Jan 31, 2020
by Stephanie Hiller
On January 22, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists unveiled its annual assessment of global safety in the iconic form of its “Doomsday Clock,” now standing at 100 Seconds to midnight – that is to say, world annihilation is now more imminent than it has ever been in the 73 years of the Bulletin’s existence.
I listened to the talks that accompanied this revelation. The Bulletin had identified three dangerous threats – the nuclear threat, intensely magnified by the breakdown in negotiations worldwide; climate change; and perhaps most shocking, the spread of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and their likely use in space warfare.
None of it was new to me, but the concise rendering of the unimpeded progression of these lethal forces by three eminent scientists was devastating.
Former Governor Jerry Brown, now the Executive Chair at The Bulletin, in his comments after the scientists’ reports, said it was hard for him, who had written perhaps a million words, to express how he felt. “If you tell the truth about such things,” he said, “no one will listen to you, and you will be viewed as a prophet of doom.”
But speak he did, growing more and more fervent, declaring that most of the world was asleep to the reality of the dangers we face, and urging media and the audience to wake people up.
With those words reverberating in my head, I proceeded to a meeting of the Sonoma Planning Commission which was devoted to a discussion of a revised proposal by Verizon to install three cell towers in midtown, with seven more expected to follow in undetermined residential areas.
Though promised to be only for 4G, these “small cell” towers are the precursor to the installation of the newest cell technology 5G, (otherwise why bother?) which is one of the very technologies to which William Latiff had alluded. 5G is a global network heartily supported by “this president” whose corrupt behavior has been dramatically exposed, also this week, in the Senate impeachment hearings; it also has disruptive military and surveillance capacity.
But the Planning Commission can only object to this installation on its “aesthetic” appearance.
I had to leave the meeting.
This is a local column, but there are times our hearts must stretch beyond our territory. I teach older adults at Oakmont, which has been rocked, also this week, by the news that the Board of Supervisors has approved a temporary shelter for homeless people across the highway at Los Guillicos, a detention center for delinquent youth. Many Oakmonters have objected to this choice of location, including our supervisor Susan Gorin, who also has a home at Oakmont.
In a casual conversation before class, one of my students, Susan Aiken, told me about angry remarks she had seen on Facebook. She commented she was thinking of doing what she could to help make the situation workable.
“After that, the comments on Facebook changed,” she said. Others started speaking of how they might help. Since then 85 have signed up to volunteer.
Could this experience become a positive exchange between the well housed and the unsheltered?
We are all aware of the growing ranks of the homeless, and of the housing crisis that has beset our country, especially California. Of course there are many different reasons why people become homeless, but for some, surely, the high cost of rents must be a factor. Sustainable Sonoma, of which I am a member, has been working for over a year on designing a framework for building affordable housing. Certainly one limiting factor is the vestigial class and race prejudice against sharing space with people of color, like Latinos. Despite regulations mandating “fair housing,” unjust restrictions still occur.
It may be an understatement to say that we sure have a lot of problems! Our society seems to be coming apart at the seams. “But very few people are worried,” said Jerry Brown, banging his fist on the table.
“Talking about what we’ve been talking about today is profoundly deviant. We’re not supposed to utter the truth about the power of mankind to destroy itself.
“But we’re not there yet. We can still pull back from the brink.
“The task is to wake people up.”
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