Seeking Balance

DAncing-Warrior-2As a yoga devotee and Libran, I understand the importance of balance.  These days, it is especially challenging to find mine.  On Saturday, I gathered with a diverse group of artists, scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and community organizers in what I hope is the first of meetings that will breathe new life into the Transition movement in our area.  Flip the coin.  Today, I started a free, 4-week online course called Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C World Must Be Avoided, designed by The World Bank and with a multi-national enrollment of over 15,000.

Week 1 has begun with a series of videos and texts taken from a report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.  That this report by such an organization exists at all should be enough to stop the insanity of climate change denial.  But I live in Florida where fundamentalism infects politics and business-as-usual is everywhere evident in rampant coastal development, so I’m not holding my breath.

I’ve been reading extensively about climate change for the last two years, and watching it move from bad to much worse in the same time frame.  Turn Down the Heat has not yielded any big surprises so far.  It has just provided more statistics – presented in the level tones of academia – to better understand the catastrophe that is coming if we continue to live (eat, transport ourselves, consume) as we have been.  And if that ‘we’ gets bigger as more of the developing world enters the home- and car-owning status we consider our birthright in the wealthy world.

As I told the group of eight on Saturday (during our go-around), being introduced to the Transition movement by a friend pulled me out of a tailspin of despair that began with the Deep-Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It drew me toward activism in a way that all the reading (Limits to Growth, 1972 and its sequels, George Monbiot’s Heat, 2006) and films like Food, Inc., and Gasland, Part II, had not.  So I beg to disagree with the course presenters that knowledge alone can bring about a transformation in society.   It will take a village, small town, and city — everyone in: one conversation,  vegetable plot, eye-opening documentary,  potluck,  book group,  vote,  policy changed — in short, a movement.  Our grandchildren deserve a revised standard of prosperity,  a slower, kinder, more mindful way of life, even if the future at 4°C were not so horrifyingly unthinkable.  The truth is, we all do, and many of us long for it.

Transition appeals to so many people because becoming more resilient as a community – supporting local businesses, growing our own food, sharing our tools and skills more widely  – is just that kind of revision, a welcome remedy to hyper-consumerism and outsourcing jobs and wealth, even if climate change were not a growing threat.  That was, I sense, what made our newly-forming group feel so exciting and full of promise.  We have so much to offer each other and our communities.  Gaining traction may not be easy, but it’s worth the effort.  May we be able to move ahead with a shared sense of urgency.  May we attract more people into the process itself, the fun of making new friends and learning new things, the power of just doing stuff.  

Want to know more about Transition?  Start here:

Free pdf of The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins,

Rob Hopkins’ The Power of Just Doing Stuff, widely available and a book group possibility.

Why Transition? Five Good Reasons

Transition imageSome things are so forehead-slapping obvious, you can miss them.  (From my journal entry, Sunday, January 19.)  A year ago, I had put together a tour of Just One Backyard, Dr. John Zahina-Ramos’ amazing urban edible garden project.  Everyone who attended was excited by the possibilities.  In the interim, my core Transition group of  ‘mullers’ — that is, people who are thinking about what we need to do to launch a movement in our community — lost membership (to relocation) and momentum.  Other projects, e.g. a vegetable patch at my congregation, First UU of the Palm Beaches, the Walk for Our Grandchildren last summer, Symphony of the Soil in the fall, came my way and claimed my attention.  

Clearly, the time for a self-administered Transition booster shot has arrived.  Obvious choice: back to basics — the ideas and practical tools of the Transition Movement, shared as widely as possibly.  Yesterday I began posting direct quotes from Rob Hopkins’ The Transition Companion in the Transition Palm Beach Startup Facebook page and other FB groups to which I belong. Think of them as seed-bombs (another tool about which more in a forthcoming post).

Here are five reasons for investing in Transition that speak to me strongly, mostly quoted from The Transition Companion.  In some cases, I’ve cited the original source to facilitate tracking it down.  If you are uncertain about what the Transition Movement is, this list will help, and so will the links that follow.  If enough of us clear-thinking individuals really grasp the fact that the climate has already changed, we could stop confusing social media for action and find the thing we can do together.  

So Why Do Transition?

1. Because it’s fun! Transition is a community-building response to climate change and looming resource inequality that is “more exciting, nourishing and rewarding than not doing it.” ~ Rob Hopkins, The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times. (You could make some new friends and learn some new skills.)

2. “…because a more local economy in which assets and key enterprises are owned and managed by and on behalf of the local community, offers a better route to social justice, as well as local economic resilience than business-as-usual does.” ~ Rob Hopkins, ibid.  (Commit 10% of your purchases to your local businesses as a start.)

3.a  Because of climate change.  “It may seem impossible to imagine that technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”  ~ Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe: A Frontline Report on Climate Change.  (Kolbert is of course speaking from the perspective of an overwhelming majority of scientists.)

3.b  “It is clear that the challenge of climate change is about far more than low-energy bulbs, solar panels and slower driving speeds.  It is about a profound shift in what we do and how we do it; a complete adjustment of what we imagine to be lying in front of us, of our expectations of the future.“ Rob Hopkins, ibid.  

4. Because of economic crisis.  “Conventional economic growth and cheap oil have marched hand-in-hand for the best part of 60 years; within a few years, it will have become increasingly apparent that both are on their last legs.”  Jonathan Porritt, Capitalism: As if the World Matters.  

5.  Because it gives me hope.  “We often underestimate the power of hope – what in Transition we call ‘engaged optimism’. Getting started and making change in our lives is a hopeful activity that touches people deeply.”  Rob Hopkins, ibid.  (Change is easier in the company of friends.)

You can find more reasons and longer excerpts here: The Transition Network Sign up for Rob’s blog while you’re at it.  And check out the latest news about Transition:

Will The People Who Need to Read it, Read it?

flight-behaviorThis question, from my Book Group last Saturday, has haunted me — someone who writes regularly about my response to climate change with the certainty that I am (mostly) preaching to the choir, and a small one at that. As Winston Churchill famously asserted, Americans are a people ‘divided by a common language.’  Of course, it is much larger issue than regional dialects and accents. Miscommunication among diverse groups who do not understand each other (or attempt to) is a commonplace of a multicultural society and one that deserves more attention than it gets.

Failure to communicate is but one strand in the weave of Flight Behavior, which Kingsolver’s official site describes as: “… a heady exploration of climate change, along with media exploitation and political opportunism that lie at the root of what may be our most urgent modern dilemma.”  But it is an important theme.  Who is not reading this book is as important as who is, because a good story like this one has the power to convince when facts alone fail (and we are talking about an alarmingly high percentage of skeptics), and to motivate those who are informed and have yet to act in any meaningful way, no small number.

With her trademark empathy for the people she writes about, Kingsolver shows us what one impact of climate change looks like to a community in rural Appalachia that is 1. Out of the loop, and therefore deeply suspicious of outsiders (climate scientists, media, environmentalists toting ‘sustainability pledges”), and 2. Likely to be upended by its effects.  She describes what happens when the larger world – researchers, media, logging interests, climate activists, the curious public — comes to fictional Feathertown, Tennessee.  We begin to see, as the wisdom traditions teach, there is no Other.

“Cultural differences are really exciting territory,” Kingsolver said in an interview, “not just for the literature but for learning in general, because sparks fly when there’s friction among different viewpoints. People invest themselves differently in the same set of truths.”  So to Rev. Bobby and his congregation, the unprecedented migration of monarch butterflies takes on religious significance.  To scientist, Ovid Byron, and his research team, it is another distress signal from a world out of whack.  For the Womyn group of knitters, it is an opportunity to speak for nature. With whom do we identify?

Like the other strong female characters of Kingsolver’s best-selling fiction, Dellarobbia Turnbow, is the voice of Flight Behavior.  We are sympathetic witnesses as her understanding of what the butterfly phenomenon means, catches up with ours.  When our Book Club leader asked what we had learned from the novel, there was a thoughtful silence.  We only know what we can know.  So it comes as no surprise that the media will manipulate the protagonist’s story and ignore the experts.  We are familiar with the power of YouTube to save (or wreck) reputations.   We know Dellarobbia is smart, but it is the unexpected changes within her that make this a compelling narrative, and provide a drop of hope.  There is her growing self-respect and newfound passion for research, her appreciation for the quiet strength of her husband, and for her mother-in-law, whose rich knowledge of native plant life provides an unexpected bond. And here was a big takeaway for me: in Kingsolver’s Feathertown, despite difficult physical labor, limited career options, crushing debt, and abysmal schooling which guarantees more of the same, we find a community with admirable habits of generativity, interdependence and thrift.  Valuable lessons, all.

“The biotic consequences of climate change tax the descriptive powers, not to mention the courage, of those who know most about it,” Kingsolver writes in her Author’s Note.  With Flight Behavior, her training as a scientist and narrative gift nudge her readers in the right direction if we are willing to go.  I would like to believe that there are hundreds of readers, like the members of the Second Saturday Book Club, who having read and discussed Flight Behavior, are on to the more important question: what then shall we do?

It’s Complicated, Part I

gas flare fracking site Bradford County PennsylvaniaWhen you hear a scientist call fracking* “complicated,” you don’t know whether to be reassured or scared out of your natural mind.  Complicated is a word like “debate” which has been so successful in sowing doubt in the minds of many people, a cadre of fence sitters, about climate change.  When the scientist also happens to be your beloved, respected, meditation teacher, well, the reaction is probably too complicated to be contained in a single blog post.  So here’s Part I.

I was reporting that I had viewed the HBO screening of Josh Fox’s Gasland, Part II (on New Year’s Day, no less).   The documentary is a sequel to Fox’s Gasland, and both have been attacked by oil and gas industry-funded operations such as Energy in Depth, which exists to defend the technology.  (A favorite EID target is environmentalist, Bill McKibben.)

If you spend even a few minutes reading any of the material put out by this organization, you’ll notice some tactics.  First, it will attempt to discredit critics on the basis of personal behavior, e.g. McKibben was sighted leaving a climate rally in a gas-guzzler.  Second, it seeks to cast doubt about the impacts of fracking on the environment.  In this case, it argued that methane (the gas that ignited from the end of a water hose in an iconic scene of the film) was naturally occurring in the water in the area, independent of fracking.  (And the Earth is just going through a warming phase, independent of human contribution.)

A day after the HBO screening, The Diane Rehm Show invited Josh Fox and EID spokesperson, Steve Everley, to duke it out.  As a landowner in Pennsylvania with some personal exposure to fracking, Rehm’s bias was evident.  Here’s the transcript.   Like Ms. Rehm, I found Gasland, Part II, convincing, especially the documentation of scientists from the academic community about the high risk of ground water contamination and gas leaks into the atmosphere.  You don’t have to be an expert to figure out that with thousands miles of pipeline to maintain – not unlike our highway and bridge system — something is likely to go wrong.  And then there’s that Halliburton Loophole.  Why the exclusion if the chemicals used in the fracking process are really safe?

It doesn’t really matter who did a better job defending their positions (I give it to Josh Fox, by a wide margin).   Hydraulic fracking currently has the support of President Obama who has hailed it as energy for 100 years.  The elephant in the room question for future generations: And then what?  The infrastructure already exists to exploit every shale deposit in the country and ship liquid natural gas around the world.  In this race, renewable energy is a distant also ran.  It’s not easy to imagine what could arrest this momentum with so much power and money (read campaign contributions) behind it.  But we must try, because gasland is coming to your neighborhood.

According to a Palm Beach Post article from March 2013, fracking the Everglades is on the table.   Even if you think the jury is still out on the safety of fracking, and you’re not fazed by noisy drilling rigs in your backyard, no one denies the technology requires vast amounts of water – Florida’s most precious commodity.  So it behooves you to learn as much as you can about it, as I plan to do.

*BTW, Spellcheck doesn’t recognize “fracking.” Perhaps by the time I get to Part II, it will.

Some resources to start with:

Huffington Post
The New York Times, Drilling Down Series
Op-Ed Piece re: leaks