New Creation News

January 2014 – news and things to do

Posted January 23rd, 2014 in Blog, New Creation News Comments Off on January 2014 – news and things to do

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, New Creation News Comments Off on A look at our work in 2013 and then where we want to go in 2014 – with your support

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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