Why was Barack Obama awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

To begin with, congratulations to Barack Obama on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. Obama received the award, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”And while there are some who feel the award may be premature, my belief is that this award is probably delivered at just the perfect time.

Is the award for things that Obama has already accomplished? Is it a recognition of Obama’s power to inspire people everywhere — coupled with his renewal of diplomacy as a means of moving the global conversation on peace forward? Or is there another agenda?

The Nobel committee many times awards the Peace Prize to people it believes can leverage the prize to further the agenda of peace — to add momentum, if you will, to efforts that are in-flight and may not have yet yielded dividends.

From the wikipedia entry on The Nobel Peace Prize:

However, others have pointed to the uniqueness of the Peace Prize in that its high profile can often focus world attention on particular problems and possibly aid in the peace-efforts themselves.

I believe it may be underestimated by many what impact this prize may have on the negotiations for peace that Obama will undertake in the coming years.

If this award allows him to be more effective in using diplomacy in the cause of peace over the next 3-7 years, then it will have a real and lasting impact — and I believe the committee is betting that will be the case.

I’m betting the same thing — for the sake of all who believe in the cause of peace.

In the 21st Century, What Does Freedom of Speech Mean?

The women below are exercising their constitutional right to Freedom of Speech — or are they?

These ladies — who won an international Bridge competition last month — put together their sign in response to questions they got from other teams in the tournament. Members of teams from other countries were questioning how the American government could justify its policies — the ladies just wanted everyone to know that they disagreed too.Well, the United States Bridge Federation disagrees and is now trying to punish them severely — including cutting off their ability to make a living as Professional Bridge players.

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

It’s been a long time since the founders of America put together the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

At the head of the Bill of Rights, they chose to put Freedom of Speech as the very first guaranteed right of all citizens. They had lived in a time when speaking out against the King of England was literally a crime punishable by death, so it’s no wonder they felt so strongly about it.

So now, in the 21st Century, have things changed?

With America at war in Iraq and Afghanistan — should people still be allowed to speak out freely? And at what point does criticism of the Government or of the President cross the line? Is there — or should there be — any line that can be crossed to make Freedom of Speech no longer a guaranteed right?

What do you think — should the United States Bridge Federation be able to punish them financially for their actions? And if so, what exactly does Freedom of Speech mean?

The Spooky Truth About the 2007 Energy Bill — And How You Can Make a Difference

The energy bill under debate currently has the possibility to make some major changes in this countries environmental policy.

What’s in the 2007 Energy Bill?

The standards that are set up by the bill for fuel efficiency and renewable electricity standards are sufficiently aggressive to make a big difference in out planet’s future. Some of the major elements include a call for 15% renewable electricity standard by 2020 which would guarantee the growth of renewable, clean energy and increase the number of jobs in this environmentally friendly sector of the economy.

What about Gas Mileage Standards?

Another key factor in the bill is the Senate proposed 35 mpg fuel efficiency standard (also by 2020) which several lobbyists including the Auto Alliance are trying to curtail. These groups want to modify the bill to demand only a standard of only 23mpg fuel efficiency by 2022. This may seem like a paltry change but over time the numbers add up.

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency’s Halloween Campaign

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency is sending a wake up call to Congress this Halloween in the shape of trick or treat bags filled with “spooky facts”. One of these facts is that the amount of barrels of oil saved per day under the auto lobby proposal will be 500,000 whereas the Senate’s fuel economy compromise will save 1.2 million. (Other “spooky facts” as well as pictures of the Congressional Halloween Outreach packets are available here: http://smnr.us/thespookytruth/).

What YOU Can Do

Sign the petition!

The real fact is that this bill has a chance if Congress just stands firm in favor of the environment against the pressures of outside forces. I believe that the American people are growing more aware of the problems of climate change, and limited natural resources everyday and this country’s environmental policy should reflect this.

We can all do a little to help by making sure our representatives know how we feel. The petition to support this energy bill is available at: http://www.energybill2007.org. Please take a moment to help these standards get passed before enjoying the rest of your Halloween!

Dani Sevilla is a student activist working with a coalition to ensure that the 2007 energy bill represents a real change for the better in this country’s environmental future.

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What is Government’s Role?

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A sign stating it is law to not allow your car motor to idle while stopped

This sign is from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia and it’s purpose is to inform motorists that letting their cars idle is against the law and punishable by a fine of $50 to $100.

Vancouver’s “Motor Vehicle Noise and Emission Abatement By-Law No. 9344″ [PDF] went into effect in Spring of this year after being adopted in July, 2006.

Here are some details:

“2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.

The website Trans-Talk has details on how it’s been going, along with some good reference information other towns in Canada (and even some in the US) that have similar laws.

What do you think? Should we push to change our laws to force behaviors that are good for the environment? Or should government stay off our backs and allow people to do what they want?

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The Outsized Power of Young People to Change The World

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It surprises me how many people believe that their individual actions make no difference to the world.

In a recent poll on this site, 45% felt that their personal actions “make no difference” with respect to Global Warming. (Of course, many of those responses were from Digg readers, who don’t represent the average reader on this site.)

I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I believe exactly the opposite to be true: Individuals can change the world, and for us to change the course that society is on it will be individuals that will have to lead the changes.

Corporations and Governments are going to change the world — that’s something that us individuals are going to have to do. Governments follow the lead of the people who fund elections, and corporations are focussed on making sure they continue to have short term profits. It’s only individual people who have the ability to change the world when it comes to environmental issues.

I also believe that young people have a dramatically outsized ability to change the world. Here are some examples:

1. Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King was only 24 years old when he became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Two years later when the black woman Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus, King became spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. During the boycott he was arrested and his house was bombed, but he refused to quit — even though he had a young wife and child who, along with him, received constant death threats.

King was the youngest man to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize when he received it in 1964. His “I have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., is widely recognized as one of greatest American speeches of the 20th Century.

2. Bill Gates

Bill Gates was only 19 years old when he read in Popular Electronics about a new ‘personal’ computer that had been designed. He decided, along with his friend Paul Allen, to write software for it. They contacted the maker of the new machine and, within a year, he had taken a leave of absence from Harvard Colege and ‘Micro-soft’ had been founded.

The company they founded changed personal computing and the way people used computers forever. Today, Microsoft products are used worldwide and Bill Gates has become one of the richest people in the history of the world.

3. Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was 26 years old in 1905 when, while working in the patent office as an ‘Assistant Examiner’ when he wrote and got published 4 papers on Physics. Among these papers were groundbreaking ideas on “The Photoelectric Effect”, a important discovery in Physics at that time.

In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work — with special mention of his early work on the photoelectric effect. In 1999 Einstein was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Century“. A poll of prominent physicists named him the greatest physicist of all time.

Einstein also made important contributions in other areas. His early warnings to US President Franklin Roosevelt regarding the potential for Germany to develop a Nuclear Bomb helped to spur the Manhattan Project. He was an ardent supporter of peace and spoke out for it throughout his life — he once was quoted as saying, “I am not only a pacifist but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace. Nothing will end war unless the people themselves refuse to go to war.

4. Rebecca Hoskings

Rebecca Hoskings was 31 years old when she traveled to Hawaii to film a documentary on its people and wildlife. But when she witnessed thousands of albatross chicks dying as a direct result of discarded plastics, she was both hurt and mad — and made a decision to make a difference.

Plastic grocery bags were a major culprit — the adult albatrosses saw plastic bags in the water and thought they were squid, so they scooped them up and fed them to the chicks. The chicks stomachs would then be filled with undigestible plastic which would eventually kill them.

So she organized a drive to ban plastic grocery bags in her home town of Modbury in the UK. Her efforts were successful and as of May 1, 2007 non-biodegradable plastic grocery bags are officially banned in her town. Moreover, publicity from this effort has made its way around the world and now many other cities are considering similar bans.

5. Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi was just 24 years old when he moved to South Africa for a 1 year job in South Africa. While there, he witnessed first-hand the discrimination and violence against Indians that was occurring in South Africa at that time. At the end of his 1 year job, he decided to stay on and help organize the fight against a law that was being passed to deprive Indians the right to vote.

A year later he founded the Natal Indian Congress to help organize Indians in South Africa as a political force. He continued to work for the rights of Indians in South Africa for 10 more years, during which time he developed his approach for non-violent demonstration. Eventually, Gandhi’s movement was successful and forced authorities to recognize the rights of Indians in that country.

The organizing skills and approaches developed by Gandhi during this time in his life helped him later when he used the same approaches to work for Independence in India itself. Today he is known as Father of the Nation in India and is recognized around the world as one of the great leaders of the 20th century.

6. Marie Curie

Marie Curie was in her late 20s when she and her husband Pierre began their groundbreaking research into radioactivity. When she was 30, they published a paper announcing the existence of Polonium, a new element. Later that year, they announced their discovery of Radium, another new element. In 1903, at the age of 35 she received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the work she had done in her late 20′s and early 30′s on radioactivity.

Marie also had to overcome discrimination against her for being a woman. Despite graduating first in her high school class, she was initially denied entrance to college because she was female. Despite this, she eventually found her way into the University of Paris where she again graduated first in her class (and later became the first female professor at that university). In 1902 she became the first woman in France to earn a Doctorate degree.

Marie Curie later earned the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, making her the only person to have ever won a Nobel Prize in more than one scientific discipline.

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5 Critical Resources for Understanding ‘Corporate Personhood’

Corporations in America are recognized by the government as having many of the same rights as people. They are actually considered ‘people’ for legal purposes in many situations.

Corporations claiming ‘freedom of speech’ are among the largest funders of elections and campaign advertising in America. And, as a result, they influence politicians to put corporate power ahead of the needs of citizens.

This article has a list of resources at it’s end — but let’s start by understanding how bad things have gotten.

To begin with, fear of corporations taking over America’s government has been with us from early in America’s history…

“Unless you become more watchful in your States and check this spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges, you will in the end find that the most important powers of Government have been given or bartered away, and the control of your dearest interests have been passed into the hands of these corporations.”

– Andrew Jackson, farewell address, 04 March 1837

How bad has it gotten? Well, the current US Government has pushed corporate power to new levels.

Today, corporate or business interests are the main funders of elections, the main controllers of the media, the most dominant forces over our governments … (and) the fastest commercializers of governmental functions, including military services…

– Ralph Nader in a letter to President GW Bush, April 29, 2004

It’s gotten much worse recently. Corporations exert power over almost every area of life.

The goal of the corporation is to maximize the profit of their shareholders. That’s it. If the value of a rain forest can be maximized by turning it into paper napkins, that will be the goal of a corporation.

“The belief is common in America that the day is at hand when corporations… after having created a system of quiet but irresistible corruption – will ultimately succeed in directing government itself. Under the American form of society, there is no authority capable of effective resistance…”

– Henry Adams, 1870

Can they be stopped?

No — they can’t be under current law. The laws today give them the right to worry only about themselves and to directly lobby government and support candidates that will help them in their quest to put profits first.

These corporations and their trade associations are relentlessly obtaining from governments more and more privileges and immunities which as “artificial persons” are severely tilting the balance of power and wealth against real people.

– Ralph Nader in a letter to President GW Bush, April 29, 2004

In an essay on the New Values of the 21st Century, we argued that a core value of society should be: “People are more important than Corporations”.

Abraham Lincoln, the great US President, kept this country together during a civil war — but worried afterwards that the corporations that profited from the war could pose an even bigger threat:

“As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

– US President Abraham Lincoln, 1864

Here are 5 Resources to inform you on this issue. Armed with that knowledge, we can inform others and work to establish this as one of the core values of the 21st Century Citizen.

1. The award-winning documentary movie, The Corporation.

2. Thom Hartmann’s great book on the subject, Unqual Protection [amazon link here].

3. An interview with Thom Hartmann where he discusses the subject of corporate personhood.

4. Here’s a great article from truthout.org, The Supremacy of the Super-Citizen.

5. This article on Alternet describing how the citizens of Humboldt County passed their law against ‘corporate personhood’.

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New Study: 87% of Americans “seriously concerned about the environment”

Consumers are ready for a change?

A new study was released today that revealed some interesting trends among Americans.

According to the study, 87% — or “the vast majority” — of Americans are now “seriously concerned about the environment“.

This demonstrates what many of us in the ‘green blogosphere’ have known for a while — that there are radical changes underway right now in how Americans look at the Environment and Environmental Issues. According to the study:

The top five environmental issues weighing heaviest on America’s minds are water pollution and rainforest destruction (56%), diminishing fresh water supply (55%), fuel and energy shortages (54%) and man-made outdoor air pollution (53%). Asked who should take the lead in addressing these and other environmental issues, half of consumers (50%) rank the federal government first and 62% believe current legislation does not do enough to positively impact the environment.

Regular readers will probably remember that we’ve discussed the role of government in changing people’s behaviors before — here and here.

The role of government has been one of the most contentious issues we’ve discussed on this blog, and now we find, according to this survey, that most Americans believe that the government should take the primary role in managing our transition to a more sustainable future.

This, of course, leaves me little doubt that the process will be horribly mismanaged, do too little and arrive too late — unless individual citizens step up and lead/force the government to respond. And according to this survey, we Americans may be getting ready to do just that.

In a classic bit of consumer modeling, the study also classified Americans into different groups based on their beliefs and gave each group a catchy name — for example, “true blue greens” (30% or those surveyed) seem to be those people who are actually changing their habits, while about 18% are “apathetics”, or people who really don’t care.

Interestingly, “apathetics” as a group get most of their information on environmental issues from television. (For this reason, I’ve considered writing and asking them to rename this group using the more accurate term, “Fox News Viewers”.)

But there was one piece of news that I felt was very positive — that more people would change if they only knew how:

Lack of Education Hinders Many from Going Green

Though the American mindset has shifted to become more environmentally-conscious, half of consumers say they “do not have the information to be personally involved in increasing their green behavior” and “aren’t sure which products and packaging materials are recyclable.” Nearly half (49%) also state they would do more for the environment if they only knew how.

America in many ways is a sleeping giant. Once awoken, it can work miracles. Let’s hope this study is an indication that that’s what’s happening now.

Links from Readers


Sometimes readers send me links. I think it’s great because I get to know what interests people. Here are some recent ones:

Our twitter follower bythebayou @replied me a link to Co-op America. They look interesting — I like that they encourage people to take action.

Another twitter follower monkchips, sent this link on saving energy by turning computers off at night! He recently learned that in Japan, insurance companies offer lower rates to companies that turn their servers off in the evening, since the believe it lowers the risk of fires. He describes it as “a commitment to not 24/7, not follow the Sun, not have uptime for its own sake.”

Finally, regular reader jhimm e-mailed me a link to a rant of his on some current Chicago news — the recent proposals to add a 10 – 25 cent tax to all bottled water sales. Let’s just say jhimm is a bit upset by the news. We’ve been discussing the role of government (see here and here) in changing people’s behaviors, so thanks jhimm for adding to the conversation.

If you run across something that’s big news where you are or that you think we should be covering, let us know through a comment on the site or send us an e-mail at ’21c AT 21st-century-citizen.com’.

The Role of Government, Part II

In an earlier post, we asked the question “What is Government’s role?” when it comes to forcing the behavior changes that will be required to get people to conserve resources. The discussion threads on that post debated whether government should reward good behavior, or punish poor behavior.

As a follow up, I thought it would be interesting to explore examples of government working to encourage good behavior. (I’m sure we’ll get to examples of government punishing bad behavior as well.)

To begin with, here’s an example of what seems to me to be a great example of government working to encourage industry in a positive way.

In Singapore, the government put out a Challenge Call to industry to submit “breakthrough / disruptive technologies” in the area of Seawater Desalination.

One of the major impacts from global climate change is its expected impact on water supplies around the world. The blog A New Green Earth has been documenting how these issues are already impacting certain areas of Australia. The government in Singapore has has challenged industry to respond with proposals, and it’s offering real money to those with the best ideas.

Challenge Call For Innovative Technologies In The Domain Of Seawater Desalination

The Environment and Water Industry Development Council (EWI), under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Singapore, was set up to spearhead the growth of the environmental and water industry in Singapore. With the support of agencies like the Economic Development Board (EDB) and the PUB, EWI is committed to invest in research & development in the areas of environment and water.

EWI is now calling for PRELIMINARY research proposals with breakthrough / disruptive technologies to meet the following challenges:

* Production of drinking water that meets World Health Organisation (WHO) Drinking Water Guidelines
* Total energy consumption of 1.5 kWh/cu.m or less

Closing Date: 2 November 2007 (noon, 1200h, Singapore Time)

Note: This is a live challenge. It will be interesting to see what the results are.

Another example of the government encouraging good behavior was the recently completed Federal Electronics Challenge. This challenge gave awards recognizing government agencies which helped “improve its sustainable practices when purchasing, managing and disposing of their electronics assets”.

Finally, let’s look at how government can work to directly impact the behavior of individuals. Here’s a good example of two ways to approach a problem.

The City of San Diego, California has a problem sourcing water for its citizens. It responded by issuing a challenge to them to reduce their water use. They asked San Diegans to reduce their water consumption by 20 gallons per day and provided information to help them do so.

Now compare this to the situation in Australia where the government is sending letters to individuals who are using too much water and threatening fines if they don’t change their behaviors.

What do you make of these issues/approaches? How much should government get involved?

What is Government’s Role?

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A sign stating it is law to not allow your car motor to idle while stopped

This sign is from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia and it’s purpose is to inform motorists that letting their cars idle is against the law and punishable by a fine of $50 to $100.

Vancouver’s “Motor Vehicle Noise and Emission Abatement By-Law No. 9344″ [PDF] went into effect in Spring of this year after being adopted in July, 2006.

Here are some details:

“2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.

The website Trans-Talk has details on how it’s been going, along with some good reference information other towns in Canada (and even some in the US) that have similar laws.

What do you think? Should we push to change our laws to force behaviors that are good for the environment? Or should government stay off our backs and allow people to do what they want?

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