Where the change is really happening…

Posted October 17th, 2013 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Somethin’s happening here – and all over the place. The reasons are sad, but the happenings are not. In the past few decades or so, by as much stealth as possible, the crude oil transhipment network and the explosive growth of the fracking industry have crashed into local communities all around the country. Suddenly, farmers, small town residents, rural areas and cities are finding their “places,” their beloved places – the places that are home, family, community – under threat of contamination and destruction.

I say “by stealth” because it’s not as if these industries or most of our local governments have wanted to draw a lot of attention to what is going on in our “backyards.” But with the discovery of oil and gas in shale rock and the development of the technology to extract it, with the technology that has made it possible to replace coal miners with dynamite and gigantic machines to blow up Appalachian Mountains to get to coal seams, and with a similar development of technology to strip boreal forests off the surface of Alberta in order to squeeze oil out of tar sands – and as world demand for oil and gas just keeps rising, and the pace of the increase keeps rising – we are finding more and more of our precious “places” under threat, if not already suffering the inevitable accidents, spills, train wrecks, leaks, land condemnations, contamination of groundwater and other forms of dangerous pollution as byproducts of all of these fossil fuel industries.FAMILY

In states being run by people representing dirty industries, as here in Wisconsin, and in Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Nebraska, et al – politicians elected into office awash with campaign cash from oil and pipeline interests, coal company CEOs, mining interests, unions representing workers in these industries, etc. – this is suddenly not an argument about politics anymore. It’s about who loves the land and wants to preserve what Nature has given us, and who sees the land (and what’s under it) as something to tear up or exploit for their corporate interests.


Ft. McKay, Alberta, surrounded by the tar sands industry poisoning their air and water.

This is getting to be a clearer, sharper, more urgent dividing line in our nation’s culture, indeed, in the human psyche all around the planet. And it will get clearer and sharper as the threats grow, as resources are diminished, as more people find their families, their health, their homes, and livelihoods threatened.

At some point, the tension around the destruction and the need to preserve what Nature gave us (so that we can live at all) will reach that kind of breaking point where we will finally, of necessity, have to make some big decisions about how to proceed, decisions about how human economies function and with what purpose, decisions about how we will live on this precious planet in ways that drastically reduce our human footprint, allows Nature some time to adjust to the damage we have done, and does this with compassion, justice, and a deep sense of community and solidarity as guiding principles.

Tall order. But what matters is not how big the challenge is; what matters is how we respond to it.

Now I’m a bit of a Facebook junkie – not for the usual reasons and not because I am fond of the corporation. It’s definitely one of those love-hate relationships. I know enough not to put much of any personal info there. However, it is a powerful networking platform and has given me some real boosts in recent years in the “hope” category, which is part of how this project identifies itself. We share a lot of difficult news here. What I want to do in this post (and others to come) is to lift up some examples of what I mean about emerging groups defending “place,” and how these for me exemplify the real direction and dynamism of a movement that can begin to challenge the fossil fueled global economy that is leading us towards a very grim future.

I have found these groups on Facebook and often share their posts. If you go visit these websites, I think you will see why they give me a burst of hope these troubling days.

Tar Sands Free Midwest

Bold Nebraska

Friends of the Central Sands

Michiana Coalition Against Tar Sands – MICATS

Frac Sand Industry Sacrifice Zones (so far only on Facebook, as far as I can tell)

Now, go to this page on the Tar Sands Blockade website and scroll down to the list of Gulf Coast groups that are “drawing the line” on tar sands. And then look at their site. What I appreciate here is that, despite their name and logo, they are not just singularly focused on Keystone, but on other struggles related to pipelines and fracking. This is how we build a movement. It must bubble up from below and the role of larger groups is to make the bubbling visible and help empower all these many voices.

Bakken Watch – “keeping an eye on oil and natural gas development in North Dakota.” The website pages are dated, but the group is active and current  on Facebook. You see, as dramatic and awful as the Alberta tar sands industrial project is, we have our own horror being perpetrated in North Dakota with precious little attention being paid to what is happening there. But some folks are watching – we should open our eyes to what they are showing us.

Farmers Against Fracking

New York Youth Against Fracking– you have to love a group with a name like that!!

You know, it just goes on and on and on. One group’s Facebook page leads to others on their contact list which leads to others on their list – and we are smack in the middle of what Paul Hawken describes so well in his book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. In this book, he refers to “humanity’s immune response to resist and heal the effects of political corruption, economic disease, and ecological degradation.” And he writes of the power of the internet to get groups connected, aware of one another, sharing information, experiences, wisdom, resources.

And he describes the world in which we live in this deeply troubled 21st century:

“The movement for equity and environmental sustainability comes as global conditions are changing dramatically and becoming more demanding. We are the first generation to live on earth to witness a doubling of population in our lifetime. The babies born within the next thirty hours of your reading this will replace the 250,000 people lost in the tragic tsunami of December 26, 2004. Nearly 3 billion more people will join the current population of 6.6 billion [this book was published in 2007; we are already at 7.1 billion] within 50 years, and the world has yet to figure out how to take care of those already here. By the middle of this century, resources available per person will drop at least by half.”

He writes of how we are “threatened by global forces that do not consider people’s deepest longings,” and how can that not make us think of these past 3 weeks in Washington, or of TransCanada’s aggressive efforts to condemn and take the land of Nebraska farmers, or Enbridge’s nearly unthinkable plan to enhance already existing pipelines in my state to transport more than a million barrels per day of Alberta and Bakken crude.TRAVEL

What we see in all of these burgeoning grassroots groups are people who are trying to express their “deepest longings,” to hang onto a world in which their children have clean water to drink, healthy food to eat, safe places to play amidst the creeks and woods and lake shores, air that is not scary to breathe, and land that is not being toxified and ruined all around them.

As the pace of fossil fuel burning continues to accelerate to meet the world’s demands, more and more people will feel the threat in very personal ways, and more and more people will come together to defend their places. What we are all coming to realize together now is that in order to stop this, it is the demand that has to begin going sharply in the other direction. The only way for us to keep the carbon in the ground, which is necessary for our survival and that of millions of other species, is to so lower demand for fossil fuels that the industry goes extinct (and quickly) as did the organisms that created this amazing goo hundreds of millions of years ago.

Solidarity across borders, Canada and the U.S., in defense of "places.'

Solidarity across borders, Canada and the U.S., in defense of “places.”

And in order for that to happen, we will have to alter our economies, our expectations, our ideas of what constitutes the “good” life, and learn again what it means to live in balance with these “places” that are as much part of us as our skin, our blood, the air in our lungs, the joy in our hearts.



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One Response

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    This is the same case with other developing countries, only the gravity is more as the population explosion is also there with very little/poor employment generation schemes. I think an alternative has to be found, like instead of individual transportation system mass transportation systems are must for all good drainage and pollution control mechanisms to be enforced. As each and every country is receiving good rainfalls ground water level improvement systems should be encouraged.