On False Choices

Audio from Northeast Public Radio

About a week ago I found myself having a very strange conversation among a group of political activists. We were sitting in a library meeting room being asked whether we thought the group’s energies should be focused more on the current struggle for a new health care system or to push for the new green energy legislation.

What a choice! My God I thought, has it come to that, a sort of contemporary Sophie’s Choice for those that remember that great old film. Had it really come down to deciding whether we should focus on one absolutely critical issue or the other? Being forced to decide between using our limited resources on fixing the broken American health care system or working to avoid the looming planetary climate crisis. Sure, I realized that the moment did have some positive aspects to it. I mean, on one hand the fact that we could have arrived at a point when with great effort we could actually make progress on these two vital issues seemed amazing.

After all, only a short time ago most Americans did not have a clue what our dependence on fossil fuels was doing to us and on health care they were still confused by Wall Street’s professionally orchestrated marketing campaign that we had the best medical system on the planet rather than one of the worst health care delivery system in the developed world.

After all, only a few years ago I was picketed for warning of the dangers of climate change and when I spoke of the excellent universal health care systems available to people in so many other developed countries people looked at me as if I were nuts And now, here we were. On the brink of actual making progress on both critical long term issues.

But the question remained. Given the limited resources of our small group it was reasonable to suggest making a choice to concentrate on either health care or energy but not both – a question I’d been asking myself for months. But then I realized, it’s a false choice because neither challenge is a run of the mill issue of the moment.

Both literally call for revolutionary action to dramatically transition to new clean energy sources even as we transform health care from a system designed to meet Wall Street’s profits to one based on America’s need for healthy citizens

No, this time we cannot make a choice. Because the downside of the relative political stability American have long enjoyed over so many other countries is an essentially conservative democracy only very infrequently capable of making really dramatic changes . In fact such opportunities come along only a few times in a lifetime. And right now is such a moment, a very temporary moment when we can pass these two revolutionary changes; one of those rare moments when progressives have the votes in congress, and a president in the White House who understands the need for a radical overhaul of how we deliver health care and use energy.

Even as the defenders of fossil fuel and our Wall Street based health care market lovers are in retreat. Yes, right now is one of those rare moments when, as they say, the legislative stars have lined up to allow these revolutionary changes. So, there really is no choice.

We have to fight for a people not Wall Street based health care delivery system using every financial donation, e-mail and public march we can organize.

We have to fight for affordable universal health care as if the looming threat of climate change was not bearing down on us.

And take on the challenge of climate change, fighting off the rising waters, increasing drought, and growing public health threat it forces us toward, fighting with every financial donation, e-mail and public march we can organize as if the fight for an effective American national health care system did not exist.

Because only now are we in a position to fight for the real change last fall we merely voted for.

About Steven Leibo

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4 Responses to On False Choices

  1. The challenge is that reform requires wading through a sea of conflicting interests. Comprehensive reforms require rooting into areas that touch close to the nerve of interest groups and lobbies, politically attuned-elites and lower classes. Financial crisis gives a country the impetus and public support to undertake reforms, but can only go so far as (oftentimes myopic) public debates permit, and only while the debates continues. Once the government appears to have taken action to correct regulation weaknesses and prevent similar crises in the future, however cursory the approach, the public’s eye moves on. Deeper, pragmatic, and more painful reform is often neither appreciated nor wanted by officials, nor citizens. The key is to know exactly what needs to be done, and articulate it clearly and simply enough in the public arena before the eye moves on.

  2. Paulina says:

    Billy Parish on this in “Seven Ways to Fight Dirty (Energy)”:

    “If we are going to pass effective legislation this year, it’s time we step up the effort and fight the dirty industries that pollute our communities and jeopardize our children and grandchildren’s future. Here are seven ways to do it:

    Step 1. Help Pass Real Healthcare Reform First — Real progress in our climate and energy policy will require strong leadership from President Obama and a unified progressive block that will stand up to dirty energy interest groups. The same dynamics are playing out right now in the debate over healthcare, and the President and Congress have made clear that the health care bill comes before the climate/energy bill. You can help the climate and energy agenda by calling your Senator or Representative today and telling them that you want quality, affordable healthcare now.

    2. Mobilize Now — It’s now or never if we want to prevent the worst consequences of climate change and successfully transition to a prosperous clean energy economy. I’m reminded of the scene in Return of the King, the final Lord of The Rings, where as the climactic battle looms, the message to mobilize is spread by lighting fires from mountaintop to mountaintop. We need that now. We must mobilize all able forces or expect defeat to a better funded, entrenched opponent. Everyone with an interest in a renewed American economy and greener future needs to work together for us to win. Then we need to expand our base by reaching out to new constituencies who share in a cleaner, more just future.

    3. Build Online to Offline Organizing Power — Our forces are tech-savvy and skilled at online organizing, but we are currently splintered — local leaders belong to different national organizations and may never learn about each other or figure out how to work together. We need better tools and organizational cooperation to empower local leaders with resources, and most importantly, connections to each other to build the power they need to pressure their representatives to support real change. Thankfully, 1Sky, the Energy Action Coalition and others are building this collaborative web platform and recruiting Climate Precinct Captains in the 300,000 voting precincts across the country. You can sign up to be a climate precinct captain and join the largest and most systematic grassroots infrastructure initiative ever on climate change.

    4. Stick With the Science — 350 parts per million is the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 450 ppm is the stated goal of ACES, the climate bill that recently passed the House. That’s a huge difference, especially when we’re already at 389 ppm and climbing. Join with the folks at 350.org for the largest grassroots action on climate change ever this October 24. Groups around the world will gather from the Taj Mahal to the Great Barrier Reef to your town green, to spread the word about 350. So far over 1,200 groups in 83 countries have come up with an idea for how they want to spread 350. Join an existing group or start your own…..”

    See Billy’s original article for more and links.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/billy-parish/seven-ways-to-fight-dirty_b_250031.html

  3. Steven Leibo says:

    well said!

    Steven A. Leibo Ph.D. Professor of International History & Politics Russell Sage College International Affairs Commentator WAMC Northeast Public Radio District Manager Upstate New York & Vermont The Climate Project Leibo’s World Watch Blog https://sagethoughts.wordpress.com/

  4. jzl says:

    The other side has also noticed that these issues are linked… or can become linked in their supporters minds anyway:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/8/14/766476/-The-Next-Fake-Town-Hall-Shriekers

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