If A Tree Falls In The Woods

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[The following is excerpted from my new book Don’t Think Of A Republican – How I Won A Republican Primary As A Lefty Progressive And You Can Too, which recounts the rhetoric and strategy of satirical candidate H.F. Valentine’s unprecedented 2022 primary run. See the whole book here.]

Excerpt from H.F. Valentine’s Interview with Jackie Philbin, 88.7 FM (local NPR affiliate)

Jackie Philbin: Mr. Valentine, you’ve been very critical of both Democrats and Republicans over the United States’ approach to handling Climate Change. What makes your approach better?

H.F. Valentine: Well, I don’t know if you can compare our approaches, because I don’t think we’re trying to solve the same problem. 

See, we have a race to cure cancer, not the symptoms of cancer. We have a race to cure Alzheimer’s, not the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. And yet here we are, in a race to cure Climate Change. Yet Climate Change is not the disease; it’s a symptom. And not only is it a symptom, it’s the last stage of symptoms. 

Maybe just maybe, before our Climate Change solution becomes a death lottery where the bodies are burnt for fuel, we’ll realize that we’re in a race to cure our minds from the diseased economic logic that puts profits over people, privatizes our commons, and sees our finite resources as an all you can eat buffet.

JP: So are you saying you don’t believe we should be taking measures to reduce greenhouse gases?

HFV: Of course I believe we should be reducing greenhouse gases. I believe we should go so far beyond what our current approach is that it makes the moon shot look like changing your light bulbs. And if you look at my policy proposals regarding Climate Change, you can see that.

What I’m saying is that Climate Change grew out of a set of circumstances. And we have to address those circumstances or else fifty years from now it’ll be something else we’re trying to figure out how to mitigate and/or adapt to.

All these drug resistant bacteria didn’t come out of nowhere. The bees up and dying didn’t come out of nowhere. But we keep acting like Climate Change just came out of nowhere.

Denying where all these things come from is still a form of denial. It’s a denial that anything but the decay of civilization is going to result from our backwards-ass economic thinking. 

It’s the reason why all your colleagues in the media debated for years whether there was really a tree falling in the woods.

JP: But the polls show that Climate Change Denial is way down from where it was even a couple years ago.

HFV: And that’s a good thing. But the problem wasn’t just Climate Change Denial. It was the denial of what created it. It’s a denial about the greed that rots our economic practices.

It wasn’t just the batshit Climate Deniers asking, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, are there really woods?” 

It was the rich mofos before them, asking, “If I’ve got a beaver farm in the middle of the woods, do I have enough money and connections to get the politicians and the media to pretend they don’t know why a tree fell?”

JP: So you would, as a Republican Representative, endorse the Green New Deal?

HFV: Of course I would endorse it. Hell, I would personally go beyond the Green New Deal. But I also know that we won’t get either until we get money out of politics. Until we get money out of politics, we’re going to continue on with an economic system that promotes the belief that everything that makes this earth beautiful and habitable must become the sole property of either an individual or a corporation so they can chop it all up into little pieces and sell it back to us like they’re doing us some kind of favor.

JP: And what kind of economic system would you propose to replace that?

HFV: That’s not up to me. That’s not for me to design. That’s for a truly free and democratic process to develop. The problem is we don’t have a democratic process as long as there is money dominating our politics. 

I’m not telling you what our economy is going to look like, or even should look like. I’m saying: Let’s get money out of politics and see what happens.

Let’s get money out of politics and see what happens.

Otherwise, we’re just as bad as the Climate Change Deniers.

H.F.’s Note:

For over half a century, we’ve had enough evidence to acknowledge that fossil fuels are a “can’t beat ’em / join ’em” game. Meaning if we can’t give up fossil fuels, we’re probably going to become fossil fuels. Yet rather than spend hours on the campaign trail going over the mile long detailed list of policy actions I supported, all of which would be far greater than anything being proposed by the current administration, I thought it was more effective to focus on Climate Change as a symptom. And by linking the threat of Climate Change to our focus of getting money out of politics, we were able to show how imperative both tasks are. If we could get money out of politics, it would take out a great deal of the incentive to sabotage our efforts to tackle Climate Change, and would provide even more incentive to go after real solutions. 

Plus, it brought Republican voters, some of whom might have still been Climate Change skeptics, back to the central issue of getting money out of politics.

Having said that, I don’t believe that we can just gloss over the issue with voters. Soberly describing the threat is important. I believe it is the number one issue/threat the United States and the world faces today, and I personally have no patience for whatever deniers or stallers or obfuscators there are left in the political or media spotlight, nor anyone who still touts an all of the above approach to energy. 

If we’re going to escape a worst-case Climate scenario, everyone has to understand the responsibility to act. And in a political campaign, that understanding isn’t as much a matter of science as it is framing. 

When I talked about Climate Change, I talked about the plight of farmers. I talked about access to water. I talked about our children’s futures. I constantly referred to the sin of greed. And when highlighting the actual economics of not doing enough, I aligned economic efficiency with the most common comprehension of morality.

But most of all, I revisited the absurdity that is Republican Party authorized political identity.

In a speech I gave toward the end of the primary, I stated, “It’s bad enough that the GOP, and my primary opponents, have openly surrendered all interest in the issue of better healthcare. Now they tell Republican voters that they must also cede their most sacred task to the Democrats, that being Stewardship of the Earth.

Is that what kind of politician you want? Is that what kind of Representative you want? Someone who leaves their work, indeed the most important work that could be done right now, for the Democrats to do?

The question in this election is not whether this is happening. You know it’s happening. The question is, Republicans, how long are you going to allow it to happen?”

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