Resisting Our Suicidal Culture: Are We All Aboard Germanwings?

We’ve passed the Spring Equinox and it continues to snow here in the Northeast. I feel like I’m stuck in Narnia under the Witch, and no sign of Aslan coming to the rescue.

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In the Narnia series, the Witch is a symbol of the dark side of humanity. Greedy, selfish, vain and cruel, she makes others suffer because it pleases her to do so.

C.S. Lewis, like J.R.R. Tolkien, took the struggle between Good and Evil right out of the Christian playbook. Both of these epic stories end with Good triumphing, but also with beloved characters simply moving on to a better world. In Christian traditions, that better world is called Heaven. You can only get there by dying.

For some of us, death does seem like a release, a chance to lay down one’s sorrows and find peace and comfort at last. We get a taste of it nightly when we dream—if we are able to sleep deeply and well.

Was it that pull toward peace that caused the Germanwings co-pilot to slam his plane into a mountain, killing himself and all 149 people aboard? Suicide that takes other innocent people along is reprehensible and incomprehensible. Yet it happens, more often than we might like to admit.

It’s easy to call the behavior of that suicidal co-pilot evil. But there are many other instances of human behavior resulting in cruelty and death that are harder to see and categorize. Often these actions are miniscule in their individual iterations, but together add up to horrifying, devastating impacts.

Most of what is going on with our relationship to our environment falls into this pattern of negligent evil.

For instance, when we buy a beautiful mahogany table and chair set for our porch, we don’t think about the rainforests that were bulldozed to create it. We don’t think about all the myriad life—the bright butterflies, exotic lizards and intelligent orangutans—that had to die so we could enjoy that table.

When we turn on the gas range to heat water for tea, we don’t think about the billions of gallons of water that are irrevocably contaminated through the fracking process to provide us with that gas. Likewise, when we fill up our car tank and rejoice to see the price of gas falling, we don’t think about the despoliation of the landscape and oceans that is going on in order to continue to provide us with cheap gas.

When we continue to support industries that destroy our environment, from industrial agriculture to the petrochemical industry to Big Oil and all the banks and subsidiaries that love them, we are each contributing to the crazy destabilization of our planet’s climate.

We are feeding the Witch that preys on every human being—the side of human nature that lacks empathy for other living beings and values short-term comfort and gratification over long-term well-being.

sustainable-happiness-lAs we round the corner into April, traditionally a month when human cultures of the northern hemisphere celebrate Spring and the return of warmth and green to the Earth, we must focus our attention on what Sarah van Gelder of YES! Magazine calls “sustainable happiness.”

In the introduction to her new edited collection, Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live Well, Make a Difference, Van Gelder points to research showing that what truly makes human beings happy is “loving relationships, thriving natural and human communities, opportunities for meaningful work, and a few simple practices, like gratitude.”

Van Gelder insists that “sustainable happiness is possible,” but “you can’t achieve it with a quick fix and it can’t be achieved at the expense of others.” It all “depends on the choices we make individually and as a society.”  In the book, she gives us a list of five principles to help move us in the right direction:

  1. “Stop the causes of trauma and support healing;
  2. Build economic and social equity;
  3. Value the gifts we each bring;
  4. Protect the integrity of the natural world;
  5. Develop practices that support our own well-being.”

That about sums up a plan for right living, doesn’t it? Easy to say, harder to put in practice in a social landscape that is seems to be so eternally under the spell of the Witch of destructive extractivism.

There are signs that the spell is weakening, though. Rivulets of indignation are spouting up. Individuals are awakening to their own power to imagine a different way of life, a different relation to each other and our planet.

We are beginning to talk with one another about making change, and acting on our deepest intuitions of what happiness would mean for ourselves, our loved ones and our beloved world. Through the networked power of the World Wide Web, these conversations and new paradigms can spread faster than ever before, giving us hope that there is still time to right the wrongs and stabilize the imbalances that threaten to turn our planet into a mass grave on a scale never seen before in human history.

The captains of industry and their hired politicians are threatening to slam our entire civilization into the side of a mountain, metaphorically speaking. Are we going to sit quietly in our seats and let it happen? Or are we going to pound on the door, like the heroic pilot of the Germanwings airplane, who did everything he could to get through to the insane man at the controls and bring his plane home safely?

Looking out at the relentless snowfall of April, I know it’s time to awaken the Aslan in each one of us. It’s time to fight for the survival of the world we love.

Aslan

A Pipeline for Mr. Nocera

Joe Nocera is one of my least favorite of the regular New York Times columnists. I almost always disagree with him; I like to read his columns just to see what kind of inane argument he’s going to concoct this time for an untenable position.

This time, he’s giving the finger to “environmentalists,” who are still embracing the “pipe dream” that it’s possible to stop the oil industry from mining the boreal forests of Canada in search of dirty shale oil. His column points out, gloatingly, that whether any of us like it or not, Canada tar sands oil will be coming into the U.S. and making their long, expensive, dangerous way down to the Texas refineries and ports—if not by pipeline, then by rail.

pipeline

And, he implies, there’s not a damned thing the President, with his veto pen, or the public, with our outrage, can do about it.

How convenient that Nocera overlooked the big news this week when he sat down to write his column. It was more important to him to poke the hornet’s nest of environmentalists than to actually give his readers some meaningful content to thin about.

This week’s real news came in the form of two new studies produced by teams of scientists who concluded that a) 2014 was tied with 2010 as the hottest year on record; and b) anthropogenic climate disruption combined with human predation is causing unprecedented species extinctions in the oceans.

The truth is, Joe Nocera, that unless human beings get out of our “business-as-usual” mindsets and get serious about slowing the rate of carbon emissions and taking seriously our role as stewards of the planet, those pipelines will soon be rusting silently like the rest of the junk of our civilization, from skyscrapers to factories, abandoned in the wake of the storms and food crises that will push human populations into collapse—just as we’ve pushed so many other species past the point of stability.

Think I’m over-reacting? Think I’m getting hysterical? Check out this round-up of recent reports and studies on climate change impacts by Dahr Jamail and then let’s talk. If you’re not seriously frightened by what’s happening to our planet, maybe you should consider lowering the dose of your anti-anxiety medication.

Meanwhile, funny, isn’t it, that the price of oil is going down down down. I’ve read a few attempts at explaining this phenomenon, which is having the positive effect (for the planet) of getting the oil industry to slow down its relentless drilling. The most plausible explanation seems to be that the Saudis are trying to put pressure on the U.S. shale gas industry, which is growing way too fast for the liking of the OPEC producers.

I say, a pox on all their heads! We don’t want natural gas fracking any more than we want Saudi oil or Alberta tar sands.

Solar and wind power may not be perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot better than fossil fuels. If we took some of the billions currently being poured into fracking, mining and pipelines and put them into developing good ways to store and distribute renewable energy, our children and grandchildren just might stand a chance of having the kind of normal lives we have enjoyed ourselves over the past century.

Joe Nocera doesn’t get this, of course, or maybe he just doesn’t care what happens to his own kids and grandkids.

When the United States turns into a dust bowl and the coastal cities are swept away by fierce storms and rising seas, maybe he’ll climb into one of those pipelines he’s advocating for and make himself cozy.

Resistance is the Secret of Joy–and of Social Revolution

The little old building that houses the offices of Orion Magazine was crowded with people of all ages, gathered around a data projector to see the just-released film, DISRUPTION: CLIMATE. CHANGE.

The film, made by the same folks who created the excellent climate advocacy film DO THE MATH, features stalwart activists like Naomi Klein, Van Jones and Bill McKibben, along with newer voices like Chris Hayes and Keya Chatterjee, all focused intently on a single goal: getting the viewing public—that’s us!—to understand that climate change is real, it’s happening now, it’s going to get worse before it gets better, and there is absolutely no more important cause to which to dedicate our lives.

According to the 2014 report by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are in for a rough century. If we don’t stop burning fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow, we’ll drive the global temperature so high that severe climate change will result. Mega-storms, melting polar caps, coastal flooding, ocean acidification, damages to agriculture, human and ecosystem health, mass extinction, you name it.

Walker - from Beauty in Truth jpg

Alice Walker

How do we avoid despair when looking ahead at an uncertain and probably chaotic future? One of the scientists interviewed in the film quotes Alice Walker, who famously wrote that “resistance is the secret of joy.”

This is the title of one of Walker’s novels, and the quote comes from the protagonist, Tashi/Evelyn, who willingly submits to genital mutilation as a young woman eager to conform to her society’s idea of what is right and proper…only to spend the rest of her life dealing with the resulting pain and trauma.

She thinks to herself that “resistance is the secret of joy” as she’s on her way to be executed for the crime of having murdered the old woman who cut her clitoris out with a razor—the woman who performed this “operation” on hundreds and hundreds of young girls over the course of a long career as an exciser.

For us, as for Tashi, there comes a point where we can no longer go along with the path that our elders and leaders have laid out for us.

There comes a point where we have to begin to think for ourselves, and to see that the danger of going along with the status quo far outweighs the danger of standing up to declare that another world is possible.

In a much-quoted column on Truthdig.com, Chris Hedges writes that because of the stranglehold the fossil fuel industry has on our political process, ordinary democratic tactics are not going to work in the urgent struggle to radically rethink and retool our economy to run on renewable energy.

“We have known about the deleterious effects of carbon emissions for decades,” Hedges writes. “The first IPCC report was published in 1990. Yet since the beginning of the Kyoto Protocol Era in the late 1980s, we have emitted as much carbon dioxide as was emitted in the prior 236 years. The rising carbon emissions and the extraction of tar sands—and since the industry has figured out how to transport tar sands without building the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, this delivery seems assured—will continue no matter how many police-approved marches are held. Play by the rules and we lose.

“Resistance will come from those willing to breach police barricades. Resistance will mean jail time and direct confrontation. Resistance will mean physically disrupting the corporate machinery. Resistance will mean severing ourselves from the dominant culture to build small, self-sustaining communities. This resistance will be effective only when we refuse to do what we are told, when we turn from a liberal agenda of reform to embrace a radical agenda of revolt.”

These are strong words from a middle-aged white guy, a media guru with a lot to lose.

Hedges is disdainful of the People’s Climate March on September 21, which, he says, has been coopted by some of the big fossil fuel companies themselves, and has failed “ to adopt a meaningful agenda or pose a genuine threat to power.”

Go ahead, “March if you want,” Hedges says. “But it should be the warm-up. The real fight will come once people disperse on 11th Avenue.” 

This is a point that is also made in the DISRUPTION film by the People’s Climate March organizers, who freely acknowledge that the march is only a first step in what will be a much more protracted struggle to, as one activist says, “take back our future” from what Bill McKibben calls the “rogue industries,” the criminal fossil fuel companies who are selling the future of every living being on the planet for a fourth-quarter profit report.

My favorite part of the film is right at the end, where Van Jones looks directly at us through the camera and says that change must start with each one of us taking a good hard look in the mirror.

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The author marching in Washington,DC, February 2014

Planetary and political change starts with personal awareness and responsibility. We can’t keep hanging around waiting for our political leaders to do the right thing. We can’t keep waiting for someone else to step up. If you have a vision of a better world, now is the time for you to start expressing it, finding others to share it, and together making it happen.

Next week I’ll be sharing my own story of coming to awareness, finding my way out of the straitjacket of convention and back into a deep connection with the natural world, which I had as a child but lost as I took my place among the young adults of my generation.

Entitled “The Personal is Planetary,” my talk is aimed at people like me—ordinary, people who work hard, take their responsibilities as parents and mentors seriously, and try to be kind and compassionate towards others.

How could it be that good people like us have let the planet come to the brink of disaster?

Human beings are like caribou—or like lemmings. We are instinctively compelled to run with our pack, even if the pack is running straight over a cliff. Those who try to buck this stampede can find themselves trampled.

The DISRUPTION film makes the point that we Americans are both bystanders to the tragedy of global climate change, and perpetrators. We have been enjoying the carbon-intensive lifestyle that is now driving the entire planet down the road to ruin.

True story. But regrets and guilt won’t get us anywhere now. We must find within ourselves the courage to look in that mirror, accept our culpability and deficiencies, and move on to do whatever we can, in the time that is left to us, to work towards a smooth transition to a sustainable future for children and grandchildren.

I’ll be in New York on September 21 for the People’s Climate March, will you? Let’s remember that resistance is not only the secret of joy. It’s the only way real social change has ever been accomplished.  

Climate Change Denial at the NY Times

I opened up Joe Nocera’s column in today’s NY Times, “The Poisoned Politics of the Keystone XL,” with anticipation, thinking that at last the Times was going to deliver a column roundly critiquing the pipeline and the oil-drenched politics from which it sprang.

My expectations could not have been more disappointed.

To put it mildly, Joe Nocera does not know what the hell he is talking about.  And I have to wonder whether some clumps of sticky tar-sandy dollars might have found their way into his pockets in return for the little PR gift he just gave, with flourishes, to the Canadian oil industry.

You will have to read Nocera’s column for yourself–I really can’t bear to summarize it.  Suffice it to say that he believes that:

  • 1) extracting the Canadian tar sands will make the US, and North America generally, “energy secure”;
  •  2) there is no point in pushing for energy conservation or a shift to renewable energy;
  • 3) Canadian tar sand oil “may be a little dirtier than the crude that pours forth from the Saudi Arabian desert…but is hardly the environmental disaster many suppose”;
  • 4) the US is foolish to cede our interest in this oil to the Chinese.

To which I (and some 300 other respondents to his column on NYT.com, as of this writing) have to say, Joe, are you out of your mind????  Or are you just being willfully blind?

Yesterday I was writing about the holocaust of harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where for the past decade global heating has been melting the ice at an alarming rate, leaving newly born seal pups at the mercy of thin, fragile ice floes.  I have also been thinking a great deal about the Little Ice Age that seems to be occurring in Europe this winter.  While we here in New England are enjoying springlike temperatures and a total lack of snowfall, Europe is getting dumped on with snow, and frigid temperatures to boot.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find solid information about this in the NY Times or other mainstream press outlets, but if you look hard enough, it’s there.  Climate scientists are pointing to the steadily melting Arctic ice cap as the culprit in the change in wind and weather patterns that are bringing more extreme weather to Europe–remember the 2010 hot spells that cost hundreds of lives?  This severe cold is also to blame for hundreds of deaths.

Let’s connect the dots.  Tar sands extraction can only be done by burning lots more fossil fuels.  That’s why environmentalists oppose it.  Not so much because of the destruction of millions of acres of pristine wildlife habitat, though that is generally acknowledged as sad collateral damage.

No, the main problem with extracting the Alberta tar sands is that doing so will speed the heating of the planet.  Heating the planet will lead to melting polar ice, rising sea levels, and ever more bizarre and destructive weather patterns.

Heating the planet will lead to death and destruction on a vast scale.

As the authors of a recent Royal Society special issue on climate change put it, if temperatures rise 4°C , “the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while the limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceeded throughout the world. Hence, the ecosystem services upon which human livelihoods depend would not be preserved.”

This is science-speak for a basic premise I think anyone could understand: if the temperatures continue to rise, human beings, and the ecosystems that have evolved alongside us, are TOAST (expletive deleted).

Going full-bore at the Alberta tar sands is signing the final death sentence for millions and millions of living beings on this planet, including millions of human beings.

Humans in heretofore privileged spots on the globe, like Europe and the USA, will not be excepted from the general ecocide.

Do you have any children or grandchildren, Joe?

Can you really in good conscience assure them that selling the Alberta tar sands, to the US or the Chinese, will contribute to their “energy security”?

If you answer yes, then my original hypothesis is confirmed.

You are out of your (expletive deleted) mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone there in Washington understand what that means?

Earth to Washington: do you copy?

Go ahead, Earth.

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

Copy that, Earth.

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

Copy that, Earth.

Like–now?

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

Yes, that’s right.  Over.

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

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

What an understatetment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can hear actor Mark Ruffalo explain it here:

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

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

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

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

We cannot afford to ignore these issues any longer.

Calling all Occupiers: Join the Deep Green Resistance of the Earth, before it’s too late

Occupy the Machine – Stop the 1%, Literally | Deep Green Resistance.

I had a feeling that the Deep Green Resistance movement would have something interesting to say about the Occupy movement, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As might be expected from a radical environmental group, they are envisioning a massive escalation of the movement, swelling the numbers and multiplying the targets so as to overwhelm the police who will be called in to maintain order.

DGR is imagining an occupation at the sites of worst destruction of the environment, like the boreal forest of Alberta, known to the energy mafia as the tar sands; the coal-burning power plants; the pipelines and the shipping routes.

I might add factory farms to the list, like the beef and hog farms out West that generate the toxic runoff that is poisoning the ocean for miles around the outlet of the Mississippi River.

Naming targets is one thing, but what’s really important is being clear on what the occupations are for. I don’t think the Occupy movement is especially focused on the environment.  It seems to be focused on social inequality–excessive wealth that has destabilized our economy, and the lack of jobs for the middle class.

These are all worthy issues.  But as I’ve said before, it won’t matter a rat’s ass if you have a job–or if you’re dripping in gold or starving and naked–if the climate changes decisively due to global warming.

To turn global warming around will require a movement like the Occupy movement, filled with idealistic, dedicated, thoughtful people who are willing to give it their all.  This struggle has to be linked with a critical rethinking of the industrial capitalist economic model of ruthless extraction and production in the name of profit.

That is the model that has driven our planet to the brink of systemic correction.

Not collapse.  The planet will be fine, she will regenerate.  She has time.  But to do it she will need to effect a serious correction of a species gone haywire, the human species, which in a very short time has altered the planetary environment to such an extent that millions of other species have gone extinct, and supplies of the basic life support systems like oxygen and water are threatened.

The Earth has survived such challenges before, and she will survive this time again.  But human beings, and most of the countless other beautiful life forms that share the planet with us at this time, will be doomed if industrial civilization is not rebooted and recreated as an ecologically sustainable system.

That is where the pressure of the Occupy movement needs to be applied.

Will the Occupiers step up to such an enormous challenge, much bigger than the one they initially envisioned?  Hard to say.  But at the moment they seem to be the best hope of deep change of our society and our terribly destructive economic system.

It’s in the Liberty Parks all across the world that the conversations are beginning that might have the potential to lead to real change.

All the money in the world is not going to buy safety or plenty once the Earth herself begins her own form of Deep Green Resistance.

Eco-terrorist from Park Avenue?

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches…

the fateful year of 2012 is on the horizon…

a hurricane rips up the East Coast, leaving 5 million without power, and billions of dollars worth of damage in its wake;

riots in London are quelled by force;

and dictators who have held sway for 30 years or more in the Middle East are run out of town.

As the debt crisis of the Western world continues, Exxon Mobil opens up new drilling potential in the Russian Arctic worth 500 billion dollars, of which almost nothing will be taxed, while schools lay off teachers, states lay off workers, and municipalities have trouble paying for basic services like road maintenance.

At least we have our iPads and iPhones!

For those able to connect the dots, it is no accident that a major hurricane hit the East Coast this week–given that the ocean is hotter than it’s ever been, thanks to global warming.  More storms like that, and worse, are on the way!  The question is, WILL WE CONNECT THE DOTS????

And more: Can we have a world in which we continue to enjoy our luxuries–a hot shower in the morning, easy internet access, refrigeration and supermarkets full of food–without having to pay any price?

Like anyone of my generation (I was born in 1962) I want to believe that the world I’ve always known will always be here for me.

But I am not so blind as to see that the very luxuries I have taken for granted as necessities are what has driven our entire ecosystem to its current precarious state.

I know this.

What am I going to do about it?

Mark Hertsgaard and others have said very clearly that individual sacrifice or change is not the answer for the planet.  The planet needs us to stand up and agitate for her, to take risks, to be bold.

Getting arrested in front of the White House is not a bad idea.

Lately I’ve been reading about even more radical steps one might take.  Our government might call these steps eco-terrorism.  I might call them standing up for what is right.

In Deep Green Resistance, Aric McBay, Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith outline a full spectrum of productive resistance to the planet-killing powers that be, from “propaganda”–ie, what I’m doing now–to actually going out and blowing up dams or cell towers.  

I am reading on, taking it in.  Do I have it in me to become an eco-terrorist?  Me, a sheltered girl from Park Avenue?

We’ll see!  Tune in next week…..

What happened to the Obama we elected?

If you won’t do it, Mr. President, we will!

Psst–did someone say…CLIMATE CHANGE???

A Year Full of Weather Disasters and an Economic Toll to Match – NYTimes.com.

Here is yet another example of the way the mainstream press reports on climate change without actually using that oh-so-loaded term.

“Normally, three or four weather disasters a year in the United States will cause at least $1 billion in damages each. This year, there were nine such disasters… These nine billion-dollar disasters tie the record set in 2008, according to a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

The article goes on to say that the NOAA “is taking several steps to try to make the nation more “weather ready,” including making more precise forecasts, improving the ability to alert local authorities about risks and developing specialized mobile-ready emergency response teams.”

But not a word about what really needs to be done to slow down this destructive trend, saving lives and livelihoods, not to mention the environment itself–REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS!!!!

I wonder how the Times is going to cover the big climate change action coming up on Sept 24?  Check out Moving Planet for more info and to get involved.

Information warriors, we need you!

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