PROTECTING PRUITT OR THE PLANET?

PROTECTING PRUITT OR THE PLANET?

Apparently this question is a no-brainer for the current EPA administrator. If you also don’t support gun reform, you should be prudent. Perhaps, being paranoid is actually wise just in case time travel becomes possible for a really, really Green California Governor from the future to return to the present to avenge the destruction of Earth by terminating (and I don’t mean firing) Scott Pruitt.

This past week, NPR asked an environmental analyst what is Pruitt’s most egregious action. He didn’t know which to pick first. On the policy front, I can’t decide between the recent proposed rollback of regulations to cut planet-threatening vehicle emissions or on-going efforts to overturn the Clean Power Plan. Among his security obsessions, I put the bulletproof vehicle second to the installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for Pruitt’s office. Makes you wonder who he is talking to.

This past week, PBS’ Nova series premiered “Decoding the Weather Machine.” One segment focused on evangelical meteorologist Paul Douglas on how Faith and climate science are not at odds. Of course, he’s from Minnesota not Oklahoma so what does he know about the weather. The show did reflect on Hope as well and that’s what I offer this Earth Day.

UEC Book CoverEarlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet Ken Leinbach who has grown Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center into a national demonstration of using environmental education as a tool for inspiring urban revitalization. Ken’s new book, Urban Ecology: A Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities and the World, shares the stories and the impact of its model. If EPA continues to exist, may be a future EPA Administrator is learning to love nature today at one of the Center’s three community-based sites. Makes you wonder about Scott’s childhood.

Among all of President Trump’s court proceedings, he may want to mark in his calendar October 29, 2018 as the first day of trial in the landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. government. Juliana v. U.S. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015. Their case is simple:

“Our government has known about the dangers of climate change for more than fifty years. Despite that knowledge, the United States has continued to pursue reckless and dangerous fossil fuel development, harming the health of our communities and threatening our futures.”  

They’re talking to you, Scott Pruitt. Can’t wait to hear your testimony.

Trial of the CenturyLed by Our Children’s Trust, this youth-driven, global climate recovery campaign is striving to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere. A fitting complement to youth-driven, gun reform campaigns that Congress continues to ignore, suing the government for malpractice and malfeasance certainly is overdue.

Their demand is an appropriate Earth Day wish: “We want a federal Climate Recovery Plan that is in line with both the best available science and climate justice.” Shouldn’t we all? Before Pruitt repeals Earth Day 2019.

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MIXING OIL & WATER NOT GREAT FOR LOUISIANA NOR THE GREAT LAKES

MIXING OIL & WATER NOT GREAT FOR LOUISIANA NOR THE GREAT LAKES

Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.” – Al Gore, Founder & Chairman,The Climate Reality Project, 09/09/2016

Six months after Al Gore’s comments on the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, I had the chance to see An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power. A clear case for why we must all “Still be In!”

I saw the film at the closing of the 7th annual One Earth Film Festival, which is the Midwest’s premier environmental film festival, creating opportunities for understanding climate change, sustainability and the power of human involvement. OEFF LogoAfter more than 30 award-winning films at over 50 screenings, facilitators trained in the Technology of Participation [ToP]® methods developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA-USA] engaged attendees with expert panelists in conversations not only about the films but also on how to connect with meaningful local action.

After the SpillICA’s GreenRise in Chicago’s Uptown community hosted the film “After the Spill.” When the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded in 2010, it spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst ecological disaster in North American history. Louisiana’s coast continues to suffer the consequences today.

As if the film wasn’t scary enough, the post-film panel, facilitated by ICA’s Program Coordinator Samantha Sainsbury included: Bill Latka, founder of Oil and Water Don’t Mix; Nathaniel Miller, Director of Conservation at Audubon Great Lakes; and Matt Edgington, Manager of Mag Mile Patagonia. From them I learned that some of my favorite vacation spots along the west coast of Michigan have been under an OIL THREAT and the State of Michigan is faced with an imminent decision to protect the Great Lakes from the Oil Industry’s “Inconvenient Greed.”

Every day, nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids flow through Enbridge’s “Line 5,” a pair of aging pipelines just west of the Mackinac Bridge. line-5-mapLine 5, which starts in Superior, Wisconsin and splits into two pipes as it cuts through the Mackinac Straits on its way to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Enbridge has been using publicly-owned lakebed at the Straits as a conduit for its shipments of oil and gas underneath the Straits under a 65-year-old easement granted by the state on the condition that the company operates prudently.

What Worry? Line 5 has failed 29 times since 1968, spilling at least 1.13 million gallons of oil. Repeated disclosures of shoddy maintenance, structural flaws in the pipelines and concealment of critical information from state officials demonstrate Enbridge is not acting prudently. There are at least 48 bare metal spots and/or coating gaps near the 128 total anchor locations on Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac.

These decaying pipes threaten the drinking water supply for 5 million Michigan residents and the “Pure Michigan” economy. FYI, the Great Lakes contain 20% of the world’s fresh surface water and are the drinking water source for over 40 million people.

Advocates such as FLOW [For Love of Water] insist “This is the Moment” for the State of Michigan to evict Enbridge from the Mackinac Straits and shut down Line 5 because of the danger its oil pipelines pose to the Great Lakes. The State of Michigan must make a final decision to replace the pipelines or to shut it down by August 15, 2018.

University of Michigan studies call the Mackinac Straits the “worst possible place” for a Great Lakes oil spill, which could pollute up to 720 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Under the best conditions, only 30% of an oil spill would be recovered.

This March, we lost another Champion for Justice: Bob Rafos.

Rafos

Bob Rafos presenting a $25,000 check to CEO of Save the Children Canada

Completing three years this month as CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) & the Ecumenical Institute, I recall the pleasure of Bob’s guidance as a board director. I was already booked on a flight to visit him in Toronto when we learned he had completed his life at the age of 82. I missed the opportunity for another partaking of his wisdom.

 

At his last face-to-face ICA-USA board meeting on September 18, 2016, Bob offered this closing reflection that continues to ring true and merits our embrace:

“We are facing the greatest threat of our time: Climate Change. Our role now is as it was before:
• Be a source of awakenment.
• Sound the call to commitment; and
• Demonstrate what is possible.”

Awaken, Sound the Call, Demonstrate… those are all germane verbs for moving people whether its Marching for Our Lives for real change in gun laws or speaking truth to power to assure that we stop Mixing Oil & Water. Thanks for the call Bob.

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

REBUILDING COMMUNITIES REMAINS THE ANTIDOTE

“If President-elect Trump has his way, we will be standing still on a melting planet. Are we really going to let that happen?” — Sigourney Weaver, Years of Living Dangerously, National Geographic Channel

I finally found time to watch YLD’s season closing episode, “UPRISING,” which weaved Weaver’s exploration of China’s explosive economic growth and its impact on the waukegan-coal-plantenvironment, not only locally but on a massive global scale with America Ferrera’s visit to Waukegan, Illinois. There a still-functioning coal plant, owned by NRG, is creating tension between the community leaders who want to shut it down for the sake of their health and those, including the mayor, who want to keep it open for the jobs. Together the stories connected how climate action requires global attention but must start with local steps.

For over 40 years, SHELTERFORCE has covered the work of practitioners, advocates, and activists for social justice and community development. Some of my November U2Cando blog and some of this month’s blog were posted December 22nd on its ROOFLINES blog website under the title: “You’ve Seen This Movie Before. You Know What to Do.”

I shared how hearing Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, on November 9th served me well as a post-election group therapy. I recalled how his remarks generated flashback memories to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta, who spoke truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the Reagan years of deregulation for profits. Yes, the Reagan Years: when the early days of the Community Reinvestment Act were intentionally stifled; when a promising national investigation and organizing campaign on insurance redlining was suppressed by cancelling one of the final contracts of the Carter Administration.

But then I shared how my community development career started when Nixon was President. Yes, the Nixon Years: when redlining was prevalent as “wise” investing for cities-destroyed-for-cashprofit; when under the watch of HUD Secretary George Romney (yes, Mitt’s dad) Cities Destroyed for Cash was the outcome. That is the title of the 1973 book by journalist Brian Boyer, which documented how the federal government itself had become the predatory lender that fueled redlining and the withdrawal of private capital from America’s communities. I’ll refrain from reminding us about the George W Years; except to observe that our communities are still hemorrhaging from an economy destroyed by greed.

Yes, we have seen this new Trump movie before. But I don’t remember the CEO of Exxon Mobil being cast as Secretary of State. Personally, I prefer CBS’ Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni. Her TV experience is better than the President-Elect. She’s been saving the world; not firing people.

The reality of the current previews for the Trump Years is that this is shaping up to be one of those horror movie sequels with more violence and blood than the earlier ones in the franchise. There is a reason to be scared, horrified in fact. But we cannot retreat.

Thanks to an obstructionist Congress eight years after Wall Street crashed our economy and devastated our communities, government officials still can’t figure out how to employ community residents in rebuilding their own neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant foreclosed homes at affordable prices. The potential for green jobs was never really pursued when the demand for residential energy-efficiency was minimized by a Bush-appointee’s blockage of an innovative financing tool, Property Assessed Clean Energy [PACE]. The expansion of solar has been curtailed by public utilities duplicitously working to negate its expansion for residential, commercial and publicly-owned properties; all of which are significant job creating markets.

Our best recourse is to re-engage with our municipal governments to further locally-generated solutions. We must advance the rebuilding of our communities as a core economic strategy to create jobs and assure affordable housing to raise families. It is the antidote to the current plague of hatred. It remains the healing cure for a just and equitable society. We must persevere at the community level, at our roots.

America Ferrera concludes her segment on THE COAL WARS observing:

“The fight against climate change and the transition to clean energy is messy and difficult. But there is so much to be hopeful about. Ordinary people in Waukegan are doing what they can to take on climate change in their corner of the world.”

That’s a theme we should all consider for our New Year’s resolution for 2017 action in our corners of the world.

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

LIVING DANGEROUSLY

“Today, I am as optimistic and resolved as ever that we will solve the climate crisis. Our collective efforts are dependent not on politics or ideology — or elections — but on our commitment to each other, to the health of our planet and to a sustainable future for all…. Now, more than ever, our planet needs us — and I’m inspired by the knowledge that we’ll take the path forward together.”
Al Gore, Founder & Chairman, The Climate Reality Project, November 09, 2016 24hours-logo

The last presidential candidate who won the popular vote only to lose the Electoral College went on to use his free time to give us “The Inconvenient Truth.” Perhaps, it is now obvious to Hillary Clinton she should have made this year’s election about climate change.

Turns out I had pre-booked my post-election group therapy by getting tickets with other colleagues of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]-USA to hear Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org. I’m sure all in the audience were looking forward to hearing about all the progress on climate action that was awaiting us over the next four years. While McKibben shared the audience’s frustrations, he inspired me with his story telling on how 350.org was founded.

In 2008, 350.org began with six Middlebury college students of McKibben’s. One of the first environmental organizations to use a website as its moniker, 350 signifies the 350-vs-400concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million (ppm) that the atmosphere can safely hold without changing our climate. Too bad for us, we are currently around 400ppm.

The group first focused on an International Day of Climate Action to encourage the world’s most widespread day of political action reporting 5,245 actions in 181 countries on Saturday October 24, 2009. This resonated with me for several reasons.

First, college students sparking this initiative shows the strength of service learning projects such as ICA’s Accelerate77 convening the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network. Second, the breadth of the international engagement challenges ICA to collaborate with our ICA-International colleagues to commemorate in 2017 the 40th anniversary of ICA’s “Band of 24”which created human development projects in all 24 time zones across the globe.

Then there is the flashback memory to my organizing roots with Gale Cincotta speaking truth to the imperative of Reclaiming America from big oil and big banks in the early Reagan years of deregulation for profits.

McKibben outlined the arguments for divestment in 2012, when he boiled down the future of the fossil fuel industry to simple arithmetic – companies own at least four times more fossil fuel reserves than we can safely burn, so it must stay in the ground, so the reserves and the companies are overvalued when these become “stranded assets.” Not a good long-term investment.

Divestment movements continue to spread on campuses across America. 350.org’s fossil fuel divestment campaign is shifting money faster than any divestment movement before it. Now it’s time for local governments to enter the fray and protect the future of our citizens.

If you’re looking this fall for real “reality TV,” check out season two of Years of Living Dangerously, airing on Nation Geographic Channel. In the October 30th opening episode, BLOCKING THE SUN, “Saturday Night Live” cast member Cecily Strong traveled to Florida and Nevada to investigate what’s blocking the growth of solar energy in the U.S. I know it’s shocking to discover it’s our publicly regulated utility companies.

On the good news side, Florida voters in the “Sunshine State” rejected on November 8th, a misleading utility-backed campaign promoting a referendum as protecting consumers and encouraging solar. Their promotional materials did not include an explanation that the amendment would open the door to new fees and costs to rooftop solar users. As Cecily’s interviews captured, solar industry advocates argued that instead of expanding rooftop solar generation, the amendment had the potential to make it less economically viable and limit its expansion. So the battle will continue for more solar in the Sunshine State.

But as other episodes on Years of Living Dangerously document local battles abound. David Letterman’s trip to India —soon to be the world’s most populous but with 300 million people living in rural villages without power – focused on India’s dilemma of using dirty fossils fuels like coal or leading the way with the renewable energy.

central-valley-caIn California, the worst drought in 1,200 years is devastating the nation’s most populous state and the world’s seventh-largest economy. A global water crisis is forcing family farmers off their land in the parched Central Valley and threatening our food supply.

In the remote corners of the African Sahel, migrants are being forced to make the deadly trip across the Mediterranean as “climate refugees.” senegal_ricci_shryock-111-1024x683

“We have a choice, we can build walls or we can build gardens. If we don’t help people build gardens here in Africa, they’re going to come right over our wall,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

Perhaps, the President-Elect can find the time to watch a few episodes and learn how all this is connected and why climate action is an imperative. Otherwise, we all will be living dangerously over the next four years.

ENGAGING CITIZENS 40 YEARS AGO

ENGAGING CITIZENS 40 YEARS AGO

“Town Meetings in ’76 are where I learned program organization skills and the power of group participation. The explosion of spirit always happened when the new song was sung and the new story of the community-past, present and future-was read.” – OliveAnn Slotta

town-meetingsIn 1976, the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) launched a Bicentennial Commission approved initiative to convene Town Meetings in 5,000 counties across the US, creating one of the most comprehensive data sets of community challenges, aspirations, and proposals. Many of those original documents are in ICA’s extensive archives.

This past year our Archive Team with Dominican University Library Science graduate students explored the community challenges and project proposals that were developed in nine states as a result of ICA Town Meetings. I first found the results surprising but then remembered that this was the post-Watergate Presidential Election Year. What I find disturbing is how relevant these findings are for today’s politics and Presidential Election Year.

Finding #1 from Town Meetings during America’s Bicentennial was the gap between government and citizens fostered by poor communication between citizens & government.

Finding #2 from 40 years ago was the lack of citizen and community involvement and the extensiveness of public apathy.

Finding #3 was no appreciation for diversity amidst racism.

Finding #4 was the challenge of planning for long-term development when confronted with few public services, aging infrastructure, loss of resources, and not enough jobs.

OliveAnn Slotta worked on Town Meetings from ICA offices in Cincinnati and Cleveland. As she reflects above, the experience of engaging citizens to identify challenges that their communities face and to build consensus on action for solutions can be powerful. It is also essential to the spirit of our democracy if we are to trust government to represent its citizens.

OliveAnn now lives in Denver and teaches at Metro State University. With her husband Jim and other ICA colleagues, she is working to Accelerate Climate Action there.

“Now in Denver, it feels like deja vu. We are eliciting agency resource support, and telling the story of possibility that happens when local people join together to share visions and plan, to anyone who will listen,” reflects OliveAnn. “The major difference this time is that we are working with an experienced team of ICA and ToP facilitators, and Climate Action is an urgent message that everyone recognizes. We are expecting 50 representative participants on October 22nd at the Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods [CHUN] Community Hall. No red, white and blue balloons this time—but maybe some green and blue ones.”

Yet this urgent message of Climate Action is missing from our current political discourse. Climate Change is not a Chinese hoax. It is a Chinese calamity when air pollution is killing about 4,400 people in China every single day.

childrens-trustCurrently, a landmark US constitutional climate change lawsuit is pending a ruling thanks to twenty-one youth from across the United States, age 8 to 19, and Our Children’s Trust who filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit in 2015 against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Check out their website and sign the petition in their support.

Perhaps, it’s time to be even more direct and personal by starting to sue climate-denier elected politicians for “political malpractice.”

bob-sandra-rafos

Bob & Sandra Rafos

At ICA’s Board meeting on September 18th, Bob Rafos (who will be terming out as a director at the end of this year) was asked to offer the Closing Reflection: “We are facing the greatest threat of our time: Climate Change. This is our one mission. Our role now is as it was before:

  • Be a source of awakenment.
  • Sound the call to commitment; and
  • Demonstrate what is possible.

Using ICA’s GreenRise building as a symbol of service and sustainability, we must outreach to others working on climate action.”

That’s what we must do at ICA to fulfill our mission to “build a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth.” That’s what we all must do to engage as US citizens.

Climate Action cannot wait for the 2020 Elections.

RETURNING TO A SUPERIOR LAKE

RETURNING TO A SUPERIOR LAKE

It’s been two years since we were last in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Here on the shore of Lake SuperiorUP Beach I was inspired then to start blogging. After blogging weekly for a year and then monthly for another year, this is my 2nd year anniversary of sharing my perspectives thru U2Cando!

It’s only fitting to be drafting this 64th blog here in Grand Marais as I look out at a calm lake this sunny morning before starting the journey home. Another good vacation but one I’m not yet ready to end. Can’t help but think what it would be like to spend two months up here in the UP [preferably September & October not January & February].

Writing and reading before a mid-morning beach walk. Deciding over lunch where to hike or kayak in the afternoon.UP red sunset Starting dinner in time to be done for sunset on the deck and finally hoping it will be clear enough for a plethora of stars as it was last night.

Now you may understand with that daily schedule why I’m hesitant to start loading the car and would rather grab the latest Daniel Silva thriller and head out to the deck instead. Perhaps there may be time at least for a short beach walk before departure.

Two years ago I wasn’t even thinking about climate change; now Lake Superior is my safe haven. I now prefer sweatshirt weather in the UP to worrying if Chicago’s heat may send me to the ER a third time. The lake and the wind were too cold this trip to even consider a “Superior” swim however short.

I did get some quality “dog time” these five days with Minnie & BowWow. They are the resident philosophers of my inspiration blogger Jan, who was blogging daily two years ago when we visited. Now she is an award winning blogger and still an inspiration.

Au Sable LighthouseYes, there was a lighthouse visit as we hiked the trail to the Au Sable Lighthouse in the Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. Although we missed the National Park’s 100th Birthday Party by two days, I still tweeted congrats on job well done in saving our national treasures.

I know where I will hopefully be a year from now. Not sure when we’ll be returning to the UP but even if it’s another two years, I’ll look forward to this as a “Superior” memory to relive.

May your voyage be a safe one, well lit and with the wind at your back.

 

AWAKENING THE FORCE… To Save the Planet, Act Must We

Yes, there is evil in the galaxies. But often the Empire does your organizing for you out of stupidity.

When there is dash-cam video of an African-American teenager being killed by 16 shots from a white police officer, those in charge should watch it right away and act sooner than 13 months.

When you are the Party of Lincoln, you may not want your leading presidential candidate to call for eliminating freedom of religion by banning Muslims.

When you are an administrator of a Christian college, you should reconsider disciplining your tenured African-American professor for contesting fast-spreading hatred against Muslims by wearing a hijab and stating that we all worship the same God.

Thank God for Pope Francis declaring it the Year of Mercy. God knows we need it given this past year.

Yet, 195 nations have finally agreed to curb pollution. This 32-page document outlines how countries should reduce their emissions, adapt to climate impacts and finance the low-carbon economy over the coming decades. Carbon Brief has created an interactive graphic explaining all the fundamental components of the Paris deal.

It could have been a legally binding agreement but the Obama Administration knew they wouldn’t get Congressional approval. Republican majority leader Senator Mitch McConnell has already threatened that the Paris agreement is “subject to being shredded in 13 months” if Republicans win the White House.

Some deniers can no longer ignore the obvious. Six years after the Copenhagen summit in 2009 failed due to their lack of cooperation, China had to issue a red alert during the Paris negotiations instructing their people to stay indoors because the air was too polluted to be breathed. That would go over big time here.

Earth & AfricaKofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, wrote on December 22nd about the imperative of climate justice at the core of The Grassroots of Climate Change to assure “that the promised climate finance is sufficient to enable the least-developed countries to adapt to present and future climate change.” He stresses that the entire continent of Africa is at extreme risk.

Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating the Future, observed in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) on July 28, 2015:

“Looking back over the past century, however, the world has indeed experienced sweeping social change. Those successful efforts were led not by individual organizations, but by movements. What might be possible, therefore, if socially minded organizations and businesses acted more like movements than organizations? “

There will be a new US President elected in less than a year. Changing the conversation on climate change and engaging communities for justice on multiple fronts are New Year’s resolutions that not only need to be made but also honored.

Perhaps, 2016 will awaken a global movement that unites forces pledged to justice for all. As Yoda would advise: To Save the Planet, Act Must We.