Sprouting up everywhere – no, I don’t mean fracking wells, I mean HOPE

Posted July 22nd, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Sprouting up everywhere – no, I don’t mean fracking wells, I mean HOPE

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

I know, I know, the news is pretty depressing. But as I wrote 2 weeks ago (sorry for the long time between posts, July has been crazy!), these little sprouts of hope are popping up everywhere as more and more local communities come together to defend their “places,” the communities they love, the land and water and towns and urban environments so threatened by the rapid pace of industrial development centered on the exploitation and transport of fossil fuels and the stuff the industry needs to thrive (toxic chemicals, frac sand, high capacity wells, etc.).

FAMILYWe passed on links to several examples of these burgeoning little sprouts in our last post, but really want to emphasize this point. Yes, as that headline proclaimed, the threats from these industries, their incredible pace of development and growth and ecological ruin are all coming “fast and furious” now – but so are the responses from those who are waking up into this new world we’re living in. For many of us who have been at this a long time, this work used to feel a bit lonely. Now it is crowded with community, with solidarity, with too much to do, too many groups and actions to keep track of, too many campaigns – too many!?!? I mean, what a great problem to have!!!

Think of what happens in the decay of pavement, how nature takes over, how the “weeds” sprout up, flower, drop more seeds. How the brittleness of the pavement causes it to crack by the force of these soft and seemingly vulnerable sprouts, breaking apart, disintegrating, and creating an open space. From that space, a field. From that field, a forest…

That’s the work we’re about.

It ain’t easy. It means taking in a lot of hard realities, facing some real pain in this world. It means courage – courage to look at it all deeply, directly, without material or psychological protections. It takes courage to see the damage, to be consumed by grief, sometimes rage,  often a feeling of helplessness. Think of all of that as how we water those sprouts, how we create spiritual and emotional compost to nurture the soil,  encourage the weeds to grow and break down more and more concrete, more and more hardness of heart, more and more false belief in the permanence of this industrial way of life we have created.

So in the latter part of that post, I reported on some of these hopeful ‘weeds.’ Here are some more:

In the Upper Midwest, as readers of this blog know, we are grappling more and more with the plans of major Canadian pipeline companies, like TransCanada and Enbridge, to build and/or expand pipeline networks so they can rapidly ramp up the transport of crude oil from the Alberta tar sands and the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. The list of threatened “places,” crucial ecosystems, is too long to list here. Among those precious ecosystems is our Great Lakes, the world’s greatest and most remarkable fresh water system.

oil and water dont mix rally july 14 2013For many decades now, Enbridge has been running two pipelines underneath the straits carrying liquid oil and gas to refineries in Sarnia, Ontario. Now they want to ship huge amounts of the most toxic crude, and they have been expanding the existing pipelines to make this possible. Probably don’t need to remind you that Enbridge brought us the infamous Kalamazoo crude oil spill, one of the worst in the history of the nation! [Best thing you’ll ever read on this disaster is at InsideClimateNews here.] So as we ponder this gorgeous natural area, marked now by the graceful architecture of the Mackinac Bridge, there are a whole lot of people who see this as a very bad idea and are trying to stop it from happening. So over the summer groups in Michigan and Wisconsin teamed up to organize the “Oil and Water Don’t Mix” rally at the straits, which took place on July 14. Several hundred people showed up.

They came to defend this place.

To read more about how this place is threatened, visit these two links. Good articles and good info.

Oil Pipeline, Long Submerged in Michigan’s Deep Waters, Fuels Public Concern
Sunken Hazard: Aging oil pipelines beneath the Straits of Mackinac an ever-present threat to the Great Lakes

The second article has a link to a PDF document about the threat posed by these aging pipelines.


Meanwhile, today, even as I write this, a group in Michigan is engaged in direct action targeting Enbridge. The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI CATS), a new favorite acronym, set up an action camp in the Three Rivers/Kalamazoo River area of southwest Michigan and some activists have chained themselves to one of the company’s pieces of equipment. Arrests are occurring. During their time together, they have done info sharing and direct action training, preparing for today’s blockade. For more info, check out their Facebook page where they continue to post updates.Enbridge action Michigan july 22 2013enbridge action july 22 2013

They are bringing attention to an area that found out the hard way what the threat from a crude oil pipeline can mean when that threat is realized. They are defending, bearing witness to, this place and the harm that is being done to it.

I want to add one more example to this inspiring list, and then offer a closing reflection. Up in the North Woods of my state, as many of you know and have followed closely, a company called Gogebic Taconite (GTAC), owned by the Cline Group, a major operator in the coal-mining industry in Appalachia, Illinois, and elsewhere (yes, mountaintop removal and other strip-mining techniques), is winding its way through our industry-friendly Repub-dominated legislative process (even to the point of writing the legislation these guys pass to try to gut our environmental protection regulations), seeking the rights to tear up our beautiful Penokee Hills for a vast open pit iron ore mine. The mine would operate through the lifetimes of babies being born today, and even beyond. Beginning with a mile wide, 4-mile long, 1,000 ft deep gash in the Earth, they aim to gain access to a 22-mile long swath of our forests, hills, streams, and precious watershed that empties into the still fairly-pristine Lake Superior.

Well, this proposal is not only an egregious immoral assault on nature, it also violates many, many decades of Native American tribal rights under what is called “Ceded Territory.” These 19th century treaties give tribes in Wisconsin firm legal rights over things like the watershed, hunting and fishing rights, and the lands where they grow amazing wild rice, and a number of tribal leaders have been quite vocal about defending these places. Here in Wisconsin, we have been getting a great education about the lives of these communities, their economic struggles, their deep love of “place,” what their rights are and how those rights are enshrined in state and federal law, even if that annoys GTAC and Repub legislators no end.

But GTAC goes ahead in any case because their industry-friendly allies in the legislature have opened the process for them to apply for a permit, and right now the company is drilling test sites to see what is in the rock, a step towards filing that application.

The beautiful Penokee Hills

In response, one of the northern tribes, the Odaawaa-zaaga’iganiing (Lac Courte Oreilles), have set up a camp near the test-drilling site and right in the heart of the area of the proposed mine. They have set up camp. That’s what they have done. They have been there many weeks now. Others from the community and around the state have been supporting them by bringing food, sending donations, and visiting, bringing chairs and a tent to hang out for a while, swapping stories, and offering solidarity.

They are bearing witness to and defending this beautiful place.

Well, what do the local authorities, aligned with the company, want to do? Of course, evict the camp!!! Even though the tribe has every right in the world to be there!! As long as they want!! The hearing that will be held by Iron County forestry authorities is tomorrow morning and, as if any of us would be surprised, it will a CLOSED meeting. Presumably their lawyers will be there to advise them regarding the legal challenges that await the county if they try to kick tribal members off land that is part of the Ceded Territories.

These people are not only defending their place, but even their rights to be in that place.

Okay, so here are some thoughts with which to leave you: On Saturday I had the opportunity to co-lead a day on Deep Ecology and Mindfulness at the sangha where I practice, which was offered in part as a fundraiser for my September Athabasca Pilgrimage, my journey with several others to its headwaters in the Columbia Ice Fields near Jasper and across the boreal forests to the tar sands and First Nation communities north of Ft. McMurray. We spent our morning in deep investigation, deep looking into the reality of the vast ecological devastation that is the modus operandi of the industry. I know what I’m getting myself into and expect to be both awed by beauty and wonder, and then devastated by the toxic ruin.

I go to bear witness. I go to see this place that is being destroyed. I go in order to make the connections across North America as the pipelines and freight trains and barges carry this stuff through our communities. I go so that I have a story to tell when I return.

In our deep looking, we allowed ourselves to grieve, to grieve deeply, to share the many ways our hearts are already broken, and by the hopelessness and despair that is a common spiritual and psychological struggle of those who do the work of deep ecology and bearing witness.

In the afternoon we shifted our focus to Active Hope, as described in the book of that name by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. We did more deep looking, this time into the ‘weeds,’ into the burgeoning of all these groups who are emerging to defend places, to align themselves with the biological and ecological functions of the natural world of which we are a part. We invited ourselves to IMAGINE, to begin to ‘see’ the world we want to create and then focus like a laser beam on how to begin moving toward it – concretely, in each day of our lives. We shared how important it is to mimic nature in this journey, to learn again to listen to its wisdom, to let nature and its creatures teach us once again how to live in harmony with life, with the sentient and non-sentient beings among whom we live and move and have our being.

This might work...

This might work…

When we rip apart the connections that mark the interrelatedness of all things, we realize now that we also begin to do great harm to what holds us here, what keeps us alive, what allows us to flourish, what gives our lives deep meaning. Why would we want to continue doing that?

Well, many of us don’t. And the weeds continue to grow. And the pavement continues to crack and disintegrate. And what industrial society keeps on believing can be made permanent with a little more destruction, a little more extraction, a lot more waste and contamination, is being found to be not only impermanent but on the verge of collapse.

So, I’m going to be a weed. And with all the others out there working to defend places, to nurture and love them, to make life grow from them, we’re going to make more soil, cast more seeds, make a field, from which the forest will grow.


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