Tag Archives: environment

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 spend 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.

Mad Max and Mega-Drought

With recent analyses of the record-breaking drought in the Western states in front of mind, I thought a big budget movie about what happens in an age of peak everything, would be just the ticket. So this Memorial Day Weekend, I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road.

For you fans of the Mad Max I, II, and III*, this stunning new 3D release picks up the post-apocalyptic narrative of resource depletion – fuel, water, women of child-bearing age – where a constant state of warfare on the move is the norm. In these, and in others of its ilk, humanity has done something profoundly stupid and profane to the environment and each other, and a price must be paid. The Mad Max franchise sets a high bar for fast-paced chases and thrilling stunts, and this one is no exception. Critically acclaimed, it will likely be around through this summer for your viewing pleasure, and may even make back its sizeable budget.

Our fascination with end of the world narratives is of ancient origin. Most share plot lines familiar enough to be plausible, and possibly serve as a morality tale, even a way forward. In the post-apocalyptic format, humans survive to face a world only movie makers can imagine. Sometimes, they end with more whimper than bang, e.g. The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s book of the same title. Critically well-regarded, The Road was only a modest success. For a big box-office hit, we want heroes; we prefer that someone (or something) intervenes and saves humanity in a splashy and surprising way. Enter Mad Max (Tom Hardy), but equally, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Cue the dusty, ragged, cheering extras in the final scene of Mad Max: Fury Road, when the chief villain has been dispatched, and precious water, stored in giant aquifers beneath The Citadel, is released. As in a classic Western to which it has been compared, Fury Road offers resolution, if not quite redemption, at the end. Max survives his inner and outer demons and melts into the tumult; Furiosa, revived by a transfusion of his blood, lives to fight another day. You are probably not surprised that the script for the sequel, Mad Max: Furiosa, is already written and the leads cast.

We walk away from this movie with enough adrenalin coursing through our systems to last all evening, and plenty of substance to talk about. The latter, for me, is what makes a film great. As I poked around the reviews, I was surprised and pleased to discover this note: “Eve Ensler, author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ consulted with [Director, George] Miller on the script—which suggests that women, as the creators of new life, will, inherently, always be the gender that holds hardest onto hope for the future. Furiosa looks at the insanity of the male leadership around her and decides enough is enough.” Rogerebert.com. Go Vuvalinis!

drought-california-trailerBut we don’t know who to cheer for, who will roll the credits on the story of drought, or how this movie may end. For some educated guesses and possible plot twists ahead, I recommend you take in two fine reports on California’s drought from recent editions of The New Yorker. The most personally resonant is Dana Goodyear’s The Dying Sea: What Will California Sacrifice to Survive the Drought? Sacrifice? What an old-fashioned, Greatest Generation, idea that is. And yet, browner lawns and shorter showers don’t begin to match what will be required to address drought in the West, and not just by the locals.

The dying sea of the title is the Salton Sea, a shallow, increasingly saline, giant inland lake located on the San Andreas Fault (another summer blockbuster to be released) and in the farm-saturated Imperial and Coachella Valleys. When we owned a condo in the Palm Springs area in the 90s, we once took a detour to find a lunch spot at the Salton Sea on the way to Phoenix. It was already well past its heyday as a resort, dotted now with a full array of seedy motels and diners, and biker gangs. But the defunct towns and film noir aspects of the region are the less important story. The health emergency for local residents caught in a modern Dust Bowl is the real wake up call. Here’s the link.

The opening photo of the parched, cracked earth of Lake Mead tells the story before you read a word of Where the River Runs Dry: The Colorado and America’s Water Crisis, by David Owen (currently, The New Yorker’s most popular article). The article gives a dense and fascinating history of water battles of the past and yet to come for a region dependent on one, endangered water source, the Colorado River, “The legal right to use every gallon [of which] is owned or claimed by someone.” If you think it is easy to distinguish the heroes from the villains in this unfolding story of water rights that “originated in the California Gold Rush,” you’re better off turning once again to the Hollywood version, Chinatown, the 1974 Oscar favorite, “set in 1937 and portray[ing] the manipulations of a critical municipal resource [for the city of Los Angeles] – water – by a cadre of shadowy oligarchs.” (Wikipedia)  It’s an old story, and we need a new one with a better outcome.

See also my reposting from Zero-Waste Chef for more on what we in other parts of the country can do to mitigate California’s water crisis now. Stop buying bottled water, and for your fruits and vegetables, stay local, my friends.

More Reading:

Peak Everything, Richard Heinberg, New Society Publishers

Chinatown, Roger Ebert review

*1979 cult classic film Mad Max, directed by George Miller, presents a world in which oil resources have been nearly exhausted. This has resulted in constant energy shortages and a breakdown of law and order. The police do battle with criminal motorcycle gangs, with the end result being the complete breakdown of modern society as depicted in Mad Max 2 and after nuclear war as depicted in the third sequel film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The opening narration of Mad Max 2 implies that the fuel shortage was caused not just by peak oil, but also by oil reserves being destroyed during a large-scale conflict in the Middle East. The remnants of society survive either through scavenging, or in one notable case, by using methane derived from pig feces. (Wikipedia)

The Road Taken

Like many classic American adventures, this one was propelled by a vehicle: a school bus, fitted out to become a home, transportation, and learning center for Nando Jaramillo and Blair Butterfield, and their two children, Luciano, 4, and Imogen, 2 1/2. In three years, the family covered 8,000 miles to visit sustainable cities across the country, and bring the ideas back to their home base in Miami.  Concrete ideas like a bicycle-propelled compost collection service (wow!).  And intangible lessons about generosity, experimentation, a willingness to ask ‘why’ and ‘why not,’ old-fashioned skills blended with leading edge technology.   They came home to work on their dream: to help make Miami the ‘greenest city’ in America.

Last evening, some 30 people came to the Transition Palm Beaches monthly meeting at the Friends Meeting House in Lake Worth, to hear about what happened next and pepper the couple with questions.  It was perhaps the most diverse group and liveliest meeting to date.

Although the presentation began with some standard environmental disaster imagery, this is a good story, a model for what is possible when motivated people marry their deeply held values – in this case to live and raise their children in as green and sustainable a way as possible — to committed action.

Blair and Nando began by forming a nonprofit organization – Art of Cultural Evolution (ACE) — and establishing a pilot on a vacant lot on 34th Street in Miami. There they worked to restore the soil, plant an organic garden, compost, harvest rainwater, and experiment with solar energy. The neighbors noticed, and soon began to plant their own yards with vegetables. Volunteers showed up. Fifteen families were fed from a single growing season.

Brewing kombuchaNext, working with local groups, the 34th Street Sustainable Land Lab (as it was then called) began to offer public workshops, classes, and movies about organic gardening, CSAs, and other related subjects. They were creating, you might say, a buzz. A fortuitous meeting with a City of Miami commissioner – Nando, an art director for film and television, grew up in Miami – helped clear the way to a 50 year lease of land for what is now known as Colony 1, an environmental arts and science education center, at 550 NW 22nd Street in the Wynwood arts district of Miami. When it is built out, it will be a 2,500 sq. ft. space, constructed entirely of 11 shipping containers, chosen for their availability and durability. (I, for one, will never look at a container quite the same way.) Think Tiny House x 11.

It is going to take funding to make this $200,000 dream come true, and the drive is on. Take a look at the site: http://www.artofculturalevolution.org/ and see where you might want to plug in as volunteer, partner, donor, or all three. Brewing your own kombucha, mending your own garments, or growing medicinal herbs, are all worthy endeavors. It’s when you teach others how, and they teach others, that it starts to become something greater: a learning community, a movement toward sustainability.

More about their journey:

Edible magazine’s article, and much more detail.

https://www.facebook.com/culturalevolution

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.

Greenier Than Thou?

OK, I’ll admit that our switch from Florida Power and Light to Pear Energy, a renewable energy broker over a year ago, right after we began our lease of a Nissan Leaf, made me feel a tad smug. Competitions about one’s carbon footprint don’t seem out of line, given the state of the Planet.  Not to mention that I managed to convince a small number of friends to make the switch.

Pear Energy imageWe stuck with Pear despite accusations in social media that the company was engaged in ‘green-washing,’ because here in South Florida, there seemed to be no better choice.  The company’s move from Miami to Amherst, MA, gave me pause but it was business as usual. Here’s a link to the discussion between that convinced us we’d rather fight than switch back: http://www.greenwashingindex.com/pear-energy-how-green/ I’ve written some damage-control PR in my life, so I appreciated how Pear answered its critics:

… it is important to keep in mind that we are an independent REC seller, which is a different model than that of a local utility’s green energy program. Local utilities are established, profitable businesses that simply add REC sales into their mix of services, as one very small share of their overall operations. These established utilities do not need to generate additional revenue through REC sales because they use their profits from selling electricity generated by coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy to provide a tiny subsidy to their purchases of clean energy RECs. By contrast, because REC sales are one of Pear Energy’s main activities, a portion of our charges must go to supporting our staff and our business operations. So, to summarize: 100 percent of all of our business activity supports the development of green energy in the U.S.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, when I received this email.

Dear Marika Stone,

Your Pear Energy account is officially closed as of November 10, 2014. As previously mentioned, Pear Energy is no longer offering our residential renewable energy service for homes and small businesses.

  • You will receive utility bills again. Please make payments directly to FPL normally. In addition, you may be receiving a verification email from your utility due to the recent changes made on your account.

Thank you again for supporting renewable energy and helping to build the green economy.

Sincerely,

The Billing Department
Pear Energy
(877) 969-7327
www.pear-energy.com

Apparently, I wasn’t the only customer who was upset at the news because today, another email arrived from Pear Energy offering us renewable energy via one of its partners, Acadia Power.  We’ll look before we leap, of course.  I won’t be surprised if there is a whole lot more of this kind of shaking out as we move toward renewables, and neither should you be.  In fact, I welcome it. Stay tuned

REC – Renewable Energy Certificates

https://www.facebook.com/PEARenergy

Gloves Off Arts Activism

“If you attack the establishment long enough and hard enough, they will make you a member of it.” ~ Art Buchwald.

That’s one of the things that has long concerned me about many of the environmental organizations we have supported for years. Example: the beautiful Nature Conservancy magazines that arrive every month with their gorgeous covers, great writing and photography.  You can’t help but get an impression of a polite, established organization dedicated to conserving pristine swathes of nature for those who have the time and money to enjoy them. This is far from the whole truth, of course, but by its own definition, TNC prefers “non-confrontational, pragmatic solutions” over, say, dressing up in a gorilla suits and scaling a wall to protest rain forest destruction in Indonesia, a Green Peace stunt that caused giant Nestlé to reconsider where it accesses palm oil for its popular KitKat brand.

From my perspective, we need it all, the whole shebang of responses to avoid a continued mismatch between the urgency of the planetary crisis and what can be done to arrest the worst impacts on species, including us. Which is why kudos to the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group for inviting two local arts activists to show and tell about Artful Activism for Pro-Environment Community Engagement. The event at the Jupiter Library last Saturday morning deserved a larger audience. But what it lacked in size it made up for in age-diversity and enthusiasm, and I left with a sense that we might all access our inner artist, and/or support the professionals in their efforts, to reach people emotionally. And while we’re at it, let’s broaden the definition of art to include poetry, spoken word, improv, street theater, and more, to arrest the slide to ecocide we are currently headed for.  Here’s a model: Eve Ensler’s one-woman show, The Vagina Monologues, has morphed into an international V-Day movement to end violence against women.  Clearly, it has a long way to go. The epidemic of domestic abuse currently in the news is a sign that facts alone are not going to get us where we live.

My friend and colleague, Mary Jo Aagerstoun of EcoArt South Florida, led off with a slide of the Stone Crab Alliance which, that very afternoon (October 18) marched on Gov. Rick Scott mansion in Tampa, brandishing banners that read: It’s All About Our Water.  Founded seven years ago, EcoArt SF aims to integrate and infuse art into sustainability strategies: “Art and science, as twin knowledge forms, must be tapped in tandem to create the wisdom, and activate hope, that underpins sustainability.” See an example of ‘social sculpture’ by Jackie Brookner at Elders Cove, West Palm Beach, and click the link to find drip-mist-2 (1)out more about the organization’s goals and projects.

Dr. Aagerstoun then showed slides of other groups that are using art activism in their communities, many of them examples of exactly the kind of prankish, gloves-off approach that Green Peace favors in its campaigns. Two resonated especially strongly with me (see the list at the end of this post for more).
The Illuminator’s mission is to “smash the myths of the information industry and shine a light on the urgent issues of our time.” During the recent People’s Climate March weekend in New York City, it projected this glowing message #FloodWallStreet Stop Capitalism! End the Climate Crisis! on the side of a building.  I also love the BackBone Campaign and supported their work for the People’s Climate March with a donation. Their mission is “to train progressive activists and organizations nationwide who are working toward human dignity, environmental sustainability and peace.”

Next up, visual artist and research biologist Diane Arrieta, with examples of her work which “illustrates the links between biodiversity (including endangered species), healthy ecosystems and human health.” Like street artist and activist, Banksy, Diane uses available exterior walls as a canvas for her stunning murals. If you can get this image out of your mind, you’re more organized (or is it Little Panda 2distracted?) than I. While Miami is a public space art-friendly city, Arrieta has found that getting permission is no easy task in some municipalities. I cannot imagine my hometown allowing public buildings to be used for art activism of this cutting-edge kind.  But maybe no one has put it to the test.  If people we elect to serve our needs fail to grasp the connection between a healthy ecosystem and the wellbeing of our cities and citizens, what is the point of clean, tree-lined streets, top-notch schools, and excellent sports facilities?   Join the Scouts’ beach cleanup by all means,  but first do everything possible to ensure that there will be a beach for us and our children.

The Sierra Club audience was more eager to share ideas than talk about their response to the art, per se, but you could read that as a sign that we intuitively ‘got’ how powerful and edgy arts activism could be, and were already thinking about ways around roadblocks and new forms of expression. Why not more artists-in-residence so they are paid for their work? Why not students teaching their peers? Why stop at buildings and overpasses?  Why not project messages on clouds? How about a more mobile form of message delivery where by the time someone complains, the show has moved on? How about peel-off art activism decals with potent images and messages for our homes and/or cars? Why not? Michael Moore, move over.

More resources from the presentation:

Beautiful Trouble — A Toolbox for Revolution

The Yes Men

Raging Grannies

Living Planet Report — “…not for the faint-hearted.”

Overpass Light Brigade

Rude Mechanical Orchestra

Stay Local, My Friends!

My tribe was on the march yesterday, some 400,000 of them in New York City, the biggest climate march in history. I have never been more proud of fellow UUs – 1,500 of them – for being in the forefront of a movement for climate justice. Saturday night, All Souls Unitarian in New York hosted an SRO panel of climate activists; click here for a video of the entire event.

Stay local 3So, I wasn’t physically in New York with Bill and Naomi and Vandana. Somehow burning fossil fuels to attend a climate march seemed, well, unseemly. In Florida, there were a number of marches in solidarity with the Big One. Transition Palm Beaches, and the emerging Transition Town Lake Worth, were well represented at the one in Delray Beach, joining Lake Worth Commissioner, Chris McVoy, the Raging Grannies, and The Sierra Club, among 50 others. We occupied the four corners at Swinton and Atlantic Avenues, held aloft a collection of hand-lettered signs (I wore mine on my back), and waved as supporters walked (mostly drove, sigh) by, horns honking, many showing thumbs up.   We chatted and compared notes on what we were doing, personally. Who came in an EV (we did)? Who is growing food (lots of us)? How to get best mileage from your hybrid? What will it take to get the Sunshine state to capitalize on its greatest energy asset (votes)? You get the picture.

M, MJ and Dean at Climate MarchSo, while it has been uplifting to see the crowd numbers come in today and look at all the photos of marchers (thank you, New York Times for covering the event), these conversations and the day-to-day work of learning how to thrive in community while powering down, continues apace. We meet, we plan. Today, I facilitated a loan of a seed ball-making machine from Northwood Greenlife community in West Palm Beach to the historic Osborne School in Lake Worth, where new-minted Garden Manager, Ken Horkavy, is going to plant four fallow acres starting Saturday, with a gala kickoff.   A year ago, I didn’t know a seed ball from a ball of wax, let alone that a machine could make them.

It must be in the water, but everywhere you turn, people are making moves to liberate ourselves from our long addiction to fossil fuels because we know we must. There are MeetUps about walkability forming. Urban alleys will be rehabbed as people-friendly spaces. Next weekend, at the Transition Monthly meeting, we’ll be showcasing how far the movement has come in the eight years since a mild-mannered permaculture teacher named Rob Hopkins decided to apply what he learned from the discipline to the challenges of climate change and resource overshoot.   Also in the works, an alternative gift salon, in time for a saner holiday season. Coming soon, to your neighborhood.