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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