of climate change may easily bring on species extinction. And it could be right now, or in the middle of the night, or in the middle of your golf game, or in the middle of coitus, gentlemen, that the lights would go out over our heads, and the most horrific scenario of unparalleled suffering many times worse than Hiroshima and beyond anything we’ve ever imagined will begin to take place.

Where the one would be quick and deadly, the other will be slow and agonizing with the same result. The Pentagon, not quick to embrace new ways of thinking, nevertheless has recognized climate change as the greatest threat to our national security. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-pentagon-climate-change-how-climate-deniers-put-national-security-at-risk-20150212?page=14

Unfortunately its response to the chaos and suffering that may be expected from drought, famine and tidal waves is to bolster our reliance on defense as the necessary counter measure and includes modernizaton of the nuclear weapons pile in the name of deterrence, enhancing potential holocaust to manage the other rather than digging deep into the collective psyche to ferret out the cause of both, and change it. But there are some signs that this is changing; in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, http://www.defense.gov/pubs/2014_Quadrennial_Defense_Review.pdf environmental solutions are beginning to rise to the top.
But there is not much good news on the nuclear front, except for the emergence of a new movement to abolish nuclear weapons led mainly by young women and men and centered largely in Europe, a twinkle of hope on the screen of humanity’s endangered future.

This abolition movement, called the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICANW, brought into being by (God bless them) the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW, http://www.ippnw.org), does not mince words. It has chosen to focus on the real effects, the humanitarian impacts of the actual use of nuclear weapons whether accidentally or on purpose; and this focus is beginning to bring the story home.

States have begun to participate. Last December, Austria hosted the third international conference on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear war, and 163 (out of 194!) states sent representatives to hear doctors, activists, research scientists and heads of NGOs tell them about the incomprehensible suffering, not of the initial victims who will die quickly but those who remain, victims of a slow death from fallout, with no medical care, little or no uncontaminated water, no sunshine and therefore little or no food, to writhe in pain and watch their dear relatives suffer and die also. It’s a vision of pure hell, and it could easily happen. We have become enslaved to these nuclear weapons while men interested only in money are profiting from our predicament, and we, and our governments, are letting them do this, because we are frozen into the trance of what psychologists call “learned helplessness.” But we are not helpless, and we must snap out of this petrified forest of frozen human forms and put up a mighty shout of protest. Bechtel and Northrup Grumman and General Dynamics and Boeing – the lot! — can turn their prodigious work force to eliminating these weapons, taking them apart and disposing of them safely, and thus freeing the world of the worst scourge ever invented by hapless Man [sic]; and we can use the resources freed up by closing all the nuclear labs and vast other facilities (Los Alamos Nuclear Labs occupy 40 square miles of the Pajarito Plateau in Northern New Mexico) to create alternative energies and other technologies to address climate change. Plenty of JOBS to be had and maybe a bit less money to be made but really, gentlemen, what can you possibly do with that second billion anyway?

It must come to a stop. These conferences are a hopeful sign in a number of regards. First off, the nations of the world have decided to stop waiting for the nuclear nations to take the lead, saying, You have failed to disarm as mandated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty you all signed, so why wait for you? The non-nuclear nations can take the lead, and now they are doing so, a powerful act of tremendous significance because, after all, as Arundhati Roy put it a few years ago at the World Social Forum, “We are many, and they are few.”

To see the abolition movement, which had so long clung to the grey hairs and beards of a vanishing generation, move down to the millennials, is the second marvelous achievement of this new effort. For youth to open its eyes, yank itself away from the earphones and the smart phones and all the other distractions spawned from the same basic military technologies (the Army invented the Internet you know, and by satellites we are blessed or cursed with other electronic devices) – for young people to dare to look into the horrible face of ultimate destruction and stand up for a livable future is the most encouraging sign in decades that we are not all sinking into the miasma of oblivion even before the horror show starts.

We’ve got to wake up. Please go to the website of the recent conference, Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, http://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/european-foreign-policy/disarmament/weapons-of-mass-destruction/nuclear-weapons-and-nuclear-terrorism/vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/. Listen to the talks and evaluate the information for yourself.

Meanwhile, our disarmament president’s proposed new budget (for fiscal year 2016) allows even more money for the so-called “modernization” of our nuclear arsenal which is just a cover for creating new nuclear weapons, something specifically prohibited by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1970. Please go to Los Alamos Study Group’s website http://lasg.org/press/2015/press_release_2Feb2015.html
for a full breakdown of where your tax dollars are going.

Getting rid of these horrific weapons will take the best minds of our generation. It is a heroic assignment worthy of our deepest attention. Many have gone before us, and failed. Eisenhower wanted to get rid of them, Kennedy tried and was assassinated, Carter, even Reagan, and Obama talked about trying, even the Soviet Union’s Khrushchev tried, Gorbachev tried and is still trying… clearly it is going to take something more.

A plea for human survival is in order; and a commitment to change our way of life, which is clearly at the root of all our life threatening social diseases. We must find a way to stop what we have been doing, and start talking about what we might do right, instead.

This article was published in The Daily Censored, a publication of Project Censored, at http://www.dailycensored.org/ in February.

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Written by stephaniehiller

March 18, 2015 at 10:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Non-nuclear nations take the lead at Vienna Disarmament Conference

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Prospects for the abolition of nuclear weapons took a great leap forward last month, and judging by the present standoff between the US and Russia over Ukraine, it can’t happen a moment too soon.

Nearly seventy years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite numerous attempts at abolition, 17,200 of these horrible weapons exist, many of them on high alert. Humanity has been haunted by their terrifying power, but the discourse about reducing their numbers has always taken place within the context of their presumed mission of security and deterrence. Now, a new movement focusing on the humanitarian impacts of their use has awakened growing numbers of people and nations from the trance of numbers and abstractions to recognize the dire straits we are truly in. An accident, a war between nuclear powers, a cyber-attack, or a terrorist with a small amount of radioactive material could set up a confrontation that would not only maim or kill thousands or even millions of people, but could bring on a nuclear winter that would so dark and severe that crops could not grow. No nation today is equipped to deal with such an emergency.

Frustration among citizens and the governments of non-nuclear nations over the failure of the nine nuclear nations to adhere to the mandates of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty of 1970 which requires the progressive elimination of nuclear weapons is driving this new push for a legally binding international treaty to ban them entirely. In December, 800 representatives from 158 nations, the International Red Cross, and the United Nations met at the former Hofburg Palace for the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Two days earlier, members of 300 organizations from civil society had a parallel meeting organized by the International Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition of 360 partner organizations in 93 countries created in 2006 by the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). It was the third meeting of its kind. The first was in Oslo in 2012, the next in Mexico the following year. Happily, the impetus for this movement is coming from the youth.

The results of this year’s meeting were impressive. Austria amazed participants by announcing its pledge to work for abolition. Forty-five states agreed to support the effort to create a legally binding treaty and convention that would ban nuclear weapons like the conventions that have successfully banned chemical weapons, and landmines.

Consideration of nuclear weapons in terms of humanitarian impact has brought the reality home, breaking through the mesmerizing cloud of numbness and denial that hangs over the issue. By examining the cost to civilians, the disruption of civil society, the contamination of water and land, and the possibility of human extinction, the truth is poking through the gloaming: nothing is worth the risk of another nuclear explosion on this planet.

States have realized the world need not wait – indeed, had better not wait – for the nine nuclear nations to take the lead. Frederick Douglas famously said that elites will never willingly give up their privilege. Nuclear weapons endow their possessors with incomparable supremacy in the political arena. People seem almost afraid to speak of them, as if they were instruments of magical potency and the epitome of manhood. Nuclear nations continue to hoard these weapons of terror while mouthing platitudes about eliminating them.

Needless to say, the nuclear powers have not been eager to attend these conferences; but this year, four participated. The United States and its sidekick the United Kingdom, India and its enemy Pakistan all attended. The behavior of the US delegation was strange, reports John Loretz of IPPNW. After painful presentations by survivors of nuclear bombs, the Chair invited questions, but specifically limiting commentary. But the US immediately launched into the reading of a five-minute comment justifying the American approach to nuclear weapons reduction within that same-old national security context. The attendees were stunned. “The Canadian delegation approached the US representative incredulously,” said Loretz, “saying, what were you doing? You made us all look bad.” The embarrassed Americans took pains the next day to thank the victims for speaking.

Still trapped in the nuclear mindset, Russia bragged recently about its ability to bomb the United States; and in a report published in September, the US State Department admitted that Russia’s nuclear weapons capability has surpassed ours. Despite the signing of the START Treaty in February 2011, in which the two superpowers agreed to reduce their deployed warheads to 700 each, both have increased their number to about 1600. And last month the US Congress approved the Omnibus Authorization Bill, funding $8.2 billion for nuclear weapons modernization programs expected to cost $1 trillion over the next decade. China is now developing missiles that will be able to strike the US mainland.

It’s the razor’s edge. Wrote Ward Wilson, Senior Fellow at the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), in an email, “Keeping nuclear weapons now is like clutching a bottle of nitroglycerin to your chest in a whirlwind.”

This article was published by The Populist Progressive, http://www.populist.org, on Feb 1, 2015

Photos

http://www.icanw.org/media/media-kit/

caption: “The Austrian Red Cross deployed personnel in hazmat suits who used Geiger counters to screen all participants for radioactivity as they streamed in the front entrance.”

Written by stephaniehiller

March 18, 2015 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

catching up…

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Hello all — are you still out there?

I’m afraid I abandoned this page for about a year or more while writing some articles — a few — about New Mexico, nukes, and other topics for La Jicarita, an independent Northern New Mexico blog that has been growing and unfolding. You can read my work at http://lajicarita.wordpress.com/page/3/?s=Stephanie+Hiller

Now I’m in California. I’m writing some pieces about the recent conferences in Vienna on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, one put on by Austria, the other by the International Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

Taking place in the midst of escalating tensions between the United States and Russia triggered by our maneuvers in Ukraine followed by Russia’s invasion of Crimea, these conferences are a beacon of hope that the world is finally emerging from the miasma of nuclear numbness and opening its eyes on the calamities we can expect if one of these bombs is ever used again. A nuclear exchange, we now realize, even a small one, will bring on global devastation, nuclear winter (not a refreshing change from global warming but, alas, submersion in planetary darkness for years, dead and rotting bodies, and the horrors endured by the poor survivors, skin dripping off their bodies, eyeballs popping out etc and no effective medical means to care for them. What a miserable scenario we have created for ourselves and failed to find a means to eradicate. The Vienna conferences, the third in a series, have stirred a will to abolish these weapons without waiting around for the nine nuclear-armed nations to palaver and obfuscate while continuing to stuff their bundles with more fat murderous missiles. What is to become of us if this effort goes unheeded is easily guessed. Speaking at the Vienna conference, Eric Schlosser author of the massive 2013 book, Command and Control, says there have been over a thousand nuclear accidents carelessly created and miraculously averted; but it will only take one to set the mechanics of retaliation in motion. We just can’t delay another minute.

And so I, who have been looking around for anything else to do but write about nuclear weapons, am at it again.

Written by stephaniehiller

January 6, 2015 at 5:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

More Money for Clean-Up is More Money for Bechtel

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The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities, formed in 2011, has the stated intention of lobbying for increased funding to clean up the contaminated Hill on which the nuclear lab is sitting, and where it has been designing new plutonium weapons since the Manhattan Project was initiated almost 70 years ago, a date already being celebrated in Los Alamos with pro-nuclear lectures and an upcoming gala event for pre-selected members of the media. (So much for democracy and a free press in a nuclear society.)

Currently, as you must know if you have been following LANL news during the past five years or so, the Lab is preparing to manufacture new plutonium pits – the explosive cores of thermonuclear weapon formerly manufactured by the now-defunct Rocky Flats facility – to fulfill a mandate from some superior government agency that has never been publicly named; but alas, the Lab just can’t seem to come up with the right construction formula to win the support of Congress.

That is partly because the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA), the nuclear division of the Department of Energy (DOE), has such a terrible record of cost over-runs, mismanagement and technical failures that a money-strapped Congress has finally been forced to recognize that it’s a cash cow that gives no milk.

In a meeting of the Senate Water and Energy Appropriations Committee earlier this month, in which the committee was assessing and marking up the NNSA budget proposal for FY ’14, Chairman Diane Feinstein (D-CA), whose state hosts Lawrence Livermore National Lab, another one of these multimillion dollar laboratories, opined that the labs that “were once pristine” were no longer so. She was shocked to learn that the Lab’s CEO is actually employed by Bechtel, not by the Fed.

Bechtel, an international engineering company of dubious repute, is the most prominent member of the consortium that runs the Lab as the Los Alamos National Security LLC (LANS). Of every taxpayer dollar that LANS receives, half goes to “overhead,” a miscellaneous category that can include anything from lobbying to post-graduate fellowships and profits. Bechtel does very well at Los Alamos. As Greg Mello, Executive Director of Los Alamos Study Group, has pointed out, since the Fed pays the bills, there is virtually no risk to the company.

Feinstein’s Committee did cut half a billion out of the proposed budget for the Agency, but New Mexico’s Senator Tom Udall managed to get some of those dollars back, with $40 million more directed to cleaning up LANL.

This is one of the accomplishments for which the Regional Coalition is proud and grateful. As reported by Espanola Mayor Carol Lucero, Vice Chair of the Coalition, at the monthly meeting held last friday, July 19, several members had traveled to Washington in the midst of this budget deliberation, visiting the state delegation and also various relevant committees, and they were gratified that their lobbying efforts had not been in vain.

The Regional Coalition is composed of elected leaders from eight cities and pueblos directly impacted by activities at the Lab. Environmental clean up is one of its declared functions; the full mission: “The organization’s focus is environmental remediation, regional economic development and site employment, and adequate funding for LANL”.  [emphasis added]

Adequate funding for LANL?

The eight towns contribute a percentage of their budgets to fuel this effort, which, with annual trips to Washington and an outside contractor to manage its promotional efforts, is getting expensive. So the Coalition is pleased to receive a substantial sum from the DOE.

The DOE is well known in these parts for funding agencies and projects which might find themselves to be in opposition to some of the Lab’s activities, possibly limiting with these contributions what the organization may feel free to do; we the people don’t really know what is in these agreements. Perhaps it is simply loyalty to the hand that feeds which discourages grant recipients from displaying what may seem to be a lack of gratitude by pressing too hard on the tough issues; or perhaps it’s the fear of looking stupid or sounding emotional, two cardinal errors that invite contempt from the scientific intelligentsia. The forces that coerce us, poor weak humans that we are, into compliance with the mindset of the public-private partnership in which we now reside are subtle indeed.

Unfortunately, the contract apparently did not provide quite enough money to keep MVM Llc  that has served as Executive Director to the Coalition, which was formed through a Joint Powers Agreement.

According to the Free Dictionary online, a Joint Powers Agreement is “a contract between a city, a county, and/or a special district in which the city or county agrees to perform services, cooperate with, or lend its powers to, the special district.” And the special district in this case is — ? I can’t find anything on Google that identifies the Lab as a special district.

MVM Group “is a strategic consulting firm. We assist in implementing strategies in a significant, sustainable and meaningful way,” it says on the Santa Fe Chamber’s web site. Oddly, MVM does not seem to have a web site of its own. It has a page for The Velocity Group, an entrepreneurial accelerator group that it helps to facilitate, but there’s not much there besides a video. Whatever this company is really about, it seems doubtful that they understand much about what is really going on at the Lab, a place of byzantine hierarchical structure and convoluted procedures, all documented in pages and pages of texts that are composed at great expense and subsequently buried in the depths of the Library, read only by their authors and the hard working nuclear watchdog groups here. In other words, it’s not easy to know what really goes on up there unless you’re content with Public Relations dogma, in which the Lab is expert.

How much can MVM Group, whoever they are, know or care about the secrets of that special district of 40 square miles? It’s a job, after all, and a fairly prestigious one, and no doubt they feel they have been contributing to society by helping to get Los Alamos cleaned up.

The problem for the neighborhood is that it’s a drop in the bucket. MVM Group may not realize that Senator Udall and his colleagues are still so deeply committed to continued weapons work at the Lab that they are willing to spend taxpayer dollars in a weak economy, in an impoverished state, to build more thermonuclear weapons to add more pollutants to the landscape and to terrorize the rest of the world with more dastardly, inhuman weapons which if used could reduce the world to a state of frigid, cloudy weather and famine.

What good will a $40 million clean-up do then, poor thing?

Nor is it likely that the Coalition, with its aims to do good, knows much about nuclear secrets, how the lab is mismanaged and run, how much Bechtel is making (about 8 times what the University of California earned while doing the same job for more than 20 years), and how entrapped New Mexico is in the military budget, so entrapped it can’t see the forest for the blackened burnt trees, while its attention is focused on the institution as a source of jobs for unemployed New Mexicans – and tax money for state coffers.

Money and jobs are important, but what are you willing to do for the money, that has always been the question, and does it even matter to our aching hearts and muddled brains? What’s one more plutonium pit in an arsenal of thousands if it can keep one New Mexican on the job, or provide tens of hundreds of dollars to a political campaign to ensure more years in the office? And don’t we have to maintain the deterrent to protect our “national security”? Don’t we?

It’s just more nuclear shenanigans in the Land of Enchantment.

Duped and Deluded

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During the same week that Obama made his delicious speech in Berlin, so enthusiastically reported by this naive observer, the Nuclear Weapons Council and the National Nuclear Security Administration released their report, the Fiscal Year 2014 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan (SSMP), presented with the presumed approval of the Department of Defense and even the President, whose Nuclear Policy Review is frequently cited in the report.

The SSMP is mean to support the modernization of the nuclear force to which the Administration and its various agencies is committed:

The FY2013 President’s budget is the fourth consecutive increase in the Weapons Activities budget,” it gloats, “resulting in an approximate 28 percent increase since the FY2010. This support from both the White House and the Congress comes at a time when NNSA is undertaking the significant task of modernizing and sustaining the infrastructure and the stockpile.” (emphasis added)

Such is the accomplishment of our disarmament President.

In the afterglow of the President’s inspired Berlin speech, the announcement of this report by various local watchdog agencies including a biting press release from the Los Alamos Study Group and a somewhat more obscure announcement from Nuclear Watch New Mexico was more upsetting and disturbing than it might have been in the usually more cynical context from which I view the nuclear establishment.

The report confirms, as I wrote in La Jicarita days earlier, that NNSA is “evaluating the feasibility of constructing small laboratory modules connected to existing nuclear facilities that could accommodate higher risk plutonium operations in more modern space.” (emphasis added)

It fails to mention that these “more modern” modules are intended to be installed underground, in the soft volcanic tuff of an active earthquake zone.

Aside from shock and horror at the utter contradictoriness of these two releases in the same week from the Administration, one touting the President’s commitment to disarmament, the second advocating a 25-year $200+ billion plan to build new weapons, the big question is Why?

Seeking some small degree of reassurance and comfort that these two perspectives could somehow be reconciled under a rubric of government prescience and protectionism, I read another document, also released this week. “The Report to Congress on Employment Strategy of the United States” I was briefly reassured, if not in substance, at least in degree. This report, designed for Congressional ears, takes a more soothing tone. Alluding to Obama’s direction to the DoD to conduct a detailed review of U.S. nuclear deterrence requirements” in the context of the ultimate goal, “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the report notes that “the threat of global nuclear war has become remote, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased” due to nuclear terrorism and the risk of nuclear proliferation. In addition, the United States “must continue to address the more familiar challenge of ensuring strategic stability with Russia and China.”

Oh, so one begins to sympathize with the dilemma of the US military, having to move toward the goal of disarmament while at the same time maintaining the deterrent as protection against these threats. That’s what national security is all about in the 21st century, isn’t it, and aren’t theyhaving to struggle to meet the demands of this challenge?

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Perhaps you, dear reader, are savvy enough not to fall for this smooth pitch, not being so prone as I to choose an empathic appreciation of what the nation’s leaders must face in this turbulent time. Realizing that this report is directed at Congress, one can understand its rational, sensible tone. Congress controls the purse strings, and in order to meet this tough challenge, NNSA needs money, lots of it.

But still, the question remains, why? After falling into this credibility gap more times than I can count, I continue to seek a satisfactory explanation for what appears to be complete and utter stupidity. Why, in an economic crisis, with environmental crises looming to the right and to the left, and no cold war in sight, would a president committed to disarmament also indulge his armed forces in funding such an extravagant budget as NNSA has just proposed?

It seems to me to come down to what is the absolute intent of American foreign policy. 

Does the United States want to lead the world to democratically address key global problems on climate change, energy and nuclear proliferation, food and water supply, population and poverty, — or does it want to dominate the world, to maintain its superpower status at all costs, ruling the global economy, controlling energy, water and the food supply, owning or leasing essential minerals and other resources, even allow people to die off in order to reduce the population?

If the latter, it is going to need the nuclear “deterrent” for many years to come; because resistance to such power moves all over the world can be expected to intensify, with hostilities to increase, and wars to multiply.

Some light may be shed on this subject by recent revelations of the emergence of another move toward globalization, the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). If you can’t wait to learn more about it, please read about a new report from the Democracy Center, and listen to an interview with its author, Jay Schulz, on Democracy Now! It’s important, especially if you’re a hard working environmental activist.

Everything is connected! More next time.

Written by stephaniehiller

June 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Nuclear weapons: the Razor’s Edge

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Our officials have a big problem: during the Cold War, they created tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and now, faced with the threat that terrorists could make dirty bombs out of unsecured nuclear materials, and the spread of nuclear weapons to less stable countries like North Korea, they don’t know how to get rid of them. It’s a mess. In Russia and in the United States, the waste created and dumped during those years will cost billions and billions of dollars to clean up, and no profit to be made from it. According to David Culp, the people in the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, to say nothing of people in Congress, are so tired of talking about the insurmountable problems posed by the mounting waste that they don’t even want to think about it anymore. But unfortunately, they are still producing it.

President Obama has puzzled supporters and critics alike, ever since he made his fabulous commitment in Prague in 2009 to move to eliminate nuclear weapons and then knuckled under to Republican pressure to start modernizing the stockpile, at terrific expense, if he hoped to have their votes for the NewSTART treaty with Russia.

Last February, news leaked out, and spilled all over the Internet, that the President had convened a meeting of top Pentagon heads to analyze the safety of reducing the stockpile even further than NewSTART levels. Disarmament folks got all excited, but then the mollusk clamped shut around this pearl, and nothing more was said. In April, the President’s budget continued to fund modernization, a project expected to cost more than $80 billion over the coming decade.

Huh? What happened to the disarmament president now, we whined? It was a heartbreaking setback.

But in fact, Obama had not actually said that he was planning on holding further negotiations with Russia. Indeed, he said nothing in response to the rumors, and the “implementation” document, as it was called, remained classified. It was an election year, and perhaps campaign politics dictated that it was not a good time to throw an atomic debate into the mix. That was Culp’s interpretation. In a talk at the Quaker House in Santa Fe on June 16th, the lobbyist on nuclear disarmament for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) presented an optimistic picture of past and potential future progress in the disarmament arena.

Since the end of the Cold War, he said, we have reduced our arsenal by 75 percent. We stopped the Reliable Replacement Warhead and the Robust Nuclear Penetrator. By we, he said, he meant grassroots voices, especially those of the people in New Mexico.

And now we’re going to stop the B-61, he said, distributing paper and pens for writing letters to our Senator, Tom Udall.

I recently wrote an article for La Jicarita, a northern New Mexico publication on regional environmental politics, in which I took a dim view of NNSA’s recent budget proposal that includes massive funding for the refurbishment of this warhead, at a projected cost of $10 billion. This, while Congress votes to cut people off Food Stamps! In the light of this exorbitant budget proposal to perpetuate the nuclear machinery at any cost, Culp’s optimism seemed shockingly unrealistic. But he’s been doing this work for more than 20 years.

Then this morning in Berlin, President Obama stepped out and confirmed that he is still working to curtail nuclear proliferation, and that he plans to negotiate with the Russians about further reductions of the two nations’ respective stockpiles.

Obama met with Putin just a few days ago, so one might infer that Obama had checked out Putin’s response before making this powerful public commitment.

Obama spoke of the conclusions of Pentagon officials involved in the “implementation” discussion that had sparked the February mania amongst disarmament watchdogs.

Even more important, perhaps, than the specifics about disarmament, whose fulfillment we must yet await — and the opposition is lining up as we speak; a debate between right-wing analysts will be held this evening entitled “Cutting the Pentagon’s Budget is a Gift to our Enemies” — was Obama’s overarching theme, that we live in the world together, and that we must find ways to create opportunity for everyone:

“For we are not only citizens of America or Germany — we are also citizens of the world.  And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before.

“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe. We may strike blows against terrorist networks, but if we ignore the instability and intolerance that fuels extremism, our own freedom will eventually be endangered.  We may enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world, but so long as hundreds of millions endure the agony of an empty stomach or the anguish of unemployment, we’re not truly prosperous.

“I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experienceOur alliance is the foundation of global security.  Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy.  Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.  When Europe and America lead with our hopes instead of our fears, we do things that no other nations can do, no other nations will do.  So we have to lift up our eyes today and consider the day of peace with justice that our generation wants for this world.”

These words are the beginning of a vision of the world as one interrelated unit that is essential if we are to get out of the box of fear and hatred of one another, competition and wished-for supremacy, and begin to work together for a better, safer world.

If nuclear proliferation and global warming don’t stimulate an urgent will for the nations of the world to overcome our differences and subscribe to a single mission, to rescue the world from the razor’s edge on which it wobbles perilously, then surely there is no hope for humankind.

Just at the critical moment, Obama has done his part to reframe the debate into one of larger vision. “We must care about people we don’t even know,” and “see ourselves as bigger than our own experience.” It’s a big leap from Manifest Destiny and the American exceptionalism we’ve heard in some of Obama’s speeches here at home. This is a wider embrace, and though it may be hard for some of us to see ourselves as allies with our erstwhile fanatic enemy, allowing ourselves to think of the citizens of Germany and America as people who share a common past is an exercise that may one day make it possible for both sides of the aisle to join hands in recognition that we are all citizens of one country.

Is Washington ready to embrace this shared mission in a spirit of hope and possibility? Is the world ready to join us?

And what about the pundits, and the critics, and the watchdog organizations, the disarmament advocates as well as the deterrence proponents? Is it possible for us to rally in support of these fine words, this high-minded intent, instead of disintegrating into opposition?

It all remains to be seen. We know what Obama is up against. I’d like to take him at his word and rally behind him. Now is the time to stop blaming him for what he has been unable to do, and acknowledge that his intention is true. Without widespread public support, he will go down in history as a president who tried.

We need him to be a president who succeeded.

I look forward to your comments!

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