Tag Archives: Carbon

The Bus Isn’t Always On Time

 

Ex 3 233

I wasn’t able to comprehend the sacrifice involved in cutting carbon emissions until I applied it to my own lifestyle.  I’m an active American college student living in the suburbs of a city with less than adequate public transportation and, to top it off the rain in this is relentless. I also have strong convictions and passion to seek and promote a sustainable lifestyle due to an overwhelming concern of a future energy crisis. After learning about the devastation of carbon emissions on the environment I was motivated to incorporate changes into my lifestyle in order to reduce my footprint on this planet. Instead of just preaching about the issues, it was my turn to apply my own action in an attempt to lessen the problematic situation. According to Michael C. Slattery, who wrote Contemporary Environmental Issues, “oil is the world’s predominant energy source, accounting for about 40 percent of energy consumption” (Slattery 35). According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s report on the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory, “ The Transportation accounts for approximately 33 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions… nearly 60 percent of emissions resulted from gasoline consumption” (U.S. Greenhouse). The really scary figure according to Slattery is that fossil fuels “account for almost 90 percent of commercial energy production worldwide” (Slattery 25). This figure includes natural gas, coal and oil consumption. Majority of the items that we utilize and consume on a daily basis are transported to us from another part of the world. Most of the transportation requires the use of dirty fossil fuels. This also includes foreign oil and, America is one of the leading oil importers on the planet making it one of the most crucial countries that need to take a step towards localization. In order to reduce my own footprint I decided my project needed to reduce my carbon miles in so I can move closer to a sustainable lifestyle. As an active American I decided to leave my keys on my dresser, and take up a sustainable commuting practice. My project demanded that I would specifically to utilize sustainable modes of transportation either by, bicycle or the use of the local public transportation system to commute to school.

In order to track my progress I decided to do some research in order to estimate my carbon footprint before and, after.  In May after the start of my project I was asked to fill out a form during week five that allowed me to estimate my greenhouse and transportation costs. I concluded that this particular worksheet allowed a solid platform so that I could accurately estimate my progress. According to my estimates and the mathematic equations my Subaru Outback station wagon runs at twenty two miles per gallon with a fourteen gallon tank. I would usually drive two weeks between refuels which estimated that I provide the planet with 7,884 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere alone by driving 8700 miles annually. This number frightened me which led to continued motivation for this project. I was under the impression that my car a twenty-two miles per gallon wagon would have been much more environmentally friendly. I was completely baffled, and overwhelmed by the own emission output. A closer look at the cost was also shocking. Driving an average of 24.38 miles per day costs according to the mathematical calculations of the chart cost $4.14 per day. This price may not seem like very much at first glance but, I assure you as a college student the cost adds up to an annual price of over $1500. Personally this is more than a months’ worth of living expenses in my situation. I was looking forward to adding the savings to my bank account balance. Frequent trips to the gas station would be a thing of the past! The monetary cost and the carbon emissions were eye openings and, it was time to incorporate changes. I am a full time student and, my only obligation has been commuting to school and back every weekday. Google Maps estimated my distance from the school as 3.6 miles. According to the C-Tran web site the estimated commute by bus this would take 16 minutes each direction. My commute to school required that I would travel an estimated 36 miles per week. Over the course of 55 days I could easily save over 400 miles. Not to mention the hassle of a community college parking lot that can last nearly forty five minutes every morning and hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide.

Public Transportation requires patience.  Commuting in a personal vehicle allows certain freedoms. The most important step in using transportations is accepting a loss of those freedoms. For instance, the bus drivers usually are very helpful and kind but, they are not running a taxi service and, they stick to the route regardless of any attempt at coercing. Any spontaneous stop on the way requires careful planning to avoid being late to my scheduled obligations. I had to plan my trips if, I wanted to stop by the grocery store or post office.  I had to plan ahead and check bus schedules and routes. This was expected although it took some getting used to. Spontaneity checked out of my lifestyle. The first two weeks I experienced the most amount of frustration while adjusting to the project and, I was slightly bummed. I felt a little lost at first as I noticed the loss of my freedom.  I missed my Outback and I felt awkward. The frustration set in shortly after I realized that this project wasn’t going to be as easy as I first anticipated. I continued the project with a certain level of frustration because; I felt that a small sacrifice of my personal freedoms was important for the commonwealth of the planet and future generations not to mention my grade.  I also have lived in several cities with efficient means of public transportation. Vancouver is not such a place. The inconvenience forced me to question my own convictions on modern day environmental issues. How could feel so passionate about the issues, yet frustrated at the application of better choices? I continued on the path of being a suburban bus commuter. I wondered if my sacrifice of convenience would really make much of a difference. After all, I am just one suburban college student.

When I conceived this project idea I had planned on commuting by bicycle several times a week. That’s when I also noticed that spring in the Pacific North West is not a favorable place to commute by bicycle due to the overwhelming about of liquid sunshine. I had hopes using a bicycle would have health benefits as well .I was wrong because, my motivation to ride a bicycle in a rain left me when I was awarded a drivers license at sixteen.  From my trial and error experience through the first few days I had decided that the bus was a better alternative. I didn’t have to pay the bus fare thanks to a student Identification and a bus pass that cost less than twenty dollars for the term.  Riding my bicycle 3.6 miles either left me drenched from the rain, or perspiration from the work out. The commute generally would last about twenty minutes each way by bus. This was actually a faster commute than driving the 3.6 miles because; I no longer had to deal with the parking issues at the school and the commute time by bus was less than by car.  My commute by bicycle was respectively the same. I was happy with the situation; although I did have several occasions where the bus took longer than expected and sometimes wait became major inconvenience.

I started to enjoy other aspects of the new lifestyle. It also added several perks that I grew to enjoy. For instance I grew accustomed to the reading time, and relaxing before class. I also learned that public transportation is entertaining if people watching. There is a strange man in his late seventies named Herb on the bus every other day who talks on his cell phone so loud that I know all about his grandchildren and, toe nail fungus. More importantly I was able to enjoy the time because I had little responsibility on the bus. It was a new concept which when driving a vehicle, one does not have. I became more observant, and felt I was making a difference.

I was accustomed to filling my fuel tank every two weeks and, during the project I was able to extend it to every four weeks. This was saving me money right off the bat and reduced my cost on gas in half. More importantly I was able to reduce my carbon miles by at least 36 miles per week. I did adhere strictly to my original goal of commuting to and from school during the week with sustainable means. My total reduction for my project had reduced my carbon miles by at least 360 miles. This equals the average amount of miles I get on one full tank. During the project I did miss the bus on a four occasions which hindered me from my goal of 400 miles. In order to make up for those days, I used the public transportation system on many occasions for grocery shopping, errands and, visiting friends. Unfortunately I did not document those trips nor add them to my estimated reduction because my goal was to commute to and from school and, not from other activities. According to the emissions chart, total emissions can be calculated by “Emissions per Mile = 20lbs / MPG”, which calculates to 0.9 CO2 per mile in my case. The total amount of carbon dioxide reduced during this project calculates to 324 pounds of carbon dioxide that I otherwise would have emitted into the atmosphere while commuting to school and back.

In all honesty I am still disappointed with the figure because at first glance it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference. However, if this project is going to continue I have estimated that during a period of one year of commuting by bus that I could reduce at least 1684.8 pounds of carbon from my annual estimate of 7884 pounds of Co2 emissions. By continuing the project I could reduce my emissions by as much as 19 percent over the course of a year just by commuting to school with public transportation! This is good for the environment, my pocketbook and conscience. Although is it enough? Could I do more?

Future generations are facing unprecedented problems largely thanks to global emissions and the burning of dirty fossil fuels. Oil, natural gas and coal consumption is continuing to grow in India, China and other developing countries around the globe. Expansion to find oil and natural gas is becoming dangerous, and unlimited resources are not available. Oil drilling expansion in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico could prove to have long term dangerous consequences. Even if unlimited resources were available our atmosphere wouldn’t harbor the pollution from those dirty resources. The United States is one of the leading contributors of greenhouse gases that are emitted globally each year. Greenhouse gas emissions are growing at an unprecedented rate and, unless action is taken to reduce the amount of pollution that is emitted into the atmosphere we will be looking at a much different planet in the near future. Recent reports claim that 2010 had reached the highest carbon emission output ever recorded.  It is important to start making an impact today in order to slow those changes from happening.  Slattery says “People tend to believe that scientists will give us all the facts we need to know about nature and the environment and that technology will somehow save the planet and all humanity” (Slattery 252). This project and the information we covered in class make me wonder if others will be willing to sacrifice some of their own conveniences for a greater common good.  Being a person with strong political and environmental convictions made this project a much easier than it would for others who are not concerned about the future of the planet.

The problems that we are facing are also disputed by a side with political corporatist agenda motivated by faith in capitalist society.  The republican controlled congress recently discussed the issues of climate change and voted against acknowledging it as an issue despite scientific evidence. Corporations are remaining largely unchecked for environmental hazards, and our legislatures have recently attempted to remove power from those who can hold the corporations accountable. This leaves a burden on responsible individuals to accept the reality that we are in and, make better choices for a brighter future. This leads me to believe that much of the future depends on the sacrifices that responsible individuals take now to reduce their own footprints in order to curb the many issues facing the planet. This could be difficult in rural areas, where people have longer commutes. Once upon a time I lived in the California San Joaquin Valley, and had a two hour commute to work in the bay area in one direction. I’m thankful this is no longer the case because; here I can utilize public transportation. Sadly, millions of Americans are in areas where public transportation is not a viable option. Public transportation in America is not as efficient as many other places in the world that I have visited. In Sweden, many locals claim that the rail has never been late. Many places in Europe may not be as efficient as Sweden but, the infrastructure has created much more efficient systems than the US in general. In fact, our high-speed rail system is virtually non-existent in the US.

Many experts argue that the best step forward would be to rearrange the economic structure and increase prices for oil in order to create a demand for localization in an economy. Transportation costs would then be increased, which in turn would increase the prices for consumer goods including food. Demand for local food and, consumer goods could greatly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are expelled into the atmosphere if done on a wide scale. This theory could also have major economic consequences for billions of people around the globe, especially considering food costs are already on the rise.

In order to reduce my own carbon footprint, I can easily change my own transportation options. I cannot change others means of transportation. However, I can make conscientious decisions to reduce my own footprint even further by choosing where I shop. In the Northwest, we have options to shop at local markets for food, and other item consumer goods which can be a major step forward. Local, simple living is another important step that can help reduce my carbon emissions and global emissions. My project has left me with a desire to continue to look for better options to reduce my energy consumption. Energy is an expensive necessity, but every individual has the ability to reduce their energy consumption. It only takes a little will power, and education.

Works Cited

United States. Environmental Protection Agency. US Emission Inventory Report. EPA 1990-2009. N.D. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/usinventoryreport.html Web. 06. June. 2011

Slattery, Michael C.. “Contemporary Environmental Issues.” Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt, 2008. Print.

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Save Money and the Environment

Saving money and energy? Yes please! The holiday season is upon us, which means we could all use a little extra savings. The fact is that many of the small choices that we make on a daily basis contribute to our environmental impact that we leave behind. The “on the go” lifestyle has many of us making small decisions that can end up making large impacts. Here are some helpful tips that can directly keep money in your credit union or buried in your backyard.

  1. Run your dishwasher with only a full load and when applicable use the energy-saving settings for drying. (Don’t use heat)
  2. Wash Clothes in warm or cold water, not hot water.
  3. Turn down your water heater thermostat; 120 degrees is recommended.
  4. Replace and clean air filters as recommended. The less energy needed, the more you save.
  5. Energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs can save money when you do need to use the lights.
  6. Wrap your water heater in an insulating jacket if your water heater is over 5 years old and doesn’t have internal insulation.
  7. Install low flow shower heads in order to use less hot water.
  8. Caulk and weather-strip around doors and windows to make sure you plug those cold air leaks! If you rent, call your land lord.
  9. Ask your utility company to conduct an energy audit to find out where your home is poorly insulated or energy inefficient, making sure you know the ins and outs of your home could make a big difference.

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Small Feet Still Leave Big Footprints

What is your footprint?Even when we make conscious decisions to limit our carbon footprints, we are still leaving behind a large trail. Small feet still leave big prints, especially in the developed world. Have you ever wondered what your carbon impact was on our beautiful planet? Most of our daily lives revolve around unsustainable practices, and the choices that we make drastically effect our environment. The good news, is that there are many ways to reduce our individual impacts on the planet and save money in the process. In the United States, most of the energy used comes from dirty fossil fuels which means that even when we choose to make sustainable choices we are still leaving behind large foot prints. If everyone lived like an average American, we would need four Earths to support the seven billion people on this planet today. You can check out your impact here to find out how many Earths we would need if everyone lived like you. http://www.myfootprint.org/

Here are some easy ways to reduce your carbon footprint and save money in the process:

  1. Unplug unused appliances. You can save money on your electric bill by unplugging your appliances, toasters, coffee makers etc. They still use a little electricity due to bleed off when they are plugged in.
  2.  Use power strips to turn off electronics. You can save money on your electric bill by using power-strips. Power=strips can be turned off with a button, and stop the electric bleed off.
  3. Compost. You can reduce your garbage output by composting at home, while giving back to your garden. Composting puts nutrients back into the soil removing the need to use petroleum based fertilizer’s.
  4. Turn off the lights! I can’t stress enough how much money you can save by turning off lights every time they are not being used.
  5. Turn down the heater. The less energy you use, the more you save and turning the heater down 2 degrees can save hundreds of dollars throughout the year.

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Importance of Civil Disobedience in a Democracy

Reality Television meets the Justice department; who is the villain and, who is the hero?   Tim DeChristopher, also known as “Bidder 70” is now a convicted felon serving a total of two years in prison for bidding on land being illegally auctioned off in Utah.  The protected land was being sold to private oil corporations illegally by the Bush Administration in 2008. The New York Times Journalist Kirk Johnson reported that DeChristopher had no intention of paying for the $1.8 million dollars of land he bid on in protest (1).  He is now credited with saving nearly 200,000 acres of land from environmental destruction.

The auction was eventually deemed illegitimate by a Federal Judge under the Obama Administration and, the 77 parcels of land will continue to be protected thanks to Bidder 70. According to the justice department he is a felon. To an environmentalist he is a hero. This is not a reality television show depicting a modern-day Robin Hood but, it is the reality that many peaceful activists are dealing with now. In the United States, we have a rich history of peaceful, non-violent direct actions also known as civil disobedience that have helped shaped the nation. However, civil disobedience remains controversial because the actions violate and ignore laws.  This is typically done peacefully with sit-ins, human blockades, public statements or creative demonstration designed to disrupt the status quo. This can allow activists to be arrested in a public setting in order to make a political statement to gain public awareness or sympathy. Recent fear of domestic terrorism since September 11th   resulted in the passing of the U.S. Patriot Act in 2001. According to Professor Patricia Nell Warren, author of The Front Runner, charges that were usually in the misdemeanor category can now be upgraded to criminal felonies (2). This may very well be dangerous to democracy. Since the Act is up for an extension, this is an important debate to have. Many people have argued that civil disobedience can lead to anarchy, violence, encourage criminal behavior and, is detrimental to a democratic society. Philosophers who support civil disobedience argue that nonviolent direct actions are an important part of a democratic society and may very well be protected by The First Amendment.  In the end, I am convinced that actions which qualify as civil disobedience are important to a healthy democracy because, they produce large-scale public support, awareness and, sympathy in order to challenge unjust laws or unpopular policy.

In order to understand the history of civil disobedience one must also explore the ongoing debate for a definition. According to Stephen Nathanson who is an attorney at law and has written extensively on the issue, defines civil disobedience as having four features which are “(1) illegal, (2) nonviolent, (3) public, and (4) done to protest a policy or law” (259). This can also include an act of conscientious refusal or conscientious objection. A conscientious objection or refusal is an act that blatantly ignores a specific law and justifies it by claiming a moral high ground or religious reason. Some also consider that for an act to be qualified as civil disobedience, demonstrators must also accept punishment from authorities. However, that may not be possible in all cases. Accepting punishment for a peaceful direct, non-violent action can allow an act to be claimed as a “civil” disobedient act and shows the public that the participants are willing to accept responsibility for their actions. This can be an important step for public acceptance on a controversial issue. Usually for large protests, an overwhelming number of participants will result in a relatively small amount of arrests due to a lack of police manpower. Overwhelming authorities with large numbers of peaceful participants is the ideal model for a successful action in which the government is temporarily overpowered and, is unable to carry out enforcement for a certain law. Historically, this is the catalyst in which civil disobedience forces a social or political reform and, public ideology. Another area of debatable controversy arises over the connotation of non-violence. Does property damage count as non-violent or is it only personal injury? This argument is usually debated in absolutes, and is subjective to opinion.

In order to understand the importance of civil disobedience in a democratic society, we must also look at important points in history that civil disobedience forced a transformation of thought or policy. The Boston Tea Party is credited as the first true American act of civil disobedience. Citizens of the colony of Massachusetts broke trespassing laws on a British sail boat and, threw the tea overboard in order to resist paying taxes without representation in 1789.

Controversial Anti-war Movements date back to Henry David Thoreau who is widely credited with coining the term “civil disobedience” through conscientious refusal of paying taxes to fund slavery and The Mexican American War in 1849. Thoreau also wrote extensively on the benefits of civil disobedience in a democratic society. Many experts continue to reference his contributions to the subject. It should also be noted that Thoreau never actually used the term “civil disobedience” but, after his death, a reprinting by his publisher created the phrase.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law in 1863, slavery was a controversial issue in United States. Activists of the era harbored runaway slaves and, organized the underground rail systems in order to protest slavery laws. We can also look to the Women’s Suffrage Movement which lasted from 1848 until 1920. Thousands of women marched in the streets without permits and, submitted to arrest to protest for the right to vote. This forced changes to the constitution, the addition of the 19th Amendment in 1920 and, removed gender discrimination laws. The Women’s Suffrage Movement activists participated in the first documented picket lines outside of the White House.

Later sit-ins and strikes organized by labor unions helped improve worker rights, working conditions and, eventually established the 40-hour work week. The Civil Rights Movement progressed with civil disobedience through large-scale marches, sit-ins and, conscientious refusal of segregation laws. This eventually produced Constitutional Amendments and improvements to racial equality.

Anti-War protests for Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s produced nationwide protests, sit-ins, and refusals to enlist in the military. The occupation of draft centers and, large-scale draft card burnings eventually forced changes in military recruiting laws and the end of the Vietnam War.

The new age Environmental Movement has raised concern as activists participate in civil disobedient acts that include sit-ins, blockades, tree sits, forest occupations, illegal marches and, gatherings in order to protest environmental protection. Most recently, civil disobedient acts protesting the War on Terrorism, the war in Iraq and, Afghanistan have been gaining support. Protests to support gay marriage, corporate personhood and, privacy laws are also being seen.

In each case, legal means were also perused with lobbying, letter writing, court orders, petitions and, legal protests. Voting for candidates that represented certain viewpoints has proven to be insufficient. In many, the legal means were ignored until large-scale public support was seen. Acts of civil disobedience were required in order to change the laws, policies and, in some cases, the moral ideology of the public. Many of the points outlined are considered special moments in US history although the first documented case in history dates to Socrates.

Many experts, including law enforcement officials, argue that civil disobedience can lead to dissidence, anarchy and an escalation of domestic terrorism. There have been many violent actions taken by some extremist individuals and organizations. The most notorious is the Earth Liberation Front (ELF).  According to James Jarboe, chief of the Domestic Terrorism Section of the Counterterrorism Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ELF has committed over 600 criminal acts since 1996, resulting in damages of 43 million dollars and the underground environmental extremist group has used arson as a tactic on numerous occasions and it has been reported that several injuries have occurred over the last two decades due to the violent tactics which includes tree spiking and most notably arson (1).  As stated by to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “From 1990 until June 2004 animal and environmental extremists have claimed credit for more than 1,200 criminal incidents” (Noyes 13).  Although there have been documented cases of criminal disobedience, they cannot be grouped with acts of civil disobedience by the definition consensus. Claiming that civil disobedience leads to criminal disobedience can easily be disputed as a slippery slope fallacy. On the other hand some extremist groups claim that the escalation of tactics is justified with an escalation of police brutality and lack of justice.  Horrific murders of three Kent State student protesters in 1970 by the Ohio National Guard, and the wounding of nine others for example. Elaine Holstein, the mother of one of the victims explains that the only justice received was a check for $15,000 even after appeals to the Supreme Court resulting in a glaring lack of justice (1). According to Professor Mathew Eagleton-Pierce’s study of the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle ended when martial law was declared and nearly 50,000 peaceful unarmed protesters exercising The First Amendment were fired upon in close range with tear gas and rubber bullets (331). Innocent bystanders were shot at and harmed by government officials as well.

Opposition against civil disobedience argues that violations of law cannot be justified in a democracy. Unjust laws made by a democratic legislature can be changed by a democratic legislature. Those who argue this view-point claim that civil disobedience erodes democracy, and is unpatriotic because better channels exist. Research Professor at Earlham College and leading voice of the Open Access Movement, Peter Suber states the objection, “The existence of lawful channels of change makes civil disobedience unnecessary” (110). In an ideal situation unjust laws can be overturned, changed, or altered to satisfy the moral justification of the public in an expedited fashion. Is this always the case? The evidence suggests otherwise. The Constitution granted all men as equal, yet racial and gender based discrimination continued for nearly three hundred years. The Declaration of Independence urges citizen’s to stand up to unjust and morally reprehensible laws when we consider the laws to be unjust, immoral, and impractical.  The United States was founded on that very notion (taxation without representation). Once the legal or diplomatic channels have been rendered useless, it may be time for peaceful action.

Others claim that any intentional violation of the law is a selfish criminal act which must be punished because, the First Amendment of the Constitution allows for peaceful and legal protests. A moral high ground cannot be claimed to justify actions when ignoring, violating or disregarding the law. This view is also known as the Social Contract Theory, a theory which an agreement is made by a person and the state they reside in. A person utilizes benefits of the state and, is therefore required to uphold the law. Any Violation of the law erodes democracy, and will lead to anarchy and chaos. J. Spencer Clark and Carl Cohen explain, “Breaking the law-under any circumstances-is not justified in a society that respects the rule of law” (Clark 54). Is the law absolute or, is justice absolute? Stephen Nathenson and Philosopher John Rawls explain that “civil disobedience addresses a community’s sense of justice, but this overlooks the fact that a community can have mistaken or conflicting conceptions of justice” (Nathenson 260). Perhaps the concept of justice is subjective to the environment and, moral values of the citizens within that environment. In an evolving and changing society values need to continue to hold up under scrutiny. If there are sound objections to a law, they must be debated in a democratic society, when a concept is not available in a legal debate, is it a democracy? Thought should be put in to the importance of upholding the law but not at the expense of democratic integrity. History provides several examples of unjust laws having a support of the governing body. Our environment is consistently evolving in order to provide a better equality for its citizens, and therefore grievances, will occur with a changing society’s sense of justice. My observation is that this usually happens when younger generations challenge the status quo.

A majority of experts who favor of civil disobedience maintain that nonviolent direct actions are required in order to bring about social change and major political change. They say civil disobedience may be protected by First Amendment because, according to Nathanson, “…opposition to [civil disobedience] requires mindless conformity to governmental authority” (261).  Wouldn’t reckless conformity to authority erode democracy in itself? If we look at the history of civil disobedience in the United States it is easy to come to a conclusion in that civil disobedience is required to make dramatic social, political and constitutional changes a possibility.  There has yet to be a major political or social reform movement that did not utilize the power of civil disobedience or conscientious refusal. Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, Labor Rights, Anti-War Protests, Gay Rights and the Environmental Movement have progressed with non-violent direct actions. The tactics of insubordination may have been different, but the effectiveness cannot be argued.  It is in the history books after all.  It must also be mentioned that civil disobedience did not solely make the social changes possible. When the nonviolent direct actions were coupled with a pursuit through other legal channels, social change was possible and constitutional amendments were made.  The public outcry through civil disobedience is the driving force that pressures the governors to listen to the governed.  This notion is the very foundation of a democratic society, where the governed have the ability to change the governing laws and, body of government.

According to J. Spencer Clark, who is also a leading education advocate on civil disobedience argues that it is beneficial to a democracy by allowing social and political change to happen over a relatively short period of around the world (54). Citizens are allowed to cast a vote for a politician once every two to four years. This might be insufficient for opinions of the people to be heard properly when rights and liberties are in jeopardy. Suber argues that “to bring an unjust statue to court for review, often a plaintiff must be arrested for violating it” (110).  By methodically violating an unjust law and entering the court system through arrest may allow a person or an affinity group to challenge the morality of the law directly.  In certain circumstances civil disobedience is the only way to get attention to a particular issue to alert the public in order to pressure representatives into challenging the particular policy. It also forces a legal appeal to the law. There are countless examples of civil disobedience having a major role in producing social and political changes in the United States when the political and judicial system failed to recognize a changing society.  For example, segregation continued until the 1960’s even though under the US Constitution all men are created equal. According to Suber, “Activists can always write another letter to their congressional delegation or to newspapers; they can always wait for another election and cast another vote. But justice delayed, [MLK] proclaimed, is justice denied” (110). Would segregation laws be removed without the added pressure of The Civil Rights Movement? Perhaps not, but until large-scale demonstrations became popular, which pressured the legislatures to address the issue in a timely fashion.

Proponents also argue in favor of civil disobedience because, they can inspire democratic revival essential at creating a large-scale movement. They claim that a direct action can trigger a positive emotional response from the public. According to Dr. Morris Aldon, who has written extensively on the history of civil disobedience,

A mass movement had transformed America, both Black and White consciousness were forever altered, and landmark legal changes had passed through Congress. The non-violent direct actions had a major impact at gaining support across the nation, building a large-scale movement which was able to eventually change laws. Civil disobedient actions can inspire others to become active and voice their opinions by conveying an emotional response to the public (14).

After completing a case study on civil disobedience Courtney L. Dillard writes, “This power comes from the intensity of conscience that civil disobedience allows the public to see part of the activists. Civil disobedience can be an empowering activity for both activists and the general public,” (15). Due to the controversial nature peaceful direct actions can greatly increases the amount of media coverage and circulation that a particular event will receive. The media has a responsibility to provide information on current events by, providing facts, editorials and coverage of important events. Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent techniques were able to gain worldwide attention. Actions by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) sparked the Civil Rights movements by gaining massive support and attention with help from the Media. Millions watched the CBS broadcast of the “I have A Dream Speech” live through television sets. Fair media coverage is essential in a successful movement and, some argue that the sole importance of civil disobedience is to gain public attention and sympathy through the media. Media outlets are more inclined to showcase provocative events in order to satisfy corporate sponsors, sell advertising spots and gain viewership. Likewise, provocative events are likely to obtain a larger audience and increase public interest or debate. An arrest can be an empowering activity that can inspire others to band together to show a moral, legal or political injustice. Dillard also concluded that, “When Civil disobedience is truly effective it can change society’s relationship… and even revitalize our public sphere“, (16). Would the Civil rights struggle be prolonged without large-scale outcries and non-violent direct actions like Rosa Parks? Would the Women’s Suffrage Movement been as effective without peaceful direct action?

Many experts argue that civil disobedience is justified by the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment. They argue that our founding fathers knew the importance of activism in a democracy and, the value of Freedom of Speech. The founders of The United States of America envisioned an ever-changing legal system that would adjust to the morals and principles of an evolving society. The Declaration of Independence states that “whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form” (US Declaration).  The First Amendment also grants the right to address grievances in the public with peaceful protests. It makes no mention of restrictions of the right. The Founders urged citizens to voice their opinions because; democracy is only a democracy with ample participation. Perhaps participation alone allows a system of checks and balances to maintain persistent stability and public acceptance of the Social Contract Theory. When the governing body ignores the will of the people, injustice prevails and democracy has failed. It is up to the citizens to protect the integrity of the constitution, the integrity of democracy and challenge injustices that arise. Conventional thought according to popular author Naomi Wolf, “We tend to think of American democracy as being somehow eternal, ever-renewable, and capable of withstanding all assaults” (25).  Suber, paraphrased MLK’s ideology perfectly, “[MLK] asks us to look more closely at the legal channels of change. If they are open in theory, but closed or unfairly obstructed in practice, then the system is not democratic in the way needed to make civil disobedience unnecessary” (110). Democracy is a working function of a collective voice of citizens that are consistently evolving and progressing with intent to become a better manifestation of a moral and righteous civilization. Civil disobedience provides an ability to participate in a democracy and challenge the integrity of the system. Participating in the system of democracy in order to bring about social or political reform is a patriotic function of responsible citizens.

History shows that democracy is a slow and steady process that has many spectrums and routes available to produce a variety of changes to a governing body within a society. Democracy requires dedication, hard work, diligence, intelligence and participation to remain genuine. This is why our legal system was instilled with a system of checks and balances to insure ongoing stability. Most pivotal in the aspect of a continued equilibrium is the freedom for people to express their political and social views with conviction, perhaps the most celebrated right that an American can express. Testing the limits of the First Amendment can provide effective tactical advantages for organic grassroots movements. Looking at the major movements, history provide sufficient evidence that civil disobedience is a catalyst in bringing about changes and igniting large-scale movements to challenge social norms. Civil disobedience has repeatedly been able to hold the process of democracy accountable when a new consensus is reached and legal channels are refused.  Large scale movements have the ability to ignite political debate, and eventually amend the way our society governs itself.  We consider ourselves to be a free and educated society, yet segregation ended with in my parents’ lifetime, and racism is still an issue in some areas. The government fears change, and it is up the citizens in a democracy to force change. Thomas Jefferson once said that, “In matters of style, swim with the current, in matters of principle, stand like a rock” (Moncur).

The Patriot Act will be up for a renewal soon, which may prove to be an important moment in history. Will our society benefit from upgrading a misdemeanor charge to felony charge? Currently in Washington State, the maximum charge for driving drunk is one year in prison for a first time offender, an offense that recklessly endangers countless people. This is minuscule when compared to the charges that Bidder 70 is facing who endangered only his own freedom. Civil disobedience is a cornerstone of social changes and reform. Americans have historically been proud to express it with an altruistic ideology of standing up for what one believes is right. Any legislation that hinders the evolution and progress of a society should be considered a dangerous assault to the foundation of a working democracy. Violation of civil law can now end in felony charges and a long-term prison sentence for upsetting the status quo and challenging moral principles in hopes of persuading the public or governing body.  This is a big part of democracy, and the message behind the Declaration of Independence, isn’t it? Bidder 70 will be serving a prison sentence for disrupting an illegitimate auction for a patriotic and altruistic attempt to hold the legal system accountable through an act of civil disobedience. I ask again, is he a hero, or a villain?

Image by a haynes via Flickr

Image by a haynes via Flickr

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