How to move forward

It is September 2020. Six months since my home has become my office, my restaurant, my movie theater, my hotel. Where my garden is where I travel. Where projects such as a new roof and new doors are my entertainment. My house is my museum – at 104 years old – the wood used to construct her – old growth Douglas Fir – is even older. My house tells stories I still don’t know.

My front porch is my veranda, lanai, balcony. The sounds of I-5, only a few blocks away, conjure fantasies of oceanside surf. A white noise that comes and goes as the wind changes. My visitors are Stellar’s Jays, Crows, Chickadees, Anna Hummingbirds, Juncos, and nuthatches. Each morning, when the air quality is good, I sit with my betrothed and watch our wild world. One special day, two weeks ago, we were stunned by a Cooper’s Hawk who whisked down to try to snatch a squirrel eating a peanut on top of our neighbor’s fence. The squirrel’s instinct to move kicked-in a millisecond before the hawk’s claws came near him. On that day, we also saw an errant Scrub Jay, a southern relative of our regular Stellar’s Jay. My husband, also a scientist, determined it was a possible refugee from the fires in California and Oregon.

Climate refugees, those creatures who are able to move to another geographic location far from their traditional range to find livable habitat. This is my definition. On the West coast of the U.S. I wonder if we will see an influx of human climate refugees in the coming years. But how do we tell if they are in fact climate refugees? Unlike our non-human co-habitants of planet Earth, we created things like air conditioning to help us to adapt in otherwise uninhabitable places like Phoenix Arizona. Of course, our indigenous brothers and sisters managed to live in these arid places, but that was because they moved with the seasons and their populations were much smaller. Now, as our human populations continue to rise in areas whose resources are not meant to naturally support such large numbers of consumers, we see the struggle between consumer groups – such as farmers versus everyday citizens versus endangered species for water rights. Today, right now, we see how the negative influence of the human activity of burning fossil fuels have wreaked havoc on natural climate cycles making the storms more intense. Hurricanes and fire storms are out of our control. This is hard for some humans to comprehend. As our societies have grown with the belief that humans can control nature or the natural processes of planet Earth.

The idea of living as part of a natural life cycle is not new, but it is the wave of the future. The indigenous people of our planet, those whose culture has been around for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years, know these cycles of Earth cannot be controlled. I am not going to give an eco-anthropology lecture or whatever the discipline is called that looks at how current and past indigenous cultures live as part of these natural cycles. No, what I want to share are my thoughts on how we can use or mold the current societal system we have in place to help our species live more in concert with these natural cycles.

We, as citizens of our respective countries, especially those with democratic governments, such as the U.S.A., have the power to change the systems in our country that have lead us to where we currently are: Fighting a pandemic, fighting social injustice, and fighting environmental injustice which has lead to climate catastrophes and compounds social injustices.

Get your power back. Discover your power. Your voice matters.

Yes, those sound like bumper sticker messages – I did grow up in the 1970s and 80s – where I had bumper stickers on my hot pink Vespa as I rode up and down the streets of Chicago, then San Francisco and Monterey. My favorite bumper sticker was People Not Profits – a saying still being used thirty years later.

The problem with bumper stickers is the sentiment doesn’t give you instructions on how to do that change it encourages. Such as to ensure companies put the health of people and the environment they live in over profit making. They don’t tell you how to resist – constructively. So here is my attempt at helping citizens realize the power they have to progress our society.

  1. Bring on passion! If you don’t feel passionately about a topic like racial inequity in the banking system, or greedy industries polluting our waterways and air, or promoting sustainable business practices, then you won’t have the fuel needed to do the following steps.
  2. Become Informed! This is a step most people skip. Don’t skip this step! Yes, we need passion to be the fuel for change, but don’t let it blind you from the facts. Repeat. Don’t let emotion blind you from the facts. We are seeing a lot of this right now and emotion is good at first, to kickstart or get the machine rolling, but being knowledgable about the issue, because most issues are complex, is necessary to get to the next steps and to see change.
  3. Take Action! Use your voice! Talk is easy, action is difficult. So yes, peacefully protest your passion. But ranting on social media won’t change the system. Here are some actions that will promote change.
    • VOTE!
    • Support an advocacy group (but do your research on these too – make sure their track record is creating change and not only noise).
    • Participate in government processes:
      • Write your government leaders at all levels (local, state, federal)
      • Go to public meetings
      • Know what bills are up for vote – learn the legislative process.
      • Learn the regulatory process – learn how laws are enacted (here is an informative website from the EPA – Environmental Protection Agency).
      • Create a petition and get signatures – my first petition was in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill devastated Prince William Sound Alaska – now it is even easier to get a petition circulating using Change.org.

I’ll leave you with this story. My first year of college I canvassed for Greenpeace. I saw one of those “Jobs for the Environment” signs stapled to a telephone pole and called the number. I had a work-study job, but I wanted to save the environment and I needed more money.

I didn’t know what canvassing was, I grew up in an apartment, in a low income neighborhood, a place I learned don’t get canvassed. After an introductory session, I was loaded into a van with a small group of other canvassers, and driven to a suburb of Chicago. Our goal was to get enough new members or membership renewals to get our daily quota of $60 – of which we would get $10. Going door to door in an unknown neighborhood, was not something I was excited about doing. Part of the training was to go to the houses of current members first. It was a tactic that emboldened me, after my first renewal, to go to a non-member house. I was met with a door slammed in my face after a “I won’t be alive when that happens, so I don’t care,” was yelled at me. The second time I went out canvassing I remember where we were dropped off – Gary, Indiana.

As a Chicagoan, I knew Gary Indiana was the place where the stinky, toxic air came from when the wind blew from the south/southeast. It was the place where large smoke stakes from old steel mills could be seen along the shores of Lake Michigan. I assumed that everyone I spoke with would be eager to support an organization that was looking to save their air, water and earth from pollution.

Instead of memberships that night, I received a lesson. When the door opened at the first or second house I went to, I was invited in for a cup of tea and a conversation. I was eager to tell the gentlemen, it was two white guys who greeted me, all about what Greenpeace was doing. I was sure I would get one, if not two, I assumed the second guy was visiting, new memberships. Instead, they sat me down and asked me questions like, What are you studying? What do you want to be? Now let me add, that as I thought about this moment years later, I realized how unaware or courageous I was to go into a house with two strange men.

The conversation ended with them nicely telling me that I should stay in school and get my degree. They told me that canvassing doesn’t really work to create change, mainly because the neighborhoods that get canvassed get over-canvassed. Now that I live in one of those neighborhoods in Seattle, I have learned it is called Canvassing Fatigue. Note: It has been scientifically proven that some types of canvassing have positive results. These guys were basically telling me to put my passion into something that would be more productive. And I ended up agreeing with them – I quit the job at Greenpeace. I went on to get multiple degrees and I have helped create change during my 20-years in the U.S. federal government – and by challenging friends on social media to become informed and to act.

So go out there and be the change – don’t just talk about it.

Peace.

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