All posts by Dr. Michael Forster

Dr. Michael Forster

Opening of a new piece on the “climate apocalypse”

Here are the opening paragraphs of a piece just sent out for review.  Students and colleagues who read this – feel free to tell me, “you’re nuts, man!”  (I truly hope you will convince me that I’m off base.)

Barring a miracle, the human species will soon face an existential challenge never before known in the history of its relatively short life on planet Earth.  Qualified optimism of just a few years ago regarding humankind’s capacity to avoid the worst effects of global warming has steadily evaporated before mounting evidence that climate change is advancing far more rapidly that initially predicted.  Much of Naomi Klein’s 2014 blockbuster book, This Changes Everything, was concerned with presenting the accumulated scientific case for alarm.  Since then it appears that each new study – whether of glacial melting, average temperature increase, sea level rise, desertification, disease vector shifts, methane release, ocean acidification, crop failure, extreme weather events, large scale die-off in the biosphere already well underway, and on and on – seems worse than the last, each new projection sounding more alarming than the one prior.

Yet despite the urgency of the situation, and the near unanimity of opinion that “something dramatic, must be done,” global political systems – either directly or indirectly shackled to unsustainable energy-intensive economic operations, and disinclined to cooperate with one another – have proven incapable of taking the kind of radical and enforceable action necessary to curtail carbon emissions and thereby plot a credible path forward.  The United States, of course, always a foot dragger in multinational discussions of the climate change action, has, with the election of Trump and the naming of climate-change denier Secretary Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, taken a very nearly incredible (in the literal sense) giant leap backward.

As such, a dispassionate calculation of probabilities suggests, soberly, if not outright grimly, that a painfully wrenching breakdown of the current extraction- and expansion-oriented order is much more likely than any rational and relatively smooth transition to a sustainable future.  Extinction of the human species itself – joining countless others either already dead, dying, or in growing jeopardy – no longer seems a farfetched possibility.  Indeed, no less a luminary of the left than Noam Chomsky has noted repeatedly in recent talks that the two greatest threats to humanity’s survival – both of them very real and growing – are nuclear war and ecological degradation, the greatest difference between them lying only in the speed with which we would die.  It is difficult to disagree in any substantive manner with the inelegantly put conclusion of the otherwise elegant writer, Roy Scranton, “We’re fucked.  The only questions are how soon and how badly.”

Dr. Michael Forster

Let’s move past the world as it is, toward the world that we want

Social work has always operated in the perpetual tension between “the world as it is” and “the world that we want.”  That tension has never been more palpable than today, under leadership that seems bent on destroying the last vestiges of our ailing republic.

A president who can pardon the criminal human rights violator Arpaio, who can mock the Constitutional separation of powers while refusing to decry racist rhetoric, and who can ratchet up talk of war and tax cuts for the rich while undermining health care coverage for low-income citizens, such a “leader” can do anything.  And political party leaders who claim to be “conservative,” but fail to challenge the radically destructive acts of a self-absorbed and incompetent autocrat, are no better than sycophantic Praetorian Guards sucking up to a corrupt Roman emperor for their own vile purposes.

Facing the reality of current circumstances, our profession’s obligations should be clear: We must resist all hate, discrimination, violence and scapegoating.  We must insist on raising up core values of civil society, notably compassion for suffering, protection of the public good and public space, and the solidarity of all people.  And we must desist from any and all forms of compliance, active or  passive, with injustice, oppression, and degradation of people or planet.

We cannot progress toward the world we want until we rid ourselves of the worst features of the world as it is.

Dr. Michael Forster

A majority of doctors now support a single-payer U.S. health care system

Good news for health care advocates (and that should include ALL social workers): Kaiser Health News is reporting that 56% of U.S. physicians now support a single-payer health care system, and that number is only likely to grow with time.  The finding is based on a new survey by Merritt Hawkins, a physician recruitment firm.

Moreover, just in the last year more than 2,500 doctors have endorsed a proposal drafted by the Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), and published in the American Journal of Public Health, calling for a single-payer system to replace the Affordable Care Act.

While the concept of a single-payer system remains controversial in the U.S., there’s nothing scary, or even unfamiliar, about it.  Single-payer simply means that a single public entity pays all medical bills, rather than an army of private, for-profit insurance companies.  We already have partial versions of single-payer in the form of Medicare/Medicaid, and the VA.  Despite what some scaremongers deceptively insist, single-payer does NOT mean that all health care services would be provided by government.

Why are so many doctors now on board with single-payer?  They’re sick and tired of the red tape and the constant hassling with insurance providers.  They want to help patients, not spend countless hours jumping through reimbursement hoops.

Virtually every advanced nation has made some version of a public payer-private provider health care system work, with far lower costs and better outcomes than the U.S.  So can we.




Dr. Michael Forster

North Korean flare-up is a great gift to Trump

Forget Russian collusion with the Trump election campaign.  The question we should ask now is whether North Korean “madman” Kim Jong-un is colluding with the tweeter-in-chief to distract us from the mess President Trump is making of what’s left of our democracy.

I’m not serious about collusion, of course.  But what president under pressure, let alone this one (“hit me, and I’ll hit you back harder”), wouldn’t welcome the narrative-shifting shock of an international crisis?  And what better crisis than the threat of war, and nuclear war no less – “fire and fury like the world has never seen”?  Say what you will about the president’s political immaturity, planetary immolation has a unique capacity to push lesser matters (the Mueller investigation, climate disruption, the health care debacle, the deregulation apocalypse underway throughout the executive branch…) from the focal foreground with blinding speed.

He probably won’t thank you, but you deserve a lot of credit, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim!  Talk about changing the conversation!

Dr. Michael Forster

Can Trump handle the truth of global warming?

Well, the fat’s in the fire, you might say.  The Congress-mandated National Climate Assessment report – a copy of which was obtained and just released by the New York Times – leaves little doubt that the planet’s been on a steadily rising burn for decades now, largely due to human action, notably the release of heat-trapping gases through uncontrolled use of fossil fuels.

What makes the report unique is that it’s the first major government climate study to emerge under the Trump administration.  The big question is: Will our compulsively and belligerently mendacious president and his supporters try to doctor, if not suppress outright, the report?  Based on White House actions to date (e.g. stripping all mention of climate change from websites, arbitrarily reassigning government scientists who speak out), the odds are that they will.

If in fact they do, everyone with the slightest smidgen of regard for reality and scientifically validated verity – but especially university faculty and students, ostensibly committed above all else to the pursuit of truth in service to life – should be outraged to the point of strong and unrelenting action against a leadership (and unfortunately that’s not Trump alone, friends) with, it seems, a planetary death wish.