Tag Archives: climate change

It’s Too Late, Baby

Carole King’s Tapestry, the concert based on her album and performed last year in Hyde Park, London, has been turned into a film and opened in theaters across the U.S. yesterday for a one night stand. We bought our tickets in advance online, imagining the show would sell out. It didn’t. In fact, attendance at the Providence Mall Cinema was sparse. As her fans know, King’s album transformed her overnight from a songwriter best known for writing hits for others to a star in her own right. If you missed the show last night, keep your eyes open.

As she launched into her opening number, I Feel the Earth Move, well, I did. Feel the move, that is. It has been that kind of week — New York Magazine’s The Uninhabitable Earth, the Guardian coverage of the sixth extinction, and then this morning, the news of the collapse of the Larsen C shelf, an ‘iceberg the size of Delaware,’ forming a new island. A small piece of the earth. Moving, we don’t know where or what else could change as a result.

For me, these events tend to crowd out the news about the G20 meeting, mounting cries of Impeach!, and anxiety over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions given the current state of our own governance. I know my own diplomat father who spent several months a year as a delegate to the Geneva disarmament talks in the late 50’s, would be turning over in his grave, if he had one. I put my trust in the quiet, behind the scenes, work of special counsel, Robert Mueller, to help bring a shameful chapter of our history to a conclusion.

That said, I found myself weeping when Carole King launched into It’s Too Late and the cameras panned over the faces of the immense crowd (estimated 65,000) of Londoners, many of them young, many of them singing along.  For the same reason, I feel rocked by the sounds of little children in the playground right next to the AirBnB where I am currently living, and when I think about our teenage grandchildren — all children — whose lifespan may expose them to decades of life-threatening hypothermia, water and food insecurity, disease we had thought vanquished, and the breakdown of civil life.  Maybe, as my friend (father, poet and blogger, The Green Skeptic), Scott Edward Anderson says (and not for the first time), “We’re toast!”

I was in the process of pounding out a post more in keeping with Transition Tales (Tip, Tools and Ideas for a More Resilient Future), about how decentralized solar power is bring electricity and positive change to parts of Africa, when Scott’s social media comment attached to the said link popped into the screen.  Usually I ignore these, but I stopped writing and read the New York Magazine piece — “too scary,” “climate disaster porn, ” could spur cities into action or make people feel hopeless” — and that was that for the upbeat post I was working on. Even before the Guardian’s piece or today’s news from Antartica.

So, I put it to you readers: Do you agree it’s game over?  Are we toast?  Is it too late, baby? And if so (given that climate crisis denial is not an option here), what are you doing to keep your spirits up, to press on with your climate and political activism, to keep on keeping on. Seriously, I want to know because it has been that kind of week.  Whatever you care to share, my comment section awaits. I’ll be there, yes, I will.

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Earth Hour 2015: Lights Out

Where were you when the lights went out? If you are of a certain age and lived in the Northeast United States, you’ll remember at least one major blackout, with those of 1965 and 1977 perhaps the most indelible because normal life was disrupted for so many people across a vast region.

I was caught in a blackout in New York City in the early 80’s while on a research assignment in Brooklyn for Technology Magazine – the irony sank in sometime later.  Fortunately for my co-worker and me, we were above ground when the power went out, not trapped in a subway car or skyscraper office.   We, along with hundreds of others hit the streets, giddy with relief.  It was late afternoon when we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, into Lower Manhattan and the Village. There, a party was in progress as restaurants who had lost their refrigeration, were turning out meals on make-shift charcoal grills and offering them, along with slightly warm beer, to whomever cared to take them up on their offer. Although that particular blackout would prove to be relatively local and short-lived, there was no way to know at the time.  “It’s tempting to ask why if you fed your neighbors during the time of the earthquake and fire, you didn’t do so before or after,” writes Rebecca Solnit of the San Francisco earthquake in  A Paradise Built in Hell: the Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster.

Eventually, I got my foot-weary self to the Port Authority Bus Terminal that evening to wait with other New Jersey commuters for the power and interrupted bus service to resume.  Here, too, there was unusual cooperation and camaraderie.  We riders of the DeCamp 66 and 33 who barely exchanged a word before, were talking, exchanging stories and phone numbers, discovering we were neighbors after all.

unpluggedEarth Hour, 8:30-9:30 pm local time, when the Strip in Las Vegas, Times Square and the Eifel Tower intentionally go dark to raise awareness about climate change, was launched in Australia in 2007 by the World Wide Fund for Nature and has become a global movement.  Getting millions of people to power down for one hour a year doesn’t seem like much to ask, even of the electronic device-addicted populace of our century. In our home, we mark the occasion with an hour of candlelight, a glass of wine, a ukulele, some songs, enjoying the respite from the mixed blessing of an always-on, always-connected life that we have embraced so wholeheartedly.  Viewed in long-range or aerial images, Earth Hour is spectacular, and more than a little unnerving.  I would like to think that this scale of community arts activism will help us wrap our heads around what is impossible to contemplate, even for climate advocates: a world without power; life as we’ve come to know it, unplugged.

Artists of all kinds have often taken the lead in making the invisible (under-appreciated or ignored) visible, because they can.  Some are using their gifts to wake people up to the really wicked, society-transforming problem of climate change and a rising sea, e.g. The HighWaterLine project. The brainchild of artist, Eve Mosher, the HWL helps communities visualize the impact of climate change in our own neighborhoods and streets. Mosher began her work in 2007 in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, mapping areas predicted to be impacted by flooding during storm surges. After deep research into climate science and Google maps of flood zones, she spent six months using chalk and a sports field marker to draw the 10-ft. above sea level line in the streets and on the buildings. Yes, that was five years before Sandy.  Click here for more on the HWL.

Blue LightsAs residents of one of the states most vulnerable to sea level rise, Floridians are fortunate that Eve Mosher will be making a return engagement, this time in Palm Beach County later this month, chalking sea level rise for the HighWaterLine Delray Beach event. This day-long performance is part of the 2nd Annual Florida Earth Festival, a series of workshops and demonstrations that runs April 18 through 25, including a weekend of intensives at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Boca Raton, 2501 St. Andrews Blvd.  Volunteers are needed for all kinds of tasks during the festival, and if you are able, I urge you to find what speaks to you and sign up.  For this yoga instructor and lover of dance, it is the prospect of being in the grand finale of the HWL mapping: a ‘movement choir’ of dancers holding blue glow lights and moving to Neil Young’s new anthem: Who Is Going to Stand Up for the Earth.

I’ve also signed up for the Beautiful Trouble workshop in the hopes that it will help me hone my new-found voice as a spoken word artist (thanks Vagina Monologues!) into a poetry flash mob or open mic performance on environmental themes.  In any case, it sounds like way more fun than climate advocacy usually is, Greenpeace Gorilla suits and the Raging Grannies notwithstanding.  These trainings are intended to serve as “A Toolbox for Revolution.” Bring it on.

Earth Hour visuals

Earth Hour, March 19, 2016

Biggest Blackouts in History

HighWaterLine Action Guide

Like Water For Avocados

After an announcement about a possible shortage of Hass Avocados caused near panic (and perhaps some welcome publicity), Mexican food chain, Chipolte, tried to soothe its fans with an announcement that there is no “guacapocalypse” in the offing.  Really?  Avocados are a thirsty crop, second only to another California favorite, the endangered almond.  According to Mother Jones, it takes 74.1 gallons of water to grow one pound of avocados as opposed to strawberries (9.8 gallons) or lettuce (5.4 gallons). For the time being, the California Hass is big business for the state: “… about 80 percent of all avocados eaten worldwide and … more than $1 billion a year in revenues in the United States alone.”  (California Avocado Commission).  

Headlines like this one from Newsweek 3/13/15: NASA: California Has One Year of Water Left, should be setting off alarm bells in the Congressional denialist camp on the basis of the economic impact alone, with the nation’s food security right up there next to it.  So it’s particularly bad news for all of us who love avocados — heck, like to eat regularly! — that Senator Ted Cruz now heads the Senate Science Committee, and that he has told NASA to stick to space and drop its climate investigations.  We need to pay close27_smap20150224-16 attention to what happens next.  After all, budget cuts that could threaten programs like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Soil Moisture Mapper (SMAP)  — a satellite that can improve weather forecasts, monitor droughts and predict floods —  will hurt us all, now and in the immediate future. Maybe we should take a page from Senator Snowball’s playbook and start jamming the inboxes of legislators of his ilk with our favorite guacamole recipes.  This sounds like a job for Beautiful Trouble, fearless artist/activists.  Hi-jinks and hackery that exercise our creativity and even soothe our souls.   

It’s great to learn that Al Gore is newly optimistic that we can bring ourselves back from the brink, but yesterday on World Water Day, I couldn’t help thinking about what ordinary Californians are doing about a drought so severe, it has its own website?  Not nearly enough, according to figures from January this year which showed that conservation of water dropped from 22% to 9%, possibly spurred by an end of the year rainy period.  We are so addicted to short-term — or maybe it’s magical — thinking!  No wonder we are so easily distracted by shiny new things, blockbuster movies, and gossip about people we’ll never meet or particularly want to.

So I decided to ask a friend who lives in Huntington Beach about the water crisis, and she assured me that although some of her neighbors still have lawns (and presumably, have not as yet been prohibited from watering them), she has embraced a more desert scape, that is, rocks and succulents.  OK, it’s something, and granted, this is a minuscule sample.  But isn’t this typical of a common mismatch between the complexity of the issues we face — economic, health, safety, civil society — and the response of too many people like my well-meaning friend, as well as those in positions of power?  California officials, writes Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are “staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.”

Although drought isn’t an issue for Florida at the moment, we have our own water challenges: a rising sea (flooding, coastal erosion, threat to infrastructure and property) and the migration of salt into the agricultural water supply.  So much for the idea that California’s agricultural losses might be somewhat mitigated by Florida’s food growing power.  For more on this including the Sea Level Rise Symposium 2014, see my blog posts from last July, Water: Next Capitalist Tool? and November, Raising Fields.  Not enough water or the wrong kind — none of this is good news for living things.  But compared to what many see as the threat of water wars in the not too distant future, these issues are a drop in the bucket.

What can we do?  First, recognize that climate change is with us here and now and that we humans have no history or experience with the kinds of change it will likely produce in our lives.  On a beautiful, cool morning in South Florida as I write this from my patio, it’s possible to imagine that we have a decade or two before we are forced to adjust, to take action, or possibly, flee for higher ground. Even if that were true, it’s cold comfort for our children and grandchildren. Second, cut your consumption: repair, reuse, repurpose, skip the upgrade, minimize air travel, and make do while these are choices we can still make freely. Third: ask yourself to imagine a world without your favorite food (yes, avocados), a beloved bird, flower, tree, pollinators in general, a particular beach, a cherished vacation spot, a life experience you now take for granted (hiking a pristine trail, growing vegetables, access to a wide variety of fresh food, taking a hot shower, feeling safe on my streets and in my home, are all on my list).  What would you do to preserve these ordinary treasures, for yourself and those you love?  Do it.

See also: The Dark Mountain Project and Movement Generation

Telling the Good Stories of 2014

Crisis and opportunityWhen climate activists in South Florida meet, the mood is often serious bordering on grim, and I usually head out the door with a to-do list and a heavy heart. We know what we’re up against in our state legislature, so one doable strategy is to attempt to convince our local municipalities, one mayor and/or commissioner at a time, that we are holding them accountable for the preservation of our towns and cities, and our safety. For this we need local citizen volunteers to join in the effort. My team mates have developed a terrific script suitable for phone or email.

This is good, worthy work, yet I fear we may not attract many takers without the leavening agent of uplifting stories, and the truth is, 2014 was a pretty good year for the environmental movement. Last December, I tapped into Mongabay for positive stories, and this year, some that appeared on its current Top Ten list are also on mine:

  1. The ban on fracking in New York State shows what can happen when the people don’t give up, and keep the heat on indecisive elected officials. It worked in Denton, Texas, the state where fracking was born. Another small victory: would be frackers got fined in Florida. We have only begun to fight. Stay tuned, and keep an eye on other fracking news.
  2. Pope Francis, whose agenda for 2015 includes a rare papal encyclical to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, an address to the United Nations, and a summit of the world’s religious leaders. His Holiness has connected the dots that many miss:

    “An economic system centered on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”

  1. The Climate Pledge between the U.S. and China, a savvy move by President Obama to sidestep an obstructionist Congress. What he will do on the KXL when it is (most likely) reintroduced, remains to be seen.
  2. Breakthrough in palm oil plantations as Kellogg, L’Oréal and Nestlé, signed a declaration pledging to help cut tropical deforestation in half by 2020 and stop it entirely by 2030.  You don’t mess with Harrison Ford.
  3. EPA ruling on power plant emissions comes under the Clean Air Act. Unless the Supreme Court changes its mind, this should stand. Thanks again to crafty POTUS.
  4. September Success: Over 400,000 people from diverse groups join in the climate march in New York City, and in smaller demonstrations elsewhere: Transition Palm Beaches, EcoArt South Florida, The Sierra Club and Raging Grannies (among others) in Delray Beach.
  5. The business connection.  Earlier this year, I found my way to the B Team whose stated mission is to ‘catalyse a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet.’   http://bteam.org/about/ I figure any group that includes Muhammed Yunus (founder, the Grameen Bank of micro-loan fame), Arianna Huffington and Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland and member of The Elders) is a vote for humanity.
  6. The Transition movement continues to grow in the U.S. You can avail yourself of great, free seminars with some of the smartest, forward thinkers around, e.g. Cecile Andrews, author of Living Room Revolution: A Handbook for Conversation, Community and the Common Good.In partnership with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, Transition US announced the People’s State of the Union, the first in a series of new, participatory civil rituals. From January 23-30, 2015, people across the country are invited to convene “story circles” with neighbors, friend, and community members to respond to three prompts:
  • Tell a story about a moment you felt true belonging – or the opposite – in this country or your community
  • Describe an experience that showed you something new or important about the state of our union
  • Share about a time you stood together with people in your community.

May 2015 bring about an awakening to both our perils and possibilities, and action as our conscience dictates.

#fastfortheclimate

fastfortheclimateI’m no stranger to fasting since my daughter introduced me to The Master Cleanse years ago, and it still feels like a good way to balance the excesses of holiday celebrations.  But this is the first time I’m fasting as an act of solidarity with climate activism, specifically with the massive international fast in conjunction with the Lima Climate Change Conference that opens today and runs until December 12.  So, if you are just hearing about this for the first time (and I hope not), it’s not too late to shed a pound for a good cause.  My tribe of activists just got bigger and more diverse as soon as I took the pledge and checked out the pages of  http://fastfortheclimate.org/en/:  bishops, CEOs of NGOs, activists, TV chefs, musicians, UN officials, and negotiators from around the world (though not to date Yeb Sano, the young Filipino diplomat whose emotional presentation at the 2013 Warsaw climate talks, and subsequent two week hunger strike, inspired this movement.)

Astonishingly, the comment section of fastfortheclimate.org has an outsized number of enraged comments from the denial crowd, most of which fall into the ‘protest too much’ category and lead me to hope that the evidence of climate change is beginning to hit home.  I even got some flak from a foodie member of my family when I posted my intention for the day on social media.  Eating is itself a political act no matter where you stand intellectually on climate science. Just ask anyone attempting to prepare a Thanksgiving meal that will please everyone.  Free-range or tofurky?  It seems that too many of us Americans hate and resist any suggestion that we must change our own habits.  This made a best-seller of Who Moved My Cheese? and explains why diets usually fail, and more importantly, why we continue to live with the devils we know: money-corrupted politics and dysfunctional government (a topic I’ll be blogging about as soon as I finish reading Lesterland).

Well, as anyone who has tried fasting for any reason knows, as the first day of your fast wears on, you realize just how much time you are saving not preparing and consuming food, let alone thinking about it.  This can feel almost liberating. Even if you are not taking solid food, you must keep yourself hydrated — lemon water and herbal teas for me — and you may actually start to enjoy the experience of some lightness of mind and body.  Not to mention how ambrosial the first bite of solid food tastes!  Fasting, like dieting, does interfere with the social aspect of eating, which is not a small thing in a household where a favorite word is ‘lunch.’  Of course, most of us climate fasters are doing this for one day, although some intend to extend it to the first day of every month (no promises). It is a far cry from famous individuals like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez who effectively used the extended hunger strike as a form of nonviolent activism and changed the course of history for the better.  To them, and to my fellow December 1 fasters — may our numbers increase —  I raise my cup of mint tea.

More links:

http://fastfortheclimate.org/normal-post/fast-for-the-climate-with-us-on-1-december/

https://www.facebook.com/fastfortheclimate

http://kitchencounterculture121.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/fast-for-the-climate-1st-of-december/

Raising Fields: What History Can Teach Us

When you come in for a landing at Palm Beach International, you pass over a network of blue waterways, canals, inlets, and bays that link pastel buildings and homes to the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal.  In fact, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway that touches my life and yours if you live and work here, is a much larger network that runs North-South, from Norfolk, Virginia to the Florida Keys, some 1,090 miles of navigable interstate.  This Blue Highway is what makes our part of the state so attractive to boat-loving vacationers and retirees alike.  It is also what puts South Florida’s future as a tourist mecca, retiree haven, and agricultural giant (second to California) at great risk from sea level rise (SLR). The experts in local government and higher education know this:

The risks from sea level rise are imminent and serious. This is not a distant problem, but one that is affecting us now and will certainly affect our children.  Sea level rise will impact millions of Americans and threaten billions of dollars of building and infrastructure. — Sea Level Rise Summit 2013

And so do the insurers and activist organizations, and all have our work cut out for us, given the denial in Tallahassee and among billionaire developers.  The latter are (for now), as one Facebook comment had it, so 20th Century.

???????????????????????????????Attorney Mitchell Chester isn’t waiting for anyone’s blessing to bring the message of SLR to whomever will hear it and act upon it. The fastest way to get up to speed on sea level rise is to visit his site SLRSouthFlorida for the latest news on the subject. It’s not good news for us coastal dwellers, but it may also represent an opportunity to save the Florida that people have loved almost to death, and to prosper in an entirely different way (and I don’t mean Waterworld).

I first heard Mitchell Chester speak at a breakout session at the Second Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium in July, sponsored by The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation for the Everglades, the Oxbridge Academy and the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County.  The session addressed the need for our legal and financial systems to “engage the shared emergency of sea level rise.”  Meaning, of course, that they are not doing so in any significant way.  Currently, for example, you will not find any warning about the threat of a rising sea to your property in your real estate disclosure documents.  Mortgage documents also reflect the same myopia.

Last week, I heard Mr. Chester making an electrifying presentation to the Climate Action Coalition meeting about his idea to save the billion dollar South Florida agriculture, “some of the best growing fields in the U.S.”  He was here, he said, “to bring reality to the recommendations” of adaptation and mitigation contained in the South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan.  Without action, our ability to grow 250 food crops (and feed the country) could end “as soon as the second term of the incoming American president.”  Whoa!  That’s within 10 years.

In a nutshell: “For [Florida’s] agriculture, it’s either up or out.” As he pointed out, the strategy of containing the sea by building up the land is nothing new. The Dutch have been doing it for centuries, and are still the masters of their dike-and-windmill system in modern times.  The Maya and Aztec also created farm lands on human-made mounds and managed excess water with canals, according to Raising Fields, the website created by Mitchell Chester to educate and make a case for adaptation of this kind.

While the ocean will advance and someday cover Southeast Florida, the use of mound farming and elevated agricultural strategies will serve to extend the life of valuable rural properties and precious growing fields.

For us South Florida residents, it could be an idea whose time has come.  And, as if to anticipate the drum beat about jobs gained or lost that plays through every political discussion, this proposal has an answer.  To build a new agriculture for a wetter, water-logged South Florida — and continue to feed all those urbanites who rely on farmers they’ll never meet — it will be everybody in, everybody working together: engineers, economists, architects, agronomists, water experts, farmers, environmentalists, mapping experts, permitting agencies, planners at many levels. And that’s before the first shovelful of soil.

Links to help you dig in 🙂

SLRSouthFlorida
Raising Fields Blog  — you can back up into the main site
South Florida Regional Climate Action Plan
EPA Climate Change Adaption SE
That Sinking Feeling – NBC Report

 

 

 

Miami Dice

I love Miami. I love the amiable mix of cultures, the scene at Hoy Como Ayer in Little Havana, the outdoor murals of Wynwood, the new South Pointe Park, the art deco homes, the new Perez Museum, built inexplicably enough on Biscayne Bay, next to new science museum under construction. Miami is a mere 77 miles from my hometown and along the same coast, so what happens in Miami isn’t going to stay in Miami. My county may be a foot or so higher in sea level, but we share the same porous limestone, the same array of barrier islands with their luxury high rises, and the same professional climate change deniers.

The sense of carpe diem might have had as much to do with our choice of Miami as a destination to celebrate our 30th anniversary this past summer as the city’s many undeniable attractions. So, we treated ourselves to three nights at the Marriot on Biscayne Bay where the management – alerted to the occasion by a child – gave us an upgrade that included a sweeping view of the Bay, Causeway and cruise ships. To my surprise, this Marriot (as in West Palm Beach) is growing food on site for its restaurants. Lettuces, tomatoes and herbs are the edible landscaping by the pool area.

That ‘farm to table’ glimmer aside, I am worried about Miami. It is clearly failing the test in how coastal cities will need to adapt to a rising sea. The $500 million earmarked for a new pumping system for Miami Beach is already acknowledged as a mere stopgap. I am concerned about friends there who recently spent weeks and a small fortune to install stronger new windows in their ground floor condo. I fear for the stalwart efforts to forestall what appears inevitable, even if we were able to cease using fossil fuels immediately. One of these is a permaculture food forest, right in the heart of the city, designed by Deva Marcus Thompson, founder of Permaculture Miami, whose intensive at The Mounts Botanical Garden I attended this weekend. Eve Mosher’s High Waterline project to show just how high the water will rise, is another. Also, Colony1, a sustainability research center that combines art and science. Closer to home, and heart, Transition Palm Beaches.

Sunshine_State_movie_posterIt is uplifting to see smart, persistent media coverage on the climate crisis, e.g. a feisty overview of what keeps The Sunshine State from becoming a solar energy giant in a blog post from Fred Grimm in The Miami Herald last Friday: Florida Utilities Stay Shady…  While Florida denies, he writes, neighboring Georgia is preparing to add 900 megawatts of solar by 2016, thanks to an unlikely alliance between environmentalists and the Tea Party, aka, The Green Tea Party (the latter on free-market principles).  When you realize that some $12 million has been allocated by our largest utilities to fund, “on average, one lobbyist for every two [Florida] state legislators each legislative sessions between 2007 and 2013,” you know what we are up against.   The choice at the polls has never been clearer.  Or the need to rid politics of money.

On the local level, my Unitarian Universalist congregation has become a partner in the Climate Action Coalition of South Florida, joining the UU Fellowship of Boca Raton, The Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, Oxbridge Academy, the local chapter of Organizing for Action, and League of Women Voters, among others. Our goal is to educate our municipalities on the risks we face as small cities and citizens, and get them to sign the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Action Plan. We hope to bring Eve Mosher’s High WaterLine to our area.  There is mounting evidence that local politics may yet do, piecemeal, for Florida what the big boys can’t, see: Pragmatism on Climate Change Trumps Politics … 

Pitch in, please, every way you can. It sure beats relocation to … Anchorage.

Read more:

High Water Line: http://grist.org/cities/street-artists-trace-against-time-and-sea-level-rise/

http://highwaterline.org/building-a-resilient-miami/

High Tide on Main Street, John Englander

Safer Cities

The End of the Known World?

Tipping point:  “The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, tipping point, like the Chinese characters for crisis that combine danger and opportunity, describes where we are as a species. On the one hand, our climate is approaching a point of no return where it tips from ‘change’ — which is already evident, particularly in South Florida where I live — to ‘chaos’ about which we can only offer educated guesses, none of them good.  On the other hand, we have unprecedented opportunities to reverse the damage caused by capitalism gone rogue, and see the fruits of our effort in our lifetime, and/or in the lives of our children and theirs.

boiling-waterDon’t expect to find guidance in political promises that continue to insist we can have infinite growth on a finite planet. Generally, scientific papers do a better job in framing the problem than in pointing to solutions.  For some — my spouse and I, for example — the thing we can do is right under our feet: soil to be healed, food to be grown, and forests to be started.  We are enrolled in an introductory permaculture course this month at the renowned Mounts Botanical Garden, about which more later.

In Soil Not Oil, physicist/environmental activist/author, Vandana Shiva, builds a clear relationship between healthy soil and our survival as a species.  Could it really be that simple?   “Every step in building a living agriculture sustained by a living soil is a step toward both mitigating and adapting to climate change,” she writes.   James Hansen makes a similar urgent argument for sequestering carbon in the soil.  And Rodale Institute’s White Paper on regenerative agriculture points out:

Excess carbon in the atmosphere is surely toxic to life, but we are, after all, carbon-based life forms, and returning stable carbon to the soil is a tonic that can support ecological abundance.

What if we reject options like geothermal engineering or methods of extracting fuels from photosynthesis or seawater for the risky business they are.  What if enough of us put our attention on reclaiming land to plant trees and grow food? Where’s the downside?

As the documentary, Growing Cities, points out, Americans have reverted to this simple idea in times of crisis.  The Victory Gardens of World War II come to mind, and Michelle Obama’s anti-0besity campaign that includes a vegetable plot on the grounds of The White House.  Then, when ‘happy days are here again,’ we ‘forget’ how powerful these choices make us and surrender to the ease of supermarket shopping and Big Ag dominated food system.  The good news: skills may lie dormant, but they don’t go away.

One of the projects of Transition Totnes, the UK’s first Transition Town,  was to interview elders about their life experiences of an earlier, slower time.  People who grew up during the Depression and World War II are an ever-shrinking group now, but there are plenty of 70- and 80-somethings with good memories of growing up on a farm or living in small towns where everyone knew each other by name and often worked together in some common enterprise.

I am thinking about the series of interviews FAU professor and performance artist, Sherryl Muriente, conducted with elders in the Italian town of Artena, subject Regeneration City, a documentary about The International Society of Biourbanism summer school in July 2013.  She uncovered among the nonnas of Artena a tradition of bread baking that had all but disappeared, and was able to revive it in an inspiring local festival.  (A second screening of the film was held in Lake Worth last weekend.) This could be a great project for any Transition Town in the making, and, nonna that I am, feel ready to work both ends of the interview.

Degrowth is far from a popular idea in my circles (yet), but it could be that better days are ahead if we can let go of the world we’ve been conditioned to accept and open ourselves to the one that is possible, and possibly superior, to this one. Samuel Alexander, founder of The Simplicity Collective, thinks so.  He makes a persuasive case for a degrowth economy, one that achieves a steady state within the Earth’s biophysical limits:  “Renewable energy cannot sustain an energy-intensive global society of high-end consumers. A degrowth society embraces the necessity of “energy descent”, turning our energy crises into an opportunity for civilisational renewal.”  This is also at the heart of Transition’s energy descent philosophy.

Self-identified ‘degrowth activist,’ Charles Eisenstein is eloquent on the subject. From The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible: “When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small-scale, is therefore a political act.”

 

 

Waking Up is Hard to Do…But Not Impossible

Charlie Brown Doing OKNo comment needed on this, the first slide of a Transition Towns — 8 Years On show we did at Friends Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth last night, our monthly Transition meetings that have been in progress since January. Putting it together was an education and reminder about how quickly this movement has grown, from the work of Rob Hopkins and his permaculture students in Ireland in early 2005 as they created an “energy descent action plan,” to a worldwide reach: some 1,000 Transition Initiatives in 42 countries.  If you were with us last night, this is a rerun.  If you weren’t, please read on:

A year after he completed his teaching gig and Ph.D. dissertation on the subject, Rob Hopkins started Transition Town Totnes (UK, 2006), and the movement took off like a shooting star.  Many people responded to the opportunity to tackle four key issues that Transition addresses: climate change; our addiction to oil; the myth of endless growth; a skewed economy.

If you’re a subscriber or regular reader of this blog, chances are you are already in the 61 % of Americans who accept the scientific basis for climate change and/or the 48% who recognize that it is “a major threat.”  But I’m going to bet that, even so, you may not have woken up to the fact of our addiction to fossil fuels and why we need to swiftly break it. The concept of Peak Oil shows that around 2008, cheap oil production, upon which our civilization relies  — at least here in the prosperous part of the world — ‘peaked,’ and thereafter, we have had to spend more money, resources (e.g. water), and energy, to extract a diminishing supply. Fracking, which has been touted as the next boom in energy, is actually one sign that we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, pun appropriate.  The case for scaling back on conventional energy use while developing renewables (solar and wind), has never been stronger.Why Transition 4 reasons

You may not be aware that the myth of endless growth was exploded in 1972 with the release of Limits to Growth, and the estimates about when we would reach planetary ‘overshoot,’ that is, when we have ‘used up’ more resources than can be replenished by Nature, are proving all too prescient. Yet, again in the wealthy part of the world, the notion that we can enjoy endless growth on a finite planet, remains a fixed ideology, espoused by government and business.  It is the reason the economy and concern for the environment are so often at odds.   In an economy skewed toward the already wealthy and powerful (and vote-buying) sector, one needs to be constantly reminded that small businesses, including organic farmers and local food producers (to look at one example) create more jobs, better health and well-being, social justice, and keep money circulating in the local community.

The slide show goes on to describe how and where Transition is taking root, and it’s an inspiring human story that I would be glad to bring to your club, faith group, or organization.  I could use the practice, and it’s free.

Most Transition Towns get going when a small group of engaged citizens begin to talk together about our predicament and how we can move beyond it, in and as communities, to a different way of thriving with less energy, more connection, and joy.  Sometimes, the group gels quickly and starts to adapt the low-carbon, relocalizing approach of Transition to the needs of the local community. Sometimes — as in Transition Palm Beaches — partnering with other groups on some common grounds, can be the catalyst.  To date, we have helped — in partnership with EcoArt South Florida and Gray Mockingbird Community Garden — to bring Symphony of the Soil, an important documentary by filmmaker, Deborah Koons Garcia, to the 400-seat Muvico in City Place (WPB) and raise money for a new composting site in the community.

Ken and kids seedingThis April, Transition Palm Beach members participated in C’est La Via, an ‘urban acupuncture‘ project to revitalize underutilized public spaces, in this instance, the bleak alleyway behind the bustling Clematis Street row of restaurants and shops in downtown West Palm Beach, transformed for one day with a scrubbing, paint, plants, music and people interaction into an urban oasis.  This weekend, we went to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth to participate in planting several acres with a variety of soil-restoring seeds, under the guidance of Ken Horkavy, garden manager and permaculturist, and an enthusiastic bunch of kids. Come back a year from and you may see once vacant land becoming a food forest for the community.  Volunteers welcome.  Get your hands in the dirt.

For me, focusing on what can be done locally is enriched greatly by what is going on the wider world of Transition.  Most of this information is available on two big sites and two emerging ones:  Transition US, the clearing house for Transition information and education in this country.  It offers free online seminars and a wealth of good, inspiring material.  If you cannot be at a seminar, the audio and transcript versions are posted promptly.  In August, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Transition Hub (MATH) was formed, to enable Transition Towns to share information and best-practices. In our area, we have a smaller, promising version in Transition Southeast and Deep South.  In the UK, where all this began, there is The Transition Network, home of Rob Hopkins prolific blog, basic information about the movement, and a list of Transition Initiatives around the world.  As of this writing, the newest is Tiv’on, Israel.  Transition Palm Beaches is still officially registered as a ‘mullers’ group.

Rob Hopkins is often quoted as saying the cavalry is not coming to save us.  But what if we’re the cavalry?  Let’s saddle up and ride.

Business Plan for a Planet

60 Minutes re-ran a show from November about The Pledge, an initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates with Warren Buffet, to encourage people in the billionaire club – about 1,600 people in the world according to 2014 figures – to pledge to ‘give back’ 50% of their fortune to the charity of their choice.  Gates and Buffet are #1 and #4 in the world as of the Forbes List for 2014.

Max Plank imageSara Blakely, who turned $5,000 into billions with her butt-shaper, Spanx, is interested in ‘helping women.’  Steve and Jean Case (AOL) want to empower others in civic engagement.   Billionaire passions in the group interviewed included unemployment in South Africa; brain cancer; tax reform in California and the national debt.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to eradicate infectious diseases.

Honestly, I was struck by how few of these great business minds seem to think climate change worthy of their attention and money.  Only former Ebay president, Jeffrey Skoll, included climate change in his top five ‘global threats,’ although #2 water security and #3 pandemics are closely related.  Skoll is also founder of Participant Media that was a key underwriter for An Inconvenient Truth and Years of Living Dangerously, among others.

Could the reluctance of self-made billionaires to engage with the politically-charged issue of climate change have something to do with biting the hand that feeds you?  After all, American corporations in particular enjoy tax advantages and a cozy relationship with the government few ordinary citizens can aspire to.
(We can Amend this, and right-size corporate power.)

A business background is not preventing former hedge fund manager, Tom Steyer, from climate advocacy that is raising eyebrows on both sides of the political divide.  Steyer is pledging $50M of his own money — and seeking matching funds — to eliminate climate change deniers in key races (for governor of Florida, being one), fighting fire with fire, as it were.   And it hasn’t stopped former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg (Forbes List #15), from co-chairing a stunning report entitled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the U.S.   It should be mandatory reading for everyone in the business community.  And if you live/work/invest in/own property along the East Coast, this quote from the executive summary should get your attention:

Within the next 15 years, higher sea levels combined with storm surge will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion.  Adding in potential changes in hurricane activity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for hurricanes and other coastal storms to $35 billion.

Where will the money come from to cover these losses?  Will ‘ongoing emergency response’ (Bill McKibben) become part of business as usual, accounted for in GDP in the years affected by big climate events?   What will happen to civil society in such a world?

It may be cold comfort (better than none) to realize that a large shift is occurring, not just among the people who hold most of the world’s wealth, but in the business community that, for better or worse, shapes and controls so much of who and what we are – and with our consent.   Whenever you feel powerless, remember what author/activist, Arundhati Roy, says so memorably about corporations: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. 

Boycotts are effective.  Remember Gandhi’s walk to the sea to gather salt.  But equally, it makes sense to identify the businesses that are part of the shift and support them: Starbucks, Stoneyfield Farms, Eileen Fisher, Ben and Jerry’s – about 170 at last count, and growing.  Here’s their letter in support of President Obama’s climate initiative.  Find the business leaders who speak your language, and don’t waste your time fretting about their personal lifestyles.  Plan B Team’s Mission:

We, the undersigned, believe that the world is at a critical crossroads.  Global business leaders need to come together to advance the wellbeing of people and planet.  In fact, we think business has to think this way in order to thrive.

More links:

Plan B

Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy

McKibben on Extreme Weather