How to Save Our Asses in Short Order: Activism, Hacktivism and Activist Investors

Last week was a dark week despite the continual blasting of heat from the sun and bright blue skies, but that’s part of the problem isn’t? If you’re not frying like an egg in one part of the planet, you might be wondering if you have the aptitude for boat building. I couldn’t find any positive environmental-related news last week. Instead, it ended up a long session of what kids these days call “Doom Scrolling.”

Each article making me more angry, sad and frustrated. I’ve always operated in a morally gray area. If you take a psychology class chances are you’ve encountered “the Trolley Problem.” In short, you’re standing at the track switch and you see an out of control trolley going towards five people who are tied up and can’t move. If you flip the switch you can save them, but you’ll kill one person on the other track.

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I’ve always been trained to do the most amount of good with the least amount of damage. I would flip the switch, but I’d also make a run of that one person. We don’t have details on how fast the trolley is going or how far you are, but I’d try to make a run for it anyways. If nothing else, I would serve as a distraction, maybe that helps? Maybe I do get to the person in time and get them completely or mostly off the track. If they lose their leg(s), but keep their life I’d still call that a win. Honestly, this question could have many more variable factors in it, I suggest you not think about it too long unless you’re aiming for a truly depressive state of mind. So why am I bringing it up?

Because maybe if we maintained the flippin’ trolley in the first place we wouldn’t be put in such a moral dilemma! The trolley is our planet. We are already standing at the switch and the track is the degree to which we let human-caused emissions raise the global temperature. We do not all have an equal amount of leverage though. Developed Nations have more leverage, Corporations have more leverage and the Ultra-Rich have more leverage.

We are all beholden to them on if they choose to act on climate change, how they choose to act on climate change and when and how fast they do it. I don’t like them having so much leverage. Do you? I feel that some of these people are so incompetent they’d have such an uncontrolled, oversized trolley taking out all six people and a couple of puppies and kittens to boot!

WHAT CAN WE DO!

We need to pull out our wrenches and chocks (wedges used to prevent vehicles from moving) and get to work. We need to change the system, disrupt the system. Peacefully and strategically. The Ultra-Rich think they can buy up mansions in places like New Zealand and other believed-to-be “climate Havens”, we need to give them some smelling salt to wake the fluff up! There is no safe place from a seriously angry planet.

Money talks, that’s why the Ultra-Rich and everyone else is so keen to hold onto it. So, it was a brilliant maneuver when the activist hedge fund, Engine No.1, secured three seats on Exxon Mobil’s board of directors. First, they had to have enough capital and stakeholder assets to be qualified to make the board. This required convincing a few key stakeholders to back them up, BlackRock and the California State Teacher’s Retirement System. While holding three seats on the board doesn’t give them majority rule on what the oil giant does, they do have an opportunity to present proposals and lean into the idea of working towards renewable energy services.

It’s unfathomable how many opportunities we’ve missed to improve the energy and technology sectors over the decades due to gross misuse of anti-competitive practices within these and other key industries. Certain companies have been buying up patents and smaller “asset companies” for years only to bury them deep in the dark recesses of filing cabinets. Why? Because the patent or intellectual property of that company threatened the profitability of a mega corporation that wasn’t interested in changing its business practices. I can’t give you names or evidence here, because this kind of information gets carefully scrubbed from search engines and this humble web keeper doesn’t have the resources to go picking fights with C Corps right now. 404 – Files not Found.

Karnataka Protest Poster, Karnataka Water Rights Coalition, Bengaluru (Bangalore) 2004, Melanie Reynolds

Activism  How do you define Activism? Holding up a sign in protest is only one form of activism. Other ways include using your purchasing power to support companies and organizations that make a commitment to the things you believe in. It can be writing to a company to tell them you like and support their sustainability issues and that you, as a customer, are taking notice. You can also write to companies you won’t support and tell them, why you don’t support them (ie wasteful packaging, high CO2 output.)

Hacktivism You’ve heard of computer hackers and life hacks. Hacking in itself isn’t a bad thing. There used to be a distinction between “Hackers” and “Crackers.” Crackers are typically “the black hats” that want to steal your money or information for takedowns and sabotage. Hackers are testers, they want to find out how things works or test their skills. A “White hat” hacker will find exploits and notifies the appropriate person so it can be fixed. Anyone at any age can be a hacker. Don’t let Hollywood fool you into thinking its just lonely, acne-infested, teenage boys. My Grandma would have been a great hacker! So what’s hacktivism? The “Trolley problem” above as an example: The cracker steals the wheels of the trolley. The Hacker figures out how the trolley works. The White hat Hacker figures out how the trolley works, see that the brake is broken and notify the appropriate authorities. If the hacker also like knots, maybe they could go down and untie those people on the tracks while they’re at it!

Spy vs Spy, MAD Magazine comic strip By Antonio Prohias

Activist Investors Let your money do the talking. Move your assets into ESG (Environmental, Social Governmental) funds or active Sustainability funds. You choose whether to be an active or passive investor. There are a lot of online resources and most of the biggest investment firms now have some sort of ESG portfolio to varying degrees.

I just bought a book fresh of the press that has me really excited about doing this. I’m only in the first chapter so far. Let me know in the comments if you want a book review when I’ve completed it. It’s called “Activate Your Money: Invest to Grow Your Wealth And Build A Better World By Janine Firpo”

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Links:

How the Economy Has to Radically Transform to End Fossil Fuels in 20 Years (vice.com) or

The U.N. IPCC climate change report is bleak but hopeful. (slate.com)

Trolley problem – Wikipedia

Exxon Mobil Defeated by Activist Investor Engine No. 1 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Secret IRS Files Reveal How Much the Ultrawealthy Gained by Shaping Trump’s “Big, Beautiful Tax Cut” — ProPublica

There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Climate Haven’ – Bloomberg

Yes, the ultra-rich are still buying NZ$80m homes (in case you were wondering) | Stuff.co.nz (May 8,2020)

Silicon Valley Moguls Buying $8 Million Doomsday Bunkers in New Zealand (businessinsider.com) (Sep 6, 2018)

Anti-competitive practices – Wikipedia

How Google Search Results Are Being Manipulated By Shady Online Reputation Consultants (buzzfeednews.com)

https://blog.malwarebytes.com/101/2021/06/white-hat-black-hat-grey-hat-hackers-whats-the-difference/

What the trees remember

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The day will soon come when my son won’t need me to walk him to school anymore. So last week I worked in one of my mini-nature talks about what the trees remember. I want him to respect the trees as living beings. I want him to recognize their place in the world. Not only as a natural resource from which lumber is made, but that they live and grow and die as we do. They remember the years they had to fight off bugs and diseases. They remember the summers of wildfires where their brethren and maybe they themselves had been burned by fire. The smoke and scars all get trapped up into their growth rings. They bear witness or injury from human historical events as well. Miles of mountain tops from Seattle to the Pacific ocean are barren except for the millions of stumps, like gravestones, that harken the growth of the developing metropolises that became Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.

Seattle is the original home of the term “skid row.” It was a road or track where logs were pulled down on greased skids towards the sawmill. It also became where the destitute came to live and look for work, especially later during the time of the Great Depression in U.S. (late 1920s and early 1930s.) If you said someone was “on the skids” it meant that they had run out of luck and were sliding into poverty. The term “Skid Row” has since been adopted throughout many English-speaking countries across the world to mean a “poverty-stricken neighborhood.”

During the U.S. Civil War, General Sherman with the Union Army marched from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia in a campaign called “the march to the sea.” This march was notable for his use of what military agencies call a “scorched earth” policy. It’s as terrible as it sounds. Everything is destroyed in their path. People and animals are killed. Trees, fields, and buildings are burned. Transportation infrastructure such as railroads, roads and bridges are destroyed. For decades after General Sherman’s army had passed burned and living trees alike could be found with railroad ties bent around their trunks in what was called “Sherman’s neckties.”

General Sherman is not alone in employing the “scorched earth” policy, it has been used throughout the world since the beginning of ancient warfare. Many decades later, the Genova Convention of 1977 explicitly calls out for people who are not active participants of a war or conflict to be treated humanely (i.e. not killed). Were I in such a predicament to be facing an army using the scorched earth tactic I would not wait around in hopes they would abide by the conventions.

The threat of global warming in many ways feels like the beginnings of a war to me. The protection of natural resources vs the continuing onslaught of sloppy, lazy, greed. Throughout the U.S. court system corporations have managed to push for themselves the rights of “personhood” by hijacking the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which was meant to recognize the emancipation of Black Slaves after the U.S. civil war.  

This matters, in that it gives corporations undue agency to act in ways that may be counterintuitive to “the common good” or the will of the people in benefit of their community. I give you these examples based in U.S. History due to my stronger familiarity with it, but I assure you that none of these concepts are unique to the U.S. alone.


If you’re reading this from another country, can you think of any natural landmarks, trees or rocks, that have been marked by a significant historical events in your country? If so, I would love to hear about them!


Have you seen a landscape that’s been mined for heavy metals? Or a river sucked dry, poisoned, or otherwise starved of life? I have. I’ve seen it with my own eyes in the US, Canada, and India. I’ve seen communities of people, fish, animals and plants die by what was done on corporate and government properties, hectares of scorched earth, bled beyond it’s borders. So environmentalists are trying a new tactic to protect what they can by arguing for the personhood of river, lakes, forests and land. After all, if corporations can claim it, why not a river?

We must force governments and corporations to be environmentally responsible now and not just talk about doing it 20 or 30 years from now, by then any such architects of their plans will be retired and happy to let someone else deal with it. Corporations are not held to same level of responsibility as an individual person. If you crash your car into someone house, you don’t get the luxury to do something about it thirty years from now.

To be clear, I’m not anti-business. I recognize that there are several companies that are trying to be partners within the communities where they operate. I applaud them for not waiting 20 to 30 years to make substantial changes. In fact, when I see that a company is committed to making environmentally sustainable practices and not just greenwashing, I make a point to remember them and support them if I can. I’ll also write them an email and say, “As a customer, it makes me very happy to see that you use [carbon-offset shipping] practices and [biodegradable packing materials].” If you’re a business owner, please don’t put it upon your customers to do the right thing. I have a bunch of Styrofoam in my garage that I’ve been saving up for years to make it worth the time and gas to drive it to the special recycling center 45 minutes away.

We need to speak up, as customers, employees, and members of the community when we see thing done right, but also when we see that things could be done better. It’s humbling when you look at a tree several thousand years old and think of all that it has lived through. The civilizations that have come and gone while this tree remained standing. I consider the trees and wild animals in my neighborhood to be members of my community. I do not want to see a grand old tree chopped down and made into toilet paper or shipping boxes.

Related Links:

10 Oldest Trees in the World (Updated 2019)

 Yesler Way: the history & origin of “skid row” | The Filson Journal

 Sherman’s neckties – Wikipedia

The History of Corporate Personhood | Brennan Center for Justice

Common good – Wikipedia

Drought-hit California moves to halt Nestlé from taking millions of gallons of water | California | The Guardian

Uganda joins the rights-of-nature movement but won’t stop oil drilling (msn.com)

20 Firms Are Behind Half Of Globe’s Single-Use Plastic Waste : NPR

An Army of Little Poopers

The clues started to emerge that they were coming, nay, that they were already here! Grabbing a pan from the drawer below the oven I spied small bits of play dough at the bottom. Strange that it would be there. No reason for it. I make it for my son and it goes from pot, to kneading on a cutting board, to official play dough container where it gets played with on the dining table. Most kids have outgrown play dough well before his age, but we could give it a new name to make it cool again, we would call it “brain dough” instead. Artists come by inspiration in many ways, and I would say even people who consider themselves “non-artist” have a form of art within them either unspecified or unnurtured.

For my son, the tactile feel of the malleable blob helps him open his mind to shape stories. The secondary evolution of these characters in his head have recently started to come out more through drawing. Maybe it all will stay as lifelong hobby, leads to an eventual career, or get put aside for other things. It doesn’t matter he’s only ten. This still doesn’t explain the play dough in the oven drawer though, but it was late, and I decided to deal with it tomorrow. Then yesterday morning my spouse remarks that the dog must have snuck down in the middle of the night and finished her last little bits of kibble. No, I knew then it was a mini intruder or intruders. A little play dough hoard, little missing bits of dog kibble, sounds like mice to me!

Sure enough I took all the pans out of the drawer find lots of hard play dough bits and mouse poo. I track the lines of poo along the edges of the wall. I can see where it’s been. It’s like they drop a turd for every step they take. How terribly inefficient. There was no smoking pile though, no obvious enter/exit point. I thought for sure it would be some small hole behind the refrigerator, that would be classic, but alas, I can find no entry point to block so I’m likely going to have to call for help. My regular guy recently retired. Despite being an exterminator, he was a nice guy, and like me doesn’t believe death needs to be unnecessarily cruel or painful. Some of the exterminators around here are shadier than any rat could ever be. They can fleece you out of thousands of dollars in their abatement schemes.

I just want the mouse or mice to not be in here, pooping along my baseboards. They should be out in the field, that’s why we call them “field mice” not “house mouses.” (Don’t get me started on that shady Micky Mouse either!) Another nature friend of mine, a former coworker, woke up one morning and felt a small fuzzy body curled up next hers once, it was a mouse! She did not freak out. She took it outside and let it go. That mouse was lucky! It knew it was curling up next to nice a human. We don’t really want to kill this mouse either. If I could catch it and put it outside to go live in the woodpile, we would do that.

When I was in India in 2004 I took an eight hour train ride from Bengaluru (aka Bangalore) to Raichur with my undergraduate group. We were there to study social and environmental issues in India as part of a study abroad program. I was the oldest student by about 5-7 years. Just before the doors closed in Bengaluru a mouse came on the train. Someone before us have eaten shelled peanuts and left them on the floor. Some of my fellow group members got all into a panic. The seats on the train were benches stacked two tall. So all the scared-y cats piled up on the top two benches and I got the peanut seat all to myself, until Kedar, one of guides/translators for the trip was happy to join me and equally chill about the presence of the mouse. I pushed the peanut shells deep under the seat where the mouse could pick through them without harassment.

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

Kedar and I spent the whole train ride talking. We talked about his upcoming arranged marriage and drafted schematics for bioreactors. A machine that can speed up the rate of decomposition for solid human waste into organic compounds for fertilizer. The tricky part isn’t technical or mechanical issues but getting the “material” from the producers; everyone in society, to the consumers; farmers that can use it to help their crops grow better. In manufacturing this is called a “closed loop system” or “cradle to grave” product because it is continuously redistributed. This is how we need to revolutionize manufacturing throughout the world if we want to survive as a species. This is why “single-use plastic” is a loaded term. When someone is using this term, they are telling you; “This item does not break down. It can stay with us for a millennia.” There are billions of single use plastics polluting the earth. You can do your best to reuse it as many times as possible, you can recycle it to be made into a new bag perhaps, but eventually its going to end up in the landfill, waterways, or landscape. It delays the issue; it doesn’t solve the issue. There is hope on the horizon, by promoting certain strains of bacteria that has evolved to eat plastic and poop out inert organic compounds.

Don’t let the doom and gloom of climate change stories leave you resigned to a fate of destruction. While I too occasionally get depressed over terrible stories or things that I witness I’m incapable of giving up. Letting go is hard to do, but I can do it when I know it’s the right thing to do, but I won’t give. I won’t give up on the life of this planet, little poopers and all.

A few stops before Raichur with only Kedar and myself still awake during the all-night train ride we watched the mouse get off at his stop. I knew exactly where it was going as if it could feel by internal rhythm or the smell of the air that this was its stop. I turned to my friend and said. “Ah look, how nice of the city mouse to come visit his cousin, the country mouse.”

More to explore, External Links:

Amazing Facts about Mice | OneKindPlanet Animal Education & Facts

How Do Bacteria Eat Plastic? | American Council on Science and Health (acsh.org)

Bioreactors Types: 6 Types of Bioreactors used in Bioprocess Technology (biologydiscussion.com)

Bioreactor landfill – Wikipedia

Aesop’s Fables  The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse – Wikipedia