I just finished dancing in my barn loft office, the place where I write for the animals and on behalf of women. It’s been a... Read more →
authored by Physicist, Husband and Enlightened Man, Frank H. Sanders…
Tabulated data are sucky; I find it hard to make sense of numbers when they are crammed into tables. Graphs of those same data, on the other hand, show you the shape (literally) of things at a glance. Here are two graphs to consider. One of them is terrifying; the other one should give all of us some hope for the future.
This is not to show you that climate-changing CO2 is going up—everyone, even intentionally thick-headed people, knows that it is—but rather so that you can see that the –rate– that it is climbing upward is –increasing–.
The increasing rate of change is shown by the increasing steepness of the CO2 curve from left to right, as time progresses. Anybody can find this simply by graphing tangents to the curve, as I’ve done here. Have a little fun and try it yourself.
I’ve drawn three such tangents as long red arrows. When Dwight Eisenhower was finishing as President in 1960, CO2 was increasing at about 0.88 parts per million on a yearly basis. Thirty years later, when George H. W. was President, it was going up twice as fast, at about 1.65 ppm every year. Just twenty-five years after that, when Obama was wrapping up his second term, it was going up at about 2.0 ppm per year.
This increasing slope (0.88, then 1.65, then 2.0), this steepening rate of increase, has a name: acceleration.
We are not just boosting CO2 from year to year, we are –accelerating– our accumulation of CO2 from one year to the next. This acceleration is terrifying because we are likewise LOSING TIME AT AN ACCELERATING RATE in which to come to grips with exploding CO2 levels before we completely screw ourselves and the entire planet upon which we depend for our lives and the lives of our descendants.
This acceleration is occurring for two reasons:
Unfortunately, our accelerating rate of carbon burning combined with the incipient loss of a big reservoir that, until now, has been sopping up a lot of it is trashing the entire planetary ecosystem upon which we and our descendants are all depending for survival. Flooded coastal cities, drowned islands and disastrous worldwide food production problems will be the inevitable result if this trend continues.
Think about that when defeatists (often with a financial interest in burning carbon) say that we can’t manage to reduce and eventually cease carbon burning. We certainly, absolutely CAN do it. But it’s going to take concerted, sustained, large-scale action by governments, rather than by well-meaning individuals on bicycles, to make it happen.
Or not. If we don’t get moving on this in a meaningful way in an ever-shortening period of time, then we’ll all be reaping the disastrous consequences. No-one anywhere, be they richer or poorer, browner or whiter, will be immune from the adverse effects of a planet that’s being slowly roasted to death.
Which brings me to the second data plot, the one that should give us hope. It is a graph of the number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives. It shows the number of these women as a percentage of each of their own parties’ House numbers from 1907 to the present. (Source: Wikipedia.)
Look at it.
There were no women in the House until just over a century ago. For half of this country’s existence, we wouldn’t let women participate in Congressional decision-making. Then, after 1907 and until 1987, through four generations, the number of women in the House crawled between about 2 per cent to 5 per cent. Female representation was essentially the same for both parties, and the overall rate of increase was nearly zero for both of them.
Then in about 1990, when George H.W. was getting started as President, the curves show us that two remarkable, nay astounding, things happened.
Thing One: In just thirty years, a generation and a half, the total number of women in the House rose meteorically.
Thing Two: This increase in women House members was (and is) almost entirely within a single party, the Democrats. Democratic representation of women in the House went from about 5% to over 35%, a seven-fold rate of increase, in a third of a century. As political change in America goes, that is a break-neck pace.
Meanwhile, House representation by women in the other party hasn’t accelerated at all. Instead, it’s been stuck at less than ten per cent ever since the Democratic skyrocket blasted off the pad around 1990.
The divergence has now been sustained for thirty years. It screams out at us. This is not some quick flash in the pan. This is a long-term, systemic reflection of things that have happened, and are still happening, in the two main U.S. political parties. It is saying, in the clearest way possible, that a very real, quantifiable difference between the two parties has developed since about 1990 and that it is continuing to accelerate.
These divergent curves put the lie to the idea that both parties are somehow equivalently good or bad for this country’s future well-being. The curve that’s shooting upward points the way toward the future. The other speaks of being mired in the past; that party’s vision for the future seems to be to let grumpy old white men keep on calling the shots. How’s that working out for us?
The divergence of these two curves shows in the clearest way possible the deep, and extraordinarily sustained, dichotomy in attitudes toward women across the two main American political parties.
Voters in one party are rapidly putting more women into responsible decision-making positions in Congress. They are sustaining that trend across multiple decades. There is no better way than that to say, “I need you and I trust you; please help extricate us from this mess into which we’ve gotten ourselves.”
Meanwhile the other party, although it dearly covets women’s votes, is demonstrably unwilling to put women into the driver’s seat for directing taxing and spending. (The House is all about the Power of The Purse: it pretty much controls national taxing and spending.) That’s how you say, with a pat on the head, “You’re nice but you’re second-class; go sit in the back of the bus where you belong, sweetie.”
Again I say, Wow.
To solve our first problem, the disastrously accelerating rate of CO2 accumulation and the catastrophic outcomes that will result if it isn’t addressed quickly, we need to hear and apply women’s voices and brains in Congress and the White House. (There’s no certainty that women will move this forward, but Good Lord, the men certainly aren’t managing it worth a damn.)
We still have a long way to go. The Senate and the White House are still controlled by flim-flam artists whose only skill is enriching themselves and their families at our expense. We need to make 2020 even better than 2018 has been. But at least one party is showing sustained performance in getting enough women into the House to make the changes that we desperately need.
Our only hope for extricating ourselves from the grotesque, nightmarish situation that mires our society and our world, is for women to find a real voice on this planet.
I love to tell stories (true ones). There’s a story that’s worth telling here, that explicates why high status, a real role with a real voice for women in this world, is ultimately our only hope.
Here’s the story… first I’ll tell it. Then you’ll see why I’m saying what I’m saying.
About 23 years ago, give or take, I sat in on a lecture by Jane Goodall. She talked about her work at the Gombe Reserve over the previous decades.
She presented maps of equatorial Africa. The maps showed where chimps used to live, versus where they were currently living. The map showed their living places being steadily eliminated by human development (meaning destruction) of all the previously wild spaces across central Africa. Where chimps once had free range from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, they were now living in little islands of habitat. These islands, because of their isolation from each other and their shrinking sizes, were (and are) herding chimps into tiny refugia. In those refugia, their populations were too dinky to maintain the genetic critical mass any species needs to survive and reproduce.
In other words, although a head count of the total number of chimps in Africa might look pretty good, their having to live in dispersed little concentration camps that were getting fewer and farther between meant that they were (are) going to die out like individual lights going out on a Christmas tree.
They were (and are), quite simply, going extinct because humans were taking away all of their places to live.
It’s not if, it’s when, unless something changes.
To drive her point graphically, Goodall showed time-lapse pictures of the mountainous terrain on the far side of the lake from Gombe. In the first picture, she showed what it had looked like when she had arrived in the late 1960s. Back then, it had been covered by a lush green rain forest. A Garden of Eden.
Then she showed what it looked like around 1995. It had become a barren, sloped exposure that looked a little better than the Mojave desert, but not by much. It reminded me of what the ground looks like after it’s been whacked by an atomic explosion. All the big stuff either knocked over sideways or just gone, and what’s left, burned off. Any normal person would find it horrifying.
She said, “What has happened here? The people living here need wood for their cooking fires. They cut the forest for that wood. For 100,000 years they only needed as much wood as the forest could re-supply every year. It was sustainable. The people lived and the forest lived.”
“But now they take more than the forest can re-grow. So they have destroyed the forest.”
“Are these people stupid?” she asked aloud. “Do they not know that they are destroying the very forest that they must have in order to themselves survive?”
She paused. And then she answered her own question.
“No, they are not stupid. They are as intelligent as any other people. They know what they are doing. They know they are destroying their own place, the place that they need, in order to live.”
“Then why are they doing this?,” she asked. And then she answered.
“They are doing this because they see no other way, no alternative, no choice. They do this because they have become so numerous. And they have to have wood to cook their food. So today they cut more of the forest, knowing that someday soon they, like the chimps and all of the other forest creatures before them, will have no place left to go.”
Goodall paused. The room was silent. She went on.
“There is only one way forward. It is for women to have high, equitable, meaningful status in their societies. Status in which they have a meaningful say in their own reproduction. Only when women have real education, real opportunities in life, real control over themselves and their destinies, will this situation change.”
So I sit here and I think as the first snowfall of the season comes down outside.
Goodall was talking specifically about women in central Africa. But I think her words are exactly true for all of the women in America and on all of our planet.
For you see, we are all living around Gombe now, everywhere on Earth.
We are seriously in major trouble. I am terror-stricken for what our future may hold. The only healthy part of our society here in America is our war-making machinery. That alone should be a dire warning for us all, about where we are heading.
My own demographic, a minority of middle aged running to elderly, rich white men, is running an entire industrial society virtually unopposed. It hasn’t been alone, but it has done way more than its share to get us to this pathetic point.
We still have some shreds of democracy left, that haven’t been bought and paid for. Most people can still vote, even though the old, rich white men are straining mightily to keep the poor and the brown from voting, to the extent that they can.
But those creepy old guys have two powerful allies. Those allies are keeping them on top. Those allies are keeping the old men in the places of power from which they are in turn doing everything they can to enrich themselves and their immediate descendants, even if in doing so they are trashing our democracy at home and our planet in general.
I find both to be inexplicable. Why so many Americans won’t vote is beyond me. Most people in this country know they’re getting screwed. And a lot of them know it’s those old guys who are doing the screwing. (The old rich guys, for their part, are trying to scapegoat the blame onto women and brown people. Those who lack power are always the easy go-tos.) Others still don’t get it, at least not yet. But if more people in general would vote, things would in general get better. (Let’s just say, it’d be hard for them to get worse.)
If not voting is inexplicable to me, then the women who actually do vote for this ongoing garbage-hurling trebuchet assault on them is even more inexplicable to me. (Find some fun YouTube video, you’ll see it’s an apt analogy.)
Women are more than half of our population. A lot of them totally get what’s going on, of course. And they’re doing everything they can to make things better. To which I say Thank You So Much, Elizabeth Warrren, et al.
But the tipping point can come, the tipping will ONLY come, when the bulk, the majority of women, stop turning a blind eye to the awful things that Creepy Old Jerks are doing, including to them and their children and grandchildren, and start voting consistently to right these wrongs that we see being constantly committed against them, against our society, and against our planet.
Like Goodall said, without the status and the voice that women need and deserve, we’re all going to be goners, in more ways than one.