Before there was the Transition Movement, there was the Center for the New American Dream, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “help Americans to reduce and shift their consumption to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and promote social justice.” Before my spouse and I decided that we had to become activists for the environment (that’s us at a rally on a Florida beach), we were activists of another kind. Our mission was to prevent the loss of the experience and talents of millions of older people to retirement, and to prevent premature aging to which a life devoted entirely to leisure leads. We had a website, a coach training program, and we wrote a book: Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life which we are happy to say is still ‘in print.’ In fact, the link above will take you to a virtual bookstore where you can read the reviews and buy it.
Last year, we passed the baton to one of our coaches (we call them certified facilitators) who runs the website and trains others now. Friends joked that the anti-retirement couple were, gasp! retiring. But that was not the case. We were simply shifting the focus, to translate what we learned in our separate careers and our joint endeavor, into environmental activism. As grandparents, we never wanted to have to face our grandchildren in the future and say we did nothing about the climate crisis.
We had a link to New American Dream in our book and were aligned with their vision that consumerism and the ideology of endless economic growth was not sustainable, and that ordinary citizens like us could do make changes in our own lives that shrink our ecological footprint. So it was a great honor to be approached by an editor at New American Dream looking to profile us for their Living the Dream series! Their questionnaire gave us a reason for a life review; we got to take stock of where we are in our lives, what we believe in, and what matters most to us. It’s a worthwhile exercise at any age, but particularly when you have a lot of life already lived to examine. We were also motivated to pour through our photo album to find some suitable photos for the profile. It will be out soon. In the meantime, you might enjoy reading the current Living the Dream profile, about Montana homesteader, Ashley Browning.
I write this — a documentary about The Eagles in the background — from Courtyard by Marriott down the road from The First Unitarian Church of Orlando where the Healing Our World and Ourselves conference is being held. This afternoon, keynote speakers, attorney David Cobb of Move to Amend, Sister Pat Siemen (Catholic nun and attorney) of the Center for Environmental Jurisprudence at Barry University on ‘the rights of nature’, and Canadian psychologist/addiction expert, Bruce Alexander, made for an electrifying panel on how their areas overlap and intensify each other. Some highlights from my notes.
Pat Siemen: “The planet has a right to exist.” She is part of a group working to introduce ‘the rights of nature’ into a new Florida constitution in 2018. “[We must] let the Earth teach us how to be.” Faith-driven initiatives have sparked movements for justice and human rights because ‘spiritual practice helps people sustain their efforts for the long haul.’ There is no ‘away.’ “We can’t sustain our lives without sustaining the Earth.” “We have to rediscover our ecological identity; unless this is our core, we can’t make the right decisions for the future.”
David Cobb: Move to Amend is much more than campaign finance reform, it is a movement to restore democracy. [Transitioneers, take note] Law follows culture [therefore] organizing at the community level, educating ourselves out of the existing paradigm, starting a new chorus, are the way to go. [We must reject] the ‘creation myth of the USA.” Cultural blindness has to be unlearned. Real change happens when people raise hell. The law is not about justice; it’s about consistency. I take you seriously [because you are here]. I take responsibility for doing the best I can. I release the results. [My comment: Right out of the Bhagavad Gita].
Psychologist/addiction expert, author of The Globalization of Addiction, Bruce Alexander: This is the first conference on addiction and the environment. It is not a coincidence that addiction and the destruction of the planet are happening at the same time. “We can’t win until we are brave enough to look at the machine itself.” The field of psychology has not contributed to solutions to environmental issues. Self recovery and social recovery are [or should be] the same. “We all want to live in a way that is good.”
There was also some lovely music including Samantha Moffatt on the dulcimer, and Dock Street performing an original song: Rights of Nature.
Tomorrow I’m on a panel (representing Transition Palm Beaches) to interact — “how can we help” — with the keynoters. An exercise in improv and courage which is definitely out of my comfort zone. I won’t let the sound of my own wheels drive me crazy.