For the Trees

IMG_0258 copy.jpg

For North American tree lovers, October is a special month: the time of year when the trees get dressed up in their fanciest finery and show off just how wildly beautiful they are.

I pay attention to trees in all seasons, and have ever since I was a girl who loved to climb them, as high as I could go, and drape myself over a branch to feel the wind swaying us both gently.

My very first short story, written in pencil in a nondescript notebook when I was about 8, was about a tree nymph named Estrella, who gathered the animals around her in an urgent council, and set off on a quest to try to save her forest from destruction by humans. I never finished that story, mostly because I could not imagine a solution—how could a tree nymph and some forest animals stop the men with their bulldozers and chain saws?

Estrella haunts me now, prodding me to return to her story and persevere to the ending. Since those long ago days of my childhood, the pace of forest destruction has only increased.

According to National Geographic, if the current pace of deforestation continues, the planet’s rainforests could “completely vanish in a hundred years” (italics mine).

The fate of the northern boreal forests is no less dire. The Canadian boreal forest, an area more than 14 times the size of California, is being scraped away relentlessly for tar sands oil production, as well as being steadily logged.

boreal_concessions

In the first 13 years of the 21st century, according to a report from the World Resources Institute and Global Forest Watch, “Canada lost more than 26 million hectares of forest, mainly in its boreal region. More than 20 percent of the boreal forest region (more than 150 million hectares) is now covered by industrial concessions for timber operations, hydrocarbon development, hydroelectric power reservoirs, and mineral extraction.”

A hectare is equal to about 2.5 acres. The scale of this deforestation boggles the mind. In fact, I think one of the reasons this vast destruction is continuing is because it’s so hard to wrap our minds around it. Outside of photos, very few of us tree lovers ever see a fresh clear-cut or a mine. We don’t see what passes for “reforestation,” the planting of millions of trees in straight lines, with herbicide sprayed below them to prevent “weeds” from growing, and not an animal or bird or butterfly in sight.

Unknown.jpeg

Yet so many of us love birds and butterflies and animals. We put out our bird feeders in the winter and ooh and ahh over a sighting of a deer or a bobcat.

How can we be so loving on the one hand, and so callous on the other? How can we allow the relentless logging and scraping and dozing and burning to go on???

We seem to live with constant cognitive dissonance, whereby we know what’s going on, but resolutely shut out the knowledge. At least, that’s what I do. I know that every time I get in my car I’m being part of the problem. But I continue driving, nevertheless. We all do.

Human beings are profoundly social animals. The more I think about our behavior, the more I see our resemblance to ants, bees and termites. Especially ants, who are also wizards at reshaping the environment to suit their own needs. But no other species on Earth destroys its own habitat—and knowingly, at that!

A long, long time ago, the Earth was an anaerobic environment; there was no oxygen in the atmosphere. Then the plants came along and started turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, paving the way for all of us oxygen breathers who followed them.

Without the plants—without the algae, grasses, trees and all the other carbon-dioxide breathers—the Earth would become uninhabitable for us, just as it became uninhabitable for the anaerobic creatures millions of years ago.

So when we’re thinking about the trees, we owe them some gratitude. Some reverence and respect.

img_0160-copy

I love trees because they seem majestic and wise to me. They live a long time, far longer than humans, and they exist both above and below ground in ways I can hardly begin to fathom. They are also patient and resilient. When you cut down a tree, its roots still feed the soil, and if left alone (ie, no herbicides), it will soon regenerate, calmly sending up hundreds of new saplings to take the place of the one who fell. It has time. There is no rush.

It’s human beings who are in a rush, all the time. In a rush to “harvest biomass,” policy code for cutting down forests. In a rush to figure out how to “manage ecosystem services,” ie, learning how to cut down, replant and cut down again at the fastest possible rate.

All this rush is sending us pell-mell off the cliff of climate change. We know this, but try not to think about it. It’s so much easier to go along with the flow of our dominant, fossil-fuel-based, wood-hungry culture than to try to resist. Especially when it seems like that’s what everyone else is doing too.

Charles Eisenstein says that “enlightenment is a group activity,” meaning that it’s almost impossible for us humans, social creatures that we are, to change our mind-sets alone.

What’s truly exciting about our time is that now, we are more networked and communicative than ever before, just like our cousins the ants and the bees. Our Internet has made group enlightenment (otherwise known as social change) possible at a speed and a scale never before possible for humans.

It’s no longer possible for us to simply not know when millions of acres of forest are being clear-cut. That kind of innocence is gone, and with knowledge comes the responsibility to act, to live up to our values. Happily, there are some potent actions going on right now on behalf of the forests and the waters—the lifeblood of our planet.

img_0267-copy

Not surprisingly, it’s indigenous peoples, the ones who have stayed closest to the land throughout the whole horrendous onslaught of “Western civilization,” who are leading the way.

If you haven’t been following the protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where a massive pipeline project is underway, please inform yourself. The powers that be are trying to muzzle the media there, but that always backfires in the age of social media, doesn’t it.

Amy Goodman’s video report of dogs attacking peaceful protesters (they prefer to call  themselves as “water protectors”) has gone viral with more than 14 million views in just a couple of weeks. The more the oil moguls try to stamp out resistance, the brighter the glare of public awareness and outrage shines.

I’m also heartened by the response to the Million Trees Campaign started by Treesisters, an organization inspired by the Pachamama Alliance, which was itself sparked by visits with the Amazonian Shuar people who were reaching out to northern allies to try to save their forests.

Treesisters is funding local reforestation projects, focusing on the tropical rainforests that are so essential to the stability of the climate worldwide. Currently they are half-way to their goal of funding the planting of 1 million trees in the coming year—you can join in here.

tree-copy

 

Estrella the tree nymph is never far from my mind these days, her great love for the trees and forests fueling her implacable determination to change the hearts and minds of the human beings that would destroy them.

One day I will finish her story. And I hope I can find my way to a happy ending.

 

 

 

 

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

13151938_1766632513566907_7673587603737167033_n.jpg

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.

Keystone XL: A Battle Won, But the Good Fight Continues

On a balmy day in November 2015, President Obama did the right thing and rejected the Keystone XL pipeline once and for all. Although I am well aware that this is just one battle in an on-going war, still it seems worthwhile to pause a moment to savor this victory.

At the climate change rally in Washington DC, Feb. 2013

At the climate change rally in Washington DC, Feb. 2013

Back in February 2013, I traveled to Washington DC with friends to participate in the historic protests against the Keystone XL. President Obama was conveniently absent the day we circled the White House with our protest parade, but the rally was the largest ever demanding that our politicians start taking climate change seriously, and we left D.C. the next day feeling satisfied that we had done our best to get our point of view across.

And now here we are at the hottest November ever; the glaciers and poles are melting at alarming rates; and there are dramatic die-offs of marine life as the oceans warm, turning, as one headline put it, into “cauldrons.”

Terrestrial life is similarly stressed, with mysterious mass deaths in Central Asia and raging, out-of-control fires burning in Indonesia. In the Middle East drought conditions persist, and it has been alarmingly hot—with predictions that by 2070, large portions of the Gulf peninsula will no longer be habitable for humans.

I was especially disturbed by a recent New York Times op-ed arguing that the time for climate change mitigation is past, and we must now do our best to adapt to the inevitable rapid heating of the planet.

“Drastic reductions would be needed to stabilize human influences on the climate at supposed “safe” levels,” writes scientist Stephen E. Koonin. “According to scenarios used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global annual per capita emissions would need to fall from today’s five metric tons to less than one ton by 2075, a level well below what any major country emits today and comparable to the emissions from such countries as Haiti, Yemen and Malawi. For comparison, current annual per capita emissions from the United States, Europe and China are, respectively, about 17, 7 and 6 tons.” And “even if today’s annual per capita emissions of three tons in the developing world grew by midcentury to only five tons (about 70 percent of Europe’s per capita emissions today), annual global emissions would increase by 60 percent.”

So are we doomed then? Will the world as we know it be swept away by the dramatic climate shifts ahead of us?

It’s impossible to deny the very real possibility that global warming will cause the collapse of many of the life support systems that have made human beings so incredibly successful as a species.

We are over-populated, and Mother Earth has ways of dealing with such imbalances. The only way to avoid serious system collapse is to dramatically recalibrate our relationship with the Earth. It’s not rocket science: we know that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, shift to renewable energy like solar, geothermal and wind, and stop deforestation. And while we’re at it, reduce our chemical dependency and shift food production into permaculture practices. Stop raising and eating so much meat, and shift to healthier plant-based diets.

We must continue to pressure our politicians to make the policy changes needed to support these crucial shifts (and another piece of good news is the possibility that Exxon-Mobil and other fossil fuel giants may be sued for lying to the public about the dangers of climate change–what I myself would call CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY).

Tonight, I raise a glass to toast Bill McKibben, 350.org and all the environmentalists who worked so hard for today’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

It is a wonderful victory, but we still have a lot of work to do before we can rest easy knowing that we have done our part to assure that our grandchildren will inherit a habitable world.

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.

Are We Going to Stand By Silently in the Face of Ecocide? Hell no!

In my talk the other night, “The Personal is Planetary,” which I gave as the opening lecture of the Berkshire Human Rights Speaker Series, I set out to point to climate stabilization as the most important issue of our time, the one that dwarfs all the other social and environmental struggles we may be engaged with.

candian-oil-sands-615Most people know by now that if we don’t shift to renewable sources of energy like solar and wind, the greenhouse gases caused by the profligate burning of fossil fuels are going to wreck our planetary environment so badly that our beautiful Earth will become unlivable for most of her current inhabitants, including humans.

“We know and we don’t know,” I told the audience. “We know but we see no role for ourselves as change agents. We know but we’re afraid of the consequences of protest. We know but we don’t want to know. Life is comfortable; why rock the boat?”

I wondered aloud how bad things would have to get before we sunpower_maincomfortable Americans finally understand that it is past time for our active engagement in forcing our government and our corporations to do what needs to be done to ensure a livable future for us all.

Shocks can be necessary, and we’ve already had a few: Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Sandy, along with regional droughts, floods and wildfires in many parts of the country, all weather-related events exacerbated by global warming.

But Americans are still pretty cushioned from the full effects of climate change. Around the world, for people of other nationalities and for millions of non-human species, things are already reaching a tipping point beyond which recovery will be difficult, even impossible.

We Americans, privileged and coddled as we are, need to open up our eyes and take in the full enormity of the crisis that confronts us.

This is bigger than any individual war, even against evil empires like the Islamic State. It’s bigger than any individual social justice issue, even the ones I’ve spent a good part of my life fighting for, like women’s equality and anti-racism.

As I said in my talk, “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to compare our role as bystanders to the destruction of the forests and oceans and all their inhabitants to the role of the ‘good Germans’ who watched the trains full of Jews roll into the concentration camps and professed to not know what was going on behind those walls.”

Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, some of them my distant relatives. I’ve been taught all my life that we must remember this genocide, and others like it, so that it will never happen again.

And yet all of us are willing to stand by, deaf, blind and mute, as millions upon millions of innocent living beings on the planet are sacrificed to the maw of human industry in its current greedy, profit-driven guise.

Tens of thousands of albatross are dying from eating plastic out of the Pacific Ocean

Tens of thousands of albatross are dying from eating plastic out of the Pacific Ocean

Fossil fuel extraction, from fracking to tar sands to deep-sea drilling; industrialized agriculture, with its chemical poisoning of the earth and waters; mining and deforestation; plastic garbage on land and sea; endless urban and suburban sprawl—all this is driving what scientists now refer to as the Sixth Great Extinction, which will only intensify as the planet continues to heat up.

Eventually, if we stand by and do nothing, we humans too will join the long death march to extinction, or at least to a total collapse of our ruinous global civilization.

Are we going to stand by and do nothing while the planet burns? Are we going to allow our government and our corporations to commit planetary ecocide? Are we going to continue to pretend that we don’t know what’s going on?

10453020_1454513064799672_5914704337046021387_oThis Sunday there will be an opportunity to take to the streets to demand effective action on climate change. Tens of thousands of Americans from all over the country will be converging on midtown Manhattan for the People’s Climate March to show the world that we care about our future and we know that our destiny is bound up in the health and welfare of the entire planetary ecosystem.

It is truly a legendary moment in the history of humanity. We have the grand opportunity to be the generation that succeeds in abandoning the deadly playbook of industrialized capitalism, and opens up a new epoch based on caring, balance and good stewardship of the Earth.

Endless growth of human industry is not possible on our finite planet—not without driving us all to ruin. The sooner we can adjust our economies and industries to this new worldview, the sooner we will all begin to learn how to recalibrate human activity accordingly, and redistribute the current massive imbalances of wealth so that everyone has enough—including all the non-human species that we must also learn to value and protect.

As I concluded in my talk the other night, “The future of so many living beings on this planet depends on our ability to overcome our fear, move beyond our silences and step into the power of our own transformative visions. Opportunities to work for positive change will open up as we begin to look for them. Now is the time for action, and we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Let’s not wait any longer.”

10516849_1457572994493679_8105942018734494795_n

PS: I was glad to see an excellent op-ed piece by Mark Bittman in The New York Times about the importance of the People’s Climate March. The Times is also providing a “Countdown to the Climate March” this week: here’s a story that goes behind the scenes with the organizers, featuring an interview with Bill McKibben.

Also, if you haven’t seen the new film DISRUPTION yet, here is the You-Tube link.  It begins with a quote: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” –Frederick Douglass.  Check it out!

Seeking solidarity in the environmental justice movement

Source: BBC

Source: BBC

It’s hard to wrap my mind around 129 degrees Farenheit, a temperature so hot that meteorologists have had to add a new color to the heat spectrum to represent it.

The pictures coming out of Australia this week have been nightmarish.

You’ve probably seen them too: the charred sheep, the family taking desperate shelter under a dock while ash and sparks fly around them, the huge red sandstorm wall looming over the ocean.

This is the push-back of Mother Earth.

There is only so far you can push her, and 2012 seems to have been the threshold beyond which there can be no further illusion of business as usual continuing.

 

Family in Tasmania seek shelter from wildfires

Family in Tasmania seek shelter from wildfires

Even some of the most hard-nose politicians are getting it now: I was heartened to hear Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York speak of the urgent need to plan for climate change disasters in his State of the State speech this week.

But he is still on the fence as far as fracking New York goes, which shows he has yet to fully put two and two together.

Two and two cannot equal two, Mr. Cuomo.

In other words, you can’t continue to expand the fossil fuel industry and not expect the blowback of climate change to worsen.

A lot of people are getting this now.

Not the ones who have their heads so deeply buried in the technology sands that all they can think about is the excitement of the next app, MOOC or tablet.

Not the ones who are riding the current stock market wave to scary new heights, buoyed by who knows what fictitious understanding of the relationships between real people and real goods—referred to in finance-speak as “market shares” and “bundled securities.”

Not the 1%, still sitting comfortably above it all, looking down on the disturbances below like vultures surveying the activities of scurrying mice.

But down here at ground level, people are starting to look at each other and know, even without speaking, not only that things are wrong, but that we cannot rely on others to make it right.

Wildfires are killing thousands of sheep in Australia

Wildfires are killing thousands of sheep in Australia

That can be the only explanation for the sudden groundswell of support for the Idle No More movement, which, just like Occupy, tapped into the resistance of ordinary people to the bulldozers of global capitalism, now coming to a forest or a farm field near you.

The lure of short-term gains has led many a politician, businessman, landowner or Native tribe down the daisy path of signing off on legislation and leases giving Big Fossil Fuel the right to do whatever the hell they want.

But we’re wising up now.

Toxic wastes from Texaco-Chevron are poisoning people and animals alike in Ecuador

Toxic wastes from Texaco-Chevron are poisoning people and animals alike in Ecuador

We look at the way Chevron left Ecuador when it was done extracting all the oil it could, and we listen to the story of how relentlessly their lawyers fought against giving even the least amount of their vast profits towards reparations for the toxic environment they created, and we know we could be next.

Now they’re coming right here in the Northeast—in the watersheds of New York and Pennsylvania, buying up those fallow farm fields and bringing in their huge fracking drills.

They’re down in Texas, building the first leg of the proposed transAmerican oil pipeline that will bring the dirty sludge of tar sands oil down to the Gulf of Mexico refineries, crossing over aquifers and farmland, by cities and pristine national parks.

And they’re up in Alberta with their giant bulldozers and dump trucks, razing the fragile boreal forest to get at the oozing tar underneath.

But in all these places, people are stirring.  People are rising in protest.  People are seeing that the short-term gains from these destructive fossil-fuel driven industries are going to quickly burn up, driving the stock market temporarily higher only to set up an even bigger crash in the future; keeping our homes warm and light today, only to set up bigger and worse climate-related disasters down the road.

Tree-sitters in Texas

Tree-sitters in Texas

A few brave souls have been sitting in the trees in Texas to block the pipeline, a resistance strategy pioneered in the 1990s when Julia Butterfly Hill sat in Luna, a giant California redwood, for more than a year to keep the loggers from cutting her and her neighbors down.

The First Nations are on the march in Canada in a movement that is spreading like wildfire across the world, protesting the poisoning of the environment by the fat cats in boardrooms who arrogantly believe that they exist on another plane, a modern-day Mount Olympus that is impervious to the environmental destabilization they are wreaking on the world.

Students are rolling out an urgent campaign to get their college and university trustees to divest their portfolios from the fossil fuel industry.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, these efforts can be beamed across the globe instantly, refracted and amplified through the networks of hundreds of millions of kindred spirits worldwide.

The dissenting power of the many that Hannah Arendt wrote of back in the late 20th century has never been more powerful, in part because resistance can now take place virtually.

We don’t have to go out and brave the guns and tear-gas, although probably in the end it will have to come to that.

We can build our networks at home, working quietly but steadily until they are so big that to arrest us all would be, as Marx predicted, to undermine the capitalist structure itself—throw all the workers in jail, and who’s going to do the work?

Idle No More protesters on Highway 401 in London, Ont., in December.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Idle No More protesters on Highway 401 in London, Ont., in December.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Right now all of these protest movements are disparate, each working on their own perceived goals.  What I hope to see in the coming year is more solidarity, more recognition that we’re all really fighting the same grand battle to keep our planet from being so devastated that it can no longer support life as we know it.

Life will continue on Earth, there is no doubt of that.  But whether humans, elephants, songbirds and frogs will be able to persist on a super-heated planet is quite uncertain.

It is imperative that we build an unstoppable grassroots movement to prevail on our elected representatives to represent the people rather than the corporations, and do what’s right.

How many catastrophic hurricanes, out-of-control wildfires, drought-stricken fields, bleached out corals will it take before we make use of our power as denizens of the world and say NO MORE?

images-1

Idle No More: Exposing the Suicidal Cult of Global Capitalism

Once again we are seeing how the democratic power of social media can thwart the efforts of the state political apparatus to keep the people in line.

This time it’s happening in Indian Country, beginning in northernmost Canada and spreading like wildfire through social media networks down south and out into the broader world.

The movement is called Idle No More, and it was started by a coalition of four indigenous and non-indigenous women from Saskatchewan—Sylvia McAdam, Jess Gordon, Nina Wilson and Sheelah Mclean—who decided last fall that enough was enough with the steady assault on the environment and protections for First Nations lands in Canada.

Idle No More Founders

Idle No More Founders

Taking specific aim at an omnibus bill in the Canadian Parliament, known as Bill C45, the women began teach-ins and protests around their homes in northern Canada.  Word spread quickly across North America and beyond via social media channels, and a global solidarity movement was born.

Idle No More protest in Toronto last month

Idle No More protest in Toronto last month

According to the Idle No More website, this is what happened:

 Bill C45 brings forward changes specifically to the Indian Act that will lower the threshold of community consent in the designation and surrender process of Indian Reserve Lands. 

Sheelah McLean reminds us that the bill is about everyone.  She says “the changes they are making to the environmental legislation is stunning in terms of the protections it will take away from the bodies of water – rivers and lakes, across the country.”  She further adds, “ how can we not all be concerned about that?”

The Idle No More efforts continued in Alberta with an informational meeting held at the Louis Bull Cree Nation.  The organizer for that event, Tanya Kappo, took to Twitter and Facebook to help generate awareness on the matter as the passage of Bill C45 was imminent. 

Kappo says, “the people in our communities had absolutely no idea what we were facing, no idea what plans Stephen Harper had in store for us.”  The events leading up to the National Day of Action have been focused on bringing awareness to people in First Nations communities and the rest of Canada. 

Jess Gordon says, “The essence of the work we are doing and have been doing will remain a grassroots effort, and will continue to give a forum to the voices of our people.”

When Bill C45 was brought to the House of Commons for a vote, First Nations leaders demonstrated that they are hearing these voices loud and clear.  They joined the efforts against Bill C 45 and went to Parliament Hill where they were invited into the House of Commons by the New Democratic Party. 

However, they were refused entry.  This refusal to allow First Nations leadership to respectfully enter the House of Commons triggered an even greater mobilization of First Nation people across the country. 

Nina Wilson says, “what we saw on Parliament Hill was a true reflection of what the outright disregard the Harper Government has towards First Nation people.”

With the passage of Bill C45, Idle No More has come to symbolize and be the platform to voice the refusal of First Nations people to be ignored any further by any other Canadian government.

Unknown

Yesterday I happened to catch a call-in program on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Co.) on the Idle No More protests, which have apparently taken most Canadians by surprise.  The host interviewed a representative of the Canadian environmental protection agency, and it was shameful to listen to the way he sputtered when asking whether the bill in question really would result in damaged waters and fisheries.

Although he refused to come out and say it, the short answer was clearly, “Yes.”

As always, for mainstream politicians and businessmen the lure of short-term profits outweighs longterm planning for the health and welfare of the planet and her denizens.

Some of the callers on the CBC program displayed evident racism in their attitudes towards the Native peoples behind the Idle No More protests, which have blockaded railways and highways in recent weeks, in an effort to gain the attention of the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

One Native Chief, Theresa Spence, has been on a hunger strike for nearly a month now, her immediate goal simply being an audience with Mr. Harper and a chance to present the First Nations case.  Harper has finally agreed to meet with Spence and other chiefs, on January 11, 2013, one month after she started her hunger strike.

Spence is a controversial figure in this movement, which began with a grassroots coalition and has displayed some reluctance to let the indigenous chiefs steal the thunder.

There have been rumors of corruption among the chiefs, including Spence herself, who has just now, conveniently enough, been subjected to a humiliating government audit of her finances.

It’s not clear whether all the chiefs are truly after the protection of the environment, or if they just want to have their fair share of the economic action when it comes to the rapid development of Canada’s northern territories.

What is clear is that the immense land and resource grab in the Americas, which began with the colonial conquests and has continued to the present day, provides short-term financial gains for the few—mostly non-indigenous corporations and financiers—while the majority of Native peoples languish in poverty, sitting on environmentally devastated lands.

Aerial view of Alberta tar sands development, aka the destruction of the Alberta boreal forest. (Global Forest Watch Canada)

Aerial view of Alberta tar sands development, aka the destruction of the Alberta boreal forest. (Global Forest Watch Canada)

In case after case worldwide, rapacious corporations sweep in, negotiate favorable leases on the land, extract the resources and move on, leaving behind a toxic, degraded landscape and a broken people.

Now we have finally come to the time when it is becoming obvious that the damage that is being wreaked on people and their environments in specific parts of the world is not just “their own problem.”

As the founders of the Idle No More movement correctly perceived, if the waters of Canada are not protected, it will affect all Canadians, not just the First Nations folk who sit closest to those waterways.

If the boreal forests of northern Canada are razed, it will affect the entire planet, just as the steady destruction of the rainforests in the southern latitudes is inexorably destabilizing our climate worldwide.

It appears that our politicians only understand the language of dollars and cents.  In New York and New Jersey now, a serious discussion is underway about how to pay for the cost of adapting to the climate change that almost everyone sees now as inevitable.

Yes, we have to adapt, we have to mitigate the damage by changing the way we develop our coastlines.

But we also have to adapt our mindsets when it comes to “development of natural resources”—a green-washed euphemism for what has really been “the wholesale destruction of the planet.”

This is as true for the destruction of the boreal forests of Canada as it is for the fracking of the Marcellus Shale in the U.S.

If the real costs of this kind of destructive “development” were added up, no sane financier or politician would be able to support such a suicidal undertaking.

If our politicians and business leaders want to commit hari-kari by reckless short-term myopic thinking, good riddance to them.

But they have no right to take the rest of us along with them.

It reminds me of suicide cults like the infamous one in Jonestown, Guyana, in the 1970s.  A whole group of people was so taken in by the charismatic leadership of their guru, Jim Jones, that they obeyed his order to commit ritual suicide.

Victims of the Jonestown suicide cult

Victims of the Jonestown suicide cult

In our case, it’s the entire global capitalist leadership that has us all in thrall. We have been seduced, charmed and entranced by the siren call of “development,” which has given mainstream North Americans—the ones who agree to play by the rules—the benefits of a comfortable lifestyle.

The hidden underbelly of this lifestyle—the environmental destruction, the extermination of thousands of species annually, the annihilation of entire groups of indigenous peoples worldwide, the irrevocable destabilization of our climate—is now coming into view, thanks in large part to the democratization of the media through the World Wide Web.

I continue to believe that when ordinary, good-hearted people understand their own role in this planetary destruction, they will stand up and insist, like the four women who founded Idle No More, that enough is enough.

The question is, how far will we be willing to go to insist that our leaders respect our values and stop dragging us down the road to ruin?

How far will we have to go?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

–Margaret Mead

Activists circle the White House; Obama plays golf

Mainstream media reports that some 8,000 people showed up in Washington D.C. today to link hands around the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and the development of the Alberta boreal forest (aka “tar sands”).

The energy and determination of this crowd is wonderful. But It’s heartbreaking to learn that President Obama “missed most of the protest while he played golf at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.”

Last week I went for a walk on a golf course near my home, and was reminded again of how terrible these private parks are for the environment.

If lawns are destructive monocultures, just imagine the exponential scale of the golf mono-lanscape: acres and acres of closely cropped, artificially bright green  turf, with not a single broad-leaved plant to be seen.

Golf parks are anathema to butterflies and other insects, of course, since they are regularly treated with pesticides and herbicides.  They suck up precious water for a use that is 100% non-necessary: a pleasant game for the 1%.

I admit it, golf courses are one of my pet peeves.  I have never liked them, and never will.  So I suppose it was a sort of trigger to hear that Obama was off golfing this afternoon, instead of paying his respects to the thousands of activists streaming into Washington to communicate with him–the man we sent to represent us in the White House.

He is not the first American President to dodge attempts by the citizenry to communicate our wishes.  I think of President Bush off on his ranch while activists like Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey died in the Iraq War, tried to send him an anti-war message.

Mr. President, if your citizens make the effort to go all the way to Washington DC to speak with you, I think the least you could do is show up.  We are depending on you to make the right decision on the tar sands/pipeline issue, which is clearly NO PIPELINE, and no development of the boreal forest.

We expect you to make a decision in favor of the health and well-being of your citizens.  Instead of investing in tired, dirty old energy platforms like oil and pipelines, we should be investing in solar and geothermal.  We need an Apollo Project for renewable energy, and we need it now!

Sure, you deserve your R&R on a Sunday afternoon, Mr. President.  But if you make the wrong call on this issue, those luxurious golf courses you enjoy may soon be relics of the wasteful bygone days.

Future social historians might point to golf as one of the many foolish 20th century habits that left us crouching bewildered in the 21st century in the midst of a full-blown climate crisis.

You’re the Decider now, Mr. President.  We are expecting you to make the right decision–for your precious children, and ours.

Bill McKibben: The Sky Does Not Belong to Wall Street!


Thanks to the magic of You-Tube, we can see a terrific 6-minute speech by Bill McKibben today, linking the fight to save the climate to the fight against the Wall Street tycoons.

He’s planning another big action in D.C. next month: setting up a ring of protesters around the White House, standing siege until the real Barack Obama comes out–not the zombie who’s actually considering letting the oil industry raze the boreal forest in Alberta and run a leaky pipeline all the way to the Gulf.

We need our Obama to stand up to those guys and remind us why we elected him!

Let’s hope Bill McKibben and company can free the real Obama from the stranglehold of Big Oil, so he can be our champion in the White House, as we so hoped he would be.

“The sky does not belong to Exxon.  They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon,” Bill reminds us.

Barack, are you listening?

%d bloggers like this: