April 2014 – what we’ve been doing, what we’re doing, Earth Day, and more

Posted March 31st, 2014 in Blog, Featured, News 0 Comments

[Still trying to find a way to make a living doing this work full time. Feels more urgent than ever. So please read on to see what's on our agenda.]

by Margaret Swedish

March was crazy busy, all in a good way. I was part of the Peace & International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee that plans the Tuesdays in March lecture series each year. That would make four lectures (sometimes five) focused on a theme we develop each fall. Facing a political year, we chose to look at four crucial issues facing the State of Wisconsin: the influence of corporate political money in our state government; the use of Wisconsin, via pipelines and oil tanker trains, as a cog in the transport network for crude oil (I offered that presentation); the proposed iron ore mine in Northern Wisconsin and the treaty rights of the Ojibwe tribes; and then the passage of some of the most restrictive voter suppression laws in the nation.

These sessions are always packed and result in significant conversation and dialogue. My talk on the dangers of crude oil transhipment and the scale of the plans for our state had people gasping. Alarm was certainly helped along by BP’s recent spill of more than 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan from their giant refinery in Whiting IN.

The Peace Poets and yours truly

The Peace Poets and yours truly. Photo: Beth Fiteni

The other real highlight of the month was traveling to Amityville on Long Island to help lead a day-long program entitled, “Petroleum, Poetry, and Peace.” I wondered at times what bonded those three “P”s but figured it out by the end of the day. Petroleum is now one of the biggest threats to peace globally, and poetry will be essential to the getting through the hard times awaiting us as we endure severe climate change impacts and the collapse of the global economy as we run headlong into the Earth’s limits.

Anyway, it was a rich and wonderful day at the Dominican Village, sponsored by Homecoming Farm, a project of the Sisters of St. Dominic of Amityville. I was especially pleased to share the program with The Peace Poets, three of whom came up from the Bronx to perform (or “spit”) their poetry with us. These are the kinds of connections that are essential if we are really going to do this “Great Turning” so many talk about these days.


I returned from NY and plunged right into Milwaukee’s annual Sustainability Summit. I offered a breakout session on the Alberta experience, the Athabasca River watershed, the tar sands industrial site, the impacts on Cree communities downriver, and on the pipelines and train transport of crude through the Upper Midwest. Don Ferber of the Sierra Club offered more info on Enbridge pipelines and ways we can take action to fight plans for a vast expansion of that network.

Those are just some of the highlights. Coming up in April is a day-long program at my local sangha on Deep Ecology and Mindfulness (April 5), followed on April 10 by a presentation on tar sands and crude oil transport at the Siena Center in Racine (“Alberta Tar Sands: A Visit to the Heart of the Industry”), followed on April 13 by a program on the ecological impacts of fossil fuel industries at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, and a day-long program at The Well Spirituality Center in La Grange IL on April 26. That program is entitled, “Getting Down to Earth.”

In between all that are important meetings, ongoing research, writing for this blog and other essays, a book I’ve begun out of my Athabasca River Pilgrimage journal, and more.

And that’s just April!

It’s been a very full time – even though the bank account is rather bare. We need funds right now not only to continue doing what we’re doing, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that much more could be done with more resources. So please help if you can.


If you’re around the area, please also sign up for any or all of these coming events. They are each unique in their focus which gives us an opportunity to explore more widely the crises we are facing (ecological, social, spiritual, psychological) and how we begin to create the necessary new ways of life that can lead us down the path of healing and a new relationship with the rest of the planet of which we are only one, humble, integral part.

I hope to get down to Chicago in April for a meeting of groups who care about the dangers of crude oil to Lake Michigan. It’s being convened by Tar Sands Free Midwest (you can find them on Facebook). With so many groups emerging in the past couple of years around these threats, this is a process full of potential. What it needs is more resources directed towards it. Most of us throw hours of volunteer time into this work, which is full of heart but which also limits what we can do.

This project, indeed the Center for New Creation, our fiscal sponsor, which has a great name and mission for this work, is positioned to play a much greater role in Upper Midwest collaboration. But we really need help from donors and funders to make that happen.

So if you are able to help with a donation right now, there could not be a better time!

April. Spring. Renewal of life. Now we are in need of a far more profound RENEWAL. Like those spring bulbs or the sap in the trees, the work to partner with the Earth in renewing and regenerating life is burgeoning up from below. People ask me what hope is. Well, there you have it.

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March 2014: So, what’s up?

Posted February 24th, 2014 in Blog, Featured, News 0 Comments

Well, the sky is up, sort of. From another vantage point, of course, it’s also down. More accurately, it’s all around.

What else is up? The global temperature, the number of extreme weather events, political violence, oil and gas extraction and burning. Oh, and also the number of consecutive days that we have been snow-covered here in Milwaukee – 67 now with many more to come, given the forecast.

Also, grassroots movements in defense of the planet and its many gifts and wonders. Also organic farmers and backyard gardeners.

The work we do from this project – that is also up, though not our bank account. That is down and in need of some serious replenishment.logo tiny without words

Yes, this is a fundraising appeal because we sure can use the support right now. I’m sure you all know the difficulty funding work like this, but we want to be available beyond spare hours here and there. We want to be able to follow through on the many things being asked of us in times of tight budgets and real needs around the issues we care about so much.

So, what’s also up are expectations and hopes about the contributions we can make towards supporting movements that are our most vital expression of a new human community emerging from the ecological crises of our times.

Expectations and hopes for what? What’s on our agenda as we move through these late winter weeks, knowing that spring will come? Because it never fails, even when it seems it will take its good-natured time getting here.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Photo: Margaret Swedish

As I have mentioned here before, the Alberta trip last year changed everything. While I had hoped that it would create opportunities for presentations and workshops, well, yes, it did – and still is. Just a few examples: in March, I will present a lecture entitled “Crude Comes to Wisconsin,” a presentation on our pipeline and rail links to Alberta’s tar sands industry and the oil play around Bakken, ND. This lecture is part of a series organized every March by the Peace & International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. Check out this year’s schedule of lectures – vital stuff in yet another political year in Wisconsin. I am part of this planning group and very excited about this year’s program

Later in the month, I travel to Long Island for a day-long program that will focus on the tar sands, our relationship with energy, and what it would really mean for us to move to a post-carbon world. What would that look like and how can we begin creating that world now? The program is being offered by Homecoming Farm and will be held at the Dominican Village in Amityville.

When I return, I will quickly immerse myself in Milwaukee’s annual Sustainability Summit where I will offer a workshop on the tar sands industry and have a booth to continue the dialogue. That’s on the 26th-27th. Click here for more info.

Then, April. On the 5th, I will join with the Tender Shoot of Joy sangha to co-lead a day of mindfulness and deep ecology. Very excited about this for the depth it allows us to plummet in deep investigation of the reality of our ecological crisis. On the 10th I will be doing an evening program in Racine, and on the 13th a presentation at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center for their environmental education program. Then on the 26th, I will do a day program at The Well Spirituality Center in La Grange Park IL entitled, “Getting Down to Earth.” Click on all these links for more info.

Frac sand mine:  m.kenosion Howard EOG mine 2012-06-15

Frac sand mine: m.kenosion Howard EOG mine 2012-06-15

In between these events, I will continue feeding this blog, going to meetings, making more connections with the dozens of groups surfacing around our part of the world. One of my intentions as this winter finally relents is to get to our western counties to visit the communities impacted by frac sand mining, to share more of their stories and see what we can contribute to making more connections between that reality and that of the pipelines, oil trains, and more that are all part of the larger picture of the super-exploitation of oil and gas reserves. We need urgently to be moving in the opposite direction. One of the ways we do that is by sharing our visions of how we move away from a fossil-fueled economy to a sustainable, earth-cherishing one.

So, you know, this requires a funding base. Over the past several years, we have been supported mostly by donors and small grants from various faith-based groups. We are now at a crossroads where we could begin to really dig in and make a bigger contribution to this work in the Midwest – if we can find the resources to do it.

Just to push the dreaming a bit further, we have at times pondered the notion of a regional gathering that would bring together some of the best local grassroots groups to share experiences, skills, and strategies, build community, and develop more regional collaboration as we work towards common goals in creating a post-carbon world. That is a dream we have shared with a few colleagues in other places and it always ignites enthusiasm. Can we help make that possible?

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Photo: Margaret Swedish

We are moving into a truly critical moment. Awareness around our planetary challenges are growing with every new weather anomaly, every weird storm, each new story about the western drought (each of them worse than the one before) and its impact on food prices, every story that reveals the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry over the politics of our state and federal governments. From chemical spills in WV to coal ash spills in NC, more and more people are getting a sense of the recklessness of industries that value profit over the well-being of human communities and the planet.

So, yes, this would be a terrific time to consider a tax deductible contribution to the Center for New Creation (CNC), the fiscal sponsor for this project. We want to be able to continue our contribution to this work. But we also believe we can do much more. We are only limited by the limits of our available resources. And those are limits we’d like to overcome – with your help.

From here, you can go to our DONATE page. And thank you.

Margaret Swedish


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January 2014 – news and things to do

Posted January 23rd, 2014 in Blog, News 0 Comments

Last week I had the opportunity to present on my September trip to Alberta, on the tar sands industry, and the infrastructure that is being built to transport dilbit (the gooey stuff from the tar sands, called bitumen, combined with chemical diluents to allow it to flow) and the dangerous, flammable sweeter crude that is being fracked in the Bakken oil play of North Dakota.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Photo: Margaret Swedish

The first was a program at the Milwaukee’s First Unitarian Society, a very active congregation committed to various responses to climate change signals, including an energy audit of its property and divestment from fossil fuel companies. The discussion that followed the presentation was lively, passionate, a great willingness to think about how to address the growing threats from the industry to our state and the environment of the Upper Midwest.

Then on Friday, I presented a program for the Wisconsin chapter of the relatively new Association of Energy Engineers, a student group at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. While we were a bit disappointed at the student turnout, the audience was riveted and stuck around to the bitter end with more questions (really good ones) and discussion. My brother is a professor there (Michael Swedish, who has written for this website), and he and other faculty were impressed enough to tell me to hang on to the talk because they hope to get me back in a larger venue.

What really mattered to me was that the student who hosted me, Branko, said what they wanted from my program was a presentation on how the industry is affecting people, communities, and the environment. Trust me, this is somewhat novel in many engineering schools and I find this a very hopeful sign.

February is a bit quieter (writing and fundraising time), but come March I will be doing a lecture for a series sponsored by the Peace & International Issues Committee of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, a day long retreat in Long Island called Petroleum, Poetry and Peace…The Exploration for Ecological Hope, Economic Justice and a Sense of Place, and presenting a workshop and staffing a booth with tar sands/Bakken info at Milwaukee’s annual Sustainability Summit. April has more in store, including a program on April 26 at The Well in La Grange IL as part of their Earth Day celebrations. I’m calling this program, Getting Down to Earth…because we need to.

logo at 217 x 157 jpegThere is no question that the Athabasca River Pilgrimage opened many doors and really focused the nature of our work right now. More and more I believe that our future on this planet will be shaped by our human relationship with energy. And that is both a warning and an urgent call for a far deeper, far more serious commitment on the part of all of us toward shifting the dynamics of the global economy away from “growth,” away from consumption of goods, away from a couple of centuries worth of an economic model that has brought us to the brink of disaster – actually, beyond the brink since many disasters are already unfolding.

What to do now:

Well, if you read the posts here, you know that we have some serious threats crossing our region right now, from pipelines to oil tanker trains, and the plans are for those threats to only increase. It would be an excellent idea to start bothering your legislators at both the state and federal levels asking questions about Enbridge pipeline expansion, about oil tanker trains and the lack of regulations and oversight even after the explosions of three trains carrying Bakken oil.

Photo: Joan Shrout

Photo: Joan Shrout

And if you are in Wisconsin, it is crucial to challenge the expansion of the frac sand mining industry that is spreading ruin and contamination through some of our western counties. Enormous damage is being done to strip-mine and process silica sand to Bakken and elsewhere for a fracking industry that is spreading ruin and contamination in what is largely a rural farming area.

For Wisconsin friends interested in doing advocacy around these issues, check out:

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters
Midwest Environmental Advocates
Penokee Hills Education Project
Wisconsin John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club

For the latest on the extreme dangers of shipping Bakken crude oil by tanker car trains, check out this article from the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, we have a state government that is actively discouraging the development of solar and wind energy, which once looked so promising here. We are a state moving backwards at great speed while other Midwest states are moving in different directions. Iowa continues to move ahead with a large wind energy industry now, and Minnesota has strong grassroots opposition to expanding frac sand mining, and a governor on their side, despite an industry-friendly legislature. Sadly, it’s pretty obvious how politics and political money is determining energy policies in Wisconsin right now.

Education is also key. I have yet to address an audience about the tar sands, Bakken, pipelines, and oil tanker trains that is not riveted, unnerved, frightened, and angered by what is being constructed across our state without the public being asked if they want any of this. Danger comes not just without our permission, not just without consulting with citizens, but without telling the public much of anything about it at all.

So I continue learning everything I can about all of this, taking advantage of the unique opportunity I had to spend two weeks in Alberta to acquire some powerful first-hand testimony and narratives. I am happy to be kept busy doing more of these programs, so do get in touch if you are interested in a presentation or workshop in your community.

A friend I met in Alberta. Photo: Margaret Swedish

A friend I met in Alberta. Photo: Margaret Swedish

Some of my work continues to be focused beyond education and information sharing, but also in working with communities to get to the heart of the matter – a way of being in the world, of viewing the world, the values that shape this culture – those meaning frameworks that are among the reasons it is so hard to make the necessary shift, including our dominant philosophical and religious belief systems that shape the way we live. Some of these things we take so for granted that we don’t even SEE them anymore.

We are living in an extraordinarily challenging time. Rather than get depressed about it, there is another way of looking at it. Times like these can also bring out the best in us. Every one of us has gifts to offer to the work of shifting course to a healthy, sustainable, abundant future. What a great reason to get out of bed in the morning, no?

For more info on the Athabasca River Pilgrimage including pics and video, click on these links:

From beauty and horror and back again: the Athabasca River Pilgrimage
Home from Alberta – changed
Changed, yes, by raw reality, so here’s some raw footage of Alberta’s exceedingly raw reality
And, finally, the pilgrimage blog: Athabasca River Pilgrimage

If you would like to support our work (and we would be so grateful if you do), you can make a tax deductible donation online by credit card or by sending a check made out to our fiscal  sponsor, the Center for New Creation.

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A look at our work in 2013 and then where we want to go in 2014 – with your support

Posted December 4th, 2013 in Blog, Featured, News Comments Off

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Thick fog envelopes my part of the world today. It settled in last night while the northern part of my state gets buried in snow. And while I love the snow, this fog feels sort of apt for the moment – for the culture, for the state of our world, for this project, for this crucial work of awakening the human community to the ecological crisis into which we are rapidly falling.FAMILY

It’s hard to see the path very far out in a thick fog, and the cultural fog is indeed thick about now. We know everything is changing. We have the sense of things kind of falling apart. But in that fog – some of which is spread around us intentionally so that we cannot see clearly what is being done to our world – we are having a hard time seeing with clarity the path that could save us from an extremely harsh, painful future.

The cultural fog gets fed by the fog of denial that seems a special talent of the human species. “It’s not going to be that bad, right? I don’t have to change that much, do I?”

What we try to do here is clear away some of that fog. For me, dealing with reality fully and honestly seems the only way we can penetrate it in order to attain the kind of clarity we need about how to proceed.

News: from 2013

This turned out to be a remarkable year. My trip to Alberta, the Athabasca River Pilgrimage in September, was one of those watershed moments that shifts the direction of the flow. I had been sharing the story of the Alberta oil sands for a long time, but nothing can replace that visceral experience of descent into one of the places in the world where you can witness the enormity of the human industrial footprint on the planet.TRAVEL

In those two weeks, we pilgrims witnessed the rapid acceleration of the impacts of global warming on changing landscapes, experienced record heat, saw the disappearing glaciers. We witnessed the voracious, insane, attack of the human industrial project on a vast swath of forest and river at a scale that was breathtaking and terrifying to experience at ground level, along with the resulting pollution of our atmosphere and biosphere. And we witnessed again the great dichotomy opening within the human community between those who really believe the Earth’s “resources” are here for the pleasure and profit of this species, to use as we will, and those who SEE the ecological wholeness in which we live and who appreciate that we are only one small part of that whole without which we are not – at all.

The months preparing created a larger network of friends and colleagues around this project. The trip itself was supported by a few Catholic religious congregations, the sangha where I share a dharma practice,  and many individual donors. Since the trip, I have been able to write about, speak about, present about the trip and the many incredible stories that emerged from it, and to make the connections between what is going on in Alberta to threats to our own Upper Midwest by way of pipelines, tanker car trains, proposed barges in the Great Lakes, and our own consumer culture.

Enbridge action Michigan july 22 2013I was part of a wave of awareness that is growing ’round these parts. That I was able to make this important contribution to that wave is because of the donors to this project. I have more talks scheduled for Jan-April and hope to keep filling dates. One of the best parts of this work is connecting with so many new grassroots groups and all around wonderful human beings because of the Alberta experience. Getting even better connected and in sync is on the agenda now as we try to raise the profile of those who see the urgency of moving away from oil sands and fracking as fast as we can while learning what it means, what it entails, to start creating the post-carbon future right where we live.

Of course, we did many other things in 2013, including keeping up this blog/website. But we have also discovered the limits of this platform and are prepared to move to a more active website that can be a greater service to the communities engaged in changing the fossil-fueled corporate culture – to do the New Creation that is the name of the non-profit that sponsors SEH.

What comes next: 2014

Those seeds are now planted. How do we nurture them?

I have a bit of a dream list to share here, hopes for how this work could make an even more significant contribution to building ecological hope in a time of growing ecological crisis:

  • from the trip to Alberta, I have put together photos and video to create a powerful visual presentation of the journey along the Athabasca River. It is one easily adjusted for different audiences and different kinds of programs. I have added to the Alberta photos images of the vast network of oil infrastructure already existing, or in the planning, to ship Alberta tar sands oil and oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota across much of our country to deep ports for export, mostly to Asia. The steady reports of oil spills, pipeline leaks, train derailments and explosions are part of the story of why this industry is so dangerous to the future of our states. This is a story that needs telling. I hope to do many more presentations in 2014, while I continue to follow the latest developments in the industry and the attempts to slow it down or shut it down.


    Athabasca River – under siege, still beautiful

  • the oil sands are part of the Big Back Story that shapes our work. It reveals the nature of a broken relationship between the human and the rest of Nature, one that is leading us toward an ecological hell-on-Earth. How do we begin to SEE that relationship more clearly, what went wrong, what kind of culture created it and why? When we see that clearly, we are also able to see that it was made by choice, that it was not and is still not inevitable, not fate – and that we can, therefore,  make other choices. We look forward to creating more opportunities to work with communities to explore that relationship, who we are in it, and then who we want to become if we are to restore a balanced and sustainable way of life.
  • Photo: Margaret Swedishin our work of this past year, it has been a real boost to the morale to see so many grassroots groups emerge in “defense of place.” We have seen this in the frac-sand mining zones of Western Wisconsin, in the many incipient and impassioned groups around the Upper Midwest, Nebraska, and elsewhere responding to the encroachment of the tar sands industry in our communities. Most of us are small organizations working with few resources but a lot of heart. Yet if we could come together to start sharing stories, experiences, and some collaboration, the potential for having a greater impact on the culture grows exponentially. I would like to be able to devote time and SEH resources to getting around this mid-section of the country to visit some of these groups – the kind of thing we did in Alberta – connect, witness, share the stories and the wisdom, play a role in our getting to know one another better.
  • Finally, we need to build a new and better website, one which could be put to use not only for the sake of our own project, but also a place where we could create opportunities for interaction among groups, sharing stories, profiles, strategies, and building support for and collaboration with one another.

Okay, yes, to approach a program with this kind of scope will take greater resources than we have had up to this point. It is not just the SEH project that we hope to develop, but also the 501(c)(3), the Center for New Creation. We want to build that institution so that it is stronger and more able to support and sustain a project like this one.

So we are feeling a bit ambitious at the moment. I think we really see now, after being around these past several years, what makes this project unique and the niche we might be able to help fill as we build this “new creation” in the midst of a deteriorating ecological culture. As I have said often, we use the word “ecological” for a reason. We are not an environmental group. We don’t think humans live in “environments.” Ecology is about all the connections that make up the whole and all the ways they interact – from Nature to culture to societies, religious beliefs, economics, politics and more. Our ecological crisis is a manifestation of many broken relationships throughout the fabric of civilization right now, reflection of attitudes that shape our societies. If society is broken, if our democracy is crumbling, if income inequality is growing, if racism and intolerance are making comebacks within the culture – then how in the world do we expect to have a healthy relationship with the soil, the water, the air we breathe, the forests, glaciers, the animals and other creatures with whom we share this planet?

We can’t, and that’s why it is crucial not only to work to save ecosystems or to protect certain “environments” or species, but to change human culture – to help bring about that new community that sees its place within the whole, honors and respects that whole, and learns again how to live humbly and healthily – and with joy – within it.

Which is why we ask for your support. We hope you will help us empower this work. The potential is right there in front of us. Now we need to set it free.

In this time of expectant hopes and dreams, of looking to the light that shines amidst darkness (both being essential to each other), may more of us find the dream of the Earth rising within us, knowing that the living out of that dream is now in our hands. This is the generation that will determine which direction we take.

In peace and gratitude,


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