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I recently had the chance to be a part of a 12,000 person protest in D.C.  against the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. The goal of the protest was to surround the White House and not only did we do that but we surrounded it multiple times around!

A bit of background on the Tar Sands of Alberta and the proposed pipeline: The Athabasca Tar Sands are the second largest source of oil in the world and lie under the Boreal Forests of northern Alberta. They got their name from the fact the bitumen is intermingled with the sand and soil beneath the ground so extracting and refining it is extremely difficult. The Tar Sands operations are causing massive amounts of environmental, cultural and social devastation for the communities in the Athabasca region. The proposed pipeline will carry the oil from Alberta through the heartland of the United States to the gulf coast. Here’s a handy map that shows the route of the proposed pipeline (and some existing pipelines).

So back to the protest. I traveled to D.C. in a van with 6 other Earlham students and our professor as a part of a class we are taking this semester that focuses on the First Nations communities downstream from the Tar Sands. At the same time a bus full of 70 other Earlham students was making the drive to D.C. to join thousands of other students, families, veterans, parents, grandparents, labour workers, and noble peace prize winners from all over the country to make our voices heard.

I have never felt such energy (talk about renewable energy!) and empowerment than I did standing with thousands of people around the White House and then joining the spontaneous march that took over the streets of D.C. A particular cheer, a simple and classic one calling for climate justice now resonated the most with me. To be able to shout at the top of your lungs for something that is so deeply important to you is a feeling I hope everyone gets to have a some point in their life. So often in my four years as an environmental studies major (and I believe in our everyday lives) we repress our most extreme emotions fall somewhere in the middle of apathy and exhaustion as the challenges facing us and our world. To be able to express the most powerful and extreme of my emotions for something I know our world needs was a spark of empowerment, rejuvenation and positive forceful energy.

There is a concept used protests call the human microphone. It is a way of transferring information to masses of people with out an actual microphone. It is intensely simple and yet achingly powerful. The person who is speaking says they message phrase by phrase and the group of people who can hear those phrases yell them back in unison so that everyone can hear. The first time I heard this human phenomenon used I began to tear up. It was so powerfully metaphorical, one voice speaks, a group responds and everyone is able to hear.

So in case Obama or the Suncor corporation is reading this blog (a girl can hope right?) My voice has been sparked again. I stand with the people of the Athabasca Region, the people across the United States and the ecosystems that will be impacted by this pipeline and I will continue to use my voice to advocate for climate justice. And I know thousands of other people who feel the same way.

Photo by Elsa Haag.

Yesterday on October 31st we added the 7th billion member to our ever expanding global family. I wanted to mark this moment in light of the previous blog which talked about his event in terms of safe sex. An interesting post on the world news source Al Jazeera highlights the event in pictures here. One of the interesting things about this link is the brief looks it gives us on ways of educating women on their reproductive rights and sexual health. Its no stretch of the imagine to link women’s rights to population growth. I want to be quick to note however that as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. I think that rights of women are linked to education of all peoples, we must educate young boys and girls, men and women in terms of the environment, this is linked to human dignity, mutual respect, and personal and societal empowerment.

So here are 3 things that YOU can do today (and tomorrow and the next day) about the population issue:

1.) Talk openly about population, human rights, sex and their relationship to environmental issues with family, friends and the occasional stranger. These subjects are taboo in many areas especially when linked together but open communication (both sharing and listening) can begin to dissipate this taboo.

2.) Advocate for improving sex edu. in schools. We need to seriously rethink the way we are teaching about safe sexual practices and self esteem issues to youth both locally and globally. We have seen the outcome of the way we are educating people now and its not working, it’s time to try something different.

3.) Work to change the norm of embarrassment that comes with talking about sex with your partner, children, friends, community etc. Sure it can be awkward at first but it is when we sweep issues under the floor boards and choose to not deal with them that suddenly instead of consciously making our own decisions, the decisions are being made for us. And I for one am not okay with yielding my ability to make informed, conscious decisions about my life and the life of the world around me all because of a little awkwardness.

The United Nations have predicted that on Oct. 31 (13 days from now) our planet will be home to 7 billion people. 7 billion people in a world torn by disparity, finical crisis, climate change and inumerable other social issues. In 2050 when I will be 63 there are estimated to be 9.3 billion people.

There are many words that get linked to sustainability; sustainable agriculture, sustainable design, sustainable you name it, but recently we are beginning to hear a new one, sustainable sex practices. The world health organization has found that there are (at least) 215 million women who want to avoid pregnancy but do not have the access to contraceptives or other means of family planning. I would estimate that there are many more than the 215 million women in this study who are in similar situations.

So what does this mean? It means that people everywhere (but especially we, the young adults of the world) need to begin thinking about the greater global impacts of our sex lives. We need to begin talking to our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings and friends about sex and sustainability. We need to continue working for women’s rights and striving to empower women and men to make conscious, deliberate decisions about their sexual lives. Sustainability has now entered the bedroom.

I want to share some resources for your information and pleasure;

a father talks to his son about sustainability and sex 

women, sex and sustainability

endangered species condoms

more green condoms

neat video that helps explain the 7 billion

science magazine video talks about population 

eco sex: go green beneath the sheets 

 

This Friday at Earlham we had a fun filled, action packed, Climate Action Carnival. The goal of the carnival was to give people the opportunity to engaged in activities that either deepened their knowledge of climate action or pointed to ways to less ones impact. The booths had hands on activities including bobbing for local apples, bike decorating, signing petitions, putting predictions of when Earlham can reach carbon neutrality, trash sorting and others! It was a huge success and we had tons of volunteers from EEAC, the bike co-op, the Center for Environmental Action, the Womyns center and others and lots of participants from students, faculty, administration, board members and more. One of the important aspects of working toward environmental change is raising awareness in meaningful ways. By engaging the community in  hands-on learning we can being to raise awareness that will lead to meaningful action.

Thanks to all those who join us and helped make it possible! With a special thanks to Sarah Waddle for all her hard work and Elsa Haag for taking these awesome pictures!

 

I recently had the opportunity to attend the AASHE (advancement for sustainability in higher education) conference with 4 other Earlhamites. This was AASHE’s 5th year and my 3rd year attending. There were upwards of 2,000 students, faculty, staff, administration and NGOs present at this conference and the energy was palpable. The days were jam packed with sessions on everything from ecological design and sustainable curriculum to avoiding burnout and student activism and many, many more.

I found it exciting to be among so many other people who are working toward and interested in sustainability. It is so easy to get stuck in the small bubble of your own world and forget all that is actually going on out there. We heard from some extremely inspiring speakers, Bill McKibben, Majora Carter, Dr. Sandra Steingraber just to name a few. As well as other student, faculty etc. whose work serves as an inspiration to those who are involved in the striving for sustainability both in higher education and for the communities around us.

I would like to highlight a theme that Dr. Stiengraber, David Orr and others called for throughout the conference.  Both called on institutions of higher education to take a stand and responsibility for promoting sustainability as a lifestyle as well as advocating directly for specific issues regarding environmental and social issues (realizing that they are often connected). Our universities and colleges can no longer stay neutral in these matters. We are not only connected to climate change and environmental issues though the actions of our institutions in terms of energy use, waste production and investment in socially and environmentally harmful companies. We are connected in that our colleges and university are currently educating the next batch of change makers, the next group of livers and thinkers and dreamers and it is time that we as students, faculty, staff etc. call upon our colleges and universities to begin embedding education for the environment in all aspects of the framework of the institution both in theory and practice. We learn by the actions of those around us and I would like to call Earlham College at all levels to be at the forefront of acting in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

 

Honoring a Life

Tonight I am going to take a break from the decision making series to spend some time remembering and honoring the life of Wangari Maathai who passed away today during her struggled with cancer. Maathai was the first African women to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with women’s rights, conservation and a call for transparent government. This was also the first time the Noble Peace Prize had been award for environmental work. This marked an important historical link between environmental and humanitarian activism.

In 1977 Maathai started the Green Belt Movement which planted over 30 million trees across Africa. This program not only aided greatly in conservation efforts it helped foster empowerment though the environment. Maathai once said, “If you want to save the environment, you should protect the people first, because human beings are part of biological diversity. And if we can’t protect our own species, what’s the point of protecting tree species?” Maathai’s life was fascinating, powerful, passionate, and inspiring.

If you are interested in learning more about her, she has written an autobiography entitled Unbowed  and there is a PBS documentary about her called, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai. She was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Association for Advancement in Higher Education conference that Earlham students, including myself, will be attending, and she will be deeply missed.

Her life and her life’s work serve as an inspiration for how a life can be lived in an active, passionate, meaningful way. When meaningful work has been put forth for the good of the world and the inhabitants of the world, the people who create that work do not vanish when they die. They become part of the cycle of life. The cycle of people who generation after generation work toward a more peaceful, just, compassionate, healthy world. The cycle of those who were inspired and in turn became inspiring . Honor Wangari Maathai and those before her. Join the cycle.

Monday nights are always full of intense thoughts for me because of the Ford/Knight (a student/faculty research based class) that I am taking this semester. It is called, Living Downstream from the Tar Sands and we are working on a virtual ethnography of the Fort Chipewyan community and the first nations peoples that live “down stream” from the Tar Sands area of northern Alberta. Right now we are gathering information and getting an overview of the issues at hand, of which there are a lot. In tonights class we watched a Canadian documentary call “The Corporation” which is a fascinating look into the “personhood” of a corporation. It seems to me that corporations take a group of individuals with semi-functioning moral compasses (at least as good as the rest of us) and turns them into a single entity, “the corporation” that reeks havoc on social and enivronmental aspects of communities all over the world. Essentially a tragedy of the commons. For those not familiar with the tragedy of the commons I will give an personal example. I live in a college house, we use dishes, even though we are all supposed to wash our dishes after we use them inevitably there are some that linger in the sink, instead of anyone taking responsibility for them they linger and linger. A tragedy of the commons, diffused responsibility makes it harder for any one person to take responsibility for their actions. This tragedy is particularly poignant in the case of corporations.

But wait you’re saying, isn’t this blog supposed to be a positive alternative to the depressing void of the corporation and things like it? Glad you asked.

Tonights class (plus an article I recently read) prompted me to think about  decision making and how, individuals and groups of individuals make decisions. What guidelines do they use, moral, monetary, family? and what decision are we personally capable of making that will counteract the tragedy of the commons.

The upshot section of this blog entry focuses on the article that I referenced above.

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/09/patagonia-says-buy-our-stuff-on-ebay.php

The founder and owner of Patagonia (outdoor clothing/gear store) has partnered with e-bay to help insure that second hand patagonia clothing will get bought by consumers before they go out and buy something new from the stores. I find it pretty remarkable that a “corporation” is willing to take a cut in revenue to take a step toward helping promote the environmental ‘make it do, use it up, do without’ philosophy. An example of environmental responsibilty guiding a decision rather than income. Way to go Patagonia.

That ends tonights blog, if you’re looking for me I’ll be washing the dishes in the sink and browsing e-bay.

 

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