Key Considerations for Folks in the Climate Justice Movement

In this vlog, Dr. Heather Hackman unpacks three key considerations for folks working in the climate justice movement. 1.) The importance of developing critical race, gender and class lenses 2.) As a country and individuals, the need to make amends and take responsibility 3.) The importance of educating, marshaling resources and maintaining hope.

© Hackman Consulting Group 2016
Produced by Sonia Keiner

Climate Justice and Social Justice as Sequential Issues

Dr. Heather Hackman discusses the importance of doing climate justice work through a social justice lens. 2:51

(c) 2015 Hackman Consulting Group
Recorded and Edited by Sonia Keiner

Adjusting Our Climate Justice Lens

By Heather Hackman

Heather Hackman is the founder and president of Hackman Consulting Group. With a doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and 12 years of experience as a professor in Human Relations & Multicultural Education, Heather trains and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice, and her most recent research and conference presentations have focused on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Below is the text of a sermon that Heather offered on April 19, 2015 at the annual Earth Day Service at the First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, MN.

Thank you Justin and thank all of you. It’s good to be with you again. I’m humbled and honored to be here as part of this day, the 45th Earth Day, and participating in this conversation with you.

And what a difficult conversation it is…this is not a topic that will garner friends at parties, nor make dinner conversation light and easy, nor get you invited to speak (most) places. And yet, it is a conversation that is well overdue in far too many circles in this country and so I am grateful that you all are having it and that you will continue to do so.

And yes, the situation is… grim. I’m not getting all Hunger Games-y here, and this is not a post-apocalyptic, Mad-Max moment. However, it is worth noting the enormity of the statistical, empirical, and natural trends we are seeing. The numbers about heat and melt and sea level rise and CO2 are daunting. The strangeness of the weather in North America over the last decade has been disconcerting to say the least. And the state of affairs in our most populous state with a drought the likes of which has not been seen for 1200 years, with sea lion pups washing ashore in droves, with sea bird deaths in huge numbers, and with star fish suffering and dying – all of that is overwhelming. The planet is speaking, louder and louder every day and if we are truly listening, then we will have this conversation.

The typical U.S. response to the topic of climate change is to either stick one’s head in the sand or rush out and “do” something. I get that – particularly the desire to “do” something. And yet that is often a mistake if we have not thought as deeply as necessary and have not learned what we need to learn in order to make the right choices.

And so there’s a danger in “taking action” without the necessary information and perspective in hand. Now, in 15 minutes I’m not going to be able to convey any earth shattering information or give you a deep and complex analysis, but what I do want to do is just shift the lens on the conversation a little bit in hopes of illuminating a path forward in our climate work.

In line with this, I have found that before trying to figure out “what do I do”, it is useful to ask “how did we get here?” – because the path that has brought us here is one we must avoid from here on out. Let me say that again: the path that has brought us here is one we must avoid from here on out. And if we do not know how we got here, it is very likely that in our effort to rush out and “do something” we will inadvertently keep doing the very things that led to this moment. And so I am here to offer some thoughts on this question – “how did we get here?” in the service of better answering the question, “what do we do?”

And so how did we get here?

Some argue it’s just human nature and that we are just predisposed to greed, consumption and competition. And yet, the last few decades of neuroscience in the West, and millennia of tradition and wisdom in indigenous communities globally, have agreed that as mammals we “tend and befriend” and that the notion that we are inherently competitive and “survive only if we are the fittest” is a fiction. To be sure it is a useful fiction if you are engaging in colonization and systems of oppression and need everyone to go along with it; it’s a useful fiction if you are trying to convince the masses that extractivist economic systems and ways of being in the world are the only plausible ones; and it’s a useful fiction if you want the majority to believe that any other way of being in the world is economic, social and political suicide. If those are your goals, then casting humans as inherently greedy, competitive, and aggressive is the perfect story. Importantly, however, it’s just not true. Thanks to mirror neurons, the vagus nerve, limbic resonance and countless other aspects of our biology, it is evident that we as mammals are wired for empathy and meant to connect – to each other, to the planet, to all of life. It’s the gift of our biology.

And so how DID we get here?

Quite simply, we lost our way. Profoundly and deeply, we have lost our way.

And so here are four missteps which I think are key factors in us losing our way and leading us to this climate moment. I’m not saying these are the only factors, but they are very powerful ones and so I want to take a moment here to identify them before I talk about the path ahead.

Starting in the Age of Reason (or if you read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael then 12,000 years ago, :)) we watched European thinkers begin to deeply codify the separation of mind from body, followed by the objectification and diminution of the body. So, misstep one – we disconnected from our bodies and thus from the Natural world. We began to see ourselves as fundamentally separate from our natural environment.

Misstep two (still in this general time frame) is the Western framing of Nature in the feminine form within a society steeped in gender oppression. Now please do not misunderstand – the problem is not viewing or relating to Nature in the feminine form. The problem is that when it is done in a society that is so violent against women, the inevitable result is extreme violence against Nature. How could it not? From this Western worldview Nature, like women, is an object to be conquered, mastered, and even violated without conscience. The recent panel at the Women’s Club featuring Winona LaDuke, Eve Ensler, Patina Park, and Louise Erdrich made this connection all too well when they talked about the extreme extraction happening in the Bakken oil fields and the astonishing uptick in violence against women and the trafficking of women in those very same oil fields. As the speakers so clearly put it – as goes the treatment of women and trans* folks, so goes the treatment of this planet. So misstep number two was seeing Nature as something to be dominated, objectified and controlled.

Misstep Three –When you conjoin the two previous points with Europe’s absolutely insatiable appetite for resources via colonization and imperialism and you have the additional element of endless, linear extraction of resources. Thus we saw Europe embark on the colonization of Africa, Asia and the “Americas” and take every possible resource there was in their quest for power and dominance. Today we call this process “globalization”, “neoliberalism”, “free trade” and the like. But when unmasked, as Naomi Klein indicates in her excellent work This Changes Everything, these are nothing more than the endless desire for economic power via the constant extraction of resources – no matter what the cost. The behavior of the fossil fuel industry fits this process to a “T”. They are some of the wealthiest corporations in the world and it is their mission to extract every last drop of oil and gas from this planet no matter what. And so misstep number three is the notion that we can engage in the linear, endless extraction of resources (in the name of economic power) with no concern for the consequences.

So, how do you get away with separating oneself from the natural world, treating Nature in such violent and domineering ways, and engaging in seemingly endless extraction in the name of progress? You explain it away via the vehicle of Race – in particular you create “White” and through it propagate the notion that White people are superior. As a result, what predominantly White societies of people do cannot possibly be questioned because “we” are the superior (racial) group on this planet – we created civilization, we created democracy, we are the great thinkers and inventors, we are moving all of the world ahead. Thus the creation of White four centuries ago and all of its concomitant notions of supremacy and entitlement, has served as the perfect justification for the behaviors that have led us here. And so, misstep number four was the creation of White and its use in explaining away each of the three previous missteps. As we have seen in the UN climate negotiations, the notion of White as superior has allowed those nations largely responsible for this climate crisis to neatly avoid any accountability for it.

Big points, right? I’m sure I’m making you feel even worse than you did before you sat down. But never fear – with an accurate and honest diagnosis there then becomes hope for an effective and truly healing solution. And so this is what got us here, now what do we do?

Step one: Reconnect with the natural world. There is so much information about this and so many ways to do this that I am not going to comment on it here. But, I do encourage you to lean into this reconnection, while realizing that this in itself is not enough. Right? And so though this connection is vital, we cannot pretend that more camping is going to do the trick.

Step two: Replace the worldview of these missteps with a socially just view of the world. And you all are well on your way to doing that by developing a Critical Race Lens through your RJ ministry.

Step three: Take new and different actions regarding climate issues by using this Critical Race Lens as the frame through which climate justice work is done. And this is very important – Climate Justice and Racial Justice do not sit side by side, nor do they “intersect”. Rather, CJ work must be done through a RJ lens if it is to be effective.

Here’s what I’m suggesting:

An example of what it means to be White in this country is rugged individualism. Let me use myself as an example. Because of rugged individualism, I as a White person am socialized to consume for my individual well-being and therefore often consume way too much. I am encouraged to live in a house that is more room than I need, but it’s my marker of success and safety so I won’t give it up. I have possessions that often sit idle but do not share because they are “mine”. I will buy a Prius to save gas, but don’t ask me to consider taking public transportation because I like my independence too much. And so on. In short, the scourge of rugged individualism wants me to organize my life in self-centered, isolated, disconnected, and non-communal ways that are simply not sustainable for 7.5 billion people. Even my activism and climate work is often done in isolation.

The hard work of climate change is not figuring out how to release the choke-hold of the carbon energy sector on my life, the hard work is to realize what got me in that relationship in the first place. What about me as a White person has led me down the path of disconnection from nature, or better yet not even notice that I am? What about Whiteness has led me to believe I “deserve” certain things because I have “earned” them, even if the possession of those things takes an incredible toll on the planet and its life (like flying to distant lands for a vacation)? Whiteness has me live the life of a rugged individual who confuses charity for justice and says I will share resources with others only after I already have “mine”. Whiteness wants me to believe, regardless of my current economic reality, that the accumulation of material goods is truly the pinnacle of success – that it is imperative that I SHOW others I have made it, that I have done it on my own, and that therefore I am “somebody”. In truth, Whiteness is a disassociated, disconnected state – how else could White families go to church in the morning and a lynching in the afternoon? How else can we continually turn away from racial injustice and our climate realities? What else would lead to Black people having to repeatedly tell White folks that Black lives matter? If I was in touch with my own humanity and living in connection with others, that message would never need to be said. But I am not. At the hands of Whiteness I am just a bubble off plumb with respect to my humanity. Whiteness is like a meme seeking to survive and it will do anything to get me to believe that my disconnected, my extractivist life is the only normal one.

Painful? Yes. Hopeless? No!

Enter racial justice. Not merely racial justice work, but instead the promise of a racially just life. Enter the deep knowing that I am interconnected – a knowing that always comes from solid and deep racial justice work. Enter the sense of groundedness that stems from RJ work and that reminds me how much I love this planet, how gorgeous it is, and how desperately I want it to thrive. Enter the reclamation of my humanity because of racial justice, which of course ushers in grief and sadness and regret. But, also brings hope. Not naïve hope, but a hope stemming from the deeper knowledge that people can change, that racial oppression is not an intractable situation, and that as a community of people gathered here, your RJ ministry and bringing that ministry into your hearts and lives just as surely as you breathe the air around you means that we have a chance. Nature knows this, because we are Nature… and our best selves and greatest capacity are not gone, we have simply lost our way. So RJ is a pathway back to ourselves, to an awakened human connection, and ultimately to a strong, effective and expeditious path to climate justice. I cannot hang on to all my “individual stuff” and all my “White consuming ways” and hope for a different climate future. But through the lens of RJ I as a White person stand a chance of being just different enough in the world such that true climate justice also has a chance.

And so in challenging what it means to be White (in challenging Race, Racism and Whiteness) we disrupt the core ideologies that got us here. More specifically, we dismantle the lens that makes this consumptive, extractivist reality “seem normal” and we replace it with one that can lead to just and sustainable mitigation and adaptation.

And so I’ll touch on it again – RJ is not a parallel issue to CJ, nor is it an intersectional one. Rather RJ is the lens through which CJ must be done. For if racial oppression is the lens that makes all of this climate crud seem okay, then RJ must be the new lens by which we work our way out of this mess. I’m not saying you have to be “done” with RJ work before you do CJ – I’m saying that you do your RJ work with diligence and constantly apply this lens to your CJ (and other) work in the church.

Now what about the other two “isms” you ask? Right? What about gender oppression and class oppression? The truth is that if you do exceptional RJ work, meaning if you lean in hard to White privilege, White supremacy and Racism, you will inevitably end up addressing class and gender. At their roots they are so profoundly intertwined that you cannot help but hit the other two if you dig deeply enough with RJ. And so, do not be deterred, nor distracted. If you stay this course of RJ you will find liberation on many, many fronts.

I know that was a lot and so let me close where I began – I am grateful to be in the company of so many people who are passionate about ending racial oppression, and who care so deeply about living racially just lives. And I know for sure that as you embrace the compass heading of RJ you will find a brilliant and effective path for your climate and environmental justice work. I was at a climate change conference in Iceland last June trying to convince a group of climate scientists of this very thing. And instead of hearing me, they almost unanimously said “we do not have time to solve social justice issues before we solve the climate problem”. And this broke my heart for a number of reasons, one because that’s not what I was saying – we do not have to finish one before the other…but more so because of the reality that we don’t have time NOT to do climate justice work through a social justice lens. We have such a small window of opportunity to make significant change regarding climate issues that we really need to get it right. And so I thank you for your courage, your love, and your commitment to doing CJ work through a RJ lens. It is the path out of this mess and I’m honored to be in this work with such noble, kind and courageous people. Thank you.

Naomi, India and My Home Town

By Heather Hackman

Heather Hackman is the founder and president of Hackman Consulting Group. With a doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and 12 years of experience as a professor in Human Relations & Multicultural Education, Heather trains and consults nationally on issues of deep diversity, equity and social justice, and her most recent research and conference presentations have focused on climate change and its intersections with issues of race, class and gender.

Author’s disclaimer: Since I have not posted in a while this is a long one, so hang in there. :)

I grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. I was not born there, mind you, but I lived there from the age of 6-18 and so it obviously had a significant influence on me. I often share this at the beginning of trainings to help folks understand that I was not raised in a place where I would be naturally predisposed to social justice work. The tag line for the city does not say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…and we are totally committed to race, class and gender justice!” Nothing of the kind. In fact, it is quite the opposite – it is a city that is predicated on taking your money and having you smile while we do it, almost never really knowing what hit you. We alter the lighting in casinos, we make sure you never see the shift changes, and we hide all clocks so you have no sense of time passing. We have endless sources of food and drink so you are always sated. We make sure no real culture expresses itself but will fill the horizon with facsimiles of culture like Venice, Paris, Rome, Egypt and New York. And most of all, we make sure that there is nothing visible that would give pause to hedonism – no homeless, no hungry, no examples of racism, and when we show you women almost completely naked taking your drink order, we make sure they are always smiling so as to offer the impression that working in a thong and pasties for eight hours is enjoyable.

Las Vegas is often a reference for me in my training work when talking about my own gender awareness (I hated the depiction of women in that city), my lack of racial awareness (it was a place representing the most extreme results of colonization and exploitation and so there was simply no mainstream conversation about race at all, at least not one that was connected to racial justice), and my experience regarding class (make it seem like you have money at all costs because that is the only parlance this city understands). Though I had no substantive political consciousness, these gender, race and class dynamics often left me uneasy, confused or on the outside looking in.

But after reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014), I can see one more reason why that town never felt like home to me – it is the penultimate example of extractivism over nature, of humanity’s desire for “more” falling in direct conflict with what is and should be possible in the middle of the desert. And that’s the key point – Las Vegas does not sit in the middle of a lush, green landscape with water readily available for its 61 golf courses. Nor does it reside in a temperate climate that does not require constant air conditioning. Nor is it located in an area where food is locally grown in plentiful amounts. No. It is in the middle of the desert. Dry, hot and what does grow there is not what we want in our “world’s biggest buffets”. But that has not stopped the developers from turning Vegas into the most impossible of spaces and forcing it to be green, forcing it to be cool, and flying, trucking and “training” in all manner of foods to assuage the palates of the entire world.

 

As you can imagine, there was very little of the city I liked as I was growing up, but I did have a fondness for its heat, its vast terrain and the challenge its isolation posed. On occasion we would head up to Mt. Charleston or drive out to Red Rock Canyon and each and every time I felt more alive and more grateful and more at home than I ever felt in the city itself. Maybe even as a young person there was something in me that knew that Vegas was ultimately a deeply flawed and likely failed proposition. Building such an edifice in a place where not a single aspect of it should ever be seems to be the ultimate testament to the hubris that has led us to this current climate moment – the mere notion that we can completely, indefinitely, and without any consequence bend nature to our will, no matter how obscene and unnatural it is. Only by connecting to the natural world via those excursions outside of Vegas, was I able to understand how problematic my home town was and is.

 

I know many people who “love Vegas” but not a one of them is engaged in the struggle for climate justice and the creation of a social, political and economic framework that is sustainable. Their love for Vegas might, on its surface, simply be a love for sun and fun. But, in truth the love that members of extraction societies hold for Vegas is likely because of the role it plays in being the ever-present reminder of our dominion over nature and that life can seemingly be abundant and enjoyable in the process. Vegas is an escape, like most vacation destinations, but it is a particular escape into the fantasy that humanity can consume at rates unthinkable (in a rational world) and somehow still be okay.

 

I rarely go back to Vegas, but was there last April for my brother’s wedding and while driving with my mother, I looked around at the mall expansion and the fact that the city has built and built and built right up to its very edges, and I said to her, “there is nothing that would ever have me come back to this place.” So smug, right? So self-righteous. So “above it all” in cool judgment and educated condemnation…except for the fact that you can take the Heather out of Vegas but not the Vegas out of Heather (at least not without some serious work). And so I have had to look at (thanks again to Naomi Klein’s book) the ways I carry the Vegas mentality with me – how I consume in absurdly racist, classist and ultimately imperialist ways. How I engage with the world as if it is made of infinite resources. How I create space and places and ways of being that simply have no business being where they are. And within this where I am truly just ignorant, and where I am willfully choosing not to see.

 

Let me be more specific – I was recently traveling in India for four weeks and the concrete, recurring question bumping up against my inner-Vegas was, “what on earth am I doing traveling for pleasure?” The carbon footprint we laid down as we went from Mumbai to Kathmandu to Varanasi to Bodh Gaya to New Delhi to Hampi to Fort Kochi to Thekkady to Alleppey and then back to Mumbai with me then returning home to Minneapolis was absurd. No other word for it. I was not there for work, I was not there for research, I was not there for any social justice reason at all, I was there because two friends live there and I wanted to see India and so going while they were there seemed like a good idea. Hello Vegas.

 

This past week TED posted a sweet, and if you listen closely, deeply poignant talk by Matthieu Ricard about altruism and climate change where he posited altruism (a path to climate justice) in opposition to selfishness (the path to climate disaster), and I had to face the fact that traveling the way we did (flying, driving, and hotels with such an extensive carbon footprint!) for pleasure is and was simply selfish. This bucks right up against the “but I’ve earned it” and the “I need to relax a bit and unwind, what’s selfish about that?” refrain so often uttered by middle-class U.S.-ers. It even can bump up against those who espouse the “deep growth and change of worldview that travel can bring” argument, and while this learning is often true and has almost always been true for me, it pales against the reality that we are very quickly passing critical planetary boundaries and we must steeply curb, swiftly change and substantially adapt if we are going to have a shot at a sustainable future.

 

And that means that travel for pleasure is likely on the chopping block for me. Notice how I hedged my bet there… “likely”. Even as I write this I cannot quite bring myself to fully commit. And yet, I hope that by being more public it will help me connect with others who are at similar places regarding truly unnecessary consumption, but caught in the throes of a neoliberal, globalized, colonial mindset. The class category I am identifying here is clear, right – U.S. middle, upper-middle and professional middle class folks who have disposable income but who are not the 1%. I see myself as a member of that group and in a nutshell we consume like mad.

 

And even though the bulge in CO2 emissions is shifting to the Global South, do not be fooled by that. Carbon emissions are recorded for the country they are emitted in, not the causality of those emissions. So, China, India and others in the Global South release much of their CO2 in the process of producing goods that we consume in the Global North. Thus, it is our consumption in the Global North that is still driving rising CO2 in a literal sense via what we purchase, consume and throw away. But, it is also driven by the illusion of power, prosperity and “happiness” that we have exported in connection with this level of consumption – the cultural imperialism of consumption. As I was driving the roads all over India I could not help but notice the mark of Western advertising promising happiness if only you eat this (vegetarian) Whopper, drink this Coke, or try this Jolly Rancher (these folks looked particularly happy, actually). This form of ideological colonization, by conflating happiness with consumption, will kill us all if we do not see through it, rigorously critique its impacts, and offer alternatives.

 

One of the most slippery ways “consumption” defends itself, however, is by saying that if we stop consuming, all of the folks in India, China, Mexico and Brazil who are making these products will lose their livelihoods. That is true if the only source of life is the maquiladora. However, what I quickly understood as I was in India is that if I took the money I waste on my useless consumption and instead offer it up as payment for the Global North’s climate debt, I would be making an amend for the havoc my consumption has wrought, I would be supporting green and truly sustainable development, and I would be interrupting the ideology of consumption and extraction and replacing it with a more global vision of stewardship and climate justice in response to the crisis we are in.

 

I’m not talking charity here, I’m talking about wealth redistribution and putting substance to the IPCC’s “equal but differentiated responsibilities” framework. There are truly countless organizations all over the world (many of them indigenous) working locally to replace the extractivist worldview with something much more sustainable. For specifics, go to Naomi’s book and the references in the back. Better yet, read her book and come to understand some of the work these organizations are doing globally.

 

And so that is really why I am writing this – not to do the solipsistic, passive aggressive lefty thing where we cynically criticize ourselves and call ourselves hypocrites in order to actually shame and blame others, nor am I trying to induce guilt and shame and point a finger. Instead, I am openly sharing what has come up for me since I left for India in December and how I intend to apply these lessons to a hopeful and sustainable solution whereby we ALL can live on this planet. By some studies / measures as a middle-class U.S.-er I consume 80% more than is allowable if we are to try and keep planetary warming limited to two degrees centigrade. While many think we have missed that two-degree mark, it is no reason to not then shoot for two-point-five degrees. And while there is no guarantee that any of this will matter or work, it is absolutely certain that if the West does not curb its consumption by somewhere around 80%, and stop exporting this way of life as laudable, we will most surely suffer deeply and badly as a planet for a very, very long time.

 

Please do not hear my words from a place of guilt or shame. Brain research has shown that that is a weak place of motivation and stops learning (see, for example, the work of Dr. Daniel Siegel in The Mindful Brain). Rather, if you are a middle-class U.S.-er, make the changes you can and do this work from the place of altruism. Do it for the love of the natural world. Do it because it truly is the right thing to do. Do it as an amend for the colonization and genocide that created this wealth. Do it for future generations of all life on this planet. Do it as spiritual practice. Do it for a host of possible reasons or combinations therein. Whatever your motive, let us begin to do it now – to dig deep, to cut deeply, and to move quickly to a worldview that is in resonance and not dissonance with this planet.

 

One of Klein’s last points in her book, to light the way perhaps, is an analysis of various social movements that have achieved significant political, social and at times even some economic change – and of course the overarching theme was the word movement. We cannot do this alone, but if we are not practicing it as individuals it becomes difficult to authentically participate in those movements, and almost impossible to keep them alive over the long haul. One of the slogans of the People’s Climate March was, “to change everything, we need everyone” and so please join in climate justice work, please talk to others, please engage politically and socially, and if you are someone with economic access, please dig deep and work to make the changes necessary for this movement to lead us into a sustainable future. I thank you for your partnership on this path and hope to learn from you as we all do our level best.

A People’s Climate March

I was at the People’s Climate March this past weekend in NYC and it was an amazing experience. I have had the privilege of attending many marches over the years but this one was different in some very important ways and for those reasons, in addition to the fact that there were 400,000 people there, it felt historic.

The foremost reason it stood out to me was that it was the first march I have ever been to where there were no “allies” to the issue or group being focused on (e.g. heterosexual allies working for marriage equality without a clear sense of how they will benefit from it as heterosexuals). Instead, it was crystal clear that everyone there felt deep ownership regarding climate justice and could see the connections of our current climate crisis to their own work. Labor unions were clearly articulating the relationship between classism, exploitation, and economic inequality and the conditions that have led to climate change. Students and youth were clearly making the connections between the situation we are in and the reality of their future. Various Communities of Color and Native Communities (along with Whites committed to racial justice) were identifying the explicit ties of racial oppression, colonization and endless exploitation to what got us into this dire planetary situation. Feminist groups were connecting the dots between gender oppression, misogyny and the violent assault on the earth. In every way, deep and complex links were being made between health and climate disruption, education and climate change, food justice and climate justice, and so on. And I think this is what gave me a sense of hope I did not expect – 400,000 people all understood (granted to varying degrees) that we truly are all in this together, that standing on the sidelines is nowhere near an option, and that the stakes have never been higher for our species. Moreover, there was substantial consensus on what the solutions are: the need for a zero-carbon economy and an immediate switch to renewables, a restructuring of our economic systems such that human needs trump corporate, neo-liberal capitalist needs, and that we must think as a whole planet and not national fiefdoms some of which are privileged while others suffer.

The second aspect of the march that was noticeably different than any environmental work I had seen before was that it was led (both physically the day of as well as in the months of planning) but Native Peoples and People of Color. One of the most pernicious problems with mainstream environmental groups over the last five decades (I’m marking this from the time of publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring to today) is the predictable whiteness, middle-classness, and all-too-often maleness of “the movement”. To directly challenge this history, and to give prominence to the voices that have been ringing so loudly and clearly for so long, the first major contingent of the march included Native Peoples, People of Color, Island State (OASIS in the COP configuration) representatives, and migrants from all over the globe. This contingent stretched from 59th to 65th streets and its centrality to the overall message of the march signaled a sea change in the leadership and organizing around climate justice nationally and internationally. My hope is that the largest climate justice march ever being led by Native Communities and Communities of Color will mark a permanent shift in future organizing and activism from U.S. and international environmental justice organizations. Specifically I am hoping that historically white-led EJ groups will deeply and consistently rethink tired “business as usual” ideas such as political expediency and move to a racial justice, class justice, and gender justice lens for their work.

The third and final aspect of the march that stood out for me was that this gathering and how we all engaged with each other felt like not only the blueprint for how we are going to organize for climate justice, but also a hint at how we could all live on this small, blue dot together. There is no question that the clock is ticking and this can have the tendency to exacerbate fears that lead to separation. On this day, however, the sheer gravitational force of our commitment to push back on the carbon lobby and to jar the political leaders from their torpor was so substantial that it held us all together despite the wide variation in who we were, where we came from and what our stories were. At the end of the day (and throughout the day) we were just this one family, fighting like hell to end this utter madness. And that is exactly what it is – to destroy one’s source of life in the name of short term profit is such a profound departure from reality that it cannot be described as anything else. And there we all were – shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see demanding with our bodies that we be heard.

Given the anti-corporate, anti-war, critical race/class/gender analysis of the event, I am not at all surprised by the paltry coverage in mainstream media. I often hope that slightly left-leaning folks like Rachel Maddow will give at least a cursory nod to climate change issues but she spent her entire Monday show covering the bombing of Syria with not even a minute of coverage of the march. The other networks were not much better. NPR did an abysmal job covering the march and spent much more time this week on what they must think is “legitimate” climate content – the U.N. conference. Democracy Now, however, did pre-march stories and interviews, ran 3 hours of live coverage on Sunday, and then followed up with numerous additional interviews and coverage Monday and Tuesday. For this reason I want to thank Amy Goodman and the folks at DN and ask that readers who care about climate justice make a small donation to DN via their web site.

There is a reason that a massive number of U.S.-ers don’t “believe in” climate change (as was the case with a flight attendant on a recent flight) and much of it has to do with the cowardice of mainstream media. In lieu of media doing its job, we must take it upon ourselves to fill in the information gaps and educate our peers. For my part, over the next two months I am hosting two workshops at my house to help educate friends and colleagues and I invite others to do the same. Just start with those you know, begin wherever each person is at, and work to deepen the discussion around climate change and climate justice. If we make it part of our everyday conversations then it will move from margin to center in our political landscape and we stand a chance of making larger, structural changes that will match the scale of the problem. I know it seems overwhelming and “what can one person possibly do” with respect to a problem that is planetary in size, and yet what else is there for us to do but try? I hold no delusions that if we all just come together we can “save the planet”. I know too much of the climate science data to hold out for that. But, I also know that morally, spiritually, ethically, and professionally there is no other option for me but to turn toward the fear and pain and grief, be with it, and do everything I can (as one among many) to address this crisis. This weekend I was reminded what large groups of people can do when we come together. The energy from the march is still with me, a low-grade hum whose power is palpable and whose signature is pushing me onward. I know you all have busy lives, but in a time such as this please make space to lean in and take up this shared charge with your words, with your actions, with your donations, with your vote and with all your heart. As cliché as it sounds, all of our futures depend on it like never before.

* Note: To watch the pre-march video (52 minutes) go to www.watchdisruption.com.

Climate – Change – Mind – Set: Why a Critical Racial Justice Mindset Is Essential for Effective Climate Justice

This is an event sponsored by Seattle350.org and the Sierra Club and is for members or affiliates of those organizations. If you would like a similar workshop brought to your area or organization, please contact HCG through the info@hackmanconsultinggroup.org email address.

The purpose of this workshop is to clearly demonstrate how the Global North’s longstanding and oppressive mindset regarding Race, Racism and Whiteness* (RRW) has informed this current climate emergency, and how a change in that mindset is essential for effective climate justice work. More specifically, the workshop helps participants begin to identify and then change those same dynamics so they do not continue to scuttle their ongoing climate justice work. Throughout the day, participants will be asked to analyze their own work, or that of their organization, using a series of assessment and action steps from a critical RRW Climate Justice Framework. To be clear, the core premise of this session is that if we do not fundamentally transform the RRW oppressive mindset of the last 250 years, we are likely to advance solutions that are imbued with these same problematic dynamics that got us here in the first place. As such, utilizing an RRW Climate Justice Framework is vital in our efforts to identify innovative, effective, and long-term climate solutions. This workshop is a mix of lecture / content delivery, participant discussion, and participant application. The work is drawn from over 20 years of teaching and training on social justice content and the last handful of years teaching and training in climate change and climate justice from a social justice framework.

* Note: While it is understood that Class and Gender oppression are deeply implicated in the overall mindset that has led to this climate crisis, this workshop isolates RRW in order to dig deeply into the complexity of these issues.

What a Load of COP (19)

This blog is about three weeks late, but the end of the year has put me a bit behind. Nevertheless, the commentary about what we can do as everyday citizens regarding this global scale problem is still relevant.

The COP

Much has already been written about the happenings at the Conference of the Parties’ 19th annual conference (aka COP 19 – this is the conference sponsored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC], 11-22 November) and so I will not go into detail about the fact that the Polish government hosted a major coal industry conference the same time the COP was in Warsaw, nor will I comment on the dragging-of-the-feet by developed nations in the negotiations. Likewise, I will not comment on the unprecedented walk out by hundreds of NGO and Civil Society organizers, or the anemic last-minute agreements made regarding Loss and Damage and other international funding. And finally, I will not join in the almost universal critique of Japan, Australia and Canada for their jaw-dropping CO2 limit retractions, and in particular the occasionally sophomoric behavior of the Australians. There are volumes of information on all of those issues and I encourage you to check it all out if you are interested.

 

Instead, I would like to comment here on what was most disheartening, but what can possibly still be redeemed – the response of the world’s citizens to our leaders’ actions / inactions. Whether Australia’s government thinks climate change is an immediate threat or not, Australia’s citizens have suffered at the hands of incredibly hot and dangerous weather for years now, and as a result its citizens are not in overall agreement with its government. Importantly, however, its citizens have not made their voices as clear as necessary on that score. Similarly, while the Canadian government has backpedaled in its CO2 commitments at the hands of a conservative government in league with the tar sands industry (among others) Canadian citizens are quite clear that the changes in climate are already having severe impacts on their water, moose and other animal populations, and forests. And while Canadian oil interests are wringing their hands at the prospect of an ice-free Arctic, the average Canadian citizen will not find that to be such a profitable proposition. Unfortunately, Canadian citizens have yet to raise the tenor of their voices to a level proportionate to their concerns. Even in the Untied States, news outlets, weather outlets, and government agencies are more and more frequently using the language of climate change as a way to describe some of the factors driving our current whiplash weather. And yet, as our government dithered in our commitments during these talks (see any of the United States’ press conferences from COP and Todd Stern’s oblique commentary), the average U.S. citizen seemed to be more concerned about the impending “Black Friday” sales.

 

My point being, that the COP has proven to be a turtle in a race where we actually do need a hare. The clock is literally ticking with regard to climate change and we as a global citizenry need to put pressure on our elected officials as never before. If they will not lead, then we will vote them out. If they will not protect the coming generations as best as possible, then we will put folks in power who will. If they cannot think past the next election (and its funders) or their next lobbying job, then we will do the thinking for them.

 

So what is it that we need our leaders to do?

First and foremost we need to let the science regarding climate change guide all decisions regarding mitigation and adaptation. This means that we adjust our “willingness” to coincide with the timelines put forth by science, not those put forth by the carbon industry or others whose primary concern are their economic interests over the global good. For example, according to the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) latest report, we have a remaining carbon “budget” of roughly 560 gigatons before we enter a climate cycle that has the most serious consequences (less than this if you consider feedbacks, or if you look at GHGs cumulatively, and not just CO2, as many in the EU do in their calculations). The oil companies around the globe have roughly 5 times that in their possession (still in the ground, in their reserves, or in the market right now) and so something must be done to insure that we do not surpass our carbon “budget” and this means we have to regulate carbon, plain and simple. Another example is to debunk the myths of “clean coal” and CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration / Storage) – there is no such thing as “clean coal” and the CCS technology is many years off with the investment in this research declining. Instead, we need to move quickly and completely to renewables. If we all demanded this, our leaders would either follow us or they would eventually be replaced with those who would.

 

To be clear, the science does not lie nor does it negotiate. There is no debate whatsoever about whether or not climate change is happening, and each day more and more research shows that we have a very limited period of time to make steep changes if we are to stay below 2 degrees Centigrade (a level the science says will be dangerous but still tolerable for most of the planet). And if our leaders are not clear on this and feel they cannot move because we have not stated our concerns emphatically enough, we then need to speak more clearly and powerfully to them.

 

Second, we need our leaders to build trust internationally and this can happen quickly and clearly by “making amends”. There are nations and peoples around the world whose lives are literally under water, or will be soon, and we need to respond globally with the resources and support necessary to either shore them up, relocate them, or search for “third options” for their continued survival. Similarly, there are countries and people suffering under the mantle of drought, famine, fires, deforestation (all either due to or exacerbated by climate change) and we as a global community, particularly those of us in nations who have the greatest historic responsibility for the mess we are in (responsibility measured by CO2 and other GHGs outputs per capita and the corresponding consequences) clearly have a responsibility to do what is right and what is necessary. As such, I fully expect that U.S. leaderhsip come to the UNFCCC and COP tables ready and willing to truly, and without hesitation, do our part. As a citizen, I will be communicating my desire to support the international agreements about Loss and Damage / Green Climate Fund to the Secretary of State’s office, POTUS, my three Congressional members, and my Governor. I am only one of many, and yet it is my responsibility to speak out loudly and clearly to those in power.

 

Third we need our leaders to proceed globally with Kyoto, UNFCCC, and a real “Road to Paris”. The days of unilateralism are gone. This does not mean that we become the “one-world” government that many extreme right-wing folks worry about. However, when Chernobyl went up, the radiation spread all over the planet regardless of lines drawn on maps and borders separating “us” from “them”. This applies not only to our polluting and how nations are contributing to the problem, but also can serve as a “stopper” against any one nation taking drastic solutions into their own hands, such as climate engineering by spraying sulfides into the atmosphere. We can keep our lines, our identities, our cultures, but we simply cannot act as if any one nation exists outside the reality of our biosphere and thus outside of our interdependence as a global community. To some, unilateralism may seem courageous or good leadership or even innovative, to others it is more of the same with regard to imperialism and the perennial excuse for the exploitation of developing nations by developed ones. Whatever your opinion of it, the days of unilateralism must end if we are to respond to climate change with dignity, humanity, and our best selves in tact.

 

And finally, we need our local, state, regional and national leadership to be in sync with this global direction. Many of our peer countries in Europe are streets ahead of the U.S. in this regard. Countries like the Netherlands and Denmark have a much more unified national framework regarding climate issues and as a result have been able to expeditiously move their entire nations toward the 21st century realities regarding climate change. In the U.S., however, we have pockets of cities such as Seattle / King County, NYC, and the like enacting city and county legislation that is then being challenged at the state and national level. We do not stand a chance to marshal the necessary resources if we do not have our governmental structures on the same page with respect to climate issues. And this is where we all come in – identify your city leadership and begin to work on them. Educate them, inspire them, make clear demands of them and then ask them to reach across the city or county line and connect with their neighboring jurisdictions. When townships connect, counties are more likely to take notice and when that happens state government radar begins to ping. Only as states do we have the chance to a) elect officials who are forward thinking and strong enough to lead regarding climate issues, and b) undermine the chokehold the carbon lobby has on our congressional leaders. Sadly, many of these congressional folks will be the last to respond and so we cannot wait for them. In Josh Fox’s Gasland one of the final scenes is of some natural gas corporate heads at a congressional hearing on fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and one U.S. Representative says he’s proud to support and defend the gas industry because they “provide jobs to many of his citizens” while disregarding the science behind the toxic effects of fracking on many of his other citizens. Apologies for the cliché, but this truly is a “Think Globally, Act Locally” moment – see the types of laws, community agreements, infrastructure changes, and forward-thinking development that needs to happen globally and then demand that local leaders get on board. Washington has perhaps lost its way, and so we must help it get back on the road and work for realistic solutions via our local actions. Time is running out on this issue and thus we need to get as active and vocal and engaged as we possibly can so that our voices as citizens matches our concerns as parents, friends, family, and community members.

 

Do not despair

We are a profoundly resilient species and I still hold out tremendous hope that we will find a way through all of this. Last month I read Mary Pipher’s The Green Boat as recommended by my friend Erin who does a great deal of climate activism. In it Dr. Pipher sheds light on how “everyday” U.S.ers (in this book meaning mostly white, lower to middle class folks) tend to get stuck in the overwhelm of this work, and in response offers a range of insights and practical suggestions about how to avoid these pitfalls. Importantly for me, however, she also shares her personal story of Keystone XL organizing in Nebraska and it is in those stories that I find such hope, resilience, and a light on the path forward. There is much to be done, but thankfully there is much we can each do.

How Many Alarm Bells Will It Take?

I learned a new word the other day, “solastalgia” – it means, “psychic or existential distress related to degradation of the environment, especially due to climate change”. Dr. Teddie Potter taught about it in her Minneapolis Community and Technical College presentation (which she graciously invited me to join her in) regarding issues of climate change and how our society is responding emotionally to its frightening realities. Dr. Potter suggested that, whether conscious of it or not, many in this society are realizing the current climate change realities and as a result solastalgia, sometimes on deep levels, is taking hold. If deep solastalgia was the case in the U.S. up to last week, after this weekend’s release of the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding our current and future climate realities, most U.S.ers have likely slid even further into a solastalgic state. I wrote earlier about “finding your anchor” regarding climate change and climate justice work, and so I will not repeat that here. But, this sobering report certainly does challenge one’s capacity to stay present, look the issues squarely in the eye, and move forward and so the invocation to find our anchor(s) is as germane now as ever before. Despite the solastalgia potential, I strongly recommend folks look at the IPCC’s report and be familiar with its findings. I will list some of the key ones here, but before I do, I want to highlight a few helpful points regarding “scientific reports”.

Framing points to consider

1. The IPCC is a panel that draws from the work of hundreds of climate scientists around the globe. As such, it is a comprehensive, yet “middle of the road” body of findings. This is important to know because it reflects a framework of averages that are notoriously conservative. In contrast, many folks in the “climate change denial” camp draw on the findings of people who are not climate scientists at all, but who have other reasons (such as funding from the carbon lobby) for stating their climate denial beliefs and they often use the “middle of the road” findings of the IPCC as fuel for downplaying the presence or impacts of climate change.

2. Building on the above point, science in general does tend to be conservative when proffering “findings” or “estimates” and certainly with respect to “applications and implications” (when done within the parameters of solid science). I know this from reading the work of these climate scientists, from watching Dr. James Hansen so reluctantly step forward and gradually speak more of his mind, and from my own undergraduate work in biology (molecular and immunology) where I was taught first hand about the tendency for scientists to stay objective, open-minded, and strictly about the science (we can debate the reality of objectivity another time). This is important information because if a typically conservative field is sounding an alarm, it is critical for lay people to listen and respond to the call.

3. And finally, I want to underscore that science has been sounding an alarm about the climate, to varying degrees, for the last 30-50 years, with that alarm growing from a subtle caution to what it is today: an emergency. This is not a concern, not an issue, not even a crisis anymore – it is truly an emergency and the IPCC report helps underscore that point.

Some key findings

Having stated those initial points, here are a few of the key findings put forth in the report:

1. It is “unequivocal” that climate change is happening and that the dominant cause is human action (anthropogenic) and our pouring of CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. More specifically, concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased to levels that are unprecedented in at least 800,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels is the main reason behind a 40% increase in CO2 concentrations since the industrial revolution (with 1750 being the typical starting point for these measurements).

2. And, even if the world begins to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to cross the critical threshold of 2C by the end of this century. More specifically, the report says that global temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3C to 4.8C, by the end of the century depending on how much governments control carbon emissions.

3. Crossing 2C would have serious consequences, including sea level rises, heatwaves and changes to rainfall meaning dry regions get less and already wet areas receive more. More specifically, sea levels are expected to rise a further 26-82cm by the end of the century. Additionally, the oceans have acidified as they have absorbed about a third of the carbon dioxide emitted. This will have substantial consequences on the oceanic food chain as coral reefs and other shelled creatures cannot solidify their structures and will therefore begin to die off.

4. To avoid dangerous levels of climate change, beyond 2C, the world can only emit a total of between 800 and 880 gigatonnes of carbon (from the second bullet on page 20 of the report where it says to have between a 33% and 66% chance of staying below 2C, and when accounting for additional radiative forcings, the total is 800-880 GtCO2. Some media outlets have reported that our carbon budget is 1000 gigatonnes, but that does not account for positive RF). Of this, about 530 gigatonnes had already been emitted by 2011 (one citation averages it at 545 gigatonnes). This has clear implications for our fossil fuel consumption, meaning that humans cannot burn all of the coal, oil and gas reserves that countries and companies possess.

5. Global warming has not “stopped” or “reversed”, as some climate change skeptics assert, and in fact the last three decades are the warmest on record since consistent recordings have been taken. Most of this warming has been taken up by the oceans, and so using land temperatures only (which the skeptics often cite) would not give the whole picture of warming.

What can we do?

I avoid offering tidy “action steps” because social justice issues are so complex and do not tend to respond neatly to “how to” lists. However, this is a critical time and so I will toss a few ideas out.

1. First, we need to reverse our thinking regarding where we place our organizing / responsive energy, effort and time. For decades there has been a growing commentary about “switching to energy efficient light bulbs” and “recycling” and “turning off our lights”…all good and well. However, none of these “trickled up” in a quick enough or forceful enough manner so as to fundamentally impact the carbon industry, its lobby, or our governmental leaders. The result is that we are in a position where our carbon consumption and CO2 output has declined minimally, while the global consumption and output has continued to steadily increase. As such, I recommend that we do in fact continue to engage in “energy efficiency” acts in our residences, workplaces, and social spaces. The change, however, is that we must turn the bulk of our collective voice and organizing toward significantly pressuring our government to make immediate, substantial changes. Changes such as a carbon tax, changes like stopping Keystone XL, changes like investing heavily in renewable forms of energy, changes like limiting the shipping of coal to China and other countries, changes like subsidizing electric cars and charging stations, changes like focusing on closed loop production, and changes like demanding that the United States cut to 1990 levels of CO2 production in the next decade. The time for small-scale actions has passed and we are in a moment where we must make deep cuts, take strong action, and demand powerful and steadfast leadership toward those ends.

2. Second, we must move the climate conversation to the front of our political discourse. Elections are coming up soon and while issues like jobs, housing, and transportation are perennial political issues, as well they should be, the climate must also be at the top of the list given its compounding influence on every social and political area. For example, if climate change is not responded to immediately and forcefully, unemployment issues will be compounded – crops failing, forests burning, rivers and lakes drying lead to fewer jobs in all associated industries which means less money in the economy and the correlated losses from that and so on. Similarly, as the climate changes we will continue to experience “weather whiplash” and storms (on June 21, 2013 a substantial storm knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents with hundreds of trees down in a highly populated area of Minneapolis) will stretch our energy infrastructure and costs will begin to rise, heating will become more expensive, and housing accessibility will obviously change. And finally, transportation will obviously be impacted as the climate changes and we suffer the most egregious of its impacts. As such, we will see that slowly but surely the reality of climate change will drive the political discourse, and so let us not be reactive to that reality and instead demand that our elected officials are educated about climate change, understand its wide-reaching impacts, and make creative, adaptive solutions central to their political work.

3. And third, we need to educate ourselves, our neighbors, and our communities about climate change, climate justice and climate organizing so we can collectively pressure our government to act like a citizen of a global community. “We the people” must change from a national to a global reference. We all must help our elected officials and others in power awaken to the reality that “we the people” is NOT just about the United States and instead refers to all 7.13 billion of us. “We the people” is a call to our species, not to our nationalism. “We the people” is a naming of our common humanity, not a reification of US exceptionalism. “We the people” is a passionate and beautiful declaration of our connection and commitment to each other. That does not mean that we merge into one nation and lose our “identity” but it does mean that finally our common human connections and truths trump the separations we have nursed for so long.

In sum, what I am suggesting is that when in an emergency, it is not wise to focus solely on the minutiae at the expense of the larger picture – to take a garden hose to one small spot of a house engulfed in flames will not likely save any portion of the house, even that which the hose is spraying. But, if that garden hose is used to the best of its capacity and larger, more powerful, and widely dispersed hoses are directed at the house, then there is a chance to save the house.

One place to start would be 350.org. While I really struggle with some of the race, class and gender issues of their organization, they are folks who are mobilizing in large numbers in DC and around the nation / globe to respond to the alarm. Additionally, here is a listing of non-profits working on climate issues in terms of their philanthropic ranking. I’m not saying these are all the best choices either, but as you read about their work and dig more deeply into their political approaches you can decide if any of these are a good fit for you. You can also look up the Indigenous Environmental Network (and the work of Tom Goldtooth) as well as Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) to get a clearer racial / social justice framing of these issues and actions that are being taken.

Whatever group you decide to collaborate with, make sure it is one that is organizing at the bottom in order to apply pressure at the top, and which has the intention of making large, systematic changes regarding our carbon use and CO2 output. This is the critical issue. The IPCC has once again sounded the alarm. Let us, through our organizing and actions, make it the last time they have to do so.

Why Being Loved by Nature Matters

[Greetings friends. This week’s blog is being written by a guest author, Erin Pratt. Every so often we will ask folks who are on the front lines of some of the key issues HCG addresses to share their thoughts, reflections, expertise, and / or hopes for the future. Erin organizes around climate justice issues and shares here her thoughts about nature, youth education and our climate future. We’d like to thank Erin for her blog contribution and for her larger body of work on this important issue. Please look in October for another guest blog from one of our favorite classroom teachers, and next week HCG blogs resume with Part II of “The Courage to Teach”. – Heather]

 

I grew up swimming in the lakes and waterways of northeast Florida.  On summer afternoons my father would point with wonder to the building cumulus clouds, noting their direction, the intensity of the lightning and how much rain they were sure to gift us with. We would listen and watch with awe as the storm made its way over our heads and on down the coast and out to sea.  We breathed in the smell of the ozone, of soaked earth and steaming pavement, and the sight of a newly scrubbed sky, bright blue, white and silver.

 

On one of these magical afternoons my brother and I held hands, our mouths full of root beer.  We were standing with our toes curled around the muscled limb of the mighty live oak that hung gracefully over Black Creek.  Crouching, we tensed, then sprang into the air, falling 12 feet into the tannic acid brown, shockingly fresh clean water.  Underwater it was almost silent, bubbles haloed around our heads.  Our floating hair was illuminated by the sun’s rays piercing the mysterious underworld. We watched each other, eyes wide, as we swallowed our fizzy root beer, delighting in how the colors and textures of our drink and the river matched. Clearly this was a summer ritual as beloved as the thunder rolling through the sky.

 

It was not so many years later, home on a break from college, that I sat at an outdoor restaurant with my family.  The ashes of live oaks from nearby forest fires fell around us. Florida was in the middle of its third year of drought.  The graceful summer thunderstorms that we could once set our clock to were now rare and sporadic.  When they did visit they were often extreme, fueling the fires instead of calming them.  Looking for solace, we headed through the forest to Black Creek. Instead of the familiar live oaks, cypress trees and palmetto plants, there was a neighborhood of newly built houses, that were ironically situated at the base of the now defunct fire tower that had once stimulated my imagination as a child.

 

It seemed that everywhere I turned I found evidence of injustice, suffering, and loss of life, all pointing to the perilous danger we are in as a planet.  And yet I could see that interwoven with this in all of life was courage, beauty, innocence, creativity and strength.  The pain I experienced was in direct proportion to the love I felt.  This was a love that came from the fertile earth of a childhood enriched with full-bodied relationships with the animate world of nature and with my human community. And out of that sense of belonging, came a conviction to act.

 

It was the apparent disconnection from nature and resulting pain many people experience that led me to become a wilderness therapist.  For I know, and have lived into, the truth that connection to nature is an important source of healing on an individual and societal level. Thankfully, the importance of nature to psychological health is not only my personal experience, but evident in a growing body of research that documents the importance of the human and nature bond including the works of David Sobel (Place Based Education) and Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods, The Nature Principle).

 

In his book Nature and the Human Soul (2007), depth psychologist Bill Plotkin describes how we can raise children, support teenagers, and ripen ourselves so we might engender a sustainable human culture.  He offers an ‘eco-centric’ model of human development as a strategy for cultural transformation, a map for moving from our violence prone and unsustainable society to one that is just, sustainable and imaginative.

 

At each stage of development Plotkin describes qualities of being and experiences that are essential to healthy human development.  These include:  wonder, enchantment, exploration, success, betrayals, discovery, skill building, belonging culturally and belonging to the more-than-human-world. Plotkin teaches how these can be nurtured in children by parents, teachers and community members.  He offers a guide for raising new generations of humans that are in touch with their own nature, each other and uniquely capable of meeting the challenges we face.

 

Based on Plotkin’s work my mother Alice Pratt, a long time educator, and I have designed a Creative Arts and Nature camp for close to 60 children grades K-8, 12 youth counselors and over 40 adults from the St. Luke Church (Minnetonka, MN) community. With the help of dozens of volunteer musicians and artists from St. Luke’s and the surrounding community, campers explore nature and their relationships with each other, their families and community. We use the mediums of story, music, Heart of the Beast style puppet and mask making, and nature-based play (picture: mud, water, animal home building with sticks, “all senses” forest walks!). Each day the children sit in councils to reflect on their experiences and practice the interpersonal skills of how to live out the three rules of camp:  1) Be Kind 2) Be Kind and 3) Be kind.

 

Bob Klanderud a Lakota Elder, is one of our most important volunteers.  Bob has a long standing relationship with St Luke.  For many years, he has brought urban native youth to the sweat lodges he built on St Luke grounds.  And he has participated in each year of the camp.

 

Nearing the end of camp, Bob came to sit with the 3rd and 4th graders in the willow lodge he constructed with the middle school group.  He had come to share his personal, spiritual and cultural wisdom with the group.  He wanted to hear about their experiences at camp, and to place them in a larger web of meaning.  When he arrived this day, it was hot.  The kids, who had just been running around covered in a camouflage of mud, grass and leaves to try and outsmart their counselors in a wild game of “kick the can”, were sweating big time

 

The lodge was in direct sunlight.  Under the burlap and willow, the temperature was soaring.  I was concerned, wondering if we needed to relocate.  But after a few minutes of re-arranging, restless twitching, and the slapping of bugs, everyone grew still.

 

Looking around the circle I saw children and their beloved youth counselors piled on each other.  Sweat was running down their arms, legs and faces.  Their feet were covered in dirt.  Their eyes were bright, faces relaxed.

 

They were giving all of their attention to the person who was telling them, in a loving voice, how utterly they belong to each other.  How they belong to the mother fox who had visited, to the hawks we saw circling overhead, to the white squirrel who lives in the old oak outside the lodge, and to this green living earth.  And in that shining, quiet moment it was clear- this was something they already knew…

 

I wonder is this belonging something you know?  Know in the sense of experiencing it?  Being loved by nature and each other led those children to lean into that moment in the willow lodge- to show up and press past what on the surface felt undesirable and uncomfortable.  We will need a similar conviction to experience the pain and discomfort that meets us when we recognize the loss we already face with respect to the coming climate realities and the need to act in bold new ways. If we are to live fully into this moment and save life on this planet, we must engender those practices that connect ourselves and our children to each other and to nature.

 

And I believe that in doing so, just as for the children, what was once uncomfortable may in fact become our experience of utter belonging.