Earth Day. Mother Earth Day. Well, Earth begat us. We exist on it. We are of it, shaped by it. It nurtures us, provides for our needs, sustains us. It would be a flight of fancy to think we could exist without it and its bounty. Ah, Mother Earth, indeed!
But enter Climatezilla to threaten us and life on planet Earth with climate change running amok. Ice caps melting, sea level rising, extreme weather events (like the intense hurricanes that have wreaked devastation in recent years), changes in rainfall/drought patterns, desertification, the atmosphere heating up. And on and on. Yes, a veritable Climatezilla is afoot. I think it’s appropriate that we boo and hiss old ogre Climatezilla. That’s a good start. But then what are we to do to defend us against this climate enemy?
Well, as Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” It’s us! Scientists and environmental activists and students and ordinary folks point out that in our pursuit of energy, food, living spaces and housing, we are making use of the technologies that are creating Climatezilla. From the burning of fossil fuels, in factories, power stations, cars, pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to the industrial agriculture that turns fertile soils into dead earth that is blown or washed away, to the clear-cutting of forests, thereby removing our natural air conditioning system, to the population growth that has us covering over the landscape with impervious surfaces creating urban hot island micro-climates. It’s like that 1956 science fiction movie, Forbidden Planet, with Walter Pidgeon and Leslie Nielsen where the threat to people on that far away planet is powered by the technology. The technology powers Walter Pidgeon’s unconscious wishes, turning those wishes into monsters that do people in.
That movie and other sci fi depictions of the Godzilla monsters unleashed by our technology, are personifying things for dramatic purposes. This or that monster. This or that human user, or should I say “misuser”, of technology. But the problems we face are systemic, they are the products of the sociocultural system — our civilization’s way of turning our wishes into destructive monsters. And we tend to be unconscious of the connections between our wishes and the harms that the civilization we have collectively created causes. So now what?
Charlie Brown, you know, of the Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown to the rescue. His “Good Grief”, uttered from time to time, points the way. We need to express our grief, don’t we? Two things about grief. One, it connects us emotionally to what’s going on. No longer unconscious, no longer numb, no longer in denial. Grieving can ground us in the reality of melting glaciers, the extinction of species, the chewing up and the spitting out of environments, and ground us in the reality of us doing it. For starters, each of us might wear a black armband with a picture of Earth on it. Second, grieving can lead to the recognition that we need to do things differently. But then what?
First, briefly about personal choices. What future are you planning for? How are you framing that question and what answers are you allowing yourself to come up with? Judith Schwartz writes, “Professional pursuits are often driven by personal, emotional needs. For me, over the last few years, that has been a need to allay anxiety, specifically anxiety about the environment. I’d think about the wildlife I’d taken for granted and lament the diminished natural wealth that future generations would inherit. . . . I realized I had two choices: erect a mental blockade and ignore it all, or find a way to engage with it.” [Schwartz, Cows Save The Planet, 2013: pp. 4-5.] That’s tough, given the need to put food on the table, pay the rent, or whatever the immediate needs of day-to-day living require. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in my college years now.
Whatever those personal life choices might be, I propose that the number one priority for climate and other sustainability action is for us to build and make use of organizational structures that will facilitate our working together. There need to be organized, collective, collaborative efforts. It is from such organizational frameworks that we will come up with decisive, well thought out, coherent analyses, positions, and programs that will be the basis for effective action and that will give us political clout. There are a number of organizational frameworks. I’ll be noting some here briefly. You probably have others you could suggest. But I suggest here, and quite strongly, that the likelihood of any of them being generated and being effective hinges on them being used together. Far from being mutually exclusive alternatives, they are complementary and work best together.
Here are a bunch of ideas.
1.) Holistic decision-making. We need to be able to consider environmental, economic, social, political, psychological matters virtually simultaneously. There are structured ways to carry out such holistic decision-making. One that I think has a lot to offer is Allan Savory’s “Holistic Management“. It can be used for household, community, regional, you-name-it decision-making.
2.) We need ways to engage people and involve them in discussion, sharing, planning actions, and the like. Over the past year, the Alliance has been developing a virtual, online platform for such to take place. We call it the Sustainability Commons. It is discussed in the 2014 Sustainable Lehigh Valley the Alliance has just published. It provides the fairly protected space needed for nurturing collaborative efforts.
3.) Another way is through engagement in community building. The Transition Town approach ties the need for change to the people in communities as being the agents of change. To that end, the Alliance has created a Transitions Lehigh Valley hub whose purpose is to support local Transition Initiatives.
4.) In addition, the Transition Lehigh Valley is working on establishing “Sustainability Schools”. We need to create sustainable communities. That will mean figuring out what needs to be done and learning how to do it, both from a hands-on practical re-skilling perspective as well as the theoretical and processual levels. Such Sustainabillity Schools could become part of the non-credit offerings on campuses or in local communities.
5.) And what about sustainability in the public schools, grades 1 through 12? Well, Peter Crownfield, the Alliance Internship Coordinator, has a significant project in the works, for integrating sustainability into the curriculum. Important work can be done in schools if the school administration is open to it.
6.) We also need to give communities some clout in their efforts to become sustainable. An exciting possibility for doing just that is provided by the Community Bill of Rights approach provided by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Recognizing that communities “wish to put in place their vision for healthy, thriving communities, CELDF works with them to develop Community Bills of Rights that establish the right to clean air and water, sustainable energy, sustainable food systems, and the rights of nature”. That will involve communities in governmental matters. Folks in Upper Mt. Bethel Twp have been trying to put in place a Community Bill of Rights ordinance there.
7.) Getting into the legislative, judicial arena also raises the matter of getting people to run for office and into office who can and will use the system for us. For example, some folks are calling attention to Brad Koplinski, a Democratic Party candidate for Lt. Gov. Why? He was the first candidate for Gov. or Lt. Gov. to sign the Pledge to Halt Fracking. And for folks who want to go beyond the Democratic or Republican Parties, I can point out that the Green Party of Pennsylvania is fielding candidates for Gov. & Lt. Gov., Paul Glover and Wendy Lee, who are running on a green platform.
8.) Finally, we should set up a Lehigh Valley Committee of 100 / Lehigh Valley Green Shadow Cabinet/Government. Such an organizational arrangement would provide a platform and a voice for a holistic sustainability approach.
What do I mean by a Committee of 100 or Green Shadow Government? Here’s the model: the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States was created last year. From their website: “The Green Shadow Cabinet includes nearly 100 prominent scientists, community and labor leaders, physicians, cultural workers, veterans, and more, and provides an ongoing opposition and alternative voice to the dysfunctional government in Washington D.C. As with shadow cabinets in other countries, the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States responds to actions of the government in office and demonstrates that another government is possible.”
They are involved in organizing the Global Climate Convergence, which is starting this year with actions running from Earth Day, 4/22, through to May Day, 5/1.
Here in the Lehigh Valley, such an organizational structure could be used to develop ways for moving us forward in addressing the climate crisis and for bypassing the blockages of the dysfunctional, mainstream system. With climate action as one of its major sectors, a Lehigh Valley Green Shadow Cabinet / Committee of 100, could be the organizational structure providing continuity, coordination, activation, movement.