Episode 26 of the Keeping Things Alive Podcast is short and does not include an interview. Instead, Laura reads The Leap Manifesto, “a call for Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another.” This platform, developed in 2015 by 60 Canadians across the progressive spectrum, calls for a new vision of our future that is just and sustainable for all. The Leap Manifesto has been adopted by many progressive organizers around the world and is still growing strong. It has resulted in the formation of an organization called The Leap, and is further described in Naomi Klein’s recent book, No is Not Enough.
Much like a baseball player taking a steady regimen of steroids and then hitting more home-runs, the Earth’s atmosphere has received an increasing amount of energy since we started burning fossil fuels, and the increased power and irregular behavior of the recent hurricanes is one of the results.
After Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and now Nate, the places where the storms made landfall are forever changed. There has been so much death, destruction, and suffering in such a short period of time. No one can hold the consequences of these storms in their mind without becoming overwhelmed by the complexity and devastation.
I grieve for the people who have lost their lives or loved ones as a result of the hurricanes. I grieve for the people who lost their homes. I grieve for the pets who were left behind, injured, killed, or lost in the chaos. I grieve for the dead and displaced wildlife. I grieve for the countless people who are going to suffer a lifetime of health problems because of the pollution that infected the air and water as chemical plants, oil refineries, sewage systems, and other infrastructure broke apart. I grieve for the people who will contract diseases like malaria and dengue fever, spread by the mosquitoes that will multiply in the stagnant warm water for months.
There is so much death to grieve, but the story is not over. Rebirth is coming, and in many ways is already here. We are at a critical moment for Houston, Puerto Rico, and the other places that have been forever changed by theses hurricanes – how are we going to move forward?
I read a lot. Sometimes I need to remind myself to stop reading and start writing.
Tonight I compromised: here are my thoughts on two environmental books that have shaped the way I think about and approach the environment and climate problems that humanity faces today.
This book is an “easier” read (less dense than the other), but it still asks a lot of its reader, mainly to take responsibility and change your behavior based on what you learn from it. Marshall does a great job laying out a Western psychology-based case for why it is so difficult to generate collective action to improve climate change problems.
He quotes veteran ABC journalist Bill Blackmore saying that
“climate change isn’t the elephant in the room; it’s the elephant we’re all inside of.”
After Marshall explains why climate change is so difficult to accept and take action on, he gives his best suggestions for moving forward. The thing that stuck out the most to me is that the “enemy narratives”, even against fossil fuel companies, will not be enough for collective action because
“Climate change is different. The missing truth, deliberately avoided in these enemy narratives, is that in high-carbon societies, everyone contributes to the emissions that cause the problem and everyone has a strong reason to ignore the problem or to write their own alibi.”
He also says that
“I have been convinced that the real battle for mass action will not be won through enemy narratives and that we need to find narratives based on cooperation, mutual interests, and our common humanity.”
This amazing book begins with the following premise, which is difficult to swallow but critical to accept:
“Despite entrenched presumptions that environmental law remains effective, the proof lies in the health of the ecosystems themselves. Society now violates Nature’s laws not only at the level of species and individual ecosystems but also at the level of atmospheric function, ocean health, and biodiversity – a truly global level.”
Wood has meticulously researched and explained the history of how environmental law has gone astray and become the subject of corruption since the 1970’s.
Then Wood explains that there is a better legal framework based on the Public Trust Doctrine, an ancient legal principle that is part of the U.S. Constitution (as well as the founding documents and laws of many states and countries). An incredibly generalized version of the legal framework goes like this: the natural world and its natural resources form Nature’s Trust, on which the health of society (local, natural, global) depends, and the government is responsible for managing Nature’s Trust with a level of care that restores it and then keeps in healthy for current citizens and future generations of citizens.
The Nature’s Trust principle can be the basis of lawsuits against governments who are not taking proper care of Nature’s Trust, forming new laws that protect the environment and society, and a populist principle that can rally citizens together to create a better world.
About two months ago, on the weekend of the Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere, I published an article laying out my theory that Game of Thrones is an allegory for the Climate Change problem that our world must face now, and that each of the characters (or group of characters) have real-life representatives in the Climate Change realm (a.k.a. our material reality).
I want to write about this because it’s fun for me to think about, and I’m amazed at how well Game of Thrones tracks our Climate Change situation. I don’t have to try very hard to make these comparisons, and doing it helps me smile at a dire situation.
Here is a list of the comparisons that I made in the first article:
- White Walkers – Climate Change
- Free Folk/Wildlings – Indigenous Peoples
- Jon Snow – Environmental Justice Activists
- Jon Snow Supporters in the Night’s Watch – Climate Activists
- Jon Snow Enemies in the Night’s Watch – Climate Deniers
- Aemon – Pope Francis
- Melisandre (Red Witch) – Technologists
- Bran Stark, Meera Reed, Jojen Reed, and Hodor – Environmentalists
- House Lannister – Companies that Value Profits Over Everything Else
- Tyrion Lannister – Leonardo DiCaprio
- Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen – Beyoncé
- House Stark – The Democratic Party
- Sansa Stark – Women
- Arya Stark – Youth
- Stark Direwolves – The Animal Kingdom
Now that Season 7 is over, here are a few comments about how well my theory held up over the most recent seven episodes of Game of Thrones.
- The White Walkers are tracking as Climate Change. They are increasing their size and power, just as the increased amount of energy in the atmosphere is fueling more extreme weather events and destruction around the globe. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are the tip of the iceberg and only effect a small percentage of the world’s population. Other storms hit other places just as hard if not harder.
- House Stark is doing better than the Democratic Party.
- House Lannister is a bit weaker/smaller than Companies that Value Profits Over Everything Else, but otherwise the analogy still applies. I’d like to change the name, though, and call it Organizations that Value Profits and/or Power Over Everything Else.
- Women are still matching Sansa Stark quite well, while the Youth are playing out as Arya. Everyone is maturing, and learning to set their own plots and execute their own strategies without being so transparent about it beforehand.
- I wish that Technologists were as humble and yielding as Melisandre in Season 7, but nope. There are a lot of Technologists who believe that human ingenuity will save humanity and allow developed countries to continue their over-consumptive lifestyles, but at what cost to life?
- Jon Snow is still an Environmental Justice Activist! Jon Snow keeps on building bridges, connecting dots, and inspiring different groups of people to fight alongside one another against the common enemy. I see this happening in the real-life work of Environmental Justice Activists around the world.
- Drumroll for the craziest part . . . Daenerys and Beyoncé are tracking one another in unexpected and amazing ways. In Season 7, Daenerys finally sees the White Walkers and loses one of her Dragon children to the Army of the Dead, so she forms an alliance with Jon Snow and commits to defeating the White Walkers before pursuing the Iron Throne. Over the past couple of months, Beyoncé had twins and made a few social media appearances to keep her fans happy, but then Hurricane Harvey, fueled by Climate Change, wreaked havoc on her home city of Houston, Texas. And Beyoncé took action immediately – she even talked about how Climate Change is a social justice issue in a new video. I’m blown away by her response to this disaster (and her ability to connect the dots in her video), and I hope that all of her fans take her message as seriously as I do, because there is real power in numbers committed to facing the problem of Climate Change right now.
My podcast begins by saying that I interview people who are “keeping things alive in work and play,” but I more-or-less never bring up the play part.
So this is a fun post that lists out the animals depicted on each letter page of Animalia by Graeme Base. Well, not all the animals, only the ones that are obvious and “real” (not a painting, photo, or statue in the illustration). And I didn’t look any of them up (if I am missing any, which I am, please let me know!).
For the past couple of years, I have created a theory that Game of Thrones is an allegory for the Climate Change problem that our world must face, and that each of the characters (or group of characters) have real-life representatives. I’ve talked about my theory with close friends, but I never expected to talk about it in public. I dismissed my theory as a buzz-kill that lets my fascination with Climate Change and how people react to it (or not) overtake my ability to simply have fun with an escapism television show.
So last week, I was surprised to see that Vanity Fair published an article about how many people have noticed the parallels between Game of Thrones and our Climate Change problem, and then the author proceeded to name which real-life person in our Climate Change reality matched up with Game of Thrones characters. I feel so validated.
But beyond the satisfaction of validation, I disagree with most of the matchups in the article. Furthermore, with only a handful of exceptions, I see many of the individual characters as representatives of groups of people in the Climate Change story, not necessarily individuals. I don’t have a perfect Game of Thrones/Climate Change matchup for every character (and I am no Game of Thrones expert; I watched the show once and never read the books), but this connection between fiction and real-life is a beautiful, unintentional phenomenon resulting from George R. R. Martin’s masterful storytelling skills. I believe in the power of story to change minds and hearts, and I am grateful to witness it happening in one of my favorite tales.
So allow me to explain how I interpret the Game of Thrones characters, and the connections I make between them and their real-life representatives that are involved in humanity’s challenge to survive Climate Change (whether they are aware of it or not).
The first website I created is called FedGreen, where I used to publish a weekly report on important environmental updates from the Federal Register. It was a worthwhile project, but ultimately, I wanted to do something more creative with my free time, which is why I switched over to creating this website and my Keeping Things Alive Podcast.
Before I decided to do a podcast, however, I started interviewing environmental activists in Buffalo, New York. My first interview-turned-article was with David Kowalski, a retired scientist who now spends his time working on his website Re-ENERGIZE Buffalo and giving educational lectures about climate change throughout Western New York.
In an effort to simplify my life, I’m going to be closing down FedGreen in the near future, so I wanted to move the article I wrote about David to this website instead. Here it goes, enjoy!
For my first Buffalo interview, I spoke with David Kowalski, PhD, a retired research scientist. He’s currently an environmental advocate and serves on the planning committee of the Climate Justice Coalition. David is a member of the Buffalo-Niagara Sierra Club’s Executive Committee, where he is involved in communications and social media. He enthusiastically told me that he “loves Millennials” (he has three millennial-age sons) and has embraced technology as an effective way to connect with other environmentalists around the country. Outside of Sierra Club, David runs the blog Re-ENERGIZE Buffalo, where he posts information about environmental events happening around Western New York and articles about environmental issues. His blog formerly focused on the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing, but is now devoted to climate change action. David also volunteers his time by giving talks to interested groups and organizations about fracking and climate change.
Life has shifted for me once again, and this time I find myself living and sleeping in the “my-parents’-dining-room-turned-my-bedroom” while I recover from my first of four foot surgeries (two on each foot). I’ll get the cheesy puns out of the way now: I have a long road ahead of me, which I must travel one step at a time.
I think it’s worth explaining what type of surgery I had (removal of my accessory navicular with the Kidner procedure), because it’s possible that someone else is staring down this type of procedure and would like to hear from someone else who has gone through it.
So I’m 32, I’ve been rolling my ankles every couple of months since I was about 16, I’ve always hated to run, and I’ve always had a strong preference for supportive, non-heeled shoes. I would tell myself that I roll my ankles because I have bad balance and am clumsier than most other people. I would tell myself that I hate to run because I’m not a well-rounded athlete (swimming is my sport!). And I would tell myself that I prefer ugly, orthopedic shoes because I’m kind to my body and not willing to suffer physically to look a certain way.
But there was another factor at play that I was completely unaware of this entire time – I have (had) an extra bone in my foot! This extra bone, called an accessory navicular, was going about its unstable business completely under my radar, until I sprained my foot at that exact location last July and it never healed. I iced it, rested it, ignored it, went through six weeks of physical therapy, and ignored it some more, but the pain never went away, and so I decided to go see a foot specialist and take additional steps to stablize my feet.
The first surgery happened four days ago, and all is going well so far. I’m in a super heavy bandage/splint for the first week, and then I get a cast for the three weeks after that. I took prescription pain meds the first couple of days (which are a blur), but now I’m just taking Motrin.
The most painful and unexpected thing that happened to me is that my throat got really irritated and sore from the tube that they put down my throat during the procedure. I could not eat anything remotely spicy or acidic for the first two days (including bananas and yogurt), and it took a full four days for my throat to really get back to normal.
I’ve never gone through a “real” surgery before (wisdom teeth only) and it feels strange and scary to be so vulnerable and wounded (I can’t run away, my go-to defense!). I’m so grateful for my family and friends, who are keeping me company and taking care of me. If I did not have them in my life, I would have to pay someone to help me because there is no way I could do this by myself.
Staring down the barrel of these surgeries is really hard, but I can’t help appreciating the timing of it all. I have a job where I work remotely, I want to put more time into this website and my podcast, I am not in school, and my parents are available to help me. I catch myself saying “why didn’t you investigate your unstable ankles when you were in high school/college/law school/two years ago?” But the truth is, it would not have been a good time. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Yesterday the President of the United States announced his decision to withdraw from the international Paris Climate Agreement. I knew it was coming and really, all of his actions on climate and the environment indicate that he has been withdrawing from the Agreement since he took office in January.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I was deeply upset and ashamed of my country when the news officially broke yesterday at 3:00pm. The United States is supposed to be a world leader of innovation and responding to the difficulties of the times, but instead, our government has been hijacked by the fossil fuel industry and pure greed. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is devastating for human rights and international diplomacy.
President Macron of France has made a tempting offer for Americans who care about climate action to come to France and work with them to “make the planet great again.” I would love to do that in theory, but I still want to try to help in the U.S., which remains the largest emitter of carbon pollution in the world. I’m also encouraged that state governments are stepping up to the plate and deciding to remain in the Paris Agreement within their borders. I’m grateful that New York, my home state, is one of them.
Although I did do some grieving yesterday and spent a fair amount of time angry and ashamed, this is ultimately one more action from the current U.S. Administration (and the greedy fossil fuel industry) that motivates me to work even harder on my passion for “keeping things alive.”
I’ll leave this post with my favorite song, “Disparate Youth” by Santigold, which keeps me going when the world seems too difficult:
Yesterday I spoke with my second podcast guest, Jim Anderson, on his radio show, Conversations with Jim Anderson. I brought my recording equipment to the studio and recorded the conversation to include as a special podcast episode, which can be found here on my Soundcloud page. This is Part 1 of a two-part workshop on environmental law. This Part 1 is a conversation on how environmental law works and why it has not been doing a very good job protecting the environment and public health. Part 2 happens next week, and it will be a conversation about exciting initiatives like Our Children’s Trust, which are reforming environmental law to do a better job at protecting the Earth and the lives of future generations.