Global Warming and the Potluck Dinner

Dear Friend and Reader:

A few months ago I was a guest on Caravan to Midnight, a popular nightly Internet video interview program, invited on to talk about Monsanto’s fraudulent way of doing business and poisoning our bodies. I gave a recitation of the company’s key points of history back to its founding in 1901, and up through the three major phases of its GMO career.

Farmer’s Market in Winter Park, Florida.

Toward the end of the discussion, which I will admit was as disturbing as the description of any mass murder scene, host John B. Wells asked me what I would do if I was president. Of the United States, that is. How would I save the world? I thought about it for a moment and I said I would suggest people have lots of potluck dinners.

Yes, were I the commander in chief, I would say: “Go forth and meet up somewhere with your casseroles! Don’t forget to keep it gluten-free if you can.”

I know this is not very superhero-like. I know it contradicts the notion that when something horrific happens, we will finally all wake up. We tried that experiment — it was called 9/11. That event shocked most people into a deeper, angrier trance.

Community dinners will help us come out of the fear trance. We need to take some time and get together, be together, experience one another’s humanity, and share food, companionship and ideas. Plus, at the end of the night, no money is exchanged. It is wholesome to have some places in life free from the marketplace. We need exchange, not the medium of exchange.

Regularly held social meals would address many problems associated with the cold alienation of both our typical social interactions, and of the Internet. They would remind us that we actually have neighbors, who have faces, names and voices — and who eat food. Food is the bottom line for everyone.

As figures on the Internet, we eat bandwidth and electricity, we have publicity photos and often use alias names. Nobody actually eats food. You cannot attach a pie as a PDF. Said another way, the Internet is disembodied and denies the existence of the body, which happens to be our main connection to life.

Food is also the bottom line of global warming. Besides fires, floods, droughts and various other dramas that may involve seeking high ground, the first place we’re going to feel the most brutal effects of global warming is on the food supply. Whatever the purveyors of hydroponics and DNA cut-and-paste potatoes may try to convince us of, food comes from seeds, land, water and sunshine — and the efforts of farmers. I know it seems unbearably quaint.

Thanksgiving potluck, photo from by Plan a Potluck Blog.

When the climate is disrupted, food production is disrupted. There are a lot of people on the planet right now, and we all need to eat. When food production is interrupted, chaos can and often does ensue. (It’s one of the problems that Syria is facing.)

A few weeks ago, there was a major international global warming conference in Paris. I think most people view this positively — 188 nations actually agreed on something. In a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote, “I had low expectations for the U.N. climate meeting here, and it met all of them — beautifully. I say that without cynicism.” He added that now “we have a chance to meet what scientists say is our key challenge: to avoid the worst impacts of global warming” and also to “manage those impacts that we can no longer avoid. That is a big, big deal.”

That same week, I had a guest on Planet Waves FM (my now Pacifica Radio affiliated community program) who was not so chipper. His name is Albert Saldamando, and he’s a human rights attorney who attended the conference as a negotiator on behalf of indigenous people.

“The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more,” he said. “It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south.”

I’m not sure if that was one of Mr. Friedman’s low expectations, though I think he sees the whole carbon trading thing differently. Carbon trading, if you’ve never heard of it, works like a commodities market, only the commodity traded is pollution.

Farmer’s market in Massachusetts. Photo from Mass. Brewer’s Guild.

Saldamando continued, “Case-in-point, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.”

In other words, the Paris accord is in part a carbon trading agreement, which does things like allow PE&G, a huge power company in California, to buy its way out of 80% of its responsibility without actually cutting its emissions. They get to keep them going, profiting from their pollution. Someone else has to make the cuts.

For what it’s worth, I cast the astrological chart for the adoption of the motion that sealed the deal, and the chart basically said that the business of the world is business. When Saldamando later called it a trade agreement, I had even better words to describe the chart.

Saldamando said that if we utterly stopped burning carbon for fuel right now, the world might come in under the 1.5 degrees celsius warming goal that the Paris agreement purports to endorse and even facilitate.

Without agonizing over this too much, it means that we’re on our own. Big daddy ain’t gonna make himself behave or stay sober. We’ll never change his mind about saving the planet. We might get governments to do a little, or to block good things a little less, but their reins are really in the hands of corporations. It is these massive conglomerates, or trusts, that we must go after. By we I mean us.

Potluck dinner at the Technical College of New Jersey.

If you read somewhere that a bunch of people in Sweden had organized the whole country to divest from petrochemicals, you would think, how smart of them. Scandinavia, they are so evolved and civilized. If it wasn’t so chilly and they had better pizza, I might live there.

If I said we can do that in the United States, you might say we’re just too big a collection of douche bags to get anything of the kind accomplished. We’ll all just disagree for the unmitigated joy of vapid controversy — while the ice caps melt and the oceans gradually turn to acid. Seawater is supposed to be alkaline. When it becomes acidic (from all the carbon dioxide that it’s absorbing on our behalf), it’s habitable mostly to slime. Nothing against slime by the way — maybe it will spawn a new evolutionary line of superbeings immune to toxicity. This will come in handy in the future.

Then there are our business leaders — complacent, lazy, selfish, naive, short-sighted capitalists who can’t see or act beyond self-interest.

Yes, Americans long ago decided we’re just too stupid and self-centered to give a toss about something as ridiculous as our planet. But doesn’t that really, really annoy you sometimes? Like watching the guy who’s squirting charcoal starter on an already-lit barbecue. You’re thinking, he doesn’t know that the reason you’re not supposed to do that is because the fire can jump up the stream and make the can explode. Or maybe he does know. And you’re wondering whether it will happen this time, secretly thinking it sure would be interesting if it did.

Welcome to global warming. So, we are on our own. Those of us who, you know, get it. Even a little.

Famous farmer’s market at Bastille, Paris. Photo by Clay Williams.

Recently a friend wrote to me on the topic of climate and said that “we can’t all be activists on the ground.”

I wrote back, “Much of the activism we need to do is, like, spend money in the right places. It’s economic activism, which would be spurred by information activism (i.e., reporting, analysis, story telling, etc.). Shifting money to the better parts of the economy is a real thing. Divestment toppled Apartheid.”

She wasn’t born at the time, so she can’t quite know the thill of realizing in real time that the town board of Turtle Turd, New Mexico, voting to remove its investments from businesses working with South Africa actually helped win the issue. Seemingly intractable white-superior culture there just collapsed from economic starvation. Then Nelson Mandela not only got out of jail, he became president.

I continued to my friend, “So ultimately the issue really is spiritual in that it involves awareness, relationship to existence and putting one’s money where one’s ethics are. That and conserving, simplifying. No part of this is about marching in the streets. More like my solution to everything, the potluck dinner.”

Farmer’s market in China. Photo by Dianaoftripoli/Flickr.

She replied: “The potluck dinner is a solid solution. That is why our connection to each other matters. When we break bread with each other, by itself that is magic in that it is humanizing. People who see the humans in the community they share meals with are more likely to apply that framework of perception to communities outside their immediate ones.”

Divesting from petrochemical giants includes spending money in one’s neighborhood as a matter of course. For example, if you shop at the local farmer’s market, that broccoli or onion did not require being trucked 2,500 miles across the country. It also requires stitching ourselves more closely into the local economy. Those words are tossed around, but there is such a thing. You discover it more as you engage in it more; it starts to seem real because it is.

However, what you will also notice is that everything you get is better quality, and it’s great to do business with an actual human.

Doing this starts to seem increasingly productive and important, and then you may get hooked and start doing things with a sense of principle and satisfaction that you’re getting something done. No matter how small, it’s actually part of the solution that will work. You might start to get other people involved, inviting them to the party. No ‘protesting’ involved. No risking Tasers or pepper spray, unless Homeland Security one day deems farmer’s markets a terrorist threat.

As for those potluck dinners: we need a place to get to know one another, that is designed for sharing, and to be social, where no money is exchanged. The more we know our neighbors, the more of a mutual resource we can be. This goes against the very principle of toxic capitalism: every man, woman and child for themselves.

Image from blog post, How To Have a Sustainable Potluck.

It’s exactly the opposite of divide and conquer: let’s get together and be real. Real is strong, and familiar is becoming evermore necessary in a world where we’re facing some serious “security” challenges (such as closing the Los Angeles school district due to an email, and all its implications). Plus, group dinners create resources and diversity with a low carbon footprint. And who knows, someone might bring a vegan version of that mushroom meatball stroganoff you love.

Anything that can remind people how to cook is worth doing for its own sake, anyway. I’m about to bring out a book called The Lost Art of Making Your Own Scrambled Eggs.

People in a community taking part in any modest reminder that because we’re together everyone gets to eat, is unusually reassuring if you’ve never experienced it before. A camp I stayed in at Burning Man a few years ago had a strong ethos of food organization, and as a result could also have a policy of feeding any wayfarers who wandered in.

What I’m suggesting here isn’t even sappy enough to make you feel dumb for being idealistic. And while it may feel strange to socialize in person, you’ll get over it pretty quick.

With love,

Planet Waves Monthly Horoscope for January 2016, #1081 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — You stand at a branching of the ways in your own life. One road leads toward appearances, glitter and glamour, and the other leads toward self-realization. Life is not normally so black and white, though a great wave of energy is about to come through your life, and its raw power is inherently neutral. It will carry you far and fuel your endeavors, in whatever direction you choose. You are the one who gives it meaning, and who harnesses it for the purpose that you designate. In other words, you choose what to do with the vital force that powers your entire being. And now that vital force is rising, and you will have great surges of energy, as will many around you. Yet the path of least resistance will be to stay on the surface; and many will do that, transfixed by shiny objects. The more challenging path is to go inward. Part of why it’s challenging is that ‘inward’ is such strange territory these days. For many it’s entirely alien, and for most it’s unfamiliar, intimidating and chaotic. Do not be intimidated by yourself. Leave that to others, if that’s how they feel. You are who you are inwardly, and you are being challenged now to go inside and stay with yourself for a while. If you seek understanding, and self-respect, you will indeed find them.

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — Not everything in life is about power over others, though there’s currently quite the campaign being waged to convince us that it is. Every time you see a news story, it’s about what one person or entity may do to another, just because they can. This is not your way; though, in order to evade and even transcend this, you will need to think clearly and be clever. This you can do. You are currently bestowed with a kind of intelligence that is both deep and unusually perceptive. But now it will be necessary to make decisions and to move faster than you normally want. As the events of the next four seasons emerge, you will need to be flexible and strong. It’s also essential that you have some version of a game plan, by which I mean a basic sketch of your strategy. The most meaningful part of that plan is having a direction in which you’re headed. You will change and correct this, though you still need a point of orientation: at least one guiding principle to focus around. It would be far better if that principle were not about another person. You need an idea about your life that is yours alone, which you then bring with you into every situation. The theme of this year is learning to trust yourself — which, like any skill, is gained with practice.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — Aspire to what has lasting value. Since the future is becoming increasingly difficult to see, you must do this in the present. Yet this does not merely mean going for immediate satisfaction. In material goods, purchase what is of high quality, of real use, and built to last. Yet where you invest your energy must also match the other kind of value — that which you personally possess. You’re being guided as if by cosmic forces to slow down your mind, to see beneath the surface, and to probe deeper into your personal truth. You could say this is about getting real with yourself. Scrupulous honesty with yourself is required, as is acting on authentic goals that match who you know you are. For this you will need to sort out wishful thinking from observing where you actually connect with existence. Which brings us to the most important theme of your year: living every day. The only way to deal with the vast uncertainty of the world is to focus on what you must do, now. As you do, it’s essential to notice whether what you’re doing is working for you, and whether it serves the ‘greatest good for all’ factor as well. It is the quality of your individual days, and individual tasks, that amounts to the quality of your life — and the strength of your foundation for the future.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — Your goal seems to be to feed the world, whether literally or in some symbolic sense. To do that you must be well-nourished, well-rested and well-informed. The pressure that you’re feeling to succeed in your mission is not some passing whim or fancy. It’s as if the time for a certain level of action has arrived, which comes with a level of dedication and devotion. As a result, you may feel driven like never before. And as a consequence of that, it will be necessary to stir up some chaos, and to deal with things that don’t go according to plan. You’ve been living with that for a while, though now it’s time to maximize that factor. Many great successes are adaptations to instability and uncertainty in society. That’s another way of saying that necessity is the mother of invention. The rate of change in the world is maddening, and you would do yourself a favor by admitting that it’s impossible to keep up. But what is possible is to identify patterns that provide you with opportunities to connect with the world with a viable purpose. As an essential ingredient of that, you will need to bring your vulnerability. Most of the struggle on the planet right now involves coldness and lack of empathy. Your success will depend on calling forth these qualities you possess and, indeed, respect the most about yourself.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — Not everything is about money. Money is important, but it’s also necessary to remember its inherently symbolic value. In other words, you cannot eat the stuff, and if it has any meaning at all, it’s the meaning we give it. Your charts this year are, in many ways, about discussions and negotiations over resources. It may seem that other people are in a better position than you are, yet if you look closely enough you will see the many advantages that you hold. One of them is that you are resourceful, which means inventive. Another is that when you’re under pressure, you can be brilliantly creative. Yet you can also be naive, particularly in your business dealings; and it’s now essential that you be realistic. This includes in all matters where resources of any kind are exchanged. The deeper the exchange, the more complex this can become — for example, where both sex and money are involved; where inheritances are involved; where your creative work product is connected to finances and your self-esteem. What you must bring to the table is a mix of your passion, your talent and your stone-cold analysis of who holds what cards. As part of that breakout, make sure you notice who has invested so significantly in you. Someone has — and they have just as much faith in you now as ever.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — Looked at one way, your solar charts describe you as being guided by the fates and the winds of fortune, subject to their whims. Yet seen another way, you’ve never been more firmly grounded in your sense of commitment and your drive to do what is right. How can both exist at the same time? The answer, in a word, is perception. Fate, fortune and purpose may be stories you tell yourself, but they are not equal in value. The closer you get to purpose, the closer you get to a conscious and intentional meeting with the world around you. This is about a relationship, which must be a mutual endeavor. Your charts state strongly that this must be practical before it is mystical. Your mind, your observations and your choices determine the course of your life. Even if there are other forces at work, you are the person guiding yourself among them. This calls for rising to a new level of responsibility. You must also proceed with some confidence, even though you might feel a bit (or more) out of your element, or like you’re wearing clothes that are a little too tight. As you grow accustomed to your new level of self-direction and decision-making, that firm, tight cloth will begin to soften and loosen up. As that happens, fate will begin to feel more like warm, caring spiritual guidance.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — We hear the word ‘security’ a lot these days. If you were some observer not directly associated with our society, you might think it was a product sold by the pound — we spend this much, we feel this good. Yet authentic security is nothing of the kind. You know this because for a number of years, you’ve experienced what seems like every possible challenge to your grounding and stability. Libra is famous for its love of balance. You have been living in an earthquake zone. But what you’ve learned from living there is that ultimately it is your own choice to feel secure. No amount of lawyers, guns, money or shoes can change that. Often the people of the most impressive means are the ones who feel the most threatened by little changes. You are becoming accustomed to feeling secure in the midst of huge changes. For all your life you’ve wanted to stand on your own feet. You’ve wanted to take responsibility for your own decisions, and reap the benefits. And you’ve wanted to serve the world around you in the way that works for you. That is what you are finally getting to do. And now, as this story develops, you’re being called upon to rise to a new level of challenge, and of talent, with a mix of Libra’s two best qualities — elegant finesse and gritty determination.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — What will it take not to be trapped in your insecurities? You want something else. If you tap into that wanting, and cultivate it like a tree, that desire will grow up and bear fruit. The past two years of Saturn in your sign have brought many enforced changes. You’ve had to rise to occasions that otherwise might have held you down. You’ve been shaped and tempered, and you’ve done a lot of growing up. As a wise astrologer once wrote, Saturn always gives more than it takes away. Now Saturn has moved on to Sagittarius, and the emphasis is on your self-esteem. Were I bestowed with magical power to heal one thing on the planet for everyone, self-esteem would be that thing. Now you get to work on this. Do not take respecting yourself for granted. It’s easy enough for you to do, though now it seems like you’re being tested. You might feel like there’s not enough of you to go around, even for yourself. The planets in their courses are guiding you to experiment with this idea: the opposite of depression is expression. You are being squeezed; and from that pressure, you will discover many openings through which beautiful and seemingly new manifestations of yourself may emerge. When you feel the crush — or feel scarcity in any form — express, express, express. And in the process, you will gain a rare and beautiful kind of confidence.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Can anyone ever plan to be on top of their game? Preparation and focus can get you pretty far. Ambition and a sense of mission can take you even further. The last and most challenging factor is the emotional piece. Imagine if you could feel good every single day — you would be unstoppable. One method that’s worked for you in the past has been detachment. That, however, now verges on impossible. Your solar chart is so emotionally connected that you have no choice but to get in the water and swim. I think that full immersion in your feelings is the way to get you into that play-to-win mode. It is easier to feel than to resist, because resistance consumes precious energy. There is something else that would help, which is to see all of your motives, desires and aspirations not only as valid but as aspects of the same thing. You are one unified, holistic being. As you gather the seemingly different facets of yourself, and consider them all valuable assets, you will concentrate your energy. And you will discover how many small things it takes to make a lot. Remember that while the details matter and must be attended to, your overall vision matters a heck of a lot more. Stay in contact with yourself and rise to your own true level.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — For quite some time you’ve been dealing with undeniable forces of change, which have pushed and stretched you. You’ve made major adjustments, you’ve made progress and you’ve sustained some losses. You know all of this was necessary, because the result has been focusing your life on your evolution. You’re now entering a more introspective time, when outer pressures and chaos will be less influential. Your direction of movement is inherently inward. Even if you’re the outgoing kind of Capricorn, the chances are that in truth you’re an introvert. You are now being pulled deeper in, closer to your spiritual core. You know you’re tapping into aspects of existence that many people around you neither notice nor acknowledge. But here is the thing. Ultimately you are being pressed, guided and compelled to a state of clarity. That, your charts suggest, is going to come in the form of language. While it may seem there are realizations too sacred to be spoken, or too difficult to put into words, you simply must make the effort, for your own sanity. Your inward draw is only as helpful as the ideas that you focus — no matter how challenging, imperfect or imprecise. Leave yourself and others a record of your inner journey, one word or one page at a time, as necessary. As for love, I can sum it up in a sentence: Intimacy is introspection that we share.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — How exactly do you hold onto your ideals in a world where it seems like the whole game is rigged for greed, competition and conformity? I never thought you’d ask! The answer is: it’s challenging, but you must. It may be five times harder to reach for your truth as the madness of our society reaches a new peak. And in the end it will get you double your investment, because you are building a strong foundation that will be there when the world is in calmer times. Before then, you know you’re being true to yourself, and you cannot live with yourself any other way. The current struggle of our world translates to energy loss, depression and confusion in most people, and it could easily do so for you — which is why you must keep your grounding. And your grounding is in your ideals. I would propose that the one that’s closest to the core is existing in a way where you see the needs of the many, the needs of the few, and your own personal necessities. If you at least acknowledge that they exist, you will have perspective. The one rapidly disappearing element of the world is that of mutual benefit. Practice and apply this concept in everything you do. And while you do that, notice who cannot see past their own personal hunger, and steer clear of them.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — The emotional details of your relationships are of the essence now. Your success engaging with your fellow humans, and your advancement in the world, are intimately dependent on one another. You must make that delicate move from an orientation on the past to emphasis on the present. Rare and unusual aspects describe the narrow path you must walk in order to be responsive and patient with the sleepy condition of the world. You must tread the way between avoidance, to one side, and cynicism, to the other. If you can do this, you will establish a refuge from some of the worst human failings. You’ll also facilitate your own process of building something designed to last. It had better be, given how long it’s taken you to get where you are, and to have learned what you’ve learned. You’re going beyond the usual description of spiritual, in that everything you do must accomplish both loving intent and practical use. It’s not enough to ‘be a better person’ or to ‘have integrity’. You are here to participate, and to innovate. You have been charged with the responsibility of making actual improvements to your wider environment. And no matter how you may feel about it, this includes exerting actual leadership in a time of profound moral crisis. Yet this is nothing less than what you’ve prepared for all your days.

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