This is the twelfth installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, A Unique and Attractive Object.
Looking at the petition scroll, I felt proud. Fatherly. I thought of inertia. Of friction. Of lubrication. I recalled the Pinewood Derby competitions of my Boy Scout-uniformed youth. And like a meticulous D.I.Y. mechanic, I meditated on all the potential weaknesses and as-yet-undeployed strengths in my gadget. I experimented. I did research.
I toted the tubular document to public places with plenty of pedestrian traffic on the CalArts campus. After laying it out on a table, what ensued became a study in the behavioral inclinations of art students.
“Can I talk to you about this?”
Didn’t work, too imposing.
Silence and reading.
Didn’t work, too passive.
“May I share this with you?”
Ding, Ding, Ding!
A delicious recipe for success. An invitation, but an open one. It intrinsically communicated that it had something to offer, yet accommodated those who couldn’t fit any other stimuli into their rat race. The efficacy of the tactic was evidenced by the large population that lent it legitimacy with their appreciative smiles, which contrasted starkly with the endless stream of frowns I once watched flood over a Greenpeace canvasser in Portland.
“May I share this with you?”
“This is a petition. CalArts is currently invested in fossil fuel corporations ranging from Gazprom to B.P. Those companies and others like them are behaving in a reprehensible manner. They are making it increasingly difficult to live on the surface of the earth. This petition calls for 1) the immediate freezing of all new investments in fossil fuels and 2) full divestment within five years.” Breath. Eye contact.
“It is a part of a movement at over __ different schools across America. So far two schools have committed, without caveat, to divestment: Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, and Unity College in Maine. At Harvard, 72% of students have voted to divest. When that institution sold its South African Apartheid-stained stock, only 52% of their student body supported that action. So hopefully they follow suit.” Breath. Eye contact. Smile. The perfect sound-bite-sized introduction.
“Do you have any questions?” Smile. I’d found it was best to ask an audience for questions as soon as possible. It’s easier to maintain a constituency when they feel their interests are being directly catered too, duh.
Socrates would have been proud: my ignorances, my flaws were very apparent. They were rendered in High Definition. But unlike Socrates or his students, I was armed with the internet, an anomalous repository of stimulus doused in the fragrance of legitimacy. So when asked to wax wise on a subject I’d little to no familiarity with, I’d admit my amateur ineptitude. I’d apologize. And then I’d run, penitent, to the oracular Google.
That grossly profitable prophet proved rife with either hyperbolic prose or hysterical harbingers of pending doom…
“If this sounds apocalyptic, it is.”—James Hansen, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in an op-ed appearing in the May 9th, 2012 New York Times titled Game Over for the Climate.
“There’s no longer any room for doubt or for wishful thinking about the future.”—Bill McKibben in an op-ed appearing in the November 9th, 2012 LA Times, titled Cut the Power of Fossil Fuel.
“The celebration is officially over… There will only be worse times.”—David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, in a post-election editorial appearing on November 19th, 2012, titled No More Magical Thinking.
But the web also proved a treasure trove of seemingly stable statistics. Statistics that I slowly started to ingest. Statistics I attempted to regurgitate whenever skepticism, like the hunger of baby birds, begged smothering.
Did you know that for every dollar the fossil fuel industry spends lobbying our government they receive fifty-nine dollars, in the form of subsidies, in return? That fraction has been simplified so as to augment its intelligibility. How mind-boggling do you think the un-simplified version is?
Do you trust your government to bite the hand that is feeding it, even if that hand is crushing you?
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.