Sunday, June 30, 2013


Every once in a while, I want to write about something less shiny and happy than recipes, crafts and gardening. Every once in a while, I feel we must look out of our own little cocoon into the world. Many of us in the wider homesteading and sustainable living communities know why we make the choices we make, we know what we believe in, and we know what science and our own personal convictions tell us is the best course of action. 
Sadly, our private actions, good and wholesome as they may be, no longer suffice to have meaningful impact. That's why every once in a while, we must break out of our comfort zone. We must face the news, we must deal with what is going on in the bigger world around us. And then decide if we should take more outward-facing action than our natural inclination might suggest. 

For those reasons, I'm going to try and give you my thoughts on President Obama's big (and only) climate change speech. In the few days since, we've seen a (very) little bit of mainstream media attention, and some fallout and reactions from different interest groups and parties. I think it deserves some more discussion and attention, though, so here we go....

I'll backtrack a bit, with a personal account of me and my children attending a vigil to end climate silence, in October 2012. We were protesting the fact that climate change was not discussed in any of the debates of the presidential election cycle, a first since 1984. We were encouraging the Senate candidates in my home state to pick up the slack and get talking!
You probably remember a different, but related, event that took place in October 2012. Superstorm Sandy was hitting us then, and was hitting us hard. In almost beautiful irony, the vigil was cut short because the conditions in downtown Boston became unsafe for us to continue. 
I will never forget when I was there - without the kids that time - on October 28th. Bill McKibben was scheduled to arrive. Shortly before him, the presidential candidate for the Green Party, Dr. Jill Stein, was giving an address. The weather was ominous, with heavy gusts of wind and rain. An eerie, early darkness. A news van pulled up. Surely, I thought, in my state of hopeful delusion, they were here for Bill McKibben?  Or Dr. Stein? Of course I couldn't have been more wrong. They were here to film the weather! We briefly staged a bit of a riot, chanting and marching peacefully towards the cameras and bright spotlights. We were told in no uncertain terms that we were not going to be of interest to the news crew. 

The vigil ended prematurely, the storm didn't seem to end, and on some of my local running routes, I still see the damage it has left in its wake. Some said at the time that Sandy helped re-elect President Obama, and they might be correct. Shortly after Sandy caused so much devastation in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg gave the President his coveted endorsement, citing the need to fight climate change as his chief reason

Fast forward a few months. What has Mayor Bloomberg gotten for his endorsement? What have we all gotten for our votes? The speech this Tuesday was the first time the President has fully addressed the issue. The reactions are mixed, unsurprisingly.

From my perspective, the single largest issue currently up for grabs is the permitting situation of the Keystone XL pipeline. President Obama very intentionally left himself a lot of wiggle room when he said 'only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution' would he allow it to proceed. Sounds nice (and of course the State Department's report suggests exactly that) but really, this is no longer an open question. Bill McKibbens year-old article in the Rolling Stone was one of the most forwarded article of our time. Some of the most eminent scientists in the country have expressed their opinion to the President. The largest environmental rally in the US, ever, happened this past February to protest KXL. The pipeline would disproportionally affect the native nations, who have spoken out in unity against it. TransCanada's abuse of eminent domain to acquire the land at the cost of family farms was rampant, and in many cases heartbreaking. 
This horse is dead, as far as I'm concerned. But just for the fun of it, I'm linking you to this old article from Fox News (yes! you read that right!), dating back to a time when Obama didn't sign the permit for the next leg of the pipeline, because he felt the Republican-imposed deadline was not going to allow for sufficient environmental review. 

KXL is the issue I have been following most closely, but beyond it, environmental groups have taken offense to the repeated statements of support for fracking. Is the President unaware that one of our many looming crises is a water crisis? Many, like me, were unhappy with the apparent lack of urgency (again, refer to the Rolling Stone article), and the continuing 'all of the above' energy strategy using fossil fuels and nuclear power generation (which I personally see only as an emergency solution to bridge a gap to full viability of truly clean energy).

To be sure, not everyone is so downcast about the proposals in the speech. Here's a nobel-prize winning economist sounding rather upbeat, in particular about the prospect of using executive powers to circumvent a hostile congress. This inspires the hope that President Obama will actually execute some of what he proposes, and that's a very good thing, probably the only way to get anything 'green' done at this point. At the same time, it reminds me just how broken our democracy really is.

Maybe most troubling to me personally, though, is the continued pressure for growth, growth, growth, and the keeping up of the pretense that it is possible for us all to grow exponentially in number, consumption, pollution, production, on a finite planet. It's time for a truly new economy. And truly new metrics for 'success' in a carbon-neutral world. But that's a matter for a whole another post, or a few. It's late, now, and I think this is my longest post to date. So I'll close with agreeing with the president on one thing:

"The question is not whether we need to act.

I think the 'we' in this statement may actually refer to his constituency for once. You and me. Let's act

Small Footprint Fridays - A sustainable living link-up


  1. I couldn't agree more! I heard Bill McKibben speak last year and I have to say it depressed and discouraged me to really look at what was going on (or wasn't) in our country in particular.
    Thank you for protesting and keeping up with the politics. I am not very good at that, but it so needs to be done!

    1. I agree very much, it is hard to stay active and engaged but not get depressed about the hopelessness of the situation. It is a balancing act, but there are several avenues how each of us can make a difference, depending on our skills, life situation and personalities. I will have to believe that!

  2. Thank you for putting it so well! We do need to act, and not wait for whoever is supposed to be in charge: they are not taking the lead on this. And we need to spread the word: Because the mainstream media isn't doing their job, either. Even if it seems like a small thing, I do believe we each must do what we can.

  3. Great post! I am going to have to bookmark your post and click the multitude of links you provided for us - no easy task I know! I was traveling during this speech, but because I have ultimately been so disappointed in this president whom I had such high environmental hopes for during his first election, I am not sure I would have watched anyway. His choice to talk about fracking in such a positive light makes me shake with fury and watching the KXL proceed as it has is so irresponsible I just can't believe it to be true, yet it is. With all of this frustration we all must do our part and I am so happy there are more people standing up and taking notice.

    1. Thank you Brenna. I too, was so full of hope when the president was elected. Sadly, I have since realized that it was misplaced. We do all need to act, and we need to move past the 'raising awareness' and the private choices, but more on that in an upcoming post, hopefully on Sunday. Stay tuned!