Can you forget how to ride a bike? How easily? What about how to think?


Spotted this evening on Treehugger.

Take the time to watch the above. Aside from just being wonderfully nerdy about bicycles and weird science, this video also seems like a really, really, really instructive lesson about how brains (ours, others, etc.) might approach a dynamic social, ecological or political problem.

I’m betting most of us see this and think, at least at first, “I could figure it out.” Then, after watching a lot of people fail, some of us still probably think, “OK, difficult, but I could still do it.”

Maybe we invent tricks we think will help — closing our eyes to tamp down the visual miscues, crossing our arms to maintain the “push with the right, turn to the left” muscle memory, etc.

And most of us would still probably faceplant if forced to do it at any speed.

I’m left wondering, then, how much this ingrained processing of bicycle riding also applies to how we process OTHER information, ideas, biases, etc. Do beliefs/constructs/paradigms/language really get as hard-wired as bicycle riding?

If so, I suppose I probably would continue to believe the government is good/evil, climate change is real/fake, gay people are people/sinners, guns are safe/dangerous, ice cream is tasty/the scourge of thighs, the earth is round/flat, dogs can/can’t look up, and other binaries entirely because of my neuro-wiring and irrespective of compelling “reason,” “logic,” “science,” “information,” “knowledge,” “humanity,” etc. with which I am presented.

In the backwards bicycle case, I very clearly can see that I need to push with my left to veer/counterbalance left. Yet my brain still won’t do it, at least not without eight months of reorientation (that apparently can also be overcome in several minutes re-reorientation). In other words, I’m sitting there on the pedals telling myself that reality has changed, with everyone else also explaining how the world is now different, and I need to adapt and push with the left to go left, and yet my brain tells me and everyone else, politely, to eff off.

Similarly, if my brain also says X is a hoax, how difficult is actually convincing myself that X is true?

And of course, with most thorny issues, we know that most ideas are not simply the product of knowing the A, B and C of X. Enter the halo effect, social capital, limited but repeated experiences, memory loss, ego, fear, group-think, shifting baselines and all other common obstructions to changing our made-up minds.

In real-world conditions, then, my brain tells me to X is wrong because I should distrust person E who believes X because Y is my routine experience and person B also supports me as a member of clan R which adheres to community norm set M; in addition, I’ve actually forgotten the A, B, and C of X, which I encountered Z months ago surrounded by people L while I was in mood T; and, in any case, I imagine myself to be person type Q and to even consider believing X would actually make me person type J.”

Makes me really take a step back on the strategies we use to win hearts and minds. Say, for instance, in favor of climate reality or sustainable living or equality under law.

So what if believing Y (and not X) really is like riding a bike? What would it actually take to help/encourage people forget Y and choose X? Some pretty difficult truths for all who are interested in making social change a reality.

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Dear Mr. President: What does it say when historical foes march together, hand-in-hand against your indecision on #nokxl?

I’ll be brief. Maybe.

Dear President Obama: I sorely missed being in Washington, DC, this week. The Reject and Protect protests by the Cowboy Indian Alliance (and thousands of other supporters) against the Keystone XL pipeline wraps up today. The big show was yesterday and the pictures are fantastic, symbolic and powerful. Check the video above of the opening ceremony earlier in the week. I hope you heard them. They mean business and you should listen.

My views on this are hardly a secret. #NOKXL. But I’m still a little in awe of how many people have come together, from very different subject positions, despite what I consider to be an adverse environment for environmental politics.

Consider the context: U.S. politics are poisoned/paralyzed by a hypocritical, psuedo-”freedom from government” movement; the Democratic leadership is focused on public relations damage control over its greatest achievement (which I still support); the Republican-controlled House hates nature; the uber-rich Koch brothers live and breathe climate change denial* and bankroll idiocy* on the matter; some scholars say as national governments are unable/unwilling/less necessary to lead in global environmental governance, cities may/can step up in their place.

Such gridlock, political distractions, misinformation (lies, you giant Kochs*) and city-scale momentum might suggest that a national environmental movement would have trouble gathering steam.

Yet somehow, Mr. President, you have managed to repeatedly draw large crowds of protest very near to your doorstep. More than 1,200 got themselves arrested in 2011 in a massive display of civil disobedience, and tens of thousands have again and again crowded downtown DC to tell you to take a moral stand and reject this pipeline.

In the latest action, Obama-sir, you’ve managed to convince historical foes — ranchers and indigenous tribes — that they have something important in common that would trump even the grave injustices and conflict of the past. In case you haven’t figured it out, that common interest is telling you where you ought to shove the pipeline.

As you well know, Mr. President, climate change is real and scary. We’re on a runaway train of oil addiction; stopping said train will be painful, to be sure. But the whole planet is headed for an even worse fate if tar sands crude goes up in so much smoke. If Keystone XL is approved, the United States will be aiding and abetting the consumption of immoral, uber-dirty (like, Koch Bros.-dirty*) tar sands crude.

Perhaps I should be thankful that your indecision on the looming threat of this pipeline has galvanized a new environmental movement that bridges some serious political gulfs. Perhaps I could be thankful, Mr. Obama, if I wasn’t still so damn flustered that you and your administration are politically punting (again) on environmental protection.

* For you prickly Koch Bros. fanboys, my angst about your money-grubbing heroes is of course my opinion, no matter how many other people (or facts) share said opinion. No need to line up the libel suits.

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Mr. Obama, reject this pipeline! #nokxl

There’s only about two weeks left to make comments on the final State Department Environmental Impact Statement of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. This is the pipeline that more than a million of us have opposed from D.C. to Nebraska to Alberta to countries across the globe, large and small. This is the pipeline that I was protesting when arrested in 2011. My views on this are no secret.

Anyone wishing to comment can do so directly on the Regulations.gov or through a proxy such as 350.org, an organization I support.

My own comment is below, which anyone is free to use.

President Obama boldly claimed he would reject the Keystone XL pipeline if it significantly affected the climate. More to the point, he linked our own national interest with the global climate. Time and again, the president has called for accepting the reality of climate change and attempting to do all we can to mitigate (or adapt to) its impacts, particularly for the most vulnerable communities. Kudos to him for strong words.

I hope this translates into strong action that resolutely rejects the pipeline. This pipeline will allow 830,000 barrel per day of the worst oil to reach market. This will only lower marginal costs for companies to extract and sell more tar sands crude than they could otherwise. This will only increase our economic path dependency on dirty oil. Any claims to the contrary — and even parts of the final Keystone XL EIS — are based on faulty assumptions, poor models (essentially accepting a 6 degree temperature rise, for example) and an unhealthy amount of industry involvement in what was supposed to be an unbiased accounting.

However, beyond the dithering over details and quibbling over accounting, I have a larger concern. The president has repeatedly suggested that we as a country have the moral obligation of right action. In my favorite Obama moment, he claimed in 2004 that he believes that we are our brother’s keeper, that the fates of those less fortunate and the misery of people elsewhere still make our own lives poorer. We must then recognize that we are members of a global community and climate change continues to make people in that community suffer. And that suffering happens at home and abroad. And that suffering is caused by our misuse of resources.

This is a moral issue; the president must not duck it as a fiscal, balance-of-numbers question. Nor can it be sidestepped as part of any political calculus. The practical nature and political expediency of the president’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy must be discarded, at least this time.

Simply put, this test has no “all-of-the-above” bubble to mark. The cost — financial, yes, but also human and environmental — of some forms of energy is too great. Keeping Keystone XL on the table is simply not a moral option. Doing so aides and abets climate destruction and contributes to global suffering.

Mr. President, you now have the findings of the State Department, as problematic as they are. Now it is your turn to act, and act rightly.

Please, Mr. President, reject this pipeline.

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Open letter to [school of your choice] president

I wrote and sent roughly this same letter to the president of American University this week. Fill in the blanks and send one on yourself.

President [so-and-so]:

The campus has been crawling with prospective students this fall. Many a day, I watch tour guides roving from building to building with hordes of high schoolers and parents in tow. I overhear all the usual chatter about history, scholarship and community — in short why they ought to attend [school of your choice].

As well we should tout what we have to offer. I just hope that maybe, when the conversation turns to our school’s principles, values and efforts toward justice and sustainability, the university might consider a new talking point. It would be great if we could tell prospects, “And because we value everyone on this planet — including all those unable to access the privileges of [relevant institution], we divested our financial portfolio from fossil fuels.”

I’m guessing this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of this concept — fossil fuel divestment — and if you’re well versed, then you can feel free to

Continue reading this entry » » »

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Back to the start

So right, in so many ways.

That this aired in primetime during the Grammy Awards is a powerful statement. I don’t want to see corporate American brand sustainable, simple living as something of its own (hell, I’ve come late to the party). But my heart is warmed over at the thought of such ethics in the mainstream.

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