The Solutions are Hidden in Plain Sight–if you look through 21st century eyes

IMG_4806A lot of us in the Northeast are doing our share of grumbling this year about the Arctic air that just won’t go away.  Usually March is the time when the winds start to blow, the sap starts to rise, the snow melts into the thawing earth and our thoughts turn to snowdrops and crocus.

This year, we’re still in the deep freeze with a hardpack of snow on the ground, and no end in sight.

It’s all part of the erratic weather of our climate change era.  The question for all of us now is, how, beyond bitching and moaning, are we going to respond?

Most of us just shrug and turn the dial on the heater up a little higher, not thinking about what that very small, ordinary act really entails.

If your thermostat is wired into an oil burner or a natural gas furnace, like most homes and apartment buildings in the Northeast, then when you turn up the dial in response to the bitter cold you are, perhaps unwittingly, enabling, supporting and becoming an integral part of the very industry that is relentlessly destroying our climate.

The fossil fuel industry is not some demonic force outside of our control.  It’s just a human business that is responding to human needs for energy—lots and lots of energy.

We Americans are used to getting what we want, and what we’ve wanted, in the 50 years I’ve been on the planet, is ease.  What could be easier than turning a dial to make your house warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer, or gassing up your comfy car before you get on the freeway?

1_RussetLikewise in terms of agricultural production—we like to get our vegetables pre-washed and sometimes even pre-cut, all even-sized, no blemishes, laid out attractively in faux crates under spotlights in our upscale grocery stores.

When we buy that bag of potatoes or carrots, we’re not thinking about the tons of pesticide, herbicide, fungicide and fossil fuels that went into making it easy for us to throw these items in our shopping cart.

We’re not thinking about the bees, butterflies and other valuable insects that have been driven to population collapse by industrial agricultural practices; or the huge dead zones in the ocean at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where fertilizer and chemical run-off from the Midwest runs down to the sea; or the millions of birds that are affected each year by the toxic chemicals we spread over the landscape.

We’re just throwing that bag of veggies into the cart, or turning up that dial.

Well, the time of such oblivious innocence is over.

The curtain has been pulled back, and the Wizard of Industrial Capitalism has been revealed—and lo and behold, he wears the ordinary face of each one of us.

Every step we take on this beautiful, battered planet of ours matters.

Eric and me at the February 2013 Forward on Climate rally in DC

Eric and me at the February 2013 Forward on Climate rally in DC

I am heartened to know that this very weekend, one year after the big climate change rally in Washington DC that I attended in the hopes of pressuring the Obama Administration to block the Keystone XL pipeline, thousands of activists, most of them college students, will be raising a ruckus at the White House gates to insist that the politicians stop gambling away their future.

Here in my backyard, in the Massachusetts-New York region, people have woken up to the fact that mile-long trains of crude oil and gas are being run through heavily populated neighborhoods.

We’re moving to block gas fracking in western Massachusetts as the sight of contaminated tap water in fracking regions brings the dangers right home.

We’re also starting to get serious about making solar energy accessible to homeowners and businesses.

UnknownThis week’s New Yorker magazine has a fascinating article about a little-known scientific program to create a controlled thermonuclear fusion power plant.  Unlike the current fission plants, which burn radioactive fuel and generate dangerous waste, the fusion plant, if it were successful, would run indefinitely on seawater and lithium, with no waste.  It would be ten times hotter than the core of the Sun.

Talk about an audacious plan!  You have to hand it to human beings, we are nothing if not hubristic.  It is our greatest strength and our most glaring weakness.

Why spend billions on creating an artificial sun here on earth?  Why not just learn from our cousins the plants, and start to use the sunlight we have more efficiently?

It’s time to take off our grimy 20th century glasses and start looking at the world and ourselves through 21st century eyes.  When we do, we’re going to find that the solutions to all the problems that beset us have been hidden in plain sight all along.

Seeking solidarity in the environmental justice movement

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

It’s hard to wrap my mind around 129 degrees Farenheit, a temperature so hot that meteorologists have had to add a new color to the heat spectrum to represent it.

The pictures coming out of Australia this week have been nightmarish.

You’ve probably seen them too: the charred sheep, the family taking desperate shelter under a dock while ash and sparks fly around them, the huge red sandstorm wall looming over the ocean.

This is the push-back of Mother Earth.

There is only so far you can push her, and 2012 seems to have been the threshold beyond which there can be no further illusion of business as usual continuing.

 

Family in Tasmania seek shelter from wildfires

Family in Tasmania seek shelter from wildfires

Even some of the most hard-nose politicians are getting it now: I was heartened to hear Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York speak of the urgent need to plan for climate change disasters in his State of the State speech this week.

But he is still on the fence as far as fracking New York goes, which shows he has yet to fully put two and two together.

Two and two cannot equal two, Mr. Cuomo.

In other words, you can’t continue to expand the fossil fuel industry and not expect the blowback of climate change to worsen.

A lot of people are getting this now.

Not the ones who have their heads so deeply buried in the technology sands that all they can think about is the excitement of the next app, MOOC or tablet.

Not the ones who are riding the current stock market wave to scary new heights, buoyed by who knows what fictitious understanding of the relationships between real people and real goods—referred to in finance-speak as “market shares” and “bundled securities.”

Not the 1%, still sitting comfortably above it all, looking down on the disturbances below like vultures surveying the activities of scurrying mice.

But down here at ground level, people are starting to look at each other and know, even without speaking, not only that things are wrong, but that we cannot rely on others to make it right.

Wildfires are killing thousands of sheep in Australia

Wildfires are killing thousands of sheep in Australia

That can be the only explanation for the sudden groundswell of support for the Idle No More movement, which, just like Occupy, tapped into the resistance of ordinary people to the bulldozers of global capitalism, now coming to a forest or a farm field near you.

The lure of short-term gains has led many a politician, businessman, landowner or Native tribe down the daisy path of signing off on legislation and leases giving Big Fossil Fuel the right to do whatever the hell they want.

But we’re wising up now.

Toxic wastes from Texaco-Chevron are poisoning people and animals alike in Ecuador

Toxic wastes from Texaco-Chevron are poisoning people and animals alike in Ecuador

We look at the way Chevron left Ecuador when it was done extracting all the oil it could, and we listen to the story of how relentlessly their lawyers fought against giving even the least amount of their vast profits towards reparations for the toxic environment they created, and we know we could be next.

Now they’re coming right here in the Northeast—in the watersheds of New York and Pennsylvania, buying up those fallow farm fields and bringing in their huge fracking drills.

They’re down in Texas, building the first leg of the proposed transAmerican oil pipeline that will bring the dirty sludge of tar sands oil down to the Gulf of Mexico refineries, crossing over aquifers and farmland, by cities and pristine national parks.

And they’re up in Alberta with their giant bulldozers and dump trucks, razing the fragile boreal forest to get at the oozing tar underneath.

But in all these places, people are stirring.  People are rising in protest.  People are seeing that the short-term gains from these destructive fossil-fuel driven industries are going to quickly burn up, driving the stock market temporarily higher only to set up an even bigger crash in the future; keeping our homes warm and light today, only to set up bigger and worse climate-related disasters down the road.

Tree-sitters in Texas

Tree-sitters in Texas

A few brave souls have been sitting in the trees in Texas to block the pipeline, a resistance strategy pioneered in the 1990s when Julia Butterfly Hill sat in Luna, a giant California redwood, for more than a year to keep the loggers from cutting her and her neighbors down.

The First Nations are on the march in Canada in a movement that is spreading like wildfire across the world, protesting the poisoning of the environment by the fat cats in boardrooms who arrogantly believe that they exist on another plane, a modern-day Mount Olympus that is impervious to the environmental destabilization they are wreaking on the world.

Students are rolling out an urgent campaign to get their college and university trustees to divest their portfolios from the fossil fuel industry.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, these efforts can be beamed across the globe instantly, refracted and amplified through the networks of hundreds of millions of kindred spirits worldwide.

The dissenting power of the many that Hannah Arendt wrote of back in the late 20th century has never been more powerful, in part because resistance can now take place virtually.

We don’t have to go out and brave the guns and tear-gas, although probably in the end it will have to come to that.

We can build our networks at home, working quietly but steadily until they are so big that to arrest us all would be, as Marx predicted, to undermine the capitalist structure itself—throw all the workers in jail, and who’s going to do the work?

Idle No More protesters on Highway 401 in London, Ont., in December.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Idle No More protesters on Highway 401 in London, Ont., in December.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Right now all of these protest movements are disparate, each working on their own perceived goals.  What I hope to see in the coming year is more solidarity, more recognition that we’re all really fighting the same grand battle to keep our planet from being so devastated that it can no longer support life as we know it.

Life will continue on Earth, there is no doubt of that.  But whether humans, elephants, songbirds and frogs will be able to persist on a super-heated planet is quite uncertain.

It is imperative that we build an unstoppable grassroots movement to prevail on our elected representatives to represent the people rather than the corporations, and do what’s right.

How many catastrophic hurricanes, out-of-control wildfires, drought-stricken fields, bleached out corals will it take before we make use of our power as denizens of the world and say NO MORE?

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Earth to Obama: Come in please! Or do we have to take to the trees to get your attention?

Of course I knew it would be too much to expect President Obama, during the second Presidential debate on Tuesday, to actually break the great taboo of contemporary American politics and mention—Shhhh—climate change.

But I didn’t expect him to come out pandering so shamelessly to Big Fossil Fuel.

Yes, he managed to create a mild distinction between his position and his opponent’s.

Romney is 100% for exploiting fossil fuels as fast as we can possibly get them up out of the ground.

Obama, on the other hand, is 100% for exploiting fossil fuels as fast as we can possibly get them up out of the ground.

And oh yeah, he’s not against throwing a little money at solar, wind and biofuels (let’s not even talk about how destructive existing biofuels like ethanol have actually been on multiple levels—let’s give the guy a break).

While Romney just wants to hammer home the assertion that his Administration will bring us lower gas prices (no doubt as a result of all the frantic drilling he intends to support), Obama is interested in encouraging conservation by raising fuel economy standards, an idea right out of the late 1970s if I ever heard one.

A 21st century idea would be to get rid of oil subsidies and insist that the price of gas and oil reflect the true costs of its production and consumption, which are actually way higher than whatever the current price of a gallon of crude might be.

Then there’s coal, which both of these guys are apparently in favor of continuing to exploit.  Did someone say “mountaintop removal”?  Just point Romney/Obama at the mountain, and let’s go!

The nadir of the whole energy discussion of the second Presidential debate came when, in response to a little goading from Romney, Obama said he was “all for pipelines.”

In nearly the same breath, he proudly proclaimed that his Administration has supported lots of oil and gas drilling on public lands—how many leases, and what percentage of increase or decrease they may represent from the Bush years, may be a bit fuzzy, but the gist is clear: both Romney and Obama are all for opening up our public lands to drilling, in the name of energy independence from foreign fuel sources.

Oh Lord. The truth is that our dependence on so-called foreign fuel suppliers (who are mostly multinational corporations anyway) is the least of our worries.

The one thing we most need to be focusing on is the one thing that no one wants to deal with at all.

The effect of global heating, caused by the ever-escalating burning of fossil fuels worldwide.

And instead of working soberly and swiftly to turn the climate juggernaut around, our politicians are acting like easy-going traffic cops, just waving those bulldozers and oil rigs right on through.

***

Take the Keystone pipeline, which both Romney and Obama were unabashed in supporting.

Did you know that right at this moment, there are dedicated Earth defenders sitting in trees in Texas, trying to block the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Daryl Hannah at Keystone XL Pipeline protest, October 2012

Why?

Well, you probably realize that the bitumen that pipeline is designed to carry is so thick and sludgy that it has to be mixed with toxic chemicals in order to make it flow.

You’ve probably heard about the damage that could be caused by a spill from a pipeline like this, if the chemicals leaked into the major aquifers that are along the way.

This on top of the destruction of the forests that is already happening on a vast scale to get those “tar sands” out.

On top of the chemical contamination of our aquifers from hydro-fracking for gas.

On top of mountain-top removal and strip-mining for coal.

On top of the whole lousy cap and trade system, by which dirty Northern-hemisphere commercial polluters can continue to pollute as long as they buy credits in Southern hemisphere forest preserves—except that what’s actually been happening is that first they buy the preserves, then they log them, then they replant with palm oil trees, heavily sprayed with pesticide, herbicide and fungicide to keep the rainforest from returning, and then they proudly collect their credits for having maintained some semblance of soylent green!

All this is the reality behind the puffery that passed for politics at the debate last night.

What is our national energy policy?  For both the Republicans and the Democrats, it’s drill faster!  Drill harder!  Drill everywhere possible!

President Obama chided his opponent at one point for thinking only of short-term prospects.

“We have to think about what’s coming in 10, 20, 30 years,” he said, the implication being that we shouldn’t entirely neglect the prospects of wind and solar energy.

But the truth is that if we continue drilling at the rate both candidates support, there won’t be a stable environment left to build an alternative energy future for our grandchildren and future generations.

They won’t be building wind turbines and solar panels in 2050, they’ll be building underground shelters and modern-day Noah’s arks.

***

Still, yes, I am going to go grumbling to the polls on Nov. 6 and pull the lever for Obama.  There is no question in my mind that he is the better man.

I understand that right now he is trying to walk the centrist line and please as many American constituencies as he can.

But once re-elected, he must be pushed to take a stronger stand on environmental policy, including energy policy.

If that means that more of us have to take to the trees in protest, well, so be it.  I always did love climbing trees!

Pipeline put off, but I’m not celebrating, are you?

Bill MicKibben: We won a temporary victory on Keystone XL, but the fight goes on | Grist.

It’s hard to feel elated about President Obama’s decision this week to kick the can of the Alberta tar sands extraction down the road a ways, until after the 2012 election.

Yes, any victory is a good victory, and the environmentalists who took the trouble to go to Washington and raise a ruckus in opposition to the proposed pipeline deserve our accolades and thanks.

The cranes who use the Nebraska Sand Hills refuge will have another year or two of peace.  The Ogllala aquifer is protected for the moment.

But it’s discouraging to see how the Administration is trying to limit discussion to the pipeline, as if it, in itself, were the problem.

No, the pipeline is just a symptom of a much larger problem: the potential destruction of the Canadian boreal forests, with their countless species of flora and fauna, and their tremendous carbon-trapping properties.

Without the Alberta forests, global warming is a done deal.

Does anyone there in Washington understand what that means?

Earth to Washington: do you copy?

Go ahead, Earth.

We haven’t got much time left.  The temperature is rising.  Once the climate destabilizes, we won’t be able to turn things around for a long, long time.  We’re talking geological time here.

Copy that, Earth.

So can we get some serious action there, Washington?  Can we light a fire under those politicians and get going with solar energy already?

Copy that, Earth.

Like–now?

Washington to Earth, connection is down.  Can you repeat?  Over.

Yes, that’s right.  Over.

Activists circle the White House; Obama plays golf

Mainstream media reports that some 8,000 people showed up in Washington D.C. today to link hands around the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and the development of the Alberta boreal forest (aka “tar sands”).

The energy and determination of this crowd is wonderful. But It’s heartbreaking to learn that President Obama “missed most of the protest while he played golf at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.”

Last week I went for a walk on a golf course near my home, and was reminded again of how terrible these private parks are for the environment.

If lawns are destructive monocultures, just imagine the exponential scale of the golf mono-lanscape: acres and acres of closely cropped, artificially bright green  turf, with not a single broad-leaved plant to be seen.

Golf parks are anathema to butterflies and other insects, of course, since they are regularly treated with pesticides and herbicides.  They suck up precious water for a use that is 100% non-necessary: a pleasant game for the 1%.

I admit it, golf courses are one of my pet peeves.  I have never liked them, and never will.  So I suppose it was a sort of trigger to hear that Obama was off golfing this afternoon, instead of paying his respects to the thousands of activists streaming into Washington to communicate with him–the man we sent to represent us in the White House.

He is not the first American President to dodge attempts by the citizenry to communicate our wishes.  I think of President Bush off on his ranch while activists like Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey died in the Iraq War, tried to send him an anti-war message.

Mr. President, if your citizens make the effort to go all the way to Washington DC to speak with you, I think the least you could do is show up.  We are depending on you to make the right decision on the tar sands/pipeline issue, which is clearly NO PIPELINE, and no development of the boreal forest.

We expect you to make a decision in favor of the health and well-being of your citizens.  Instead of investing in tired, dirty old energy platforms like oil and pipelines, we should be investing in solar and geothermal.  We need an Apollo Project for renewable energy, and we need it now!

Sure, you deserve your R&R on a Sunday afternoon, Mr. President.  But if you make the wrong call on this issue, those luxurious golf courses you enjoy may soon be relics of the wasteful bygone days.

Future social historians might point to golf as one of the many foolish 20th century habits that left us crouching bewildered in the 21st century in the midst of a full-blown climate crisis.

You’re the Decider now, Mr. President.  We are expecting you to make the right decision–for your precious children, and ours.

Climate Change Blues: The one thing the 100% of us have in common is that we can’t afford to ignore the weather!

President Obama, venturing outside during last night’s storm, called the weather “less than ideal” for trick-or-treating.

What an understatetment.

Here’s what it looks like at my house in western Massachusetts this morning:

All those trees in the background are tall maples, bent over with the weight of snow on their leaves.  So far no big limbs have snapped, but that could change any moment, and many of them are hanging over an outbuilding and my car….

So the question we should all be asking this morning is whether this freak October snowstorm is just an aberration, or if it’s part of a developing and accelerating pattern of climate change.

Yes, there have been October snowstorms before.  But has there been a three-month period before with record high temperatures (August), record rainfall (September), a hurricane hit to the entire East Coast (Irene) AND a record-breaking snowstorm?

Not being a meterologist, I can’t answer this question, but I’d sure like to know.

One thing I do know is that if we don’t start reducing carbon emissions, weather events like this are going to become more frequent and more severe.  This is not “Day After Tomorrow” hysteria, this is scientific truth.

So again, the question becomes, what can we DO?

Well, next weekend in Washington DC there will be an action at the White House; the plan is to assemble enough people to make a linked-arms ring around the White House, in the hopes of persuading President Obama to stand with the people on the anti-tar sands extraction, anti-Keystone pipeline issue, rather than with the energy corporations.

You can hear actor Mark Ruffalo explain it here:

My hope is that weather events like last night’s “freak” snowstorm will raise people’s awareness about the reality of climate change, and how it will affect all of us–our food supply, our physical security, our ability not just to carry on as usual, but to carry on at all.

All of us–the rich, the poor, the inbetween–the 100% of us, and not just in the US but in the world, are already feeling the effects of manmade climate change.  We’ll be feeling it increase exponentially in the coming months and years.

So all of us need to step off the path of least resistance and start demanding government support for a huge Apollo Project-style transition to sustainable energy and a serious commitment to energy conservation.

If you can’t get to Washington DC next Sunday for the demonstration at the White House, you can be part of the virtual ring that will surround the people on the ground there, and build support wherever you are for the movement for responsible and caring stewardship of our Earth.

We cannot afford to ignore these issues any longer.

Bill McKibben: The Sky Does Not Belong to Wall Street!


Thanks to the magic of You-Tube, we can see a terrific 6-minute speech by Bill McKibben today, linking the fight to save the climate to the fight against the Wall Street tycoons.

He’s planning another big action in D.C. next month: setting up a ring of protesters around the White House, standing siege until the real Barack Obama comes out–not the zombie who’s actually considering letting the oil industry raze the boreal forest in Alberta and run a leaky pipeline all the way to the Gulf.

We need our Obama to stand up to those guys and remind us why we elected him!

Let’s hope Bill McKibben and company can free the real Obama from the stranglehold of Big Oil, so he can be our champion in the White House, as we so hoped he would be.

“The sky does not belong to Exxon.  They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon,” Bill reminds us.

Barack, are you listening?

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