Before It’s Too Late

Guest Post by Rosemary Spalding, Earth Charter Indiana board president. (Part 2 of 2 of a firsthand report on the Sept. 21 People’s Climate March).

My husband Mark and I stayed  in Newark, NJ the night before the People’s Climate March. Early Sunday morning we began to make our way to 66th and Central Park West to meet a new contact from Earth Charter International. As we rode the train from Newark to NYC and then the subway to Central Park, our excitement built as we joined with dozens of others making their way to the march. Smiling people in T-shirts with names of organizations from all over the country packed subway cars that were standing room only.

Photo by Rosemary Spalding

Photo by Rosemary Spalding

When Mark and I emerged from the subway station at 66th Street, several volunteers welcomed us, directing us to our spot in the march. About 30 minutes before the march was to begin, people flowed into the wide street that borders Central Park on the west, filling it from curb to curb. While we stood in the street waiting, I just looked around, taking it all in. People were lined up behind us all the way to 86th St. and in front of us all the way to Columbus Circle.

Photo of Columbus Circle by Rosemary Spalding

Photo of Columbus Circle by Rosemary Spalding

It was crowded, and we learned later that many marchers couldn’t even fit in the street until the march had progressed several blocks. Many people carried homemade signs and some wore costumes. But most were simply there—joining in solidarity with others to demonstrate before our government and other world leaders gathering for the United Nations summit, that we demand action to address this urgent global crisis.

Communities displaced by climate change marched  in the demonstration. Photo by Christine Irvine.

Communities displaced by climate change marched in the demonstration. Photo by Christine Irvine.

And then the most exciting thing happened! I saw someone making his way through the crowd, like a salmon swimming upstream, coming towards me. As he drew closer I realized I recognized him. Like a teenaged groupie at a rock concert, I yelled, “LOOK, IT’S BILL McKIBBEN!”

I immediately felt foolish, but he looked over at me and smiled as he passed, never missing a step. I think I said “thank you” as he walked by. By the time I could get my iPhone out, he had been swallowed up by the upstream crowd that parted to let him pass.

Photo by Emma Cassidy

Photo by Emma Cassidy

As we walked the two miles past famous landmarks and through Times Square, hundreds of supporters on the sidewalks waved us by. We never saw a single person who challenged our message. Every so often throughout the march, a thunderous “sound wave” would come from in front of or behind us, and we would raise our voices and play musical instruments as the wave passed through on its way to the beginning or end of the march. Goosebumps!

At the end of the march people gathered for entertainment at several stages. I watched the Raging Grannies as they sang their versions of “On Top of Old Smokey,” “Roll Back the Barrels,” and “The Climate—It is A-Changin’.” Music and humor—welcome relief for such a serious subject.

Over 400,000 people marched in New York City that Sunday. Add to that the thousands attending local climate marches all over the country and the world, and you know that we cannot be dismissed as radical tree-huggers.

To the contrary—the People’s Climate March was mainstream. We witnessed an incredibly diverse collection of people of all ages and from all walks of life; people from every state and many nations; people of every color and culture; labor unions and healthcare workers; youth groups, college students and professors, parents and grandparents. All marching, singing and chanting for a common purpose—to say that we, the citizens of the world, recognize the direness of our situation and unite to convince our leaders to change course before it’s too late.

Photo by Amy Dewan

Photo by Amy Dewan

As Mark and I traveled back to Newark, exhausted but exhilarated from the day’s experience, I wondered—did we make a difference? I said a silent prayer: This time let those in power take notice; let meaningful change finally occur.

Rosemary Spalding is board president of Earth Charter Indiana and a founding member of the Irvington Green Initiative. She is an attorney with Spalding & Hilmes, PC, which is located in Irvington and concentrates its practice in environmental law.

To Look Up

It hit me hard last week when the Audubon Society reported that half of North American birds’ migratory routes are threatened by climate change.

If loons find it too hot to summer in Minnesota, then what? You’d think they should just aim farther north, but will they find the food and cover that matches their needs? Are they supposed to migrate higher and higher till they fly right off the planet’s roof?

By Pete Markham, via Wikimedia Commons

By Pete Markham, via Wikimedia Commons

The scenario is not confined to some far-off future. It’s now. Southern California saw 90 to 95 percent of raptor nests failing because of drought. No nests, no procreation. How long can a species survive climate disruption?

I find I can’t stay with this topic; it’s too painful.

I felt the same last month, learning about a gigantic crater that opened in the Siberian permafrost. Scientists link the melting to warmer-than-normal summers the last two years, and say such sinkholes release vast amounts of methane.

Methane gas is more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide, with 20 times the impact on climate change, according to the EPA.

In Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben describes a number of self-reinforcing feedback loops that lead to a faster and faster rate of climate change. The crater is just one example. He explains the feedback loops in this video.

Here we are, immersed in our lives, going around feeling one minute one way, the next another. I feel despondent. I cheer up. My writing goes well. My writing goes poorly. I help someone. I say something dumb. I worry over my sick cat. I celebrate her recovery. I walk around my neighborhood and love the trees. I come home and feel lonely, pleased, scared, self-satisfied, hopeless, and on and on.

I’m a dizzying universe. As are we all. Most of us barely keep it together, doing what needs to be done to meet the day-to-day demands of life.

And all the while, this other thing is winging above us. This bigger picture of demise.

Rise up...

And to look up invites so much pain, which we already have aplenty.

Two things help me face the times we live in. One is external, the other internal.

On the external side, I reach out, take action, make something, do something. I connect with neighbors who care as deeply as I do. Or join a demonstration, like this Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York City. (I will join a crowd closer to home, at the People’s Climate Gathering in Bloomington.)

I plant a seed. I get moving.

On the internal side, I stay still and connect with what endures. I remind myself that matter is just slow energy, and energy can’t be destroyed. Feeling into my energy body takes me to a place beyond fear. Whatever the future brings, it will be better if I stay in this moment.

“Look up and see the light from the sun. And now see everything beneath it, everything around you. You are in the garden.”

—Karen Maezen Miller, Paradise in Plain Sight

Note: If you’re on the fence about joining this weekend’s events, read Rebecca Solnit’s new essay. “Only great movements, only collective action can save us now,” she writes.

Can We Change Course in Time?

Last week, one day after I heard the author of The Pipeline and the Paradigm speak about the insanity of our fossil fuel-based “business-as-usual” storyline, we reached a chilling milestone.

The CO2 counter on the side of Mauna Loa, which measures parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere, tipped past 400. As Bill McKibben wrote, “It’s a grim landmark—it’s been several million years since CO2 reached these levels in the atmosphere.”

Scientists have identified 350ppm as the safest upper limit for a life-sustaining biosphere.

Sam Avery had just told us that we are on the cusp of a new paradigm—moving from the old story, which values living systems only in terms of dollars, to the new, which affirms that living systems are inherently valuable.

Olympia, Washington. Keystone XL Pipeline protest. By Brylie Oxley via Wikimedia Commons

Olympia, Washington. Keystone XL Pipeline protest. By Brylie Oxley via Wikimedia Commons

The Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry noxious tar sands from Alberta to Texas, is a “pivot point between these two worlds,” he told us. Opening the pipeline would allow the release of enormous levels of carbon—enough to create irreversible climate change.

Depressingly, that 400ppm number is not even indicative of current carbon emissions. There is a 10- to 40-year time lag before we feel the effects of today’s emissions. And greenhouse gases stay for hundreds of thousands of years in the atmosphere.

It’s not only the carbon that is concerning. The 36-inch-diameter pipeline, only one-half inch thick, will be continually abraded by the rough tar sands. When there is a spill—and it’s not if, but when—this stuff behaves differently than crude. It is heavy; it sinks to the bottom of lakes and rivers.

I don’t know about you, but the prospect makes me nauseous. Deepwater Horizon was bad enough. How much more can we foul our nest? (The good folks of Mayflower, AR are dealing with a tar sands spill right now.)

A map showing aquifer thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer with the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route laid over. Via Wikimedia Commons

A map showing aquifer thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer with the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route laid over. Via Wikimedia Commons

Avery advocates dramatic action to nudge the new paradigm into being. He’s spreading the message that we can collectively make a different choice.

“We have to believe it to make it happen,” he said, though he admitted that right now, he “might bet against human survival” given the current trajectory.

“We can’t rely on market forces to do it for us,” Avery said. “We’re going to have to decide exactly when and where and how we are going to get off fossil fuels.”

This requires nothing short of evolution—an epic shift in consciousness. It would mean making the decision, globally, to leave carbon underground despite ever-increasing energy demands. To do otherwise is to jeopardize our home and our survival, not to mention the survival of innumerable precious species and ecosystems. Can we change course in time?

Some 50,000 people have pledged to participate in civil disobedience if Keystone is approved. Avery himself, who traveled the pipeline route during his book research, is prepared to “stand between the earth and destruction.”

Who will stand with him?