Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"People over Pipelines!"

   I'm reporting on two recent occasions when I joined protests against Spectra Energy's natural gas pipelines being constructed locally.
   On June 23 I joined the group fighting the pipeline in West Roxbury. Neighbors and environmentalists have exhausted legal recourse, but the movement is still growing. Now the cry is, "Shut it down, or the people will!"
   We gathered in bright morning sunshine in a nearby clearing. Those choosing to get arrested grouped separately for instructions. Signs ranged from "Keep it in the Ground!" to cardboard flames. Then we all marched to the construction site, located in the middle of a pretty street lined with houses. (Besides adding to climate change by providing more gas to burn, this pipeline is located very near a quarry where dynamite is blasted.) Bulldozers and concrete mixers, some ten workers and as many cops awaited us. We numbered about 90 folks. Two by two, those aiming for arrest ran past barriers to sit on the edge of the trench being dug. The paddy wagon pulled up and they were handcuffed and loaded in, all of us cheering them on.
   Once in a while the workers started pouring concrete again, but they kept having to stop, and stood around looking bewildered. The cops all acted kind of tired: this was so routine; everyone on both sides knew all the moves. I believe that the arrests that day totaled 46. My feelings were anger, pride, and gratitude at sharing in this vital effort.
  On July 18 I joined the protesters who had just spent days marching 43 miles through the towns where Spectra is installing the pipeline. We met at the State House in Boston. As we lined the street, two trucks hired by Spectra kept driving by flashing signs saying gas makes jobs. Of course we jeered them. Then we filed into the State House--all 400 of us--to rally, the Grand Staircase jammed with our shining faces. Two legislators joined the speakers, emphasizing that even our Attorney General says "we don't need this gas."
   Especially targeted was the pipeline tax. Unbelievably, taxpayers are expected to pay for the construction, in a fee added to their electric bills.
   After the rally, delegates visited legislators' offices, and then all of us headed towards Gov. Baker's office. As we often chant, "This is what democracy looks like."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality: On Care for our Common Home
Pope Francis, 2015
Introduction by Naomi Oreskes    Melville House   151 pages

For this proud Unitarian and passionate environmentalist, Pope Francis' plea is beautiful. Brave and brilliant, it illumines the path we are on and where we must go with loving eloquence. He sees the truth and dares to tell it, with never a touch of either condescension or doubt.
In her introduction, Harvard Professor of the History of Science Naomi Oreskes, best known for Merchants of Doubt, her scathing book equating the tobacco and oil industries, compares this Encyclical to Uncle Tom's Cabin and Silent Spring, similar "calls to action," She summarizes his "two lines of thought" as mutual responsibility and denunciation of market fundamentalism.
In his Preface, Pope Francis calls for "a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet." Mother Earth "cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her."
In the subsequent six chapters, he covers pollution (our "throwaway culture"), destruction of forests and oceans, the rupture of social cohesion, unlimited growth ("based on the lie that Earth's goods are infinite"), our technical paradigm ("cult of unlimited human power"), and "a consumerist view of human beings," all while denouncing our "spiral of self-destruction." Throughout, he equates care of creation with care and respect for the poor, who are exploited by the same consumerist mindset.
Admittedly, he slips in a few references to embryos, which will annoy some people. But this is a call to action addressed to the entire human race, and as such avoids a Catholic focus. This wonderful Pope, both hard-hitting and gentle, is the visionary leader many of us have hungered for.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Social Conquest of Earth mini book review

The Social Conquest of Earth mini book review


Edward O. Wilson 297 pages

Liverright Co., W.W. Norton 2012

This book succeeded in changing the way I look at human beings. Wilson develops an argument that we are basically group creatures. We’re wired to function in and through groups, not like wolves for example, in packs, but like ants in their nests. We act to favor our group more often than our individual selves. Yet there is always this conflict between self-interest and group benefit.

The six sections of the book range from mesmerizing to humdrum, depending on how interested you are in insects. The first one hundred pages covering human evolution are brilliant and exciting. Wilson has a unique angle on our development, from chimps and Neanderthals through tribalism and teams, tools and fire through villages and agriculture. He makes persuasive use of new insights from DNA studies.

Unfortunately, the middle of the book gets bogged down by his passion for ants. He posits that ants invented what he calls “eusociality,” generations organized into groups through division of labor. Their fortified nests enable some members to stay home with young, and others to venture forth for food for all. I advise skimming for the second one hundred pages.

Wilson returns on page 191 to answer the question, “What is human nature?” He looks at gene-culture cooevolution, longterm memory, the origins of language, and crucial collaboration. He tackles the origins of morality and honor, religion, and art. He comes to the sweet conclusion that, if we can only stop destroying it, “Earth can be turned into a permanent paradise.”

Wilson writes lucidly with a fiery intelligence. He deserves his vaunted reputation.



Thursday, August 29, 2013

mini review: EAARTH: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben

St Martin's Griffin, New York 2010, 219 pages

This book takes a daring leap. Bill McKibben steps out beyond the warnings we're getting all the time now, documents the damage already irrevocably done to our planet, and presents us with a vivid, compelling picture of the revolutionary way of life we must choose.

We no longer live on the Earth we were born into, McKibben says, but on a transformed, more hostile planet he calls Eaarth. In this new world, with its "spooky, erratic climate," it's too late to repair the damage. "We don't know how to refreeze the Artic or regrow a rain forest."

McKibben wants us to "break the growth habit," jettison our consumer ways, and downsize to "a different kind of civilization." Then he shows us how.

The second half of Earth is a compelling, sometimes thrilling, evocation of the future he believes we'll have the smarts to accept. It's already happening in places like his beloved Vermont: we are treated to charming vignettes, including his village diner, farmer's markets, small farms, neighborhood self-reliance, and "community-supported energy." The world that comes next will be one of "dispersed and localized societies that can survive the damage."

The premise of Eaarth is that rather than continuing to tumble wildly into oil and coal induced disaster,"we might choose instead to manage our descent."

McKibben's style has a folksy, "gosh darn" tone that makes his arguments easy to follow, but does not hide his incredible guts or scalpel intelligence. He is a great leader. Let's go where he's taking us.
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McKibben's next book is on the verge of appearing. The title is Oil and Honey. I can't wait.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Bridge at the Edge of the World book review

The Bridge at the Edge of the World:
Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability

By James Gustave Speth Yale University Press 2008 237 pages

Thesis: “The planet cannot sustain capitalism as we know it.”

This is a brave and brilliant book. Not only does Speth cover the broadest consequences of environmental destruction, he attacks consumer capitalism as the culprit. Then he goes on to specifics about its successor, “post-growth society.” In addition, he has woven into each of his arguments the points of other authors, bolstering his thrust with their input. The result is a compendium of dozens of great minds. It’s an exciting, uplifting, in your face experience for any grateful reader who cares about the future.

The twelve chapters and three parts are heavily weighted in favor of solutions. He’s not kind to current environmental groups, which he deems too timid and too limited. “Working within the system will not succeed when what is needed is transformative change of the system itself.” What he’s after is a change of consciousness, and he details the steps required.

“The capitalist economy is inherently a growth economy,” Speth points out, and “growth is the enemy of environment.” But, he argues, we can make the market work for the environment. Among forces for this are: shifting taxes, incorporating environmental cost in product price, dismantling damaging subsidies, and using a true measure for economic welfare. He favors “ecological economics,” wherein “sustainability is defined in terms of not exceeding assimilative and regenerative capacities.” He calls for recognizing “the real sources of human well-being,” including more leisure time, job security, health and retirement benefits, consumer protection, progressive taxation, and a huge investment in education.

Further, Speth contends, it’s essential to abandon our “growth fetish” and our addiction to consumption, and to completely transform the corporation. “Corporations are capitalism’s most important institutions,” he says, and “profoundly dangerous.” For one thing, they are “unaccountable”—there are no restrictions on them. He sees “corporate greening” as a solution, requiring government action. Most important is changing the legal mandate requiring corporations to pursue their own self interest and shareholder primacy. Corporations need a “public purpose.”

Speth wants to see capitalism evolving, to “recover the security and integration of pre-modern societies.”

Heady stuff!

Yes, Speth wants nothing less than “a new consciousness,” a “new politics,” and “a reorientation of values.”

A real and effective environmental movement will expand its agenda to fight the consumer commercial lifestyle, challenge corporations, stress human rights, and oppose inequality—via grassroots politics. Let’s, says Speth, have an Environmental Revolution!

I find this book so exciting because it charts a course through what I’ve been feeling, thinking, and experiencing over some years. My only reservation comes from the question: how can a movement that touts as its major principle the Golden Rule, take on the entrenched interests of corporate capitalism, the “American Way Of Life?” Isn’t such a view just Utopian? Speth’s reply is that business as usual is the real Utopian delusion.





Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Goodbye to Occupy

I visited Occupy Boston twice. The first time, a few weeks after it began, the weather was warm and there had been heavy rains. But there were sturdy paths of cardboard and wood between the tents. I wandered around, and the guy manning the Medic Tent invited me to sit down while we chatted. As we talked, someone came by to ask, "Do you know where the Spirittual Tent is?" and was directed there. Everyone I met was friendly and welcoming, glad I was there, but casual too. The atmosphere both times was open, amiable, comfortable. There was no question of bad smells or litter. I counted about 120 tents.


My second visit was in December, just days before the group was evicted (none of us knew that at the time). I went to the Library Tent to donate my novels. It was very large, lined with books on every side, shelves all labeled. The guy in charge suggested I inscribe the books to Occupy Boston, "so that later people will see that and you'll make history." He told me about a troublemaker who'd been bothering people, and complained that the police refused to stop him . At this point the City had prevented the delivery of a sink and a winterized tent, clearly pressuring the protesters to leave. The City wouldn't even allow them to bring in a port-a-potty (which they paid for); so for bathrooms the group had to cross two busy streets to South Station.

But the same friendly, welcoming atmosphere prevailed. I was so proud of those people, proud they are Americans. In the end, I was proud of Mayor Menino too. Although I can't forgive him forbidding the port-a-potty, in general I think he handled the situation with respect and constraint.

To all those courageous protesters, wherever you are: I salute you and urge you on. You inspired us and changed the dialog in this country. You are pioneers in bold and refreshing directions. I am grateful to believe you represent my America.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

More About Snow

In Boston this winter we've had huge, amazing quantities of snow. Lots of people are continuously complaining about it. I myself, though sometimes inconvenienced, have been enjoying it. I loved the first blast, observed from inside my cozy home. The wind was so fierce, it drove the snow sideways. We had a nice fire going, and drank mulled wine.

Ignoring my car the next day, I let it repose under its white blanket while I made my way in warm boots to the busstop. On the bus I observe the streets with new eyes, and enjoy the many types getting on and off. In subsequent weeks, as the snow descended again and again, I did my grocery shopping in the neighborhood. I made do at times by raiding my own pantry and coming up with inventive recipes. I fed the birds and squirrels who visit my back deck, and bought fresh flowers for my living room.

Now mid-February brings longer days and stronger sunlight. My city is still piled everywhere with snow, dirtier by the day as it slowly melts. There's a touch of spring in the air. Aren't you glad you don't live in boring Florida?