12/28/2012 4:48:59 PM
I am in a group of 70 people
gathered at Three Creeks, a ranch in Big Pine, California,
located in the Owens Valley between the White Mountains overlooking Death Valley to the east and the towering Sierra Nevadas
to the west. The valley, once verdant with orchards fed with glacial runoff, is
now parched and mostly barren, its water diverted through culverts to Los Angeles. Three Creeks
is the rare oasis in this dry place. We have traveled here from across the
country and around the world, all of us involved in teaching or supporting
wilderness rites of passage and the Council Process. We range in age from 21 to
84, with most of the group in their early 30s to mid-60s. Three Creeks is the
home of Gigi Coyle and Win Phelps, friends I’ve known for 30 years who’ve
called us here to consider the questions: “What’s going on in your life?” “What
are the challenges you see?” And, “What’s calling you?”
is one of the most tuned-in and intuitively gifted people I know. She is a past
co-director of the Ojai Foundation and long-time trainer with the School of Lost Borders. When Gigi calls, I come.
We’ve been working with the four directions during our retreat. Yesterday, when
we were in the West, the direction of darkness, dreams, and decay, we heard
four impeccably researched and movingly delivered presentations on the state of
our world, focusing on water, waste, women and war. Afterwards I felt
devastated. When each person had a chance to speak, I heard myself say, “I feel
our group of 70 is completing our retreat, working with the East, the direction
of vision, spirit and renewal. We are standing in two concentric circles inside
the Heron Hut, a spiral-shaped meditation and council chamber. Those in the
inner circle are standing on the smooth earthen floor, and those of us in the
outer circle are standing atop the built-in adobe bench that rings the interior
space. In a few words, each of us offers a prayer, or declares his or her
intentions for the future. The last person to speak, at 21, is the youngest in
the group by nearly ten years. She appears reluctant to step into the circle.
When she does she moves silently to the center, sits down before the open fire
and plays with it, burning twigs and dry grass in the flames, then flicking
drops of water from a nearby bowl onto the coals, creating the occasional hiss
about five minutes she gets up and begins circling the fire, surrounded by the
tired but transfixed assemblage. I find myself worrying about the
80-somethings— the group has been standing for well over an hour. Finally the
young woman speaks, “I need your help. I don’t know what to do with what’s
coming toward us. I need you who are older to be elders. I need your wisdom and
guidance. Please help.”
On the plane homefrom
the Three Creeks gathering, the young woman’s
words come back to me. “I need you who
are older to be elders. I need your wisdom
and guidance. Please help.”
is what is being asked of Baby Boomers today. Instead of trying to prolong our
youth we should be helping young people face the burdens and responsibilities
of adulthood. And we need to work together to heal our broken world. I think of
the mentors in my life, and the gifts they gave me. Perhaps most meaningful was
the gift from my stepgrandmother, Brenda Ueland. Brenda knew how to bless. She
was the most encouraging person I ever met, seemingly interested in everything
I had to say, no matter how mundane.She made me feel bold, noble, and
full of promise and even potential greatness. She did the same for almost
everyone around her.
these seemingly hopeless times, this is what elders can do for youngers—help them
to see and remember who they are, and to find the courage and confidence to
face the future. Help them to know that their lives make a difference. And, as Brenda
put it, help them realize that “they have a star on their forehead, and their existence
cheers up the world.”
course, mentoring is a two-way street. If we start listening to our young, there’s
a bonus for elders as well. We just might get our hope back.
Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader.
Image: Chris Lyons / LindgrenSmith.com, courtesy of the School of Lost Borders.
12/13/2012 1:15:36 PM
Editor's note: This interview was originally published at NUVO
, Indianapolis, Indiana's independent alternative news source.
Paul Douglas is running against the mainstream grain in two significant ways.
One, he is Republican and acknowledges the reality of human-caused climate change. Republicans tend not to agree with the science, despite the overwhelming—97 percent— consensus among climatologists that human-created emissions are warming the planet, causing climate change—and triggering extreme weather.
For example, a Bloomberg national poll, released in early October, said that while "78 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents believe humans are warming the earth ... almost two out of three Republicans don't."
The second way the Minneapolis-based Douglas is running against the grain is that he's a broadcast meteorologist (and founder of WeatherNationTV.com), and the majority of people in his profession don't necessarily acknowledge the level at which humans are causing climate change. According to a 2011 report by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, only 53 percent of broadcast meteorologists said that human influence plays an important role in climate change—with 34 percent saying climate change is a result of human and natural causes, and only 19 percent saying it is mostly human-caused.
Douglas would place himself in the latter category, the 19 percent-ers, adding that he believes "human activities, the burning of fossil fuels and a 40 percent spike in greenhouse gases are having an impact on warming the atmosphere and the oceans—where 90 percent of the warming has gone in the last 4 decades."
Broadcast meteorologist Paul Douglas is trying to change the minds of fellow
Republicans on climate change.
Every day, we get better at connecting the dots of climate change and extreme weather. As NASA's James Hansen said in August: "The deadly European heat wave of 2003, the fiery Russian heat wave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change."
The 2012 drought that hit Indiana will very likely be connected to climate change as well, but scientists, who are conservative by nature, are still totaling up their data.
Who better than your local, trusted weathercaster to walk you through how climate change influences weather?
Lo and behold Paul Douglas. Early this year, I discovered a blog wherein he argued that Republicans were wrongheaded to ignore climate change. Here's a sample quote from this blog "... some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly 'global warming alarmists' are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed."
Later in the year, he wrote a direct message to Mitt Romney via Huffington Post, exhorting the Republican presidential candidate to acknowledge the reality of climate change, and impress upon his party the severity of our current predicament. In it, Douglas said "If Mitt Romney is genuine about his promise to 'help you and your family,' he needs to acknowledge this, and work for a solution that will solve both the economic and the climate crisis."
--- --- ---
We began our recent phone conversation by me asking Douglas what got him interested in weather in the first place:
Paul Douglas:I've been fascinated with weather from a young age. Tropical Storm Agnes flooded out my house in Lancaster, Pa., back in '72. I was a wide-eyed, 14-year-old Boy Scout. I had just taken a weather merit badge, and I was just traumatized ... [by] the weather.
Many TV meteorologists were traumatized by something as kids—a tornado, a flood, a hurricane, lightning: Something put the fear of God in them. No one in their right mind, I think, sets out to be a television meteorologist. But I just fell in love with weather at the age of about 14, went to Penn State and got a degree in meteorology. ...
When did you begin to take note of climate change?
All of us have different thresholds for when you acknowledge the science. For me it was when James Hansen went before Congress in 1988. I thought he was jumping the gun. I didn't see it. But after living the weather ... and that's what any meteorologist does: you live the weather ... I just noticed in the mid and late '90s that something had changed.
It was no longer my grandfather's weather. The rain was falling with greater ferocity. We were seeing more extremes with greater frequency and greater intensity than I had ever witnessed in my career. So I started digging into the peer-reviewed science and basically came to the conclusion that climate scientists were probably right, that there's just too much evidence.
I come from a long line of foresters in Germany. My grandfather, my great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather were all state foresters in Germany. Maybe it's in my scouting career. I don't take the environment for granted. We are a part of nature. I don't see anywhere in the Bible where it says that we're supposed to dominate nature.
The book of Luke says, "We are stewards and we will be accountable for our stewardship." I take that seriously. When I talk to my friends on both sides of the aisle politically I say, "We're accountable. You should care about this. If you care about your kids and your grandkids, as our parents cared for us, this is not only a scientific issue, it's a moral issue and an ethical issue."
There is something fundamentally immoral about kicking the can down the road and saying, "Well, not enough data and maybe it's real but our kids and our grandkids can clean up our mess."
Our kids are going to be pissed and I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and say, "You know what? Your old man did everything that he could to beat the drum and to let others know that this is real."
We ignore the science at our long-term peril. People say, "Ah, you're an alarmist, you're a warmist." I say, "You know, the trends are alarming and I'm reporting on the trends. You either stick your head in the sand or you can acknowledge the science."
When did you begin to actually talk about climate change as part of your job as a broadcast meteorologist?
In the late '90s I began including it in my weather statements.
Was anybody else doing it at that time?
No, no. The pervasive feeling at the time was that ... if you even mention the term global warming or climate change you will instantly alienate 30 percent of your audience and they will tune out. So, you know, it's kryptonite. My news directors at WCCO [the CBS affiliate in Minneapolis where Douglas worked until 2008] said, "As long as you focus on the science and don't try to dig into policy implications. If you're reporting on the science, and it's peer-reviewed science that you can back up."
Every day I would get scores of emails like, "Flaming liberal. You crazy crackpot. Why are you buying into this Al Gore conspiracy? You're going to cripple our economy."
It is the equivalent of sticking your finger in the electrical socket. Most of us are conditioned to avoid pain, to avoid controversy. Everybody on television wants to be loved and your contract—whether you're renewed—really depends on your ability to attract an audience. Just by reporting on this you know that you're alienating people with a certain ideology.
This science, as strong as it is, is toxic to a lot of these people who just can't or won't accept peer-reviewed science because it does not fit in with their worldview. My entire life I've voted Republican and I'm a moderate Republican, which is kind of an oxymoron these days, but I've been very moderate in my beliefs. I'm fiscally conservative, socially liberal. It was amazing to me, the feedback.
Yet you persisted.
I persisted and I continue to persist because the subject is too important. I thought it was ludicrous that this was somehow a litmus test for conservatism. I remind my Republican friends that Teddy Roosevelt, staunch Republican, founded the National Parks Service. Richard Nixon, say what you will about Dick Nixon, and I'm not a huge Nixon fan, but he started the EPA. There is a history of environmental respect, respect for the environment.
"I'm proud of having been one of the first to recognize that state and national government have a duty to protect our natural resources from the damaging effects of pollution that can accompany industrial development." You know who said that?
Ronald Reagan. July 19, 1984. Somewhere along the way the Republican Party became totally beholden to fossil fuel interests.
I'm not saying we don't take advantage of our natural resources. The message I'm trying to get out is that by fixating exclusively on fossil fuels, not only are we endangering future generations, we are endangering our competitiveness down the road. Because there is no debate about climate change in Europe or China.
They are moving forward with clean alternatives to creating energy. If we totally focus on mining and drilling and extracting every last bit of carbon at the exclusion of solar and wind and geothermal and battery technology and everything else that's out there, we are going to be crippled as a country competitively.
We will look back 20 years from now and say, "We blew it. We had a chance. This was our energy moonshot and instead of innovating, instead of doing the right thing, we were lazy. We took the easy way and now we're paying a price for it in terms of more extreme weather—drier droughts, heat waves, public health issues, a detriment for our farmers."
People say, "Well if weather systems shift north we can grow our crops in Canada." Until somebody pointed out that there is no topsoil across much of Canada. People just aren't seeing the long-term implications.
The point I'm trying to make as a jobs creator is that this is a chance to reinvent and retool America, wean ourselves off foreign oil. Mitigating climate change is going to require a level of innovation and reinvention that will propel us to a new competitive paradigm. By focusing on carbon neutral ways of generating energy and growing our GDP, we will take American exceptionalism on the world stage to a new level.
I like to think we're at a turning point: the thirst for knowledge about what is happening to the climate is growing.
It's ironic that extreme weather has accomplished what the climate scientists up until now could not. And that is convince a majority of logical, God-fearing Americans that something has changed. [According to a Yale Project on Climate Change Communication poll], four out of five people last year were personally impacted by extreme weather. ... One out of three were physically injured by severe weather [in 2011].
This weather-on-steroids environment is getting people to wake up. I keep telling people that trillions of dollars are in play. Fossil fuel companies are scared to death that they're going to be regulated out of existence or that there will be regulations that they can't drill and mine, and that will affect their share price, their stock price, and their ultimate company value.
They've already made such an investment in those areas, coal and oil, so letting it lay there doesn't seem like a good business decision.
Exactly. Did you read Bill McKibben's article in Rolling Stone? If we burn all of the remaining carbon reserves it's going to be a brand new planet.
I give people a metaphor ... that Mother Nature has picked up the DVR and put our weather on fast forward and turned the volume of extreme weather up to 11. I mean of course the weather is extreme. The weather has always been extreme but it's coming with greater velocity and greater intensity. More noise, more fury and more trauma. This is what you get when you warm up the atmosphere even a couple of degrees. You load the dice in favor of more of these extreme rains.
Are Republicans listening to you?
No. No. Frankly, to some degree I've been, not ostracized, but I think ignored. I'm OK with that. I'm going to keep speaking out, because this is too important.
What I am finding is that younger people, younger conservatives, younger evangelicals are listening. They respond to data. That's one of the first things that I say when I go out and talk. I ask people, "Do you have an open mind? Or is your mind made up and you're going to cherry-pick data to support your ideological beliefs?"
I find that for most people under the age of 35, this is an issue that they really feel will impact their lives and their kids' lives. They are paying attention.
The essence of the word conservative is 'conserve.' We've gone off track in the Republican Party by ignoring that. We are a part of nature and this meme that we are here to dominate nature—I don't know where that comes from. I don't recognize that strain of conservatism. I mentioned this in my Huffington Post article. Bill O'Reilly has his "No Spin Zone" and yet many in my party have been spinning the science, denying the science. I just don't understand it. I don't get it.
What do you visualize the world being like, 20 years from now?
I think it's going to be a lot different than it is now. There's a significant amount of warming going on in the pipeline. Even if we could somehow magically bring our greenhouse emissions down to zero, I think there's little doubt that we're going to warm at least a degree, maybe a degree and a half. I see no evidence really that we're going to take the steps necessary to mitigate greenhouse gases. I think there's going to be a huge push toward adaption. How do we survive and thrive in this warmer, drier, stormier new world?
That means everything from new drought resistant crops that can weather the extremes that I know we're going to see. Climate scientists say that this is just the tip of the iceberg. This is just the beginning from what we're seeing. Everything from huge impacts on agriculture to trying to mitigate sea-level rise and levies and storm walls.
As a businessman it's a threat and it's an opportunity and this may be one way to reach some conservatives. If you tell them, "Hey, by being obstinate, by denying the science, you are leaving money on the table. You are overlooking an incredible investment opportunity." I tell my conservative friends that in the Pentagon, insurance circles, there is no debate about the science.
If you ignore this, it's going to show up in your portfolio. You will shoot yourself in the foot with your investments. You have to stay up on the science, you have to listen to new data, otherwise you're going to watch your portfolio shrink. Is that what you want? I'm trying a couple of different ways to appeal to people who have that conservative mindset.
It's OK to be conservative and still acknowledge the science and to recognize something that Jesus taught: Actions have consequences. You can't release 90 trillion tons of greenhouse gases in 50 years according to the Department of Energy, 90 trillion hot air balloons of man-made pollution, and pretend that that's not going to have any impact.
... Sometimes I wonder, you know, is our country ready for a third party? A green party or ... I don't know.
How about the common sense party?
I think you're right. I still think most Americans are somewhere in the middle of the bell curve. Most Americans are fairly moderate. And yet our system has been hijacked by extremists at both ends of the political spectrum. It just makes me nuts that Washington does not reflect what's happening outside of the Beltway, scientifically or otherwise. The naïve optimist in me believes that this will be corrected over time.
Yet the amount of money in play right now is staggering and I do worry about what that means for representative democracy. It's too easy to listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio or to look at a blog post someone emailed you.
People need to educate themselves and not rely on what Uncle Joe says at the dinner table. There's so much information available online, but you need to be looking at peer-reviewed science. Not somebody's opinion in a blog post. Not what you heard on the local bloviating talk show in town. The data is the data and people need to be seeking out science. Not opinion.
Finally, what about Sandy?
Although you can't prove direct causation with Sandy, in my humble opinion—and that of most of the climate scientists I know—it's a case of systematic causation. We've loaded the dice in favor of more extreme storms, heat waves and drought. We've super-sized our weather ... the timing, scale and scope of the storm were extraordinary—like nothing I've ever witnessed, a hybrid of hurricane and Nor'easter that is not very well understood.
Sandy was made worse by unusually warm ocean water in the Gulf Stream, and the record melting of polar ice in September may be creating a blocking pattern in the upper atmosphere that favors major storms, especially for the eastern third of the USA—a trend in recent winters. It would have been a major storm without a hurricane in the core, but the combination of Nor'easter—powered by temperature extremes—and a hurricane—powered by warm ocean water—created a meteorological bomb that impacted a huge swath of coastline. Again, fairly unprecedented, historically. And the fact that Sandy impacted a densely populated region of the USA meant more people affected, and brought additional media attention.
Weather has always been severe, but now a warmer climate is flavoring ALL weather. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is on the rise, and Sandy was just the most recent and visible manifestation of this trend across North America, which is home to the most weather extremes in the last 30 years, a quintupling of weather disasters, according to an October report from Munich Re.
12/13/2012 10:49:48 AM
This post originally appeared at On the Commons.
In the wake of superstorm Sandy and a presidential
election in which both candidates essentially ignored climate change, it’s time
that our schools began to play their part in creating climate literate
Hurricane Sandy, and the superstorms that will follow,
are not just acts of nature—they are products of a massive theft of the
atmospheric commons shared by all life on the planet. Every dollar of profit
made by fossil fuel companies relies on polluting our shared atmosphere with
harmful greenhouse gases, stealing what belongs to us all. But if we don’t
teach students the history of the commons, they’ll have a hard time recognizing
what—and who—is responsible for today’s climate crisis.
If the commons is taught at
all in history classes, it’s likely as a passing reference to English
enclosures—the process by which lands traditionally used in common by the poor
for growing food, grazing animals, collecting firewood, and hunting game were
fenced off and turned into private property. Some textbooks may mention the
peasant riots that were a frequent response to enclosures, or specific groups
like the Diggers that resisted enclosure by tearing down fences and
reestablishing common areas. But they are buried in chapters that champion
industrial capitalism’s “progress” and “innovation.”
Some texts, like McDougal
Littell’s widely used Modern World History, skip the peasants’ resistance
entirely, choosing instead to sing the praises of enterprising wealthy
landowners: “In 1700, small farms covered England’s landscape. Wealthy
landowners, however, began buying up much of the land that village farmers had
once worked. The large landowners dramatically improved farming methods. These
innovations amounted to an agricultural revolution.”
This is a disturbing
narrative, as much for what it leaves out as for what it gets wrong. Students
could fairly assume that enclosures involved a fair exchange between “wealthy
landowners” and “village farmers,” instead of the forced evictions that removed
peasants from land that their families had worked for generations. Take the
account of Betsy Mackay, 16, when the Duke of Sutherland evicted her family in
“Our family was very reluctant to leave and stayed for some time, but the
burning party came round and set fire to our house at both ends, reducing to
ashes whatever remained within the walls. The people had to escape for their
lives, some of them losing all their clothes except what they had on their
back. The people were told they could go where they liked, provided they did
not encumber the land that was by rights their own. The people were driven away
The McDougal Littell
version of history silences the voices of the poor, who struggled for centuries
to maintain their traditional rights to subsist from common lands—rights
enshrined in 1217 in the Charter of the Forest,
the often-overlooked sister document to the Magna Carta.
Of course, this history is
not limited to land enclosures during the British agricultural revolution.
Around the world, European colonizers spent centuries violently “enclosing”
indigenous peoples’ land throughout the Americas,
India, Asia, and Africa. The Indian scholar and activist Vandana Shiva
explains why this process was a necessary aspect of colonialism:
The destruction of commons
was essential for the industrial revolution, to provide a supply of natural
resources for raw material to industry. A life-support system can be shared, it
cannot be owned as private property or exploited for private profit. The
commons, therefore, had to be privatized, and people’s sustenance base in these
commons had to be appropriated, to feed the engine of industrial progress and
The enclosure of the
commons has been called the revolution of the rich against the poor.
In the same way that world
history curriculum passes over the social and ecological consequences of land
enclosure, the current U.S.
history curriculum contributes to a larger ecological illiteracy by glossing
over the historical role of nature. When we’re not taught to understand the
intimate and fundamental connections between people and the environment in our
nation’s history, it should come as no surprise that we struggle to make these
same connections today.
One of the few places where
nature shows up in the U.S. History curriculum is with discussions of how
Native American and European concepts of landownership differed. Textbooks could
provide a valuable opportunity for students to analyze these differences.
Instead, they usually dismiss Native American notions of property as quaint and
in the end—just like the struggle of the Diggers—somewhat tragic in the grand
scheme of things.
Every textbook I’ve seen
presents the buying and selling of land as a normal—even inevitable—part of
human history. What’s missing from all accounts is the naked truth that land
inhabited and used in common by English peasants and Native Americans had to first
be stolen, before it could ever become the private property that can be bought
and sold today.
Instead, we have this
section of Prentice Hall’s America,
titled “Conflict with Native Americans”: “Although the Native Americans did
help the English through the difficult times, tensions persisted. Incidents of
violence occurred side by side with regular trade. Exchanges begun on both
sides with good intentions could become angry confrontations in a matter of
minutes through simple misunderstandings. Indeed, the failure of each group to
understand the culture of the other prevented any permanent cooperation between
the English and Native Americans.”
This is history of the
worst kind, in which a misguided attempt at “balance” results in a morally
ambiguous explanation for the dispossession and murder of millions of Native
In fact, the growth of
industrial capitalism has been predicated on the private enclosure of the
natural world. And these enclosures have always met with resistance. Students
need to learn this alternative narrative for at least two reasons. First, it
encourages critical conversation about how “economic growth” has been used to
justify the private seizure of the earth’s resources for the profits of a
few—while closing off those same resources, and decisions about how they should
be used, to the rest of us. Even more importantly, this conversation about
history can help us to see today’s environmental crises—from the loss of global
biodiversity to superstorm Sandy—for
what they really are: the culmination of hundreds of years of privatizing and
commodifying the natural world.
The private enclosure of
nature continues today; it’s just hard to see. Like the proverbial fish
surrounded by the water of the “free market,” it’s easy to assume that fossil
fuel companies have some god-given right to profit from polluting our
atmospheric commons. How are young people to recognize this atmospheric grab
when the school curriculum has erased all memory of our collective right to the
Reclaiming these commons
means fueling students’ knowledge about a past that has conveniently
disappeared. Educators did not create the climate crisis, but they have a key
role to play in alerting students to its causes—and potential solutions.
Image by audio-luci-store.it,
licensed under Creative
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