Special Panel: Making Sense of the 2016 Presidential Election

Ken Hiltner

Recorded on November 9th, the day after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, event co-organizer Ken Hiltner invites all conference participants to take part in an open discussion of what the election of Donald J. Trump means not just for us today, but also for the world in 2050.



Scroll down for talk transcript.


0:00 So, during this Nov. 2016 conference,
0:06 which takes as its theme The World in
0:09 2050, something altogether extraordinary,
0:12 almost unthinkable happened. And that is
0:15 that the world in 2050 changed,
0:17 significantly – and not I fear for the
0:21 better. I know, I am making it sound like
0:25 something out of a sci-fi, or more to the
0:27 point, a cli-fi novel where some event,
0:32 so epically important, that it forever
0:35 changed the timeline so that
0:38 decades later millions, maybe
0:41 billions, of people will be effected.
0:43 But I have to say that I believe that the
0:47 election yesterday of Donald J Trump, the
0:51 2016, November 8th election election of
0:55 Trump, may well be one of the most
0:58 significant events in the early part of the
1:00 twenty-first century. I not really sure
1:03 what would compete with it, maybe
1:05 something like the very
1:07 important agreement coming out of the
1:09 COP21 in December of last year. I
1:13 think that these two events may well be
1:16 forever yoked together in history.
1:20 It’s not just because of what Trump
1:23 may do. For example, regarding the
1:27 COP21, he may renegotiate that agreement.
1:30 But it’s also what he might undo:
1:34 Fifty years of environmental activism &
1:36 legislation, starting in the 1960s and
1:40 ’70s with the Clean Air Act, Clean Water
1:42 Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act, the EPA,
1:46 leading up to and including things
1:51 like the Obama Clean Power Plan, which
1:53 Trump may very early in his
1:55 administration completely rescind.
1:58 It is unclear exactly what will happen,
2:02 but it seems clear that it will
2:07 effect generations out from
2:10 where we are now. So, the organizers of
2:14 this conference, John and I and everyone
2:16 else involved, wanted to take the
2:20 opportunity to give everyone who
2:23 is participating in the conference
2:25 the opportunity to weigh in on this.
2:27 You know, there are some wonderful
2:29 panels going on, some exciting Q&As, and
2:32 I really don’t want to take any
2:33 attention away from those. But,
2:36 given the timing of this event, I thought
2:39 that it would be important
2:44 for us to clear a space for discussion.
2:46 So, that space is below the video you’re
2:50 watching. Feel free to to comment. It
2:53 would be great to get a discussion
2:55 going in order to try to make sense of
2:59 what, for a lot of us, doesn’t make a
3:01 whole lot of sense – and has kind of
3:03 stunned us. So, I will not make you listen
3:07 to me any further, but do please
3:10 comment and let’s try to to think about
3:14 this together. Okay, thanks.

Note that to the right of the video is an unabridged transcript for this talk (scroll down to view).

Q & A

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59 replies
  1. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Hi, Ken, I am not a specialist in US Politics (though, as you know I teach US literature here, in my country, Argentina), but I do want to point out a few ideas about this election.

    That when the US elects a president…, as power is distributed in the world, people who cannot vote, like Latin Americans, are directly affected by the election… and pay a lot of attention to what happens. This attention is also felt as a moment in which something is happening that you cannot change and yet it will be important for your life and your country’s life.

    That the voting system in the States is… no good. But to have what we have (up to now, we have elected our own kind of Trump here last year and he is office now… so…), again but to have what we have (a better system, where vote is obligatory for all, the enrollment is automatic, done by the State and you have to vote and feel like you do so 80 per cent and more of the people vote always, you have to justify why you did not go if you dont and voting is always on Sundays) does not mean that Trumps are not elected. We have proved that absolutely when we elected this president, Mauricio Macri.

    That, the idea for me would be to try and think of a way in which if a president undoes (as you said) things that the majority of the population were satisfied with, the population had a saying on this. And this includes ecology problems.

    That, in the end, this election has to be related not only to people who are white supremacists, or to the far right of the political sprectum but also so the feeling by part of the people that what the US meant for them is not there anymore. Today, in Pagina 12, in Argentina, they translated the note by Michael Moore where he says why he believes Trump will win.

    Thank you for the opportunity to listen to you and others on this subject.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Márgara,

      Such a great point about “people who cannot vote, like Latin Americans,” in U.S. elections, but who are nonetheless profoundly effected by U.S. policy. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be.

      At the risk of stating the obvious, the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million in Shakespeare’s time to just over 400 parts today was principally caused by the Global North and its policies. Nonetheless, the impact of anthropogenic climate change will be acutely felt in the Global South. As the U.S. was a principal cause of the problem – and benefited enormously by the fossil-fuel economy – it is past time for it to take a leadership role.

      How horrific that at this very moment the American public elected Donald J Trump as their president.


      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        Exactly… and the key of the question is that he denies global warming and wants the value to be money, only that and individualism. Anyway, being a Latin American myself, one can also ponder about the way in which cinema and TV shows, essentially (meaning cultural products) have sold (let us say) the “American way of life” in a very, very simplified form to our countries. We are different still but there is a parallel between the loss of bio diversity and the loss of cultural diversity in the world. In my times (well, these are still my times but I am 59 already), we could not understand the “winner-loser” logic and the fact that “loser” was an insult… Now my kids understand very well…, and that only as an example. So there is a role for cultural products (and art, of course) here.. A role in resistance, I mean. If they can “sell” one thing, they can also convince of the opposite one. Hopefully.

  2. Miriam Tola, Independent Researcher says:

    Hi Ken and all,

    Thanks for creating this space for a collective reflection on the planetary consequences of Trump’s elections.

    As a way to get the ball rolling and add to Margara’s comments, I’m copying excepts from Trump’s plan for his first 100 days in office that are particularly relevant for our discussion (from NPR: ) .

    * FIFTH, I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.

    * SIXTH, lift the Obama-Clinton roadblocks and allow vital energy infrastructure projects, like the Keystone Pipeline, to move forward

    * SEVENTH, cancel billions in payments to U.N. climate change programs and use the money to fix America’s water and environmental infrastructure

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Miriam,

      So very, very saddening, but a fascinating insight into Trump’s thinking. By freeing up an astonishing $50 trillion worth of capital (i.e. the fossil fuels that we now know need to stay in the ground), Trump envisions an economic bonanza, the likes of which we may have never seen before, as all restrictions to these resources are swept away. Of course, this is at a time when we should perhaps be pondering how we should bring about economic de-growth…

      Although the focus of this conference is on climate change, as the NPR article notes, the rest of Trump’s plan is similarly disturbing. For example, he notes that on his first day in office, as one of five actions designed to “restore security and the constitutional rule of law,” he will “begin removing the more than 2 million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.”

      I happen to be very proud of the fact that UCSB has been named a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities, which means that Hispanic enrollment constitutes a minimum of 25 percent of the campus total. Walking across campus yesterday, the mood was very somber, as our students are deeply frightened for their friends and families.


  3. Sophie Christman Lavin, SUNY Stony Brook says:

    Hi Ken and all,
    Thanks for jumping on this important development. There was an excellent article in the NYTimes yesterday concerning Trump’s positions on climate change ( The article by Coral Davenport (with Jon Weisman) notes that a Trump administration will obviously weaken the new climate change regulations. Although the US is legally bound to the Paris Agreement for four years, there are few sanctions if the US doesn’t hold up its agreement. There are legal challenges in 28 states now on EPA policies that will work up to Supreme Court. If Trump appoints a industry-friendly Supreme Court Justice, it may significantly weaken existing EPA rules on emissions.

    He has already appointed climate deniers to his transition team Myron Ebell of CEI and energy lobbyist Mike McKenna. The question is now: how can we in the US turn this train around NOW? Like one of the keynotes mentioned, academics, climate change orgs and the green industry have to mobilize and intervene NOW to stop the impending reversal of current EPA policies.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Sophie,

      Many thanks for this info.

      I am not sure that we have gone through enough of the stages of grief to address the central question that you raise, but better we do so sooner rather than later: What can we do “to mobilize and intervene NOW?”

      Here are two random thoughts, both focusing on the idea that one of our primary jobs now needs to be educating our students on the issues and what is happening in this country.

      1) We need to create new and retool existing courses to bring these issues into the classroom. Last Winter I started teaching an Eng dept course on “The Rhetoric of Climate Change” designed to help students understand how denial literature works and why it is surprisingly effective. As you may know, a NCSE survey came out in February (while I was teaching the course, it happens) that revealed that in America’s public schools “at least one in three teachers bring climate change denial into the classroom, claiming that many scientists believe climate change is not caused by humans” (source). We need to take seriously the job of counteracting this rhetoric. Although I am by training in part a Renaissance poetry specialist, it occurs to me that every one of my courses now needs to have a significant environmental/climate change component.

      2) We need more campus events that broach the issues of climate change, environmental legislation – and, perhaps most important of all, what Trump is doing and undoing during his term. Conferences like this one are obviously useful and important, but those of us here are card-carrying members of the choir. We need to gear more events toward students. Film screenings are a great place to start. Leonardo DiCaprio’s recent Before the Flood and Andrew Morgan’s The True Cost both had my students riveted.

      I would very much appreciate hearing what other folks have to say on the subject!


      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        One thing I do here in Argentina when I teach (last class before summer next Monday) is I always take to the class newspaper articles which have to do with the general subject matter I have chosen for the syllabus that year. Here we change the courses every two years (minimum) so I have taught US Literatures on Slavery, Racism, and the last one is on Ecological crisis. (Next, probably on money, which is to say I continue with the same, I imagine). So I take these newspaper articles, tell the students what they are about and we discuss them in relation to the books we are reading. When I ask for their evaluation (anonymous of course) at the end the year, one thing they say is that they appreaciate this connection literature-world, literature-today everyday life and debate points. We have been talking all the semester on climate change and ecological crisis and they have seen that the subject matter is pressing and it is present in certain papers almost every week…

    • todd.vachon says:

      For folks that are in the U.S., I think it is going to require a massive mobilization, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. The “inside game” of influencing politics to protect the climate has just been shut off at the national level. It’s not just Trump, but all branches of the federal government are prepared to unfold a fossil fuel fiasco. Those of us who live in “blue states” can continue to work through institutional political channels at the state and local level, but if we are going to slow or prevent catastrophic climate change we are also going to have to engage in direct action. the government is going to shirk it’s responsibility to protect the commons and thus it is up to us to do so ourselves. Progressive political organizations need now more than ever to come out of their silos and join together for our collective survival–labor activists, environmentalists, civil rights groups, etc. Look to the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock for inspiration and a glimpse into the future of climate change politics in America…

  4. Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

    Here are the four rules to a fulfilled, spiritual life, from the book, “The Imitation of Christ”:

    1. Always seek to have less rather than more.
    2. Always seek to be last rather than first.
    3. Always seek to do the will of another rather than your own.
    4. Always seek to accept what happens as the will of God.

    Donald Trump is shining a mirror in the face of all humanity that we embrace a socioeconomic system where we are rewarded if we do the exact opposite in all four of these rules. Hence, climate change. Hence, environmental destruction. Hence, biodiversity loss. Hence, rampant desertification. Hence sexism, racism, homophobia, speciesism.

    President-elect Trump is forcing us to learn quickly that the current, endless growth-oriented socioeconomic system based on mindless consumption and competition cannot solve our problems, no matter how many clever tax tweaks we apply to it. To quote the author, Dan Millman, “The secret of change is to focus all of our energies, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

    Let’s get to work and good luck to us all!

  5. Pallav Das, Kalpavriksh says:

    Hi Ken,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reflection on the recent elections and for creating this space for further expression and exchange of ideas on what they could possibly portend for the coming days. While I do feel the gravity and the exigency associated with the entry of a climate denier and a proto-fascist to boot into the White House, I’m not quite sure if I would be feeling any noteworthy elation if his opponent had won the election on the other hand. The disappointments, betrayals, false promises, limp interventions and the utter disregard for climate emergency and its dreadful impact on the disempowered people worldwide on part of the Obama/Clinton regime are quite raw for me to have developed any longing for Ms. Clinton and her odious chicanery. In a way, however, the bate and switch and the power play on behalf of the global elite by the outgoing administration has prepared us well for the bitter struggle that lies ahead in the coming months. Moreover, we have no illusions to distract us anymore. While I live here, in Washington D.C, having grown up I India I can’t quite resist the temptation of buttressing my point with a bit of poetry, which is the preferred cultural norm in that part of the world. A couplet from Aatish, a nineteenth century poet summarizes my feelings quite aptly:

    From my friends I’ve received such blows on my heart,
    That I haven’t yet focused on the regret I had for the malice of my enemies.

    Our experience of the last three decades in which climate change has reached an alarming juncture should make us stay clear of false choices. Trump is a disaster. Clinton would have been a disaster, too. The frozen narrative, which is actively endorsed and severely fostered by the power elite is that there is no viable alternative to the neo-liberal political economy which governs people’s lives and any attempt at installing a substitute structure would only lead to widespread societal chaos and misery. Despite the heavy artillery employed to push that narrative on our minds, people’s struggle for environmental and economic justice has gathered impressive and sustainable momentum all around us. Movements have emerged organically from within specific ideological and experiential locations and spread to other spheres of resistance over time, even if they’ve ebbed at the original point. In the United States, for instance, it could be said that there’s a continuum which surfaced with the anti-globalization movement in the late 90s, and then embraced the anti-war, climate justice, anti-racism, occupy Wall Street, anti-fracking and students divestment movements at different times in recent history. In fact, interestingly, its reach was evident in the Bernie Sanders campaign, given its focus on economic inequality, climate change and universal access to health and education during the primaries.

    The Sanders’ campaign emphasized its larger ideological impulse of pursuing a “political revolution” through the creation of a people’s movement, looking beyond the immediacy of that electoral tussle. In a way, it was a sociologically compelling development where the constituents of previous or ongoing progressive movements had converged to join a specific electoral effort with the aspiration of emerging from that experience as a larger and sturdier political movement with a well enunciated economic, environmental and social agenda. We need to figure out if the offshoots and spinoffs of that effort could be a point of ideological and activist convergence for organizing the impetus for resistance. It would be criminal to let that excitement abate or become apathetic. It is a genuine opportunity to craft a progressive alternative in America. We need to forge a unified approach towards addressing climate change, environmental justice and the related and overarching issue of institutionalization of socio-economic inequality in society, by bringing together progressive organizations, movements representing robust forms of resistance to the current structures of exploitation of people and nature, and explorations in search of cogent alternatives to the system facilitating and promoting that eventuality. In my view, the four fundamental aspects of our forthcoming struggle are:

    • Movements – Aligning and integrating environmental justice movements with the larger currents of socio-political struggle through cross-fertilization of ideological imperatives, coordination of strategic and tactical planning and synchronization of activist programs, initiatives and organization.

    • Alternatives – Creating a platform for establishing, organizing, advocating, researching, documenting and synthesizing alternative practices and thinking on alternative economic, social and political ways of being which are environmentally sustainable and economically egalitarian.

    • Communication – Establishing channels of subversive and insurgent message creation and dissemination, which challenge global capital and the corporate media by formulating a credible and accessible alternative narrative to project a vision of an alternative future on people’s minds.

    • Solidarity – Promoting avenues of synergy and cooperation between movement activists, practitioners of alternatives, and communicators, both, nationally and internationally.

    I am convinced that the results of the recent elections are a great opportunity for the genuine left and progressive sections of this country, and which are huge in numbers, to join together in a mass movement of resistance to the establishment. Let’s start organizing and let’s be in touch.

    In solidarity,

    Pallav Das

    • John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

      Dear Pallav,

      Extremely well put, I feel strong agreement on these points. It’s not the situation we wanted to be facing after the election, but the path we must take remains valid enough, I think. We have to come up with something new, because everything we’ve been doing still hasn’t been nearly enough.

      As I said somewhere on the “WW2 mobilization” panel (and I would love to hear from those panelists on the new situation) “In the end, we are all on board that Chris Williams’s ‘massive, resilient, powerful people’s mobilization is necessary to force the government to act. Most critically, it has to be organized independent of the state and in opposition to it.’ The rub, and the reason that differences exist has to do with the question of whether, as Chris has it, ‘Most critically, it has to be organized independent of the state and in opposition to it.’” [It appears I never posted the long comment that this is the end of!]

      My view for something new to try can be summed up this way:

      New kinds of parties to take political power that come out of and are held to the fire by the biggest, broadest, most radical climate justice movements the world has ever seen.

      And I mean *really* new kinds of party, all over the world, in whatever forms local circumstances call for. Parties never yet seen, but which flow from the new thinking of the vibrant global movements for radical social change of this century.

      Note: as this is not a solution from above, it may take a while (ha ha – let’s keep our senses of humor), and since we don’t have the luxury of time, we better get moving *now,* remembering what my friend Wen Stephenson has said “What we are fighting for NOW is each other.”


      • Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh says:

        Hi everyone, as someone watching from the other end of the planet, I offer my deep condolences … I guess to us all since what happens in the Disunited States of America affects us all. And I fully agree with what Ken, Pallav and others have said, about the even more urgent need to bring movements together, act in cohesion, engage in both resistance and in creative alternatives. This would have been necessary even if Clinton had been elected, but it is even more so with Trump. In particular the long struggle to establish and strengthen forums of direct, radical democracy that reduce our dependence on elected representatives, something we are articulating and in a few places trying out in India.

        If at all the experience of bringing together alternatives movements in India (see is of use there, I’d be happy to provide more information and inputs. I don’t know if there is a similar effort at a platform for alternatives in all fields coming together there?

        I just went through the pledges that Trump has made for his first 100 days, and while of course much of it is dismaying, there seem to be some possibly positive things, like withdrawing from free trade treaties? But I may be reading this naively. Anyone on this forum who can shed light on this and other aspects of what he has promised, other than the ones Miriam Tola has pointed to above (obviously alarming), I’d be grateful.

  6. Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

    To repeat something I said in my talk:

    “What I most fear losing is our humanity… Donald Trump’s rise makes unavoidable what many people I know in the climate-justice movement, most of them young, have been saying for some time: namely, that even as we fight to keep carbon in the ground, if we care at all about justice — if we care at all about what kind of a world we’re going to have in 2050 — we have to fight just as hard for democracy and human rights and social justice, economic justice, racial justice.

    “Because we face a social and political catastrophe every bit as real as the climate catastrophe—and in fact, they’re converging.

    “It matters all the more what kind of a government, what kind of a democracy, what kind of a society we have, what kind of a people we will be, as we head into this future together.

    “We have to face the facts, which means facing scientific realities, political realities — and moral realities.

    “We have to face the fact that we’ve already lost the ‘climate fight,’ if that means ‘solving the climate crisis’ and saving some semblance of the planet humanity has known. That fight was lost before it began, because it got started so late. The best we can — and must — do now is fight to keep enough carbon in the ground to avert utter collapse and chaos. That’s the scientific reality.

    “Which means we can’t afford to lose the other fight — the fight against everything that Trump and the forces that created him and support him represent… It’s going to take a political revolution. That’s the political reality, and the moral necessity, of this historical moment.

    “Because it’s time now to fight like there’s nothing left to lose but our humanity.”

    I know those aren’t the kind of words one normally hears at an academic conference. Well, fuck academic conferences. We all need to be in the streets. In the jails.

    I really don’t have anything more to say here. There’s real work to be done.

  7. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    No argument with your sentiments and conclusions, Wen, only thinks for them.

    These are not normal times and academia needs to step it up or otherwise be complicit in the killing fields of the climate crisis.

    Here’s my thoughts for this conversation…

    The Coming of Trumpism, the World in 2050 – and Us

    Many may feel – and for good reasons – that the coming of Trumpism (whatever that may turn out to be) means we are entering something akin to the end days, a giant, unstoppable step into a dystopian future (unless you are pessimistic enough to feel we are already there, that is).

    It would be understandable under the circumstances to turn inward and let despondence have full reign, or to turn to friends and Facebook to release emotions of anger and disgust.

    And it would be natural to despair about such coming horrors as a Trumped up Supreme Court, the end of Obamacare, the truly terrifying cabinet appointments to come and the damage they will do, down to the very personal level of one’s status as a resident American, a person of color, a woman, a Muslim, an LGBTQ* person, a young or older human being. This list will surely grow.

    Or, in the political space in which I live, it’s easy for one’s thoughts to turn quickly to the chances of the Paris Agreement going forward without U.S. sponsorship (I’ve heard there’s been a proposal at the UN climate summit COP 22, currently underway in Marrakesh, to expel the U.S. from the proceedings because it has suddenly become a climate-denying government). Or maybe to nightmarish spectres like the dismantling of the EPA [this breaking news can’t be good], the reopening of the once and now again game-over Keystone pipeline, the defunding and dismissal of science (why not just abolish those gloomy laws of physics?) or the enhanced platform now for ignorant and cynical denialism, a massive upsurge of carte blanche extractivism on federal lands now open to the free market, the brexiting of Obama’s Clean Power Plan – and that’s only the first one hundred days or so of the four long years that lie ahead of us.
    Let’s cut to the chase: it’s time to acknowledge that the crushing new weight of the big picture – all of this added to the fragile state of play already existing before the election – means that we might have to add another .5-1.0 degrees Celsius to the dismal 3+ degrees of Paris [here’s a first glimpse of that possibility:, or indeed cross unforgiving tipping points that just might have been averted. And that, of course, is crushing. Deadly. Immoral. Beneath and subverting of human decency and dignity.

    Understandable, natural, easy … and self-defeating, of course. I’m not advising cutting short a healthy period to mourn, grieve, and process the turn of fortune in this country and beyond. Each of us will do as much or as little of this self-care as necessary. And it is necessary. We will have to stay with some heavy inner troubles for a while before we can take some of the actions we will now have to.

    But, also, let’s admit it: we were always coming from way behind late in the game, and we have thus already known we were in the climate struggle for the long haul. The course of history never flows according to humans’ plans. Rather it is full of sudden storms, slow violence, and erratic advances and retreats. Nor is there – but then there never was – a roadmap of the path forward. We have always also been looking for that, mainly by trial and (lots of) error, continuing the struggle and thirsting for the magic, the ecstasy, and the simple humanity that deeply felt hope and authentically-grounded love sometimes gift us with.
    No one individual’s words or actions can undo this damage. Now, we will need to bring all our gifts to the table, freely offered and collectively shared. Our potential to cross lines and bridge divides that disable the coalitions we need to build. The unrestricted play of our ability to re-imagine, envision, and begin to patiently and concretely create alternatives that lead to the futures we want. That peaceful warrior Dan Millman (via Sailesh Rao) believes that “The secret of change is to focus all of our energies, not on fighting the old, but on building the new” []. Now, it seems, we must find the secret of change in focusing all of our energies, not only on fighting the old and the new, but on building the new at the same time.

    Hope, love, imagination, persistence, urgency, sacrifice, and joy – the movement for climate justice and for the egalitarian, fair, democratic, and resilient worlds we want to live in as much before 2050 arrives as possible – and no matter what the climate devastation by then – requires of us the commitment of one’s life, and walking the talk of the means and the ends we seek. Everywhere and always.

    Because without us doing this – nothing remains. And “nothing” is unacceptable.

    See you somewhere.


    • Wen Stephenson, independent writer and activist says:

      Thanks, John. I’d like to leave my contribution to the discussion on a different note.

      I keep coming back to these words of Auden’s, written (or begun) on the night Germany invaded Poland, and Europe descended into darkness. (There’s more than one reason to invoke the WWII era in our current context.) As I’m sure many will remember, the poem (“September 1, 1939”) was popularized again in the days following 9/11/2001, but the final stanza resonates even more for me right now:

      Defenseless under the night
      Our world in stupor lies;
      Yet, dotted everywhere,
      Ironic points of light
      Flash out wherever the just
      Exchange their messages.
      May I, composed like them,
      Of Eros and of dust,
      Beleaguered by the same
      Negation and the despair,
      Show an affirming flame.


  8. Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

    If Trumpism is exemplified by the bullying and abuse of power evident in his famous words, “Grab them by the p***y”, then Trumpism has been in America for a long, long time. Until now, it was mostly non-Americans and animals who were at the receiving end of such Trumpism.

    I was in Ghana last week, working on our cook stove project and I couldn’t get an American check cashed because American banks have the habit of grabbing Ghanaian assets in case the check became a dud (e.g., if the transaction was found to have “terrorist” links) even five or ten years from now. Such American bullying is abundantly evident throughout the global South.

    Animals have been at the receiving end of Trumpism from Americans and non-Americans alike for thousands of years. Animals have their body parts grabbed, throats sliced, families ripped apart routinely. Therefore, I would like to see the Animal Rights community included in the unification of social justice issues. Besides, if we continue to be Donald Trumps to the animal kingdom, we won’t have much of a planet to save anyway.

  9. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Agreed, Sailesh…, it is like that. Trumpism (new word and a terrifying one… every time a person gets that ism (ismo, in Spanish), it means he or she has been to get somewhere, the same happened here with Macri, our one year terrible president) is there, in the heart of what the US has meant for us in the South of the world. That is exactly what I wanted to say in my first words here in this new panel. I am going to tell you a story about this (which was very formative for me): when I was 16 years old I went up to Connecticut in an interchange program to develop my English. A month and a half only, living with a family, during my summer, US winter (January, half February). In the plane, going back, I talked to an American about economics. I was not up to that, probably I am not now either… but I told him that we (Argentina) needed to protect our industry in the same way the US was doing. He said, seriously: “But we have something to protect, you don’t”. He had no idea Buenos Aires was a cosmopolitan city, with skyscrapers and car industries and subways. I dont think he knew anything about my country. He was going to Brazil. This and what you tell us and all of it has a root in excepcionalism for instance and all the messianic myth in the core of WASP US. That is why, I imagine, graffitis like “Make America white again” can exist.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI again Márgara,

      You have hit one of the most important nails squarely on the head. Many Americans have an altogether distorted and rather lumped together view of the rest of the world. So, for example, Africa, in spite of the fact that it is comprised of over 50 separate countries, is larger in area than the whole of North America, and has amazing cities and industry (including high-tech industries in the so-called Silicon Savannah and elsewhere), still invokes a single, consolidated and disturbing image of poverty that most Americans find uncomfortable. Knowing this (and knowing that many Americans also lump together Africa with our experience of slavery – another source of discomfort), our media is happy to not bring up nearly anything related to Africa, lest we click away. Consequently, to some Americans the only issue with respect to Africa takes the form of a fear: that these poor and desperate people will, if we let them, come here to first take our jobs, then our way of life for themselves (and take them away from us in the process).

      I have to think that education and encounter is again a big part of the solution. If we had clearer images of these diverse peoples and their cultures and lives, and even better if we had the opportunity to meet and know them, the fear and anxiety they invoke might be reduced. In our exchange above, I noted that the election of Trump has made me realize that the courses that I teach all now need “a significant environmental/climate change component.” I am now thinking that I also need to add a cultural awareness components. Of course, the two can certainly go hand-in-hand, as social/environmental/climate justice are often related. And (I am musing out loud here) it may be possible to adapted the online exchange used for this conference to facilitate actual – albeit digital – encounters.


      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        I agree… But this is not only US (I am unwilling to say American because, as I said, that word used like that erases the rest of what we call América… we are “americanos” too…). As I teach my students, there is a question with the way “center” and “margin” look at the world in general. The center thinks it does not need to look at the margins (so some people in the States and even Canada) think Buenos Aires or I dont know, Santiago, are not cities in the Western meaning of the world). In the margin (of a society or of the world in general) one needs to look at the center because what the center of power does affects one. So the margin looks at the margin and at the center. Yet, it does not look at other margins and that is what is also lacking and what the governments of South America which have been falling these last 2 years tried to do: alliances, treaties between margins to unite. Because my students know all the capitals of Europe and the US… and even the flags, but if you ask them (and me, most probably) if I know the capitals and flags of African countries… no, we dont. So… there you are. Education is absolutely necessary, I agree.

  10. Lila Moore, Cybernetic Futures Institute says:

    Thank you for providing this space for reflection and expression and for extending the conference. Although I am not American and not qualified to discuss (American) politics and socio-economic issues, I am aware that the present developments will impact us all wherever we are on Earth in a most direct way. The current situation only highlighted in the most extreme manner the general worldwide tendency to ignore ecological concerns. The Trumpian archetype is as dominant and prevalent as the global culture of violence to which I referred to in my talk. Watching the dynamics of the elections via the media, it was rather suggestive that the winner should resemble the hero of a very popular American television show or movie, and would need to comply with the ratings that violence attracts. I wish to add, that all the talks and written responses in this conference, regardless of their perspectives on environmental issues, have gathered a greater momentum, and placing them online as an open educational and activist resource will be beneficial, if not essential, in the days to come.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Lila,

      As you my well know, until recently Trump was the star of an enormously popular (it often had more than 10 million viewers, sometime more than 20 million) TV show called “The Apprentice,” which celebrated the winners of a cutthroat competition and humiliated the losers when Trump delivered his now-famous catchphrase: “You’re fired.” The theme music was the 1973 R&B song “For the Love of Money.” For people who have not seen it, here is a teaser.

      It is startling that Trump gave up such a reality TV show to turn the presidential election into a similar spectacle. He certainly understood what the viewing/voting public wanted in a way that obviously mystified most politicians (Trump has never held an elected public office).


      • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

        Hi, all, I was thinking whether as there are so many coincidences between your election and ours last year (where Macri was elected, he has now been president for almost a year), we could also compare the way they have used or talked about climate change and ecology. They are both outsiders from politics (though Macri has been the mare of Buenos Aires for 8 years but before that… nothing), both millonaires and business men, both rich and from rich families, heirs one could say, both very much to the right… The differences are many, one that here Macri was supported by the same papers and TV channels (mainstream ones) that now wanted Hillary to win and were really astounded by Trump’s triumph… Yet as regards ecology, I think the strategy is different and that must be part of the comparison Argentina’s cultures versus US cultures. Here, Macri has been terribly cynical. He claims he defends the poor and all his politics have made poorer and poorer; he talks about defending Argentina and is opening doors and therefore people are losing jobs, etc. In the same way, he has used ecology therminology and ideas to promote himself while doing exactly the opposite. I think Trump has not done that… Is that because global warming denial is popular in the US? I would like to understand…

      • Lila Moore, Cybernetic Futures Institute says:

        Hi Ken,

        Yes, he knew what the public wanted and manipulated them. The people knew that they were being manipulated but didn’t mind because it was a bit like a game or show that they were all playing and enjoying together. It wasn’t a complicated scheme for him to perform; after all, he is a very experienced player and winner, a fact that has made him appear trustworthy. Much more can, and will be said and written, about the media strategy of his election campaign. The phenomenon will continue to entice the people and the world, after all, The Show Must Go On…

  11. Michael Gasser, Radical System Change Santa Cruz says:

    Thanks, John and Ken, for providing this space to discuss what the election of Trump may mean for 2050 and in between and for giving us another week to carry on the discussion. Although we haven’t heard yet from many of the conference participants, we’ve already benefited from the fact that this is an international discussion. Trump is, after all, just one sign of a trend that Europe and Latin America are already facing, and, as Márgara said in her first post, what the US does affects everyone. I agree with much of what has been said, especially by Pallav, Ashish, and Wen. Trump’s election is shocking, for so many reasons, but how much more could we have expected from Clinton when it comes to concrete action to “keep it in the ground” or provide for a just transition to a renewable economy? Climate change as an issue was almost completely ignored during the campaign.

    One lesson that I think can be learned from the election is that strategies that rely on voting in the right Democrats or lobbying whoever is in office are doomed. No one is willing to wait until the next midterm elections in 2018, let alone the next presidential election in 2020. In the meantime, will people really be signing petitions to President Trump or members of the Republican-dominated Congress, arguing that they stop this or that pipeline project or deny a permit to drill somewhere?

    For many people, the focus already was on working outside the system, struggling to build the broad movement that John always speaks of, to create local alternatives to capitalist agriculture and energy, and to “shut it down”. Hopefully more activists will now follow these paths.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Michael,

      Well said. You have nicely put into words something that has been floating around in the back of my head.

      Friends and family joke that I can find a silver lining anywhere, even in a catastrophe. Don’t get me wrong, this is obviously a nightmare, but I wonder if even here there might be a positive element. I fear that Clinton’s facile promise to make the U.S. the “clean energy superpower of the 21st Century” may have had a mollifying effect on a broad swathe of the public, who may have glossed over her actual positions, such as that natural gas is suppose to be the bridge to this future. COP21 seems to have had a similar calming effect. In both cases, the message was simple: “Don’t worry, we are aware of the problem and are taking care of it.”

      Now, however, the message is that there is no problem – which reverses the situation, potentially alarming rather then calming anyone even a little concerned that anthropogenic climate change may be real. And more than just alarm, it may help mobilize a range of previously placated individuals. Let’s hope

      Moreover, Trump’s message is that he is so confident that the problem does not exist that we can exponentially ramp up the practices that are allegedly causing it. The problem with this message, if the polls are to be believed, is that quite a few individuals in the U.S. are floating in the middle, neither convinced that anthropogenic climate change is happening nor sure that it is not. Consequently, I wonder how uneasy they are made by his boast that he will “lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal.” I know, quite a few of these folks cast their votes for him. Still, if he suceeds in going through with this plan on the wholesale level that he proposes, it may cause more than a few of them to pause. Again, let’s hope. (I know, I am perpetually the optimist.)

      As it turns out, I had one of my classes read the “Blockadia” chapter (and the one following it) of Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate” for the day before the election. I agree with your closing thought: “Hopefully more activists will now follow these paths.”


  12. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Well, this problem of waiting until the next election is happening to us here too, Michael. We are waiting but each day our present president passes in office is a disaster for everybody but the 1 per cent richest around. So… the problem is how to go on while we wait. The ecology themes were also not present here, in the campaign where our president (very similar to Trump in many, many things) won against all odds. Here, the media were with him, that is true… Anyway, the local resistance can be useful but… I am not sure it can be enough.

  13. John Mustol, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. says:

    Thanks to Ken and John for this extended time of comment.

    Truth always takes a beating in American political campaigns, but in this one it’s been ravaged. Trump’s notion of truth is purely utilitarian: it’s whatever you need it to be for the goal you are pursuing in the moment. For Trump, the ultimate unscrupulous salesman, consistency or correspondence to reality are of no concern whatsoever. In a sense, Trump, or perhaps “Trumpism,” seems like the inevitable fruit or the reductio ad absurdum of our “post-modern” embrace of democratic pluralism, individualism, and relativism.

    The problem for advocates of action on climate change is that it’s about reality . . . the Truth (capital T). A prerequisite to any discussion of climate change is submission to the existence of facts and a reality outside myself, regardless of what I believe or disbelieve. If we are going to persuade people to radically change their values, lifestyles, and the political-social-economic order, how are we going to make arguments for this in a cultural context where everyone believes what they believe and lives in their own reality? How can it be done without resorting to manipulative Trumpesque propaganda, shouting matches, or simple coercion? In a nation led by a man who despises truth, how do you engage the truth in the public square? In a “real world” where the threat of climate change is true but where truth is what we want to be, what do we say?

    • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

      John, we have a similar government here (for a year already and it seems centuries): a business man, rich, privalely educated (that is new, here presidents had been always public students, up to him, I mean) and with a similar idea of the world (to right, clearly) of many things, not of economy, though. The thing is also that these people seem to make a division between what is real (whether they believe or not in this reality) and language. They believe if you call something “solidarity” it is so…, in spite of the fact that it is really the contrary. So they twist language with no shame at all, language and everything. For instance: they say everything is OK when it is only OK for the rich and they continue saying it and language seems to be the only truth. So they think they can manipulate truth. I think what you say is true… and I think part of the fight should be about and around language and the use of language to supposedly change reality. The fact that language is one thing and Truth (as you say, with a capital letter) exists outside language and in spite of it.
      Thank you for calling our attention to this.

  14. Michael Gasser, Radical System Change Santa Cruz says:

    Very good points about how language is used to manipulate people, Márgara. As a linguist, I pay a lot of attention to language. Which is not to say I have answers about how to deal with this, other than by addressing it more in what we write and in our organizing.
    On another topic, one outcome that I would hope for from this discussion, and this conference, is more international collaboration and interaction going forward. I’ve already learned about and joined a list I didn’t know of before, thanks to Ashish.
    In the past, I was involved in attempts to create an international network of scholar activists, starting with people attending different World Social Forum meetings. But this never really took hold. Maybe times have changed, and this would be easier now; I don’t know. In any case I would hope for something beyond scholars, as we see at this conference.

  15. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    I just sent this exasperated comment to another list of people trying to make sense of the election and our current predicament:

    How the Democrats of Clinton and Obama don’t deserve the blame for this historic (if not quite epic) defeat is beyond me.

    Of course the Republicans didn’t deserve to win, either (which only accentuates the Democrats’ blame for the outcome).

    Could Bernie Sanders have beaten Trump? Of course he could have. But will the Democrats ever become the party of Sanders? Very slim chnace, I would say.

    The only way forward out of both the present political crisis and the underlying major crises — the inequality generated by capitalist globalization, lack of democracy, militarism and violence, all exacerbated by climate change — is to build a political alternative out of the pieces we have: the Sandernistas, Greens, Kshama Sawant socialists, the climate justice movement, Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock resistance, young people, old people, communities of color, and all the forces, institutions, organizations, and individuals in this country who stand outside the political institutions of the present.

    Am I dreaming? Yes, of what it will take to win. That it’s a slim chance doesn’t make anything that can’t work to solve our problems any better.


    • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

      Exasperation is due here, John… Absolutely. And in my country too. That is one thing I cannot really understand in the end: that people voted as they did. Not the rich millonaires, I mean, the others. The same happened here and with candidates who were similar (my side’s candidate was not good at all here either… but I did not think they were to vote the other, who was… Trumpish, let us say).

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Márgara,

      Such an interesting article by Chomsky. He certainly has a way of cutting straight to the core significance of what happened:

      “On November 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history…

      The last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous. But is it? The facts suggest otherwise. The Party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.”


  16. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    Dear all,

    I am exercising my conference co-coordinator’s prerogative to post here a comment I have also posted just now on the World War 2 Mobilization featured panel. Here goes.

    What Will It Take to Win? One More Round, Anyone?

    I’ll keep this short, but I hope it leads to more exchanges of our theme, which I am now shortening to “What Will It Take to Win?”

    It’s interesting to observe that the last post to this discussion was made on November 9, the day after the election, when all talk turned to asking how did Trump win, what is he going to do now, and what can we do about it?

    This community rightly framed the question in terms of the worlds we have said we want in 2050, and went into a kind of collective mourning and healing process.
    Suddenly it seemed evident that we were not going to have anything remotely resembling a “World War 2 Style Mobilization” leading the way to a longshot but perhaps achievable “Victory Plan” in the long war that has begun against the planet and its people.

    So this particular panel’s concerns would now be relegated to the dust heap of utopian schemes that had briefly flickered in the night and started to warm us around the fire when “reality” (the Trump show) was mistaken for what’s really real. Well, Trump now is really real, so I guess we are going to have to get really really real to deal with the crises.

    But two points are in order, the first being that the questions that spurred the emergence of the WW2 mobilization idea in the first place remain not just relevant, but pretty much (along with basic salvage and survival operations) at the top of the list: “What will it take to win?” and of course, “What does winning look like, anyway?
    Expect no answers here, but I do think we could productively go one more round of everyone’s current thoughts on this, as the start of the long conversations we’ll all be involved in as we enter further into the era of Trump.

    So the first is a call to write the first draft or notes for that conversation before we part ways.

    Secondly, it may surprise some that I will not be among those who are laying all talk of some kind of WW2 mobilization thinking to rest, and for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that it was never (or should not have been) purely a top-down government-planned strategy in the first place.

    Governments don’t mobilize, people do. And we need to build the big-time climate mobilization (lower case for me, dear friends Margaret and Ezra) that has been on the agenda of the climate justice movement anyway now for the past several years.

    So, dear comrades and allies, let’s hear from those among us who feel we owe each other a turn around the question “What will it take to win, NOW?”
    Wen? Ken? Bill? Ezra? Margaret? Anyone who have come this far?

    • Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

      Sorry, John, I can only enter in the morning here (at night it gets kind of difficult) so… I am the morning person here. The mobilization strategy is generally people first…, I agree. But in Latin America there were governments (still are, but less and less, unluckily, from my point of view) which used the mobilization strategy and it worked very, very well. IN this case, now that we know who will be in the government, it will have to be people mobilization, not the other way round. It is a powerful tool of resistance, we know that a lot (if you read Latin American history you will see) but it can be used also by the enemy (as we know here). I think the first thing to remember is that in questions like this, there are sides and that the talk of unity (which Trump and my president Macri use all the time (de la boca para afuera, as we say in Spanish, meaning they say it but they do not exercise it) has to be denounce as what it is: words, no more. We are on one of the sides of the debate here and we should accept that.

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI John,

      I agree that it no longer seems likely that we are “going to have anything remotely resembling a ‘World War 2 Style Mobilization.'” However, at the risk of varying the war imagery – I am bracing for the predictable retort on this ground, even though I am preparing to invoke an antiwar image – perhaps what we need is a “Vietnam Style Mobilization.”

      To quote CNN, “If millennial voters had their way, Hillary Clinton would be president.” This doesn’t mean that millennials were thrilled about Clinton. As many as 1 in 10 voted for third-party candidates, like the Green Party’s Jill Stein, or wrote in their own choices, making clear just how frustrated they were with the either/or choice of Clinton or Trump. Consequently, I suspect that if Bernie Sanders had been on the ballot instead of Clinton, his would have been a landslide victory if it had been up to millennials. Nonetheless, as CNN also noted, it was “older, whiter demographics…[that]…led the charge for Trump.”

      In the week since the election, I have been talking to my classes about it. Since I have quite a few students this term, thanks to a 400-student lecture, their views provide an interesting insight into what younger millennials (at least the coastal variety) think. Because I use an anonymous i>clicker device to poll the large lecture, they are free to express unpopular opinions. For example, although it was fewer than 10%, when asked how they felt about Trump’s election, some selected “elated.” Another small block wasn’t sure how they felt. Nonetheless, nearly 4 out of 5 were either “horrified” or “very worried.”‘

      In my smaller, discussion seminars, one thing came across loud and clear: they are angry, really angry. Angry that they did not select this president or future, yet after he and the people who put him in office are dead and buried they will be dealing with the global disaster that they hastened and amplified.

      The world in 2050 belongs to millennials, especially the younger of them, as they will then be in power and dealing with the policies of the past, like Trump’s, that brought about their world. And make no mistake, they already know it. In this sense, it does welcome a comparison to the Vietnam era, as this younger generation is horrified that it is their lives that are at stake and not those of the aging powerbrokers who, to their mind (and let’s face it, they are obviously right in both cases), are bizarrely committed to an outrageous and shameful course of action.

      That said, I think that we should indeed hope for a “Vietnam Style Mobilization.” In other words, that on campuses and other locales across the U.S. (and world) both planned and spontaneous protests erupt among the generation that will be most impacted by the Trump administration. And not just in physical locales. As this is the same generation that gave us social media (Mark Zuckerberg is just 32), they have the opportunity to reinvent protest for the 21st century.

      The job that they are tasked with is to not only draw attention to the horrific policies of the Trump administration, but to defiantly stand in the face of them with blockadia and other tactics. In short, they (and we) need to make this war against the planet and humanity’s future that Trump is intent on waging every bit as unpopular as Vietnam. Imagine a million people converging on Washington for days, with the National Guard launched down our capital’s streets in response. I wonder if the powerbrokers would have the stomach to continue on in the face – and media spectacle – of anti(climate)war backlashes of this sort. They didn’t 45 years ago.


  17. Michael Gasser, Radical System Change Santa Cruz says:

    Hi everybody,
    This article by Michael Hardt and Sandro Mezzadra is my favorite so far of those that try to figure out what the next steps should be.
    The message is that protest alone will not defeat Trump, that Trump is just one example of a global shift to the right (see Márgara’s comparisons above with Argentina), that the organizing that is necessary going forward will need to be intersectional and international as well as national (and local). It seems there’s a new place for a new sort of World Social Forum, among lots of other things.
    Michael G

  18. Sailesh Rao, Climate Healers says:

    Very often, in their long hours of software programming at Bell Laboratories, Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie, the inventors of the “C” programming language and the Unix operating system (whose modern successor is the Mac OS X), would encounter a situation which compelled them to start over. They characterized such a situation as “F***ed Up Beyond All Recognition,” or FUBAR, for short.

    The election of Donald Trump is an indication that the current politico-socio-economic system is FUBAR. This cancerous system is literally eating up the biosphere and it cannot be fixed with tax tweaks and liberal appointees. We need to start over. The election of Donald Trump is the swift kick in the pants that we needed to start over. We can’t just go along with a growth-oriented socioeconomic system based on consumption as an organizing value and competition as an organizing principle. We must start over and build a new socioeconomic system oriented towards human creativity, not growth, with compassion, not consumption, as its organizing value and collaboration, not competition, as its organizing principle.

    As we start over, we have a moral obligation to vigorously oppose any misogynistic, bigoted, fascistic policies that the Trump administration will promulgate or more likely, propagate from the current Obama administration. Indeed, it was Obama, not Trump, who ordered weekly drone strikes killing innocent people as collateral damage in far off countries. It was Obama, not Trump, who deported 3.5 million immigrants stealthily as Deporter-in-Chief. It was Obama, not Trump, who approved hundreds of pipeline projects in the US while making a show of rejecting just one Keystone XL pipeline. Money has always trumped morality in the US. Trump has simply ripped the mask off the face of the establishment as he blatantly embraces money and bigotry.

    A social movement is most effective when there is a common thread linking its constituents. And that thread must be based on love and not just the fear and hatred of Trump. In the early 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi found that thread in the Khadi movement when he asked the people of India to wear white, cotton, Khaddar clothes made in India, as opposed to the milled clothes made by the colonial masters in England. It was a simple act that anybody could do and Gandhi illustrated that by wearing a loin cloth and nothing else. But it was a substantial act since at that time, the textile industry was the largest industry in England. And it was a spiritual act that united the people of India in a common bond, despite their myriad differences. Within a dozen years, the Khadi movement bankrupted the textile mills of Manchester and the British government was on its knees begging to negotiate with Gandhi.

    The Vegan movement is the Khadi movement of the 21st century. Eating only plant-based foods is a simple act that anybody can do. It is a substantial act since the animal agriculture industry is the largest industry in the world at this time in terms of environmental impact. And it is a spiritual act as it brings us all in alignment with who we are and unites us in a common bond despite our myriad differences. At our spiritual core, almost all of us are vegan since among the thousands of people I have spoken to, not a single person has answered “Yes” to my question:

    “Would you ever deliberately hurt an innocent animal unnecessarily?”

    By going vegan, we begin to do exactly as we are.

  19. Pallav Das, Kalpavriksh says:

    Greeting everyone,

    I’m unable to join the live event but wanted to share these thoughts. Hope they make can contribute to your discussion.

    Best wishes,

    Pallav Das

    Thanks again, John and Ken, for affording us this wonderful space for concerned expression and for the stimulating discussion, which has followed over the last couple of weeks. It was somewhat uncanny and bizarre that it all happened during and in the aftermath of the elections, as if time itself was mocking us in anticipation of our inevitable urge to curl up into our safe spaces after having offered our earnest declamations. It has challenged our intellectual integrity and somehow it does feel like a catharsis — this moment of copious incertitude. But what does it mean, and more so in the context of our projections for 2050? And how do we deal with this moment? And, in fact, how do we deal with our emotions about it?

    I go back to what Wen Stephenson said in one of his responses, “What I most fear losing is our humanity.” That is a strikingly palpable fear, because it hits at the very essence of our being. How do we define ourselves in the modern world? Erik Assadourian has given us an insight into our modern shackled existence – tethered as we are to things and to consumerism. If we are what we wear, what we drive, what we watch, what we covet and what we feel empty inside from even after acquiring it, then when do we ever feel human? Or, have we reached a point in our evolution when we’re human only in the context of a “thing”, and relate to other similarly contextualized beings? Then, as Erik’s analysis seems to foretell, we’ll continue to gobble up this planet till there is nothing more to gobble up – one planet, two, three?

    Neoliberal market fundamentalism demands the supremacy of markets over the society and communities, and that of corporate profits over people. In the last three decades since Reagan/Thatcher, the entire political process has worked towards ensuring that. It’s only logical that now that process is run by one of the marquee representatives of the market. Is this a floating of a trial balloon moment when the corporate elite have finally dispensed with the need for a political agent like a Clinton or a Bush in the oval office, and decided to experiment with putting one of their own on the throne? Why rule through others when you could have a firmer grip over the entirety of the production process by being on top of the national executive branch? (And, the imperious command over the other two branches makes that domination more efficient).

    What are the possible ways of getting back in touch with our humanity? Under Ashish’s leadership, Kalpavriksh, the Indian environmental action group has been grappling with that question. As we often do in critical moments of our individual and collective existence, we’ve gone back to Mahatma Gandhi for insights and inspiration. For him political opposition to the British could not be separated from a struggle against the economic system they had imposed on India. Gandhi introduced the seminal idea of Swaraj or self-rule to the intellectual debate against British colonialism through a pamphlet called Hind Swaraj (Indian Self Rule) in 1909. For him, though, the term was not confined to its literal meaning and Gandhi expanded it to connote the idea of self-restraint. Swaraj, for him, was as much of a guiding principal of his life as were non-violence and truth. Gandhi wanted the quest for independence to be a quest for self-restraint and not just self-rule. He said, “…..(Swaraj) will be the fruit of patience, perseverance, ceaseless toil, courage and intelligent appreciation of the environment…. “ Gandhi wanted to prepare the ground for establishing a socio-economic system in post-independence India, which was not subservient to technology and machines, and which was not mired in self-delusional consumerist greed. Instead, the new Indian dispensation, for Gandhi, would be guided by an ethical acceptance of self-restraint – to everyone according to their need, not according to their want and desire.

    Gandhi’s ideas and philosophy resonate with us even today, and more so in the context of climate justice. Capitalism, in its quest for endless growth, needs to extend its reach to the farthest corners of the world for natural resources, to enclose new ‘commons’ for exploitation and extraction. But, along with that need for resources, the global capital also requires to commodify spheres of life and social processes, which have been hitherto untouched by the market and its pernicious logic of profit, such as the tribal areas of the central Indian peninsula. Kalpavriksh has found energy and inspiration in the dignified opposition that is emerging from these areas. The flowering of degrowth ideas amidst the political and economic chaos of contemporary India is an unusual development. It is not the exasperated cry of ecological economists like Herman Daly, Tim Jackson and Andrew Simms for respecting the global environmental thresholds; it’s not the sudden rediscovery of the computer simulations of the “Limits Of Growth” study; it’s not the realization that unfettered capitalism is the prime cause of climate change and is leading to calamitous societal disruptions worldwide. Instead, it’s the reminder of Gandhi’s idea of self-restraint, which, again, not surprisingly, has not emerged from the intellectual centers of Indian academia or from its cultural elites but has germinated in the existence of the country’s so called “backward” tribal and agrarian communities living in the proximity of nature.

    As Ashish explained in his presentation, Kalpavriksh has also created a platform for establishing, organizing, advocating, researching, documenting and synthesizing alternative practices and thinking on alternative economic, social and political ways of being which are environmentally sustainable and economically egalitarian. It’s called Vikalp Sangam or Confluence of Alternatives in Hindi ( Please read Ashish’s recent article which sums up the operative ideas behind this initiative and how they’re unfolding in India, (

    The emerging community based alternatives in India are creating a new blend of politics and development. They are trying to promote direct democracy, bottom up model of development, cooperative rather than market fundamentalist economy, gender egalitarianism and consultative, non-hierarchical decision-making. These models are rooted as much in the Gandhian principals of non-cooperation, non-violence, self-restraint and self-reliance as they are in the modern intellectual formulations of degrowth. Surprisingly, a much discounted yet spirited adversary in the deep hinterland of India is challenging the intellectual fallacy of endless growth with uncanny resolve and rigor. John had emphasized the need for, “New kinds of parties to take political power that come out of and are held to the fire by the biggest, broadest, most radical climate justice movements the world has ever seen. And I mean *really* new kinds of party, all over the world, in whatever forms local circumstances call for. Parties never yet seen, but which flow from the new thinking of the vibrant global movements for radical social change of this century.” We look at Vikalp Sangam as a possible way to reach that political goal, but it may be more than just that, more holistic and meaningful than we can imagine at the moment.

    Lastly, I would like to refer to what Ken had underlined in one of his responses, about the need for education for youngsters. That is what we consider the quest for a new and dynamic narrative, and in our opinion it’s not just the young, everybody needs to re-educate themselves in the face of the approaching climate emergencies. A few years ago, we had launched a website as a platform to test our ideas about what we’ve called “Radical Ecological Democracy (RED). Our idea behind marrying the concepts of ecology and democracy stemmed from the conviction that the struggle for socio-economic justice and political equality for the vast number of disempowered people in the world was directly linked to the struggle against the rapacious exploitation of nature resulting in the ecological and climate emergency that our planet is facing today. The website was conceived with the objective of championing and advancing the idea of people’s democratic ownership of their ecological future. It has had remarkable success in a short time in engaging a large number of people in those ideas. We think it’s time to plan the next steps. It’s our belief that the RED website can and must aim for a larger and more constructively active profile so that it becomes a fulcrum for meaningful change. We would like RED to become the hopeful home for people thinking about, working towards and fighting for that future. It’s our hope that the participants of this conference would like to join us on RED. We would love to learn from your experience and thinking and share that with a wider audience.

    Yes, these are anxious times. They somehow remind us of the Weimar Republic, when the façade of democracy disintegrated in a hurry and every political impulse got subsumed as in the late 1920s and the 30s by raw expressions of militant contempt for the other, and its quick degeneration into methodical violence and ethnic mass extermination? But, we’re much better prepared to contest that possibility. We’ll fight for our humanity and for this planet. As Engels said (known by way of Rosa Luxemburg’s explanation), “ Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” And as that man of rare nobility and wisdom, Che Guevara, warned us, “We have no right to believe that freedom can be won without struggle.”

    In solidarity,

    Pallav Das

    • Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh says:

      Thanks, Pallav for mentioning the process in India. Ken, I too cannot join the conversation this evening, but would like to offer inputs and collaboration in some way if you all decide to try a similar process there … a sort of American Vikalp Sangam (Alternatives Confluence). So while it is crucial for movements of resistance and protest to come together, it is also crucial for this to happen with a more collective process of envisioning and practicing radical alternatives … so we have both the ‘no’ and the ‘yes’ with us, and a greater possibility of convincing people who need not only a a negative but also a positive, exciting vision.

      A comment on the conference format … fantastic in generating a discussion in a climate friendly way! Congrats for this. However, given that a very substantial part of the world, in particular indigenous peoples, other local communities of peasants, fishers, pastoralists etc cannot take part in such e-conferences in a meaningful way (problems of technology access, language, etc), I do think there remains a great value for face-to-face gatherings, knowing fully well their enormous ecological cost. Note also that the vast majority of people who participated in the World in 2050 Conference are from the North; presumably this can be partly modified in the next such attempt by reaching out much more to Southern groups/people, but nevertheless for the foreseeable future this kind of format is likely to have much more northern participation. These constraints need to be taken into account. In no way does this take away from the value of such a e-conference, of course!

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Pallav,

      Many, many thanks for this. I found myself instinctively and repeatedly nodding assent as I read your thoughts.

      Coincidentally – though perhaps not surprisingly, given the circumstances – my thoughts have also been returning to Gandhi. Now that the three branches of the U.S. government will soon be in the hands of a political party that is, as Noam Chomsky aptly noted in the above article to which Márgara directed us, “dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life,” we will, as Michael suggested above, need to do more than just sign petitions. When contemplating civil disobedience, it is always helpful to return to Gandhi’s thinking.

      I had not, however, considered Gandhi in the context of climate justice (it has been quite a while since I read his autobiography). Consequently, I read your discussion of Vikalp Sangam with much interest. Your words also underscored for me, as have those of other participants in this Q&A, that this is indeed a global issue and battle. Given that in recent days it has felt like the world has been closing in around us in the enclaves of levelheaded thinking here in the U.S., it is heartening to remember that there is a larger world out there that is as mortified as we are.

      On a practical note related both to the above and our conference format, this experience has confirmed for me what I only suspected before: the importance of opening conferences (and ideas) like this up to global audience, even when the issue at hand, the election of a U.S president, might seem mainly of interest to those immediately impacted.

      Finally, yes, education is centrally important here. In some sense, at least with respect to climate change, the election of Trump is a failure of our educational system. A third of the teachers in U.S. public schools are teaching climate change denial. Given the Trump won by such a narrow margin, if the message going out to the public had been that anthropogenic climate change is an incontrovertible fact and not one opinion among many, the election may have had a different outcome.


  20. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    I would like to add something about the process in Latin American, specifically my country, Argentina. The same has happened here: we had a different kind of government (not as regards ecology, no, but a lot as regards the economy) for 12 years and then…, last year, as the president, Cristina Kirchner could not run (we have a 2 consecutive period limit though she could go back in 2019, which these people now are trying to ensure will not happen) and so… Mauricio Macri won. And he represents the antipolitical movement, meaning not a representative of the corporations, the big money, the multimillonaire 1 percent families but a government by these families (he belongs to one, was always a business man until he decided he wanted to be president and then he became a “politician”) and by the CEOS. Everybody in the government was before an important CEO of Shell, Morgan, etc. And they are governning accordingly. So there is resistance…

    Ecology is not in the center here, I have to say (Naomi Klein has two or three paragraphs about this in This Changes All, when she speaks about Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay in one of the chapters, and in better times, I say…, when all of these countries were united against corporations, the IMF, the World Bank, etc) but I think the process by which M. M. got to the government (a whole manipulation of people through motos such as “0% poverty” and, believe it or not, “Yes, we can” but for the right) should be studied…

    Meanwhile, as regards what Ashish has to say…, I agree that face to face conferences are different but… I do believe that in the South (and we could not be more to the South), it is very, very difficult to get the money to travel, even if we were willing to pay the high cost in emissions… I would not have been able to go to the Conference if it required paying the trip. It has become more and more difficult to get funding for this as money for education dissappears and it applied to paying the debt…, for instance.

    Thank you John and Kevin for this amazing opportunity.

  21. Lila Moore, Cybernetic Futures Institute says:

    I wish to reinforce Margara’s comment on the value of online conferences. Firstly, I agree with her point in relation to travel expenses and, secondly, the outcome of the elitist status of academic conferences is that they are forever remote from the majority of people. I must stress that wherever one may be in the world today, economic instability and the gap between the rich and the poor only grow. The dynamics of face-to -face meeting are very different, but as educators and activists most of us have many opportunities to share the experience and knowledge gathered in this conference and beyond with students and with the general public.

    Having established this conference as an online resource will eventually attract more online visitors that may find the contents very useful and also encouraging. After all, the purpose is to encourage and inform as many people as possible. Being able to communicate online via written responses was also very useful as the knowledge shared between individuals is now in the public domain; hence, it is not available only to a privileged few who could afford the travel or those sponsored by their universities. It makes the process less hierarchal without undermining the expertise of the researchers and presenters.

    On November 9, Lev Manovitch wrote on his Facebook timeline: “One difference between 2016 and 1917 (Lenin) or 1933 (Hitler): we have phones and Internet. So we have to use our technology to resist, organize and do. Not just passively wait to be destroyed”. Moreover, we can disseminate knowledge in a compassionate way. I mentioned the activities that took place on the Waterwheel platform for a few years which brought together people from five continents in an environmental context. Still, these online spaces have to be developed further as they have huge potential. I mentioned it in my talk and I work on developing it further. If you wish to collaborate with me, please get in touch.

    I wish to take this opportunity to thank Ken and John for the conference and its interdisciplinary approach and structure which make it possible to engage with the environmental crisis from different fields and worldviews. I will definitely refer my students here.

  22. Michael Gasser, Radical System Change Santa Cruz says:

    I’d like to second the comments of Márgara and Lila on the value of onilne conferences such as this, not only because they can be more inclusive but because of the actual interaction that takes place. It’s true that there is nothing like a face-to-face conversation, but after many years of academic conferences (which I no longer attend) and 12 years of activist/political conferences or forums, I have found that with the short time together, the presentation + short Q&A model that no one seems to be able to break through, and all of the transportation complications, there really isn’t much chance for intimate face-to-face interactions. And when they happen there’s usually no record of them. With this conference, we could carry on conversations (albeit at a distance) at our own pace, and in our own homes or offices. And, as Lila emphasizes, there’s now a record of them.
    Ashish is right that the technology also excludes many people, especially in the South. That is something to work on, possibly through the creation of community internet kiosks that have been established in a few countries. In any case, it seems less challenging (and certainly more ecologically friendly) to bring in more people this way than to attempt to transport them to other continents. As for language, which he also mentions, this is a challenge for any international meeting, whether face-to-face or online. We need to move towards a multi-lingual meeting format, one that does not privilege those who happen to speak English. As one who works in language technology, I can tell you that machine translation will not solve the problem, at least not by itself; it’s still too primitive. But using a combination of the technology and human translators, it should be much easier to make this work in an online format than in a face-to-face conference, where there is little time for editing and correction. In any case, as Lila says, there is more work to be done in developing this new format.
    And thanks again to John and Ken for making this happen!

    • Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

      HI Ashish, Márgara, Lila, and Michael,

      Regarding the conference format, which you have all (prompted by Ashish’s comment) helpfully weighed in on, I take to heart Ashish’s observation that “a very substantial part of the world” does not have access to the technology needed to take part in a conference of this sort.

      This is, however, fortunately changing quickly, very quickly. By 2020 half of the world’s population will own a smartphone. Knowing this, we tired to make the website as useable as possible for mobile devices. Also realizing that participants may not have access to a high-speed Internet connection, at this conference we introduced full transcripts of the talks for two of the Q&A sessions, including this one. At our next NCN conference we hope to do this for all the talks. Since a video file can be more than 10,000 times larger than a text one, even if you cannot view the talk because of a poor Internet connection, you can still access it in written form.

      We similarly focused on making sure the hardware and software requirements were modest. As I noted in our White Paper / Practical Guide,

      In a sense, this NCN conference model is based on yesterday’s technology, rather than tomorrow’s. It neither requires specialized equipment to produce the talks nor to watch them, such as a studio outfitted with a green screen to allow for shifting backdrops or 3D goggles. To the contrary, a decade-old computer or entry-level tablet or smartphone is all that is required. Consequently, there is no need to rush out to buy specialized hardware that may ultimately contribute to GHG emissions in its manufacture, use, and disposal. Similarly, the software used can all be free and open source.

      The goal is to encourage as many individuals as possible – either as coordinators or speakers – to take part in NCN conferences. Consequently, a university in the developing world with a limited budget and largely outmoded desktop computers or an individual with a tablet costing under fifty U.S. dollars are as well positioned to take part in such conferences as anyone else.

      From the start, this NCN approach was vectored toward academic conferences, where the required technology should be more common. To again quote the White Paper, “In this, the second half of the second decade of the 21st-century, every scholar on the planet should have access to some sort of computer or tablet device and reliable access to the Internet. This is absolutely a requirement. Although this is not the case everywhere, this is a wrong that needs to be righted.”

      Still, I do take Ashish’s comment to heart.

      Although the Internet, computers, and mobile devices all have their own environmental issues, I also agree with the point that Lila made by way of Lev Manovitch, namely that these technologies have enormous potential for peaceful protest. As I noted above when I suggested that what is needed now is a “Vietnam Style Mobilization,” especially among millennials, “as this is the same generation that gave us social media (Mark Zuckerberg is just 32), they have the opportunity to reinvent protest for the 21st century.” I find the prospect of such global, peaceful protest, unified in a common cause yet diverse and diffuse, enormously exciting and appealing.

      Regarding the inclusive potential of NCN conferences that both Márgara and Michael addressed, allow me to again quote from our White Paper / Practical Guide:

      The cost of airfare from anywhere in the developing world to anywhere in the United States or Europe is sometimes greater than the average annual income in these countries. This simple fact has effectively long barred an overwhelming majority of the planet’s population from ever taking part in international conferences, ensuring that they remain open to only a privileged few. Even in wealthy countries like the U.S., the ability to participate in academic conference is a privilege unequally shared. If you happen to be lucky enough to teach at a wealthy institution, your travel funding may be relatively generous. Alternately, if you are a Ph.D. candidate from a university with a limited budget, you may have access to a fraction of such funds, if any.

      Although there may be a temptation to look back on the traditional conference format fondly, even nostalgically, in the face of new technology that may forever transform it, we also need to remember what we often tended to ignore, that this was an incredibly exclusionary practice open to only a privileged few. Scrolling up to the top of this page and looking back on this particular Q&A session on the U.S election, I find it immensely satisfying that the first person to jump in, Márgara, not only did so from the perspective of the Global South, but physically from that locale. This obviously instantly set the tone and opened the scope of the discussion for the better, keeping it from becoming an insular U.S. conversation.

      I also agree with Lila and Michael regarding the archive created by an event such as this one. In the White Paper, I spend quite a bit of time considering how this archive compares to traditional academic journals and the new breed of open-access ones (with which this NCN archive has the most in common) coming on the scene. Please indulge me one last time as I quote from that document:

      The NCN conference approach…promises to give a range of previously excluded scholars access to the epicenter of exciting new ideas. In the process, such conferences could even help shift scholarly attention more toward a field’s leading edge. In a sense, academic books often contain yesterday’s news insofar as the ideas in print were often first bandied about many months, even years before in conferences. Thus, if you want access to the leading edge of a field, it is far more likely to be found in conferences than books. Unfortunately, as only a privileged inner circle has historically had access to the conferences introducing these emerging ideas, the rest of the world has been left lagging behind with spotty, delayed, and sometimes nonexistent access.

      In contrast, the NCN conference and the archive that it leaves behind gives nearly anyone anywhere with the proper technology instant and lasting access to the ideas introduced there. This not only includes the talk itself, but the accompanying Q&A, which can prove equally useful and interesting. If properly constructed, the online conference archive could challenge the need for the publication of conference proceedings. 

      Regarding the archive (i.e. conference proceedings) that this conference is leaving behind, this particular Q&A session is already over 15,000 words in length – which is approximately 60 double-spaced pages.

      Finally, Michael, regarding the language barrier, I wholeheartedly agree that it is a substantial one and that machine translation will not likely satisfactorily solve it anytime soon. At this incarnation of our conference model, we integrated closed captioning for the first time. As with machine translation, voice recognition software leaves much to be desired. In this case, as you note with machine translation, “using a combination of the technology and human translators” seems to the best solution at the present. Consequently, we asked each of our speakers to edit the machine-generated closed captioning provided by YouTube for their talks for accuracy. At our next conference the goal is, by employing some of the incredible students we have here at UCSB who have been speaking two languages nearly all their lives, to additionally closed caption all talks in Spanish. We also intend to solicit talks that are not in English from speakers who can provide English closed captioning. We are still a ways off from seamless multilingual conference, but, as you perceptively note, “it should be much easier to make this work in an online format than in a face-to-face conference, where there is little time for editing and correction.” I would add that realtime online conference approaches, such as by way of Skype, GoToMeeting, or similar technologies, run into the same problem, as they also provide “little time for editing and correction.” Frankly, the prospect of a true multilingual conference is so fantastic (think Star Trek’s Universal Translator) from a traditional perspective that we have largely ignored the significant exclusionary shortcomings of the traditional conference on this count.


  23. Márgara Averbach, Universidad de Buenos Aires says:

    Hi, all, I just wanted (before I leave as always on Sunday for the day) to say that in spite of the fact that this kind of Conference is new to me and technology is not my field, or something that comes easy to me…, I have enjoyed the Conference a lot once I got a little more confidence in the medium… I want to thank Ken and John and Michael and Lila and all the others I got to meet here, in what we call in Spanish “la nube”, the cloud, for the opportunity, the ideas, the incredible resources and the respect… Thank you all, I hope this is the beginning…, not the end. I will keep on coming as much as I can and telling others to do so.

  24. John Foran, UC Santa Barbara says:

    Just a short, last-minute note of heartfelt thanks to everyone – those who gave us a talk, those who participated in the conversations, and to co-organizer and architect of the nearly carbon-neutral conference Ken Hiltner!

    I have enjoyed reading the very moving and substantial final reflections of Pallav, as well as those of Aashish and Lila and Margara, new comrades and fellow wayfarers all. Collectively, we have written over 16,000 words of reflection on the world we now face.

    You may be sure that I will join with all of you in all of the wonderful projects that are underway.

    We began this conference with considerable optimism, were dealt the harshest of blows with the election of climate-denier Donald Trump, and now close with renewed resolve to do everything we can to bring the world closer to our visions for it than ever.

    With gratitude to all


  25. Ken Hiltner (UC Santa Barbara) says:

    HI All,

    Yes, many thanks for all the work that John put in to make this happen, to Rick Thomas tirelessly working behind the scenes, and to all who became deeply involved. As John notes, this Q&A session generated the equivalent of two or three collectively written journal articles.

    Almost without exception, the first objection that people raise when they hear about our online conference model in some way concerns the “loss of human contact.” True, none of us met face-to-face, but I have never – and over the years I have been to quite a few conferences that took a range of forms – experienced anything like this Q&A session. To echo Susan Dieterlen from the Q&A to the opening remarks, I am “seeing that there’s a depth to the Q&A here that I don’t experience in ‘normal’ conferences.” (Incidentally, Susan noted this just one week into the conference.)

    Frankly, it seems simply unfair to compare this session to a typical 15- or 20-minute Q&A, or even to a spirited dinner conversation at a conference. Begin at the top and read down. What happened here is just so much more thoughtful and at times deeply passionate. Like it or not, the world is being increasingly connected online. If this panel is any indication of the potential of this, I like it quite a lot. What happened here was a conversation of the very best sort.

    This Q&A session is a testament to the resiliency and tenacity of all present. Going back ten days, it was already clear that we would rebound. As Pallav noted on the day that this session opened, “I am convinced that the results of the recent elections are a great opportunity for the genuine left and progressive sections of this country, and which are huge in numbers, to join together in a mass movement of resistance to the establishment. Let’s start organizing and let’s be in touch.”

    I cannot improve upon Pallav’s call, which is as moving as it is unifying. I would only note that I am happy to do whatever I can to facilitate our organizing and staying in touch. Please feel free to contact me.


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