Reflections on Climate Change Action

When I was a kid, there were plenty of caterpillars, frogs, and birds. I spent my free time exploring tide pools and swimming in the fish-abundant waters of Coronado and La Jolla. I was born in the mid-fifties so I worried about atom bombs, but not about rapid extinctions of animal and plant life, or about the earth becoming increasingly uninhabitable due to climate change. But by the time I was twelve I’d say the sense of an impending “apolcalypse” was definitely on my radar.

I think my young human body, evolved like all of ours with an innate capacity for exquisite sensitivity to the environment, sensed what my intellect did not yet understand: that widespread environmental damage was already upon us all, accelerated by post WWII industrialization, and the surge in development and use of synthetic toxins. My childhood (which had seemed so pristine) was actually spent in a planet already reeling from radioactive fall-out, DDT and other pesticides, accelerating extinctions, and much more. And rising temperatures had already begun.

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https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/18/climate/hottest-year-2017.html

I can’t imagine what it’s like for my kids, both in their twenties and trying to figure out what their future holds. And I can’t imagine what it will be like for the younger ones. I love babies but these days I pity them. All over the world, tiny human beings (and animals) are already at the front lines of climate catastrophes and those innocents are dying. This country is definitely not immune and our privileged consumerism will not save us. In fact, it is an enormous part of the problem.

Local Challenges

Where I live, there’s a lovely view. I’m just a block from a lake that I never swim in, because it is frequently contaminated by cyanobacteria. Clear Lake, and its fish and other wildlife, is also contaminated with mercury from the Sulphur Bank Mercury Mine (a Superfund Clean-up site). From Wikipedia:


The mine currently consists of mine tailings, waste rock and a flooded open pit mine (known as the Herman Impoundment or Herman Pit). Approximately two million cubic yards of mine wastes and tailings remain on the site. The Herman pit, which is filled with acidic water, covers 23 acres (93,000 m2) to a depth of 90 feet (27 m) and is located 750 feet (230 m) upslope of Clear Lake. The Elem Tribal Colony of Pomo Indians is located directly adjacent to the mine property. A freshwater wetland is located to the north of the mine, and critical habitat for three endangered species of wildlife, the peregrine falcon, southern bald eagle, and yellow-billed cuckoo, is less than a quarter-mile from the site.[1]

The mine site has been implicated by the EPA in mercury pollution of Clear Lake, but the allegations are disputed by Bradley Mining Company, the last and current owner of the mine.[45]


While the EPA has taken mitigation measures on behalf of the Elem residents, we can probably assume they have not solved the problem completely. Imagine living through a series of housing displacements, 18 inches of soil replacement, and the like. Imagine returning to your home knowing that the toxins are still pervasive and are most likely causing real damage to your loved ones, knowing that the beautiful land and abundant fisheries of your ancestors is destroyed by greedy invaders.

Lake County has other challenges–the devastating fires of the last few years, including the largest in CA history. The toxic ash and retardant chemicals used to fight the fires are now part of our soil and watershed, and the produce in our kitchen gardens. They now lodge in our own tissues.

An array of climate change issues now affect us, no matter where we are on this planet. And we’re going to continue to suffer–unless we can take collective action to check this rapidly accelerating juggernaut of doom.

Activism

Yesterday people marched all over the world as “Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice,” and there were thirty thousand at least in San Francisco (heating things up before the Global Climate Action Summit Sept. 12-14). Instead of marching in SF, I went to a meeting of Elders Climate Action in Ukiah. (I got in my gasoline powered car and drove about 100 miles round trip to do so. The irony…) Fortunately, several other Lake County residents were there, and I was so happy to meet them all.

The meeting began with a movie of Paul Hawkens presenting the results of Drawdown, an international project which studied, crunched numbers, and found 100 real, doable, science-based strategies to diminish climate change. This was a tremendous thing to see, with actual beacons of hope.

Three of the most unexpected results were education for girls (ranked #6–estimated 59.6 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050) and empowerment of women through family planning (ranked #7–59.6 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050) and as agricultural “smallholders (ranked #62–2.06 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050).” Taken together, that’s a whopping 121.26 reduced gigatons, beating the effects of refrigerant management, ranked #1 at 89.74 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2 by 2050. From the Drawdown website:


Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health.

Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.

Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Today, there are economic, cultural, and safety-related barriers that impede 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. Key strategies to change that include:

make school affordable;
help girls overcome health barriers;
reduce the time and distance to get to school; and
make schools more girl-friendly.


That last sentence: “make schools more girl friendly…” Whoa! So cutting down on sexual harrassment, “slut shaming,” and misogyny in K-12 education is actually hugely important to reducing CO2 and reducing the acceleration of climate change!

As a sexologist, I am going to ponder this for a long time… I think there’s a contribution I can make to this, but what?

Thoughts on Community Organizing

In our Lake County break-out group, we introduced ourselves and shared some of the things we knew about or were involved in. We all looked white and were “older.”

One woman pointed out that much of the expertise tapped and touted in the Drawdown project came from people associated with institutions that have also been a huge part of this problem (major universities, etc.). She also felt that “spirituality” was missing (as indeed it was) and that indigenous leadership is key.

Drawdown did not ignore indigenous people, exactly: “Indigenous peoples’ land management” was ranked #39 (6.19 GIGATONS REDUCED CO2, 849.37 GIGATONS
CO2 PROTECTED by 2050). But I think their concerns could have been centered more. For example, in #39, Drawdown could have mentioned UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (which as far as I know, the U.S. has still not signed) as a key way to strengthen the position of indigenous people internationally.

I interpreted the woman’s remark as referring to the mindset (or soul set or heart set) of earth-centered, earth-aware peoples (who are most often indigenous peoples) versus the mindset of Western industrial consumer peoples (except for a smattering of Neo-pagans). I felt as if she was saying we cannot expect real solutions or progress to be made in the context of, or through continuing to focus on, those industrial/consumer mindsets and institutions. I agree.

One of our biggest problems is relational. Western consumers don’t acknowledge the life and awareness of all creatures as equal stakeholders. We don’t ask permission, we assume whatever we want is ours and so we take. We have no idea how to establish collaborative working relationships with the life and land around us and I think this affects us in our community organizing too.

And here’s where I cycle back to “woo” in this blog post. As a practicing polytheistic pagan I have been working hard in the last year to create and cultivate relationships with my deeply distant ancestors, in order to heal entire lineages. I feel this will help ground my activism in something other than my engrained Western consumer/settler-colonist mindset. And perhaps it will help unravel the multi-generational trauma of ancestors who most likely inflicted a lot of harm on others.

I also acknowledge the ancestors and “wights” of this place where I live right now: Pomo land. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pretending to enact “native” practices. I just say hello to these unseen members of my community, every day, hoping that my occupation of this place is not too abrasive or harmful and apologizing if it is. And being willing to learn how to do things differently if necessary.

As I said, I was seated at the table with a lot of long-time activists, but we represented a particular demographic. I think our challenge in Lake County is to create a climate change coalition where we invite our Pomo neighbors and friends (and other people of color), but not as in an “oh goody, look, we have an indigenous person on our board, aren’t we cool?” way but as visionary elders and leaders who can hold the big picture of relational knowledge and practice, as well as insert what they want and need from the very start. The long-time (white) activists can serve as support team–as ally/accomplices who work our asses off to support the indigenous leadership as they create strategies to address climate change issues in this region. And the white activists should be prepared to make separate space to deal with our white people/settler-colonizer shit without exposing the indigenous folks to microaggression (or worse) and/or expect them to educate us.

I say this because these mindset issues, and the harm done by colonization and occupation, is one of the root causes of our consumerism and war mongering run amok, our rape of an entire planet, the harm done to its climate and ecosystems, and the destruction of whole groups of people. The men and women of Western “manifest destiny” and industrialization created a world-devouring cancer during the last 500 years, and how we deal with it now has to be different from how we created it. We white people can’t just throw our mess onto the indigenous elders now that we’re waking up to just how bad it is (“Hey, you guys were right all along. Sorry!”) and expect them to clean it up. It’s our mess. But indigenous and POC leadership must be integral. Their thoughts and needs must be woven through everything we do, as their vision will most likely be grounded in relationships and understanding of how to be truly human upon this earth of ours, ravaged as it is. And also because if we can release ourselves from the colonial mindset, those folks have a better chance of making and having a world they’d like to live in, for a change. And lets not forget, as many have borne the brunt of genocide, environmental injustices, and toxic exposures, we owe them our profound consideration at this critical juncture. Big time.

And I say this too–we need to make extra effort to include all the people who have been left out of the conversations taking place among the brilliant and well-intentioned elites, like those represented in the Drawdown project (which is amazing and I’m not dissing it), and out of many community organizing initiatives: kids, trans people, gender variant people, immigrants, poor people, the elderly, people with disabilities, all outsiders who have been previously ignored or pushed to one side. And those of us with privileges need to use them to invite and maximize participation for everyone. Solving the manifold problems of climate change is a mutual-aid effort that’s going to take all of us. All of us or none.

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