Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Co-presenting with a primitive skills instructor

I knew today was going to be fun, because I was going to present — for the first time — with my friend Matt Shull. Matt's not just my friend, he's my teacher, too. I've taken his primitive skills classes, and so I invited him to bring his handcrafted wares with him to two schools, and I'd see if I could work him in.

Well, it went way beyond that. Truth is, Matt stole the show.

Matt, getting ready at IPS 87.
He's got his bow, and he's got his didgeridoo. Me, what do I have? A computer and a slideshow on climate change.

Matt's gonna talk about how animals walk, how to track them, and how to throw a boomerang.

I'm going to talk about recycling.

Who YOU gonna love more?

Seriously, the kids at IPS 87 were great. Fourth graders on up to eighth graders, they were kind and polite and attentive and smart as could be.


Matt with his didgeridoo.
Check out this kid below, hopping like a kangaroo! Matt talks about the Australian aboriginals in his presentations, and animals are always a matter for discussion.


As we were leaving a couple kids came up to Matt and told him he looked like Thor.

As we made our way to our next stop, Gambold High School, we schemed a bit and decided to not do our presentations back to back, but to mix them up a bit. After all, there is an overlap in our respective missions.

What unites our presentations is our belief in the need for caretaking and stewardship, as well as a love for nature.

At Gambold we presented to over a dozen freshmen. I'm telling you, this room was off the chart when it comes to IQ. The students were brilliant.




Some of the materials Matt brings to presentations.

We passed the presentation back and forth like a talking stick. Matt drew diagrams on the whiteboard. I showed fancy animations of albedo effect and Arctic melt. Matt mimed the tossing of a boomerang. I talked about the need for kids to step up, have their voices heard.

And the Gambold kids challenged us — challenged us about facts, questioned us about sources, drew surprising conclusions that showed their remarkable minds are always at work.



I'm already looking for the next opportunity to collaborate with this remarkable teacher.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A meditation on the Keystone XL pipeline

Tonight, while listening to a conference call on the Keystone XL pipeline, the TV was on, tuned more or less randomly to the Turner Classic Movies network. The film, The Best Years of Our Lives, made in 1946, explored the complexities of soldiers returning home after WWII.

When talking to friends or in public presentations, folks like me are accustomed to evoking the sacrifice and unity associated with the war effort. We are fond of saying that our fight to defeat Hitler is tantamount to our fight to save the future from fossil fuel emissions.

If we all get together, make sacrifices, change our profligate ways, we can turn this thing around! And build community in the process! Lead the planet!


Looking at this beautiful black and white film, directed by William Wyler, I’m seeing a lot of giant, gas-guzzling cars, and big, high-ceilinged homes, with boatloads of electricity lighting and heating the commodious rooms. I’m seeing handsome horny men returning home, some to welcoming wives, others to soon-to-be wives; vessels of reproduction.

Here comes the Offspring Revolution of the post war period!

This country-wide call I’m on this evening says over 10,000 people attended the Monday night vigil to protest the State Department’s lame assessment of Keystone.

That’s not a bad number for a chilly Monday evening, say the organizers, but in truth I'm feeling deflated — a feeling inspired, or rather de-spired, by this film I’m half-watching while I half-listen to this conference call.

There is no way for us to return to this moment in 1946 and upset this reunion party they’re about to have, an unbridled period of population growth, fossil fuel pollution and transnational financial fabrication.

We can’t take this traumatized country by the shoulders and say ‘hold on, slow down, let’s figure out how to grow responsibly, mindfully.’

They fought the evil and won. They came home to dance drunkenly to “Roll Out the Barrel.” They don’t see the evil they are about to unintentionally create, the one we all share now on this poor bedeviled planet. Too many people, too massive to turn around, too big to fail, too big to survive.

This is exemplified, to me, in any conversation I have about Keystone. Many of my friends read enough about Keystone to know it’s a terrible idea, but they believe — as I do sometimes in the saddest part of my heart — that we can’t stop this juggernaut of oil sands extraction, and if they can’t use the pipeline to transport the toxic goo, they’ll use trains (which they are already doing) or barges (which they are already doing).

It’s as if we’ve surrendered to the forces of commerce, development, progress — and destruction.

Me? I just want to win one. In the ‘70s Republicans and Democrats united to protect our environment, then in the ‘80s we united to restore the ozone.

Since then, it’s just been one long free-for-all of greed and growth.

The black and white people on my TV, which is powered by coal, went through tremendous pain in WWII, and experienced PTSD as a result. In some ways, we never recovered from that; Korea, then Vietnam, then scandal after scandal in the Bush, Clinton and Bush years, with the horror of 911 mixed in.

Okay, I know I’m sprinting through an unimaginable gauntlet, but in truth, all we have is this moment here to pause and reflect.

Our current approach to living on this planet is unsustainable. 

We have more similarities than differences. 

We can do anything if we put our minds and shoulders to it. 

Pick a cause and pour yourself into it, whether it’s Keystone or retiring coal plants or getting kids out into nature.

Pick a cause and kiss it, give it your love, your whole being.  

Who knows, these could be the best years of our lives.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Keystone Pipeline pipe dreams can come true

On Feb. 3, there were 283 vigils in 49 states to protest the State Department's latest report regarding Keystone XL pipeline. One conclusion of the report was that the launch of the pipeline wouldn't significantly alter the equation regarding fossil fuel emissions and climate change.

In fact, the conclusion of the report seemed to surrender to the mining of the oil sands of Alberta; that it's going to happen regardless, so if it doesn't pour into the pipeline it will be transported on rails or on barges. One wonders if it will be transported on the backs of mules as well.

No matter how it is carried, it will spill. Spills happen. And they seem to be increasing. Now, I thought that was just me, until I found this story whose headline reads: "More oil spilled from trains in 2013 than in previous 4 decades." You could be George Bush and get the point of that story.

The extractions of the oil sands will without a doubt have an enormous impact on our ecosystem, and we know full well what the extraction process does to the surrounding environment.

So what to do? Here in Indianapolis, we participated with our own vigil, with a couple dozen of us in attendance. I held a sign that said "Obama Reject Keystone XL" and as people were driving around Monument Circle and honking at us, it was difficult to know whether they were supporting our effort or whether they thought we were "Obama Rejects," and thus perhaps of interest to the Tea Party.




We stood in the cold until a very nice police officer came over to us and suggested we move — actually walk around the Circle. This was a brilliant idea as we would resemble more of the protest/vigil we were going for, and we could perhaps prevent frostbite in the process. Really, I think he took pity on us as we were likely on the lame end of protestor numbers he's seen in the downtown area.

I self-deprecate, of course, but the truth is, I was darn proud of the over 25 of us who stepped up to try and put the "Keystone" meme into the everyday person's brain. It was fun, actually, and gets us into the mode for the more essential gatherings if Obama indeed says 'yes' to this destructive pipeline.

Some would call our effort a pipe dream. With almost three hundred actions, and tens of thousands of people across the country pledging to upgrade their civil actions, the resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline might just be a dream come true. It's about time; we need to win something for Mother Earth.

To join the resistance, go here. If you want to see a handy round up of stories about Keystone, go here.