The Weather

Bum Logic: A Unique and Attractive Object

This is the eleventh installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, Organized and Goal-Driven.

Mrs. Singler, a high school biology teacher of mine, once spoke these words: “Luck favors a prepared mind.” Well, as luck had it, I was an elected member of student council. So the first note on my “noble things to get did list, vis-a-vis divestment,” reading Get student council to drink the Kool-aid, was not particularly daunting. So without so much as flinching, I initiated a correspondence requesting an audience.

from: Peter Nichols <peternichols@alum.calarts.edu>
to: Matthew Bamberg-Johnson <studentcouncilpresident@alum.calarts.edu>, Jose Estrada <studentcounciltrustee@alum.calarts.edu>, Casey Jackson <studentcouncilvicepresident@alum.calarts.edu>
date: Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 11:52 AM
subject: hmmm

is there any way i could meet with you folks, collectively or individually, before this coming thursday?

last minute i know, but that’s my m.o.

– peter

from: Matthew Bamberg-Johnson <studentcouncilpresident@alum.calarts.edu>
to: Peter Nichols <peternichols@alum.calarts.edu>
date: Mon, Nov 12, 2012 at 11:53 AM
subject: Re: hmmm

Wanna drop in on our exec meeting tomorrow at 12? Sc office

A one-minute response time! Perhaps smart phones are a tool of conviviality, in the Illitch-ian sense, after all. Fearing that the proverbial Lockheed A-12 oxcart had been irreparably put before the symbolic horse, I set about organizing the intellect I’d hoped to present. I double clicked on the orange P of PowerPoint.

I looked at the actors gathered before me, no pun, no shit. They were thespians. Vassals of the stage or camera. And I’d just treated them to a stark electronic progression of the logic scaffolding divestment, [1] because they were also politicians. Frothing with naiveté, I trusted them to break with the traditions of too many student councils, too many “representative” democracies. I trusted them to, of their own volition, do anything with their positions. Anything more than write them on resumes and collect pay. They didn’t fail me. Yet they didn’t impress me either. They offered this succinct but poignant feedback: “Start a petition. Start using social media.”

I leaned back in the standard issue swivel chair and thought: 

An idea, or a belief, or a behavior is legitimated through consensus, which takes time to coagulate and never fully clots. It is triangulated by tension between a vantage point and two axes. First axis: how passionately the position is defended, embodied, and held. Second: how many individuals are interested in its perpetuation.

I leaned forward, confident in my conviction, and as my hands hit the keyboard I compelled them to accrue a motley horde of like-minded folks. First they logged into helping-friendly Facebook, where they created a group under the cliché contagion, “Calarts Divests to Impress,” and chartered it with this imperative:

Insist that CalArts:

Immediately Freeze New Fossil Fuel Investments.

Fully divest from fossil fuels within five years.[2]

Then my prehensile paws, still at my behest, danced ever so fluidly to signon.org and tapped the “Start a Petition Now” link.

Dear President Lavine, Vice President Matthewson, The CalArts Board of Trustees, and The CalArts Board of Overseers,

Climate change is accelerating. We are witnessing the increasing impacts of a warming planet more and more consistently; in this last year alone our country experienced record-breaking heat, droughts, and hurricanes, which impacted hundreds of thousands of people and cost our country hundreds of billions of dollars. Hurricane Sandy alone caused $50bn in damages. Experts agree that global warming caused by humans burning fossil fuels will continue to accelerate and intensify these tragic climate disasters. The scientific consensus is clear and overwhelming; we cannot safely burn even half of global fossil-fuel reserves without dangerously warming the planet for several thousand years.

As public pressure to confront climate change builds, we call on The California Institute of the Arts to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest within five years from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds. We believe such action on behalf of CalArts will not only be a sound decision for our institution’s financial portfolio, but also for the wellbeing of its current and future graduating classes, who deserve the opportunity to graduate with a future not defined by climate chaos.

For the good of our students and our nation, and to preserve the quality of life for this and future generations worldwide, we call upon you to join a growing movement of schools around the country that are committed to preventing a more extreme climate by moving The California Institute of the Arts endowment beyond fossil fuels.

Signed:

I cut the above appeal out from a piece of printer paper and taped it onto a larger sheet, 11 x 17. I stapled another sheet to that one. I rolled the result up. That created a scroll, a material manifestation of the e-petition, a unique and attractive object. Observing the nascent document, I noted how it begged for tactile intimacy. Like a precariously balanced rock or any firework fuse, the thing asked its audience to release its potential energy and then delight in its concussive and kinetic performance.

Beholden to the parchment’s power, I toted it to Joey Cannizero, a sinewy displaced Brooklynite, the person closest to where I’d been puttering. He held a cigarette between his right middle and index finger. I asked for his John Hancock. For him to break the adolescent document’s chastity with a significant stain. He moved the tobacco to his lips and squinted through the first-hand smoke, he made his mark.

 

To be continued…

 


[1] Redundancy is only ridiculed when subjected to absurdist standardization:

(1) Education is an investment in the future. (2) The combustion of fossil fuels is undermining the future. (3) If an academic institution is invested in fossil fuel stock, it is undermining the use, the worth, of the service that it claims to provide. (4) If an institution is jeopardizing its product, those invested in the institution ought to be outraged, because they, too, are being jeopardized. (5) The folks invested in an academic institution are: employees, students, donors. They ought to act to defend their investment, themselves. They ought to demand divestment in companies doing business in fossil fuels.

[2] Appropriately appropriated from the siblings at gofossilfree.org

Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.