July 28, 2010: What Have We Done?

I live in a densely populated, 79% paved-over city that, in the past, had been sneeringly referred to as “Scummerville” or “Slummerville.” (These days, that Somerville is so hip has pretty much quashed those taunts—but not entirely.) Whenever my husband and I venture outside our fair city and see some lovely countryside or acres of trees destroyed by McMansions or a strip mall or another highway, we sigh. But then we tell ourselves,” You know, sometimes it’s less painful to live in Somerville where the rape and destruction of the land and its rivers happened three-hundred years ago!”

As I’ve noted in many of these blogs, I have been drawn to the Transition Town movement and its fundamental, resilient message that, given climate change and the eventual end of the Cheap Oil Era, the ONLY way we’ll survive these huge and scary changes is collectively. So from time to time I hang out with Somervillians who are into weatherization or the Buy Local movement or community gardens or extending the bike path. Wonderful initiatives. Wonderful people.

Marla Marcum of “Climate Summer”* said something recently that really shook me. A climate change activist and deeply spiritual person, Marla noted that there’s something deeply shameful about what our species has done to this planet.

More and more I am feeling that, perhaps, my role in Somerville’s ongoing initiatives re the huge upheavals we’re facing ** is to somehow engage in community-wide conversations about that shame. And, oh yeah, about our overwhelming feelings of helplessness and terror.


* “Climate Summer”  has been about a group of college students biking throughout New England to talk about climate change. Marla was one of the chief organizers.

** I use the present tense because Somerville, like so many communities around the world, has already suffered 3 times this year from dramatic, destructive weather—in Somerville’s case, 3 devastating rain storms.

May 20, 2010: Coded

[The opposite of fear is love: this month’s theme.]

Noticed a new feature in this morning’s Boston Globe: “Coping with less.” A pretty lame article re the closing of rest stops in Massachusetts, this new feature nevertheless sorta/kinda acknowledges what’s really going on: Yes, things are bad. No, it’s not going to get better.

Over the past couple of  years, every Wednesday night, I have had the great privilege of hanging out with people of color whose interpretation of what’s said by the media is ALWAYS startling. What’s said, what’s left out, who’s telling the story, who’s got a stake in the story, who, because of their rarified, white viewpoint, doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on; I get to listen to such conversations.

So, guided by these conversations and knowing what I know about climate change, about a global economy based on cheap oil—and its inevitable collapse—and the HUGE impact these will have, I read my morning paper searching for the Truth.

Surprise! it’s NOT there in black and white. It’s in code. Like this new feature: “Coping with less.”

Coping. As if. As if we all just, you know, shrug our shoulders, take a Valium, whine to our friends, grit our teeth but cope. Deal. Man up.

Is The Globe shouting: “Listen up, everybody. We all have to use less. It’s our dying planet’s only hope.” ? Naw.

Another theme I hear from people of color: ” ‘They’ don’t. . .  ” ” ‘They’ always. . .” [fill in the blank], “they” meaning the white-dominated power structure. And sometimes I agree. Sometimes I hear paranoia/conspiracy theory  and disenfranchised people giving “us” way too much credit.

But on this coded, not telling it like it is thing? I definitely see a conspiracy of silence. Take the two devastating rain storms we had in Massachusetts in March. Was there a front page article in The Globe saying: Yikes! Climate change is happening, it’s here, let’s get ready! Naw.

So where’s the love in all this mess? In us. Who, in countless ways, are showing that we’re sensing some fundamental truths. Yeah, even those crazy Tea Party people. All that anger? If someone, ANYONE in power would just admit the truth, acknowledge that a major sea change is happening, the climate (get it) in this country would radically change.

May 10, 2010: “We can do no great things, . . .

. . . only small things with great love.” —Mother Teresa—

Last week while watching my energetic grandson play in a Brooklyn playground, I happily sat on a park bench in dappled sunshine. A mother with two children joined me, a daughter about 4 and an infant asleep in his stroller. After greeting the trio, my attention returned to never-stopping Dmitri. Watching him dart from here to there, I nevertheless was aware of the 4-year-old’s persistent and nasty cough.

Her raggedy sounds put me in a terrible funk: I was immediately reminded of a dire article re an alarming rise in childhood asthma in the NE. The sounds of heavy traffic just a few feet away from the playground didn’t help my “Oh, God, we’re doomed—these precious children are doomed!” terror.

And given the weird weather we’ve had this spring, thinking her cough might just be allergies wasn’t all that comforting.

Confronting my pervading fears re global warming, climate disaster, etc, etc., and what life will be like for Dmitri’s generation, it actually helps to remember that as a young(er) mother, I’d had exactly the same heart-racing fears around nuclear proliferation. And to remember that amazing anti-nuke march in NYC when my daughter Hope was just a baby. (1981? 1982?)

And, thinking about Mother Teresa’s wise words, to contemplate what small, loving, life-affirming acts I can be doing in my small, precious part of this ailing planet.