Chapter Five

Getting out in the field

“I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member,”

– Groucho Marx

The most powerful clubs are also the wealthiest ones. Investors and shareholders have their own clubs. Government parties have their own clubs but they have evolved to be less representative of the people in recent years. Advocacy groups and special interest groups, backed by corporate interests, sway elections. These realities chip away at our democracy. Trading party favors, in what is called cronyism, also becomes a method for getting bills passed and supported. In recent years polls increasingly show public support that rarely matches government legislation.

There are some flaws in the way our governments are formed. The electoral system has minimum requirements to qualify leadership, skills and knowledge; that are lacking considering what each position requires. It’s a bad idea the fact that government consists of a variety of people who typically get shifted around based on qualifications that would normally be viewed as a mismatch. Their merit is not based on a job portfolio. The selection criteria puts more weight on values like loyalty, diplomacy, and number of years of service. Consequently they can make really bad decisions.

Let’s face it, we have complex societies and there is a disconnect between the government and the public regarding how the government  manages themselves. In fact it has become an election issue they call transparency. The idea of being somewhat secretive makes sense if the majority of ministers act incompetently. Keeping the blunders from being exposed or covered up is easier to accomplish when it is part of the political culture to cover each other’s backs.

Back in 1980 the handling of various government departments got so bad that they started to remove the responsibility of running them. Departments such as Nuclear Energy and Public Utilities were declared as open for corporate tender. First it was Margaret Thatcher privatizing nuclear plants70 and more recently it was Prime Minister Stephen Harper71. In the U.S. it was the Public Utilities72.

Because the electoral system has been left to votes by a public that does not know what is happening behind closed doors we see groups forming for a common goal. Advocates, groups or clubs are a natural consequence of people who are not satisfied to let an uninformed public make their decisions. In order to influence change it is easier with a group. Besides, voters only carry influence at election time.

There have been forces that seem to deliberately encourage apathy. If we look at Republican behaviour since President Barack Obama took office, they deliberately encouraged division. Polarizing seemed to be their goal at any cost. This kind of behavior goes against our instincts. What did they gain? It’s frightening to imagine that apathy is what they are trying to encourage. We don’t know why they do it but when consider the effect it has we can guess that it is to manipulate the votes.

What clubs can we join as members of the public? We have special interest groups. No other country has so many. Statistically, over half the population joins one sometime in their life. In fact many of them have agendas that are driven by perceived injustice or perceived need for change. Many of them are intruders and time wasters with profit and control as their main goal. They block progress and prevent positive change. There are good ones too of course like Unicef and the Cancer Foundation. We need to question the motives of some of the environmental groups that support natural gas and renewable energy but not nuclear energy like the Sierra Club, NRDC, Union of Concerned Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Friends of the Earth, Mothers for Peace, Greenpeace, 350.org and The Climate Reality Project.

But how do we sift through the noise and recognize what matters to us? A psychoanalyst puts us on a couch to say “Tell me the first thing that enters your mind.” It takes a while to cut through the brain chatter but with repeated visits people eventually discover what is blocking their growth or their ability to move on. When we finally do discover what matters to us we become ready to deal with the outside world. We move past the petty emotional blocks of childhood or marital breakup or job loss and get on with living.

All of those young people who play or have played video games and spent countless hours mastering the world they escaped into and conquered have been, ironically, preparing themselves for the fight we now face. This society, like the games they play, has plenty of obstacles, cliques, special interest groups, human rights organizations and lobbyists steering our planet off course. So instead of remaining disillusioned, marginalized, victimized and misunderstood the gamers can get off the antidepressants and give up their escapist habits in favor of fighting a real battle with the goal of doing what’s right for our common home Earth.  Barry Brook the climatologist cowrote a post at Brave New Climate suggesting that the same thinking that went into Pokeman Go be implemented in a new ecology game73 where the game encourages acts that respect and improve the environment.

Even if we can’t be superheroes we need to recognize that there are stewards we can call upon to solve the problems we face. Maybe our individual efforts seem futile but identifying and supporting those stewards will be essential to solving our challenges. Those stewards are the scientists and engineers. Among them are people with vision. See Chapter Thirteen. We need to empower them. But first we need to learn their language well enough to identify them as the best problem solvers.

Knowledge is Power

When we finally do decide to wake up and take advantage of the “democratic” process, how will we discover how to verify information when we are given it? Our network will be an important information source, but it will be important to learn which websites are legitimate. Some of these website domains are set up for the sole purpose of misrepresenting the facts. Not all of them know they misrepresent the facts. They are simply part of an unofficial group that reinforces their beliefs. It does not take much effort to lead the gullible astray by spreading and sharing sources of misinformation.

So, how do we learn to recognize when information is reliable. If you are committed to getting the facts there are many sources of reliable information. Wikipedia.org is one of my favorite sources for getting to the bottom of a topic (but I have found bias there too.) Their pages often give external links and citations and references. You need to be detectives to uncover unjustified bias.

Carl Sagan devoted a chapter in one of his well known books titled “The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle In the Dark74.” The chapter is called “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection.” Sagan outlines steps that make a lot of sense and helps us navigate to the truth.

Many of the members of Energy Reality spend time commenting on some of these websites that allow the misinformation. We try not to encourage debate but simply provide information that is accurate often giving links to places that are more credible.

Are There Dark Forces Out There?

Do you want controversy? Darkness, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  If we took all conspiracy theories seriously we could fill a book on that topic alone. For example there is plenty of evidence that some corporations are in the habit of backing political parties. The super pac is a perfectly legal way to try to subvert or topple the government:) Failing that, you can start a special interest group, fund your lobbyists, seek donations and deliberately set policy based on the wish to continue getting donations from corporations. When financial support is involved revealing information about a company’s investments or behind the scenes activities are an inconvenience to corporations who have profit as a bottom line.

Even the Google search engine has been challenged to provide accurate data. But that conflicts with the search engine optimization techniques. I go to the Scholar search engine provided by Google and see all kinds of articles, reports and papers cited but they are, unfortunately, only available for sale. 

Given our limited choices to make a difference to our world do we continue to resent how little opportunity is given to us or do we stop the self doubt and start relating to people that are similar to ourselves, who care about the quality of living and share our ideas. We have a common goal to stop letting corporations and banking institutions rule. We can’t just climb into our cocoons and relinquish all of our responsibility.

The press and media outlets succeed in turning the elections into a fake race between only two opponents when the real issue is that corporations rules both parties.

Think of Howard Beal from the fictional film Network when he says “I’m Mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore75.” We have reason to be angry. But what can we do about it? We have to be smart. Nobody can save us but ourselves. We need to use our numbers to make a difference. We can learn from the groups that do succeed. If you can’t beat’em, join‘em. The press and media are, to a large extent, controlled by the corporations.  Knowing this can help us use the media to our advantage.  But beware, if we get the media to speak for us the corporations can instruct the media to follow up and target us for ridicule as they did with the Occupy Movement.