Dangerous Times: Looking for Hope in the Ashes of the Tar Sands and the Train Wreck of the Trump/Clinton Candidacies


It’s hard not to think about divine justice when looking at the photos of Fort McMurray, the Alberta tar sands’ boomtown, going up in flames. And not just any flames—gigantic, towering, white hot flames, the kind you’d expect from exploding oil depots and gas tanks. The entire city of 80,000 people is being evacuated, as firefighters have largely given up on being able to save it from destruction.

What happens next will be something to watch. Will the Canadian government continue with business as usual at the oil sands, rebuilding Fort McMurray and carrying on its dirty trade? Or will it seize this moment to set off on a new path towards a livable future?

Buried in the Globe and Mail article about the evacuation is some telling information about the cause of the wildfires: “Much of Alberta has been under extreme or very high wildfire warnings over the past month. After 2015 was marked by the worst drought in a half-century, the province experienced a mild winter that left little snow. A heat wave across the province this week, as well as strong winds, turned the vast forests around Fort McMurray into an inferno.”

Did someone say CLIMATE CHANGE?

Erratic weather is the new normal, to which we are going to have to adapt the best we can. It’s not just the pesky environmentalists who are sounding the warnings these days; even staid, business-as-usual mainstream media outlets like The New York Times now regularly note the relentless advance of climate change.

For example, it was a historic moment for The Times last week when this headline appeared on the front page: ”Resettling the First American ‘Climate Refugees.’”

It turns out that those first American climate refugees are also First Americans—native peoples, who are on the frontlines of the battle to save the planet throughout North America and beyond.

I have been heartened to see the newly vitalized union of environmentalists and indigenous peoples, coming together to protest the fossil-fuel nightmare and envision a renewable energy economy that works for all, including the millions of non-human species who seldom have a voice at the tables that decide their future.

In Canada, the Leap Manifesto has been gaining steam. Co-authored by Naomi Klein and other environmentalists and First Nations activists, it calls on Canadians to lead the way (or leap their way) into a sustainable future. Co-author Crystal Lameman, an Alberta First Nations leader, insists that “The time for a just transition beyond fossil fuels is now: Alberta holds incredible untapped potential for renewables, the best in Canada. The transition in Germany, where they have created 400,000 clean-energy jobs, is waiting to be emulated here.”

Lameman, Klein and other climate justice advocates know that scare tactics alone won’t build a movement for change. Apocalyptic photos of wildfires, droughts, floods and storms are as likely to produce despair and resignation as they are to galvanize action.

As activists like Frances Moore Lappe and Sarah Van Gelder have been telling us, the public must be informed about the dangers of the fossil fuel juggernaut while simultaneously being presented with viable alternatives. So it’s not just that the Alberta tar sands operation should be shut down, it’s also that the shift to solar and wind power in Alberta will generate hundreds of thousands of new, clean, good-paying jobs.

In the U.S., it’s not just that we must oppose new pipelines, fracking wells and oil trains, it’s that we must build an entirely new infrastructure of solar fields, wind farms and high-speed public transit. We must re-localize agriculture and re-learn how to farm in ways that enhance the biological richness of the soil, rather than depleting and exhausting it.

Synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides; clear-cutting forests; deep-sea trawling; hydro-fracking; disposable plastic bags, bottles and caps—all these must fall into the dustbin of sad 20th century history.

It’s truly humbling—and horrifying—to realize how quickly the human industrial revolution has brought our ancient planet to the brink of another global re-set, a “sixth great extinction” and a re-entry into an open-ended period of unstable climate.

Geological_time_spiral for HOP for web_0

Our beautiful old planet will survive, and life will persist. But humans? Will we be able to make the leap into a global civilization that values life and works to protect and steward our Earth? Or will we too be swept into that dustbin, a failed experiment of monstrous proportions?

It is quite a responsibility to be part of the transitional generation. The choices and decisions of those of us alive today will have an impact far beyond our own brief lives. Even short-term political decisions matter, since the speed with which the climate is spinning out of control makes every day of action—or inaction—count.

We know that Hilary Clinton is in bed with the fossil fuel industry and their financiers. She is the candidate of the status quo and the leader of the heads-in-the-sand folks who refuse to look at the inconvenient truth that if we maintain the status quo, we’ll all be engulfed by the wildfires, floods or famines of climate change before long.

Bernie Sanders, pied piper of the young, acknowledges that climate change must be dealt with, and he’s laid out a plan to “make sure our planet is habitable and safe for our kids and grandkids.” As President, he will have the power to convene the brightest minds on the planet to engineer a transition to a renewable-energy economy.

The popularity of Trump is truly frightening, as his followers are clearly the least informed about what our future holds in store. As a country, we must take responsibility for those folks too. As an educator, I feel especially responsible—it should be impossible for a young person to graduate high school, much less college, without the ability to discern truth from lie, to recognize the difference between strength of character and empty sloganeering.

We are living through dangerous times. We will need the wisdom of every old story even as we must boldly and thoughtfully work together to write a new story we can live into, our visions of a just and sustainable future like rope bridges we must build in front of us as we advance across the chasm of time.

Leave a comment


  1. Jennifer- I have sadly decided to stop reading your blog because of your blinding continued support of Sanders, your attacks against Hillary Clinton and your refusal to see the real “evolution” that her candidacy repesents. She represents end of male supremacy in the most powerful position in the world. This changes the face of patriarchal power. To get to where she is she had to play by the powers that be’s rules, so she did. Now that she has made it to the top, women’s voices will finally be included in the decision making processes as we move forward as a nation and a planet. I know you know that change is incremental with occasional bursts of real forward momentum. That is what she represents to the millions of people who support her. We know she is not perfect, she wouldn’t be where she is if she didn’t make calculated compromises. That is one of her strengths, she knows how to compromise and how to get things done. Voting for her is a step toward including the voices of those who have been historically oppressed by the patriarchal system. Her coalition of power includes: blacks, women, like-minded men, the LGBT community, other people of color, the disabled and the aged. Sen. Sanders has added important progressive components to the discussion of what is possible and desired by many people. I agree with and thank him for that. Many of the problems he highlights are a function of the hierarchal patriarchal paradigm we currently live within. We will not be able to fully incorporate change until we change the balance of power within the patriarchal paradigm. Electing a woman who has withstood the slings and arrows of the patriarchy, is still standing and has millions of people standing with her, is a very important step toward real change. Thank you for your thoughtful posts. I have appreciated your passion. I will miss that.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  May 5, 2016

      Thanks for this thoughtful response! What I’ve come to realize is that what I value are the “feminine” qualities that are more prevalent in people in female bodies, but present in all human beings, just as “masculine” qualities are in us all. Gender is a spectrum, not a binary. My preference for Bernie has to do with his embracing of the “feminine” qualities of nurturing, empathy and inclusiveness. Hilary, though female-bodied, seems to have had to shift quite far towards her inner masculine in order, as you put it, to “withstand the slings and arrows of the patriarchy.” We’ve seen this in most successful women leaders who have made it within the system (Thatcher, Meir, Rice, Albright, Merkel….); precisely because they are trying to make it within the system, they don’t challenge the system. I believe that the issues confronting us in these early years of the 21st century are too urgent for the kind of slow reformist change that people like Hilary promise. What attracts me to Bernie is not his anatomy, but his vision and his willingness to throw open the thought-door to real revolutionary change. With the tar sands on fire, Houston flooding and the polar glaciers melting away, do we have time for a status-quo candidate who cannot galvanize the young people who are our best hope for the future? I don’t think so.


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