Continuing the Green Revolution
The Green Party of Knox County
December 9, 2016
The Fire Next Time
Although wildfires are a natural occurrence, the drought that seized the Southern US this fall has been anything but normal. According to the National Drought Mitigation Center[i] over 13% of the area of Tennessee was under "exceptional drought" conditions when deadly wildfire swept through Gatlinburg last Monday. (More than 60% of the state was under extreme drought conditions, and more than 99% of the state was under severe drought conditions.) Thirteen people so far have been confirmed dead in the Gatlinburg wildfire, and families and friends are still awaiting news of missing loved-ones. More than 1400 homes or businesses were damaged or destroyed.[ii]
As citizens grieve and officials rush to assign blame for the horrific outcome of the wildfire, it is important to understand the connections between the 2016 drought, the Tennessee wildfires, and climate change if we are to affect a better outcome in the future.
2016 is already proving to be the hottest year on record globally, having surpassed 2015, the previous record-holder.[iii] High temperatures combined with low precipitation have combined to create abnormally dry conditions across nearly half of the US. The Union of Concerned Scientists explains that the frequency and intensity of wildfires are determined by multiple factors including land-use patterns. However, since areas which are relatively protected from these land-use factors are also experiencing increased wildfire activity, it is safe to conclude that climate change is a major contributor.[iv] The fact that much of the properties lost in the Gatlinburg fire were ridge-top development only made a dangerous situation even worse. (See the USDA's 2013 report, Wildfire, Wildlands, and People: Understanding and Preparing for Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface for more on this topic.)[v]
WATER IS LIFE
It is anyone's guess how long or how far the deadly wildfire might have burned had it not been for the rains which thankfully came and quenched the flames. It is hard to deny the aphorism we have heard so many times from the Water Protectors in North Dakota, "Mni Wiconi, Water is Life!"
This week, the Standing Rock Water Protectors brace themselves for imminent eviction from their encampment on the banks of the Missouri River. These non-violent Water Protectors are the only thing standing in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline which threatens both the waters of the Missouri and the Ogallala Aquifer. Water Protectors have been maced, shot with rubber bullets, attacked with dogs and water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures, horses have been killed, and one woman stands to lose her arm after police threw a concussion grenade at her.
The Standing Rock Sioux and the victims of the Gatlinburg fire are both casualties of a failed energy policy that places the profits of corporations above the welfare of the people and only serves to prolong our national addiction to fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry is deadly for people and the environment at every stage of the process from extraction to distribution to disposal. (See the Story of Stuff project for more on the lifecycle of material goods.)[vi]
History has shown that toxic pollution and state-sponsored violence are a constant reality wherever there are extractive fossil fuel industries. Intensifying extreme weather patterns are the long-term outcome of these extractive industries which accelerate global warming and the redistribution of water throughout the atmosphere.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a massive redistribution of the earth's fresh water resources as a result of rising global temperatures.[vii] More intense storms, droughts, floods, and sadly loss-of-life will become the norm, if we cannot collectively kick our addiction to fossil fuels.
Yet, Tennessee law-makers continue to deny the reality of climate change, choosing instead to base public policies on shareholder profits.[viii] Please contact your elected officials and tell them you stand with the people of Standing Rock against the fossil fuel oligarchy. Tell them that we will not sit by and watch while our beloved mountains burn![ix] As the poet and activist, John Trudell, once wrote, "In the society of illusion, reality must manifest itself."
Grassroots Democracy: Election Recount
What insures the integrity of our voting system? We the people do. It is in our hands. Thousands of Americans have given money to Jill Stein's effort to audit the voting system in several states. So far the recount efforts have shown that the systems in place are fallible. The first county in the Wisconsin recount showed that Jill Stein's and Gary Johnson's vote totals increased and that votes for Darrel Castle had been distributed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Michigan recount is showing a very large number of precincts are ineligible for a recount because the precinct poll books do not match the voting machine results possible due to votes being tallied more than once. These ongoing issues with our voting systems show that every state needs to be auditing election results. The numbers do not add up. Our Democracy depends on a fair and accurate accounting of the will of the people. We must ensure improvements are made and reforms put in place.
Instant Runoff Voting: Is Knoxville Ready
The state of Maine passed a requirement that state and federal elections require a majority vote winner instead of first past the post winner system via a ranked choice vote. What this means is that you the voter can rank candidates by your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, choice etc. If your first choice ranks last then your second choice gets your vote if no candidate receives above 50 percent of the vote. Currently, Knoxville city council and mayor race require a majority vote to win these elected positions; however, if a candidate doesn't achieve above 50 percent of the vote then there is a runoff election. Instant Runoff Voting would allow for the race to be decided in just one election by allowing a ranked choice preference. Having one election which produced a majority winner would save the taxpayer money and citizens time and effort. The one drawback is the current city council voting system has a primary district vote then a system wide vote. A city council candidate could win their district with a majority vote and still lose in the city wide election. The Green Party is advocating an Instant Runoff Voting election system that doesn't require a city wide election for city council district races. If you are interested in working on this issue please come to our next meeting or comment on our facebook page.