25 May 2014

Creating Change is Like Gardening

It was a sad day for me. I discovered yesterday morning how difficult it is to change a norm, even if it's a simple change (with not much sacrifice attached to it) and even when making the change would be a gift to the children and their future.

For almost a year, I've been a member of a group of teachers who are interested in social justice issues. I sit on the sub-committee that deals with environmental justice issues, so it's normal that we would bring forward environmentally related issues. 

Yesterday I presented a simple motion that we transition to meatless meals at our meetings (which would amount to a couple of lunches, the three times per year when we meet). The supporting statement explained that eating lower on the food chain (note no use of the V word) has many benefits.

My rationale was that this would lower our carbon footprint and set an example to other educationally-focused groups. It truly is the easiest way we can reduce our personal and collective greenhouse gas emissions. 

Industrial livestock processing (veganspeak: the inhumane torture and slaughter of almost 30 billion animals every year in the USA alone -- but I didn't use that language, because it's often considered inflammatory) (imagine how it feels to the animals, then compare that to the "pain" we feel when we "feel their pain" -- we're such wimps at times, eh?) is one of the most carbon-intensive and environmentally damaging human activities on the planet, polluting water, degrading land, and spewing carbon, nitrous oxide and 35-40% of anthropogenic methane emissions. 

It took me three meetings to get up the nerve to put forward this resolution. I guess I already knew what the reaction would be. And I was right. To be fair, I was encouraged by how many people spoke in favour. But we use a consensus model and that means that one person holding up a red card can scuttle a motion. Four or five people held up red cards. One person tearfully admitted she's not ready to give up meat yet. (For six lunches per year?) Another said she didn't want to lose her freedom of choice. (Forget that billions of people are losing their freedom to choose to live on a habitable planet.) 

The motion was defeated. I was defeated. Afterwards, I got some advice and had some helpful discussions. I'll rework and reword my motion and present it again the next time we meet. But the bittersweet ending came during our farewell go-round. One of the no-voters thanked the group for opening her up to new ideas that haven't been within her realm of consciousness. "I might even start eating less meat," she said. "But not quite yet."

What do I take from this experience? Creating change is more like gardening than building. We have to plant our seeds (the earlier the better) and then be patient. A lot of the process is outside of our control ... though definitely within our circle of influence. Time for me to tend those seedlings.

p.s. Speaking of food growing, the news from drought-afflicted California grows ever more terrifying!

From 7 States Running Out Of Water"At [the current] usage rate, California has less than two years of water remaining."

And this, from Cows, Rice Fields and Big Agriculture Consume Well Over 90% of California's Water: "Agriculture uses 93% of California's water and almost half of that is devoted to growing alfalfa for shipment to the Far East, mainly China, to feed their cows. California is, in effect, shipping almost half its precious water to China."

18 May 2014

From Lima to Paris, or Bust!

"While the difficult takes time,
the impossible just takes a little longer." 
- Art E. Berg

I just noticed that in April (2014), CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere hit 401.33 ppm. The dreaded 400 ppm upper limit has been breached. Ouch. Angst.

Quite by coincidence, for the last few days I've been trying to figure out if I'm up for one last big push, between now and the next climate change conference (COP20) in Lima, Peru in December of this year. You know, get all the governments in the world to agree to agree in Paris at the COP21 in 2015. And then maybe pack it in. Start working on local issues again. Or take a break? I dunno. I do know in my head it's probably already too late for an effective global agreement, but my heart keeps believing in miracles.
  1. What if, in the next few months, we could convince scientists to state categorically that we're beyond dangerous interference with the climate system?
  2. What if, in the next few months, we could convince NGOs everywhere to urge governments to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels and let the "invisible hand" of their precious "free" market (ahem, it's not a free(dom-from-government-interference) market if governments are pouring $2 trillion of fossil fuel subsidies into it annually, now is it?) fix the carbon problem?
  3. What if, in the next few months, we could achieve the impossible and get governments to commit, by law, to a zero-carbon economy and a climate-safe future?

I asked a friend for advice (and moral support, really, for making this commitment to an 18-month-long campaign), and he did an excellent job of reminding me why I do this work to begin with. And then he gave me a virtual kick in the pants. He asked:

If you lead (in life) with your heart, it's going to get broken along the way. Should you then stop leading with your heart? 
If the end hasn't arrived yet, why stop trying until it does? 
If you love the children (and parents) of all species, shouldn't you - and don't you - want to keep trying to help them?

"It's hard to try," he continued, "but I think for people of certain character, it's just as hard (or harder?) not to try and not to act."

This friend shared with me a line he uses when others are defeatist: "Regardless of odds or potential outcomes, we ALL have the power and moral responsibility to ACT. And if we take the choice to see and face the true, existential wickedness of the predicament, there will at least be possibilities.... What matters (if anything does) is how we choose to live, how we choose to act / react, regardless of whether something's going to work out or not." 

Hey, he reminded me, we're all gonna die. So I might as well die (or in my case, get old ... I'm not ready to die yet) trying.

With all that encouragement (and butt-kicking), how can I not commit myself to campaigning for a strong agreement in Lima to agree strongly in Paris?

I hope you'll join me on this virtual carpet ride from Lima to Paris, or bust! (And never has "or bust" been so dire, or so literal, since it means "... or die trying.")

I'm not alone! Check out

11 May 2014

Let's Ride This Wave of Rising Awareness All the Way to Paris

by Sandy Hinden
"We are in the midst of an awakening. At no time in history has Mother Earth needed her children to care more than at present. Ancient prophecies from around the world warn of dramatic global change. The Elders teach [that] if we return to harmony in our lives, Melting the Ice in our Hearts, we will survive." -- Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq

For years, we've known that governments weren't going to look after us by taking care of the climate crisis. We're living in a corporatocracy where governments are controlled by corporate interests, and it's not in the financial interest of big banks and fossil fuel companies to take care of the climate crisis. Which translates into the rich people still own us and control us.

I've naively believed that if we let people know what's going on in the world, they would wake up and give a damn. Not so. It's been a pretty comfortable ride for my generation ... the best ride in humanity's history perhaps ... and nobody wants to rock a boat that seems to be taking them on a scenic cruise. 

But as I reported here, the public is finally waking up. The spate of climate change reports (the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report, or AR5; the US National Climate Assessment) has people talking. To wake people up, it took big media coverage of big scientific organizations and big important people saying that this is an urgent crisis. 

That's okay. Any alarm clock will do. (I just wish it had rung earlier. It's not like these groups and politicians haven't known the urgency until now. It's just that they can't deny the urgency any longer, corporate interests be damned. Election campaign donations? Or votes? Perhaps votes are finally winning.)

But as my friend suggests whenever this topic comes up, "If you wake people up, you'd better have breakfast ready for them." It's been common wisdom for years that talking to people about climate change must also include talking to people about climate change solutions.

Hence, after a long discussion with two climate change activists last night, we came to the conclusion that we have to hop onto this wave of awareness and GET OUR BUTTS IN GEAR FOR PARIS 2015. After the complete (and probably completely scripted) debacle at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, a very scary decision was made by negotiators and world leaders at the Cancun talks in 2010 that there would be no agreement until 2015, and therefore no new measures implemented until 2020. 

We've had the Bali Roadmap, the Cancun Agreements, the Durban Outcomes, the Doha Climate Gateway, and the Warsaw Outcomes. And nothing has improved. Indeed, things are still getting worse. Emissions are rising, and impacts are deepening. 

But the public is now realizing that "urgent" means "now" --  not starting in 2020. In the IPCC's latest report, the only scenario (RCP2.6) that gives us a hope in hell says that greenhouse gas emissions have to plateau by next year (hello!) and be decreasing by 2020 (apparently not something we're willing or able to make happen overnight -- or we would have already). 

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, knows this and is calling on different groups to get their butts in gear (my term, not hers) "in the lead up to a new, universal climate change agreement in Paris." She said in a recent speech, for example, that faith groups "have an opportunity now to provide a moral compass for their congregations and for political, corporate, financial and local leaders."

So, folks, we've got our homework assignment. It's to make sure that world leaders at the Paris Conference of the Parties (COP 21 -- memorize that number) can't, won't and don't wiggle out of an effective, efficient and binding global agreement to safeguard the biosphere and the future of humanity and the rest of nature. We figure the script is written six months ahead of each conference. That gives us one year to make sure something excellent happens in Paris.

And hey, if pigs could surf, maybe we could even get an agreement in Lima, Peru at the COP 20. You know, come up with an urgent agreement to take urgent action on an urgent crisis. But who am I kidding?

Wait, what? Pigs can surf?

04 May 2014

"Our Enemies Teach Us What We Must Do"

"Our friends show us what we can do; 
our enemies teach us what we must do."
~ Goethe
I have a great example of that quote in action to share with you this week. But first, I'd like to show you something that a famous 20th century orator said -- something that is as relevant to environmental crises and the climate change emergency as it was to the social and economic ills he was addressing in 1960s United States of America.

There is nothing wrong with a traffic law which says you have to stop for a red light. But when a fire is raging, the fire truck goes right through that red light.... Or, when a person is bleeding to death, the ambulance goes through those red lights at top speed.... Disinherited people all over the world are bleeding to death from deep social and economic wounds. They need brigades of ambulance drivers who will have to ignore the red lights of the present system until the emergency is solved.... Massive civil disobedience is a strategy for social change which is at least as forceful as an ambulance with its sirens on full.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
A massively funny act of civil disobedience took place this week near Washington, DC at the Homeland Security Congress. The Yes Men pulled off one of their stunts again. You can read about the Operation Second Thanks "prank" here, read the speech of "Benedict Waterman" from the "Department of Energy" here, and read "Bana Slowhorse's" speech here.

I can tell you it was civil disobedience by how many loop-the-loops my stomach did just reading about their antics! I think I'd rather be arrested than have to get up the nerve to do what they did. But these are our ambulance drivers. These are people willing to race through red lights. Taking the truth about the global climate change emergency to people and organizations who would not normally listen, except when sirens are blaring and lights are flashing. 

Back to Goethe. The attendees -- security and defense contractors, lobbyists and officials who might be considered "the other side" if not exactly the enemy (we'll save that term for fossil fuelers and bankers) -- were extremely receptive to the mythical American Renewable Clean-Energy Network that Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum presented. They have, therefore, taught us "what we must do." They showed us that they're ready to move. They just need to be nudged and encouraged.

Monsieur Obama certainly isn't encouraging these people to get into renewable energy. But he could be. So folks, if it's true that AmeriCAN, then let's send as much encouragement as we can -- to Obama, to US entrepreneurs, to the US public. That's "what we must do."

Thank you to all the participants in this wonderful project. I wonder if you know this: that you've shown us what we can do.