JP Green House is an urban homestead in Boston.

Friday, May 15, 2015

We Tried So Hard to Be Good

Dear Sir/Madam:

I'm writing to you who control our government now--that is, the big corporations of the world. Let's not pretend it is otherwise. Thanks to a system in which money buys elections, nearly all of our politicians are in your employ.

Thanks for wrecking everything.

If I were a Millennial, this might not surprise me or even be worthy of mention. They have grown up in the system as it exists now, and many of them are too cynical to fight. But I'm from Generation X, and we still thought we had a chance to make our own destinies. In recent years that's become increasingly difficult.

I'm going to be frank. I'm a member of the intellectual elite. I'm not working class and I'm not poor, but those distinctions aren't what they used to be. My father worked his way out of Depression-era Oklahoma to become a professor at Harvard. I was given the best education money could buy, because that's what my parents valued. I never got a D or F in my life, and when I got a few Cs (trigonometry nearly killed me), I heard about it from my mother and father--they thought they knew what it took to get ahead in the world. I have degrees from Smith College and Harvard University. I speak 4 languages and can read a scientific paper. I run my own business and I'm raising two sons, who are good people, but their prospects are now quite poor.

The future my kids face will include a deteriorating national infrastructure, underfunded public schools full of stressed students and the traumatized poor, and a world of permanent wars started by my own country, mainly against people much worse off than ourselves. And worst of all, their future is jeopardized by your refusal to see that the Earth cannot take anymore plundering of resources.

Thanks to your persistent denial, we have now used up the Future. Forty percent of the world's wildlife has disappeared within my lifetime, and one third of all living things face extinction from climate change. You continue to believe that the "growth paradigm", whereby we endlessly expand human reach into the natural world, will bring prosperity to all. Or at least that's what you claim...

I had to put away dreams and aspirations and devote my life to climate activism because of you. Not that I mind, really--I like a good fight--but the problem is it's not working. We have tried all manner of tactics to get you to see that we can't live this way: Public education, policy work, endless polite and rational conversations with our politicians. We even believed you when you said you would do better--implement greener practices, move away from fossil fuels and promote renewables. But that's not happening, is it? You're just pretending to do enough to save the planet in order to distract us.

So we're taking things to the next level, I'm afraid. I got up early today to commit a minor crime in the spirit of Civil Disobedience, in service to the higher laws of science and the natural world. With my activist bestie, Chuck Collins, I painted a red line down a city street in my neighborhood, to draw attention to a fracked-gas pipeline that's about to be laid down there by Spectra Energy--one of you. Thanks to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that's in your employ, there was virtually no public process to include the community of Boston in the decision-making around this new and dangerous infrastructure. The pipeline will run highly-pressurized "natural" gas a few hundred feet past an active blasting quarry, and right by three public schools. It's not my first action, and it won't be my last, but really, there are things I'd rather be doing.

You have turned me into a petty criminal. I may be charged with vandalism, destruction of public property, and perhaps defamation (of Spectra Energy). I sit in meetings all week with activists ages 20-75 and plan actions, because we've all come to realize that you won't listen, and that the laws that protect you are unjust.
Andrée Zaleska and Chuck Collins turn themselves in.
So, parental units of the System, here we are, a bunch of delinquents, me and my friends. And we're doing it on behalf of our own kids, the plants, the bees, the bats, the marshes and beaches and forests. Shall I go on? You made us. We tried so hard to be good, but it didn't work. Nothing was enough for you. You had to take it all. We're here to take it back.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Love in a Time of Cataclysm

I was in the garden, digging up the last of the potatoes on Monday, when I got the news about the trial results for the Lobster Boat Blockade.

It was a big moment for the climate movement. Defendants Ken Ward and Jay O'Hara, had spent a day last May in a tiny lobster boat called the Henry David T., blocking a massive shipment of coal to Brayton Point Power Station in Fall River, Massachusetts, as a protest against the fossil fuel use that is causing climate change. Their trial would be historic--the first use of the "necessity defense" in a case of civil disobedience for the climate, in which they would claim that their actions were necessary to protect the planet and the human species.

In the end, after months of preparation by lawyers, activists and defendants, the DA chose to do something remarkable. After dropping or reducing most of the charges, he left the courtroom and made a statement to the press that essentially indicated his support for the action. Waving a magazine article by climate activist Bill McKibben--a witness for the defense!-- as he did so, and announced his intention to join the People's Climate March in NYC in two weeks.

The press was amazing. It was a high moment for the movement, especially here in Massachusetts, where nearly all climate activists knew the defendants and had supported the action in some way. Here's a good article from the NYT: Charges Dropped Against Climate Activists.

But this is a personal story. I was a little more on the inside of this action because I've been in a relationship with defendant Ken Ward for seven years now. Ken is the co-founder of JP Green House. We have been lovers, domestic partners, friends, colleagues and compatriots in the climate movement since before it began. But in those seven years our relationship has shifted several times.

Domestic bliss and co-parenting a blended family did not materialize. Even as we had an incomparable connection around matters existential, political, and cultural, and music, we also had a lot of conflict in everyday life. We all know it--the little things aren't so little. Differences in parenting, housekeeping, the pace of life, money and security--these are the things that bring down most marriages. Ken currently lives in Oregon, on the other side of the country from me in Boston, and we see each other 3-4 times/year.

For lack of a better term, we call this an open relationship, but in my mind it's an advanced friendship between two people who need each other for things that others cannot provide. If you know me, you are aware that I suspect monogamy is the least ideal form of relationship for most people. And speaking only for myself--but with an implicit question to all women--I feel that men and women are not yet reconciled after the millennia of patriarchy. We may just be too angry at the bastards to live with them, in many cases.

But when you cannot shake someone, when they stick in your heart no matter how much you drink or date or distract, then that person is a soul mate. Like your children, your parents and your siblings, you are destined to do your work with them.

When I came in, with the potatoes, and picked up my voice mails from Ken, and read the news, a childish part of me stomped my foot and said "dammit, now he's a rock star and here I am with the potatoes!" Then another part of me remembered my Buddhist training in "sympathetic joy"--the practice of being happy for others in their good fortune, just as we would be with them in their suffering.

Ken is an iconoclast in the environmental community, often isolated from the institutions he helped create (among them the PIRGs and Greenpeace), because he has insisted on calling attention to their failure to address climate change with unity and the true intent to stop it. He's a truth-teller by nature, almost obsessively, and it has not made his life as an activist easy. It has not made our relationship easy. I am more cool-headed, more grounded, and I am very domestic. It is through this house, my parenting and my community presence that I represent my truth.

So I get the potatoes, and Ken gets the press. He deserves the spotlight. I am grateful for his work, our work,  and for our lives together.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Okay Doomers, Let's March

Dear Doomers,

I get to use that pejorative term in addressing you, because I'm one of you. The radical fringe of the climate movement, we're the ones uncomfortably pointing out in meetings, online, and in person that the science is telling us it's too late to have a movement. The physics and chemistry of the atmosphere got away from us; the tipping points have all been reached and breached; the window of opportunity has closed.

It's too late to stop, or even arrest climate change. Adaptation is a fool's errand. So, I'll see you at the People's Climate March, right?

I'll just summarize the evidence here, for anyone else who might be reading this, unconvinced. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change now predicts 4--6C of warming within a century. But even this august body of scientists is leaving out huge and key pieces of evidence known as positive feedback loops (they were considered to unpredictable to factor into the original reports). The warming we cause sets in motion natural processes which cause more warming--melting glaciers and methane release are two of the most dangerous ones, each of which could bring about several more degrees of warming. It is likely that these feedback loops are already unstoppable at this point. The World Bank and the International Energy Agency, along with many individual scientists, have stated that it will likely be impossible for human civilization to survive warming of more than 4C.

So, Doomers, will I see you at the People's Climate March in NYC on September 21? The one that's going to be "the largest climate march in history". Indeed it will, given that human history is just about over, right?

I agree. It's too late to do anything that will work, and the only appropriate response is terror and despair. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise: Your terror and despair are justified, and you are not clinically depressed or delusional--you're sane, and most people are in denial.

But depending on your age, you still have some time to fill. Maybe a lifetime of time. What's the right thing to do with that time? I myself have tried a number of things, including spending a lot of time spreading the bad news, arguing with activists who say "we're a very resilient species" and "humans have faced adversity before." I have raged at the hopium that mimics the bipolar mind--grasping at little threads of hope, only to have them collapse.

Having done all that (I've been a climate activist for 8 years now), I find that I still enjoy life. The beauty of mountains and ocean is still present; the thrill of spotting wildlife is the same as ever; my garden amazes me every year with its willingness to return from the dead. Nature hasn't given up, so why have I given up?

Despair is a very inert place, very dull. I created an urban homestead, energy positive, with a huge garden, that functions as a demonstration home and a budget B&B. Should I give up on that? Is it meaningless to try create a better future now? If so, what should I do instead? And what do I tell my children? Life doesn't give up that easily.

No one should get out of bed for this. I think despair is a place you have to go and be familiar with, so that you can leave it willingly. But it might just be that the fight itself means something. That attending the People's Climate March, or working in any way against the inevitability of climate change, is a worthy fight that will energize you and fill you with love and pride so that you can enjoy the time that is left.

"Today is a good day to die, follow me," is an oft-cited phrase attributed to Low Dog, of the Lakota, as he addressed his men before a battle. I looked into it and it turns out that the actual phrase, "nake nula waun", is better translated to mean "I am ready for whatever comes." That level of presence, acceptance and willingness to engage would be a worthy way to live. I don't claim to have it, yet.

Here's another phrase I repeat to myself at times: "We don't know what we don't know." There may be options yet unseen that will make a future possible. I don't dwell on that, personally, because I don't want to spend a lot of time imagining scenarios. But I allow for it.

So, fellow climate realists--see you in New York?