On October 4th, 2015, CAAV Steering Committee Co-chairperson Joni Grady delivered this heartfelt sermon to her congregation at the Harrisonburg Unitarian Universalists Church. It is a message of hope with spot-on descriptions of many of Joni’s fellow, local, passionate, climate warriors.
Welcome to another step in my attempt to make sense out of an increasingly irrational world. When I picked the title, Reality Check, I had a rather different talk envisioned, one dealing only with the painful bifurcation of my life and the lives of everyone involved to any extent with that most dreadful task, saving the only livable planet we seem to have. In one part of my life, the dreaming world, we try to remember to vacuum the rugs and take out the trash, put money into Sophie’s college savings and reserve a beach house for Christmas. In this world, which seems so familiar, so pleasant, a bad problem is not finding the type of tea I like at Martin’s or getting stuck at too many red lights. A serious issue means the AC has gone out and the mattress needs replacing. And a tragedy would of course be sickness or death amongst family or friends. In this world, mainstream media news means killings, wars, politicians and celebrities. Sometimes on the front page or at the top of the hour but usually hidden on the inside or never heard or shown at all are floods, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and storms. These, thank goodness, are simply “acts of God” that come and go randomly around the world but, happily, rarely in the Peaceful Valley. (Or at least that’s what I thought until Tuesday when the dreaming world intersected the waking world and an unusual (new normal?) storm dropped 4 inches of rain and a lot of it ended up in my basement.) Both worlds were interrupted by an actual Reality check!!
Normally, in the other, equally real, weirding-climate, waking world that I also live in 24/7, the minor day-to-day issues revolve around making sure there are enough materials for tabling at the Farmers Market, getting out the word for various events and keeping the CAAV facebook page up-to-date. (CAAV, for those new to the area, is the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley.) The more complicated ones involve designing a display to draw people in at the International Festival when they really just want to eat and have fun, not be bothered by inconvenient truth, and planning next month’s educational forum (which is, in case you’re interested, the inside story on fighting western forest fires, from training to living in camp to the actual hard and very dirty work of controlling a wildfire, brought to us by Sophie’s dad Alan Williams.) And the news I read is all climate, all the time: some good, some bad, some optimistic, some terrifying.
The difficult part is to do these things in the presence of the dreamers who inhabit the first world, the ones living in a trance from which they will only awaken, possibly, when disaster strikes them personally. And when I really feel sorry for myself, I can feel even worse when I read the hate mail, the threats, the obscenities that are thrown at the scientists, the real climate warriors—even though I know these are written from the nightmare world of conspiracy belief inhabited by the DNR editor and James Inhofe. When I think about the Syrian and other climate refugees dying to escape a part of the world no longer viable, and envision that small part growing and expanding to affect and engulf us all, I get so depressed I want to give it all up and go back to sleep –to sleep, perchance to dream.
This kind of thinking is a real recipe for burn out and serious depression and recently, all the advice from Marcus Aurelius and Rev. Gingrich to just “keep on working” didn’t seem to help. Probably I should get therapy! But I didn’t. I simply decided to step back, take a new position and get a different perspective on the situation. The events of the past week actually helped me get some perspective on both worlds. In the middle of even this minor climate-related hardship, I found myself so absorbed with the nitty gritty of sticky orange silty water all over my floor that I rarely thought about what CAAV or 350 or Sierra Club are planning for this fall leading up to the Paris climate conference. No wonder most people, who don’t have my privileged leisure time, don’t worry very far into the future. On the other hand I began to get a real, though tiny, inkling of what regular life is like now in many places. And I found, through the kindness of friends, relations, and total strangers, that there is always hope and help, and even a hug from the IHOP cashier.
Sure, our work with CAAV probably seems trivial to most people, but it’s a way to work on one little cog, to hope there are so many little cogs and gears beginning to mesh and so many incredible people in the world working on them that a massive engine of change is being built with the leverage to move the world. There are people I might never have known about, much less met, without my totally unexpected immersion in this, the second, the waking world. These are not the usual suspects like Ralph and the Sierra Club, though goddess knows we couldn’t do without them, but people you may not know at all or know in a different context.
Valerie Serrels and her twin sons Grant and Garret helped found iMatter Youth, a group that dared to sue the United States on the basis that every citizen has the right to a place on a safe livable planet—what gall they have!
Jeff Heie and Earl Martin are Mennonite builders who are part of a volunteer group that renovates homes for low-income folks and whose Voluntary Gas Tax group assess themselves for the CO2 they burn each year. This year they raised enough for a $5000 grant to launch a major solar power project for the Gift and Thrift shop along Mt. Clinton Pike. And anyone who wants can donate $200 and buy a panel to help out.
Lynn Cameron and the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain try to protect and preserve our highlands and Rev. Kate Lehman and the other Riverkeepers protect our waters. Lynn learned, and tried to teach me, that working with a wide range of stakeholders on a problem takes finesse, patience, and a willingness to listen to all points of view—I haven’t learned it yet, but she has tried.
Wayne Teel, Rob Alexander and Jeff Tang teach their JMU students what’s going on and aren’t afraid that the truth will be too scary for their tender young minds, Amy Thompson does the same in Bridgewater. And there are so many folks at EMU who work from their hearts to get to the heart of the problem, even if it takes them into the halls of the Pentagon, like Dr. Lisa Shirch, our last CAAV speaker.
Through CAAV I have gotten to know students at JMU and EMU who have already decided to devote their lives to solving the problem and are working right now to get JMU and EMU to divest from fossil fuels. Others are working with CAAV to bring inexpensive solar power to the Valley. And there are our staunch supporters led by Mark Fink at CourtSquare Theatre who are willing to work with us whenever we want to bring provocative films to town.
I love the “creation care” people who have worked so hard to wake up their congregations and the ministers across the Valley, people like Ramona and Bill Sanders, the Reverend David Miller, Bill Rosenow, David Pruett and Michael Snell-Feikema. Doug Hendren and the Occupy Harrisonburg contingent, and the farmers such as Bobby Whitescarver and others in the Valley Conservation Council all understand that economy and ecology are part and parcel of the same thing. Without a livable planet how would any of us make a living?
When I decided to try some grass-tops organizing to promote the free weatherization of low-income houses, Karen Thomas, Stan Macklin, the inimitable Doris Allen and all of the NorthEast Neighborhood Association welcomed me into their midst and made me feel at home. Jamie Miller from New Bridges helps our new immigrant neighbors with the application forms for getting their homes weatherized.
I’m proud to call April Moore and Andy Schmookler friends and compatriots, two with the courage to run for political office against entrenched politicians with ties to the big money interests of fossil fuels. Again, what nerve! ?! I now know and work with lawyers and architects like Bishop Dansby, Tom Domonoske and Charles Hendricks who stick their necks out in city council and the school board meetings, trying to prepare Harrisonburg for the 21st century. And they do this with the help of committed public servants like Thanh Dang and our old HUU friend Kai Degner. I’ve learned from Bish that it doesn’t hurt to write perfect strangers and ask them for information or help—which explains why I’m the unlikely pen pal of an ex-Oxford Univ. professor and expert in product branding!
The core of my support is my own favorite bunch of wide awake people, the steering committee of CAAV: Cathy started it all, Charlie cares so much that he risked his health in a protest fast last week. Rickie Wertz is our secretary and in from the beginning. Anne Nielsen, artist, biologist, educator, may know even more Valley folk than Cathy; Lynn Smith loves art and children’s books as much as I do and creates wonderful displays; our Chairperson Laura Dansby is willing to lead her legislative committee into conversations with the unwilling and still remain calm, cool, and collected; Adrie Voors is a climate refugee from Katrina and a veterinarian who loves animals even more than people and who inspires my social media work with her own great talent as webmaster. Joy Loving almost single-handedly started the solar revolution in Harrisonburg and now has her sights set on Rockingham, Page and Shenandoah counties. Carl Droms is treasurer and how many other mathematicians do you know would put on a polar bear suit to draw attention to the melting Arctic ice and march around Main St.? Pete Mahoney is our spiritual leader whose goodness and perseverance inspires us all, and our newest, youngest, members, Emily Blake and Alleyn Harned are teaching by example that renovating old buildings has a much lower carbon footprint than building new. And obviously there’s Les, whom I forget to tell how much his support and hard work mean to me and how much I admire the way his brain works, not skimming the surface like mine, but delving deep and really learning and sharing the complexities of this horrible mess we’re in.
Others I can’t name here are all just as important because they are willing to be awake and face real life, whether or not they work with us directly. Some come regularly to our events, our forums, our movies, our tables, some just check out our website and Facebook page or receive our weekly round-up of the best and worst climate news. I would never in a million years have gotten to meet so many passionate, committed men and women, if I hadn’t begun working with the gang at CAAV. These are people who are too busy to stay depressed for long and being around them buoys my spirits too. And this is just my local disrupted-climate community, strands and nodes in an interconnected web of concern. The web stretches across the state, across the country and around the world. It is made up of activists, scientists, artists, politicians and statesmen, CEOs and volunteers, mothers and fathers, children and elders, writers of fiction and creators of documentaries, Bangladeshis and Inuit, UUs and Evangelicals and even, would you believe, a pope! What a grand group of people who have decided that, for the good times and the bad times too, let it be a dance!
References (in order of appearance, and just a few of the many working in the area)
1. Climate Action Alliance of the Valley: http://www.climateactionallianceofthevalley.org and http://www.facebook.com/caavva to get announcements of events, the Weekly Roundup of top climate news, and minutes of our open public meetings, subscribe to our listserv at contactcaav [at] gmail.com
2. Sierra Club: http://www.sierraclub.org/virginia/shenandoah
3. iMatter Youth: http://www.imatteryouth.org
4. Voluntary Gas Tax: http://www.voluntarygastax.org
5. Friends of Shenandoah Mountain: http://www.friendsofshenandoahmountain.org
6. Riverkeepers/Waterkeepers: http://www.waterkeeperschesapeake.com/about-us/resources/item/56-shenandoah-riverkeeper
7. Wayne Teel: http://www.isat.jmu.edu/people/teel.html
8. Rob Alexander: http://www.jmu.edu/polisci/faculty_alexander.shtml
9. Jeff Tang, Associate Dean of the College of Integated Science and Engineering, was instrumental in starting the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Green Network. H/RGN is made up of representatives of various environmental/climate groups, and meets monthly to keep an eye on projects to improve the sustainability and resilience of the area.
10. Amy Thompson: https://www.bridgewater.edu/about-bc/faculty-students/amy-thompson . CAAV Speakers Bureau member Les Grady regularly visits her geology class to talk about climate change.
11. Lisa Schirch: http://www.emu.edu/personnel/people/show/schirchl
12. Doug Hendren: https://www.facebook.com/MusicalScalpel?pnref=lhc for protest songs about the environment and the 1%
13. Valley Conservation Council: http://www.valleyconservation.org/
14. NorthEast Neighborhood Association: http://www.nenava.org/
15. April Moore: http://aprilmoorestatesenate.com/
16. Charles Hendricks: https://harrisonburgarchitect.wordpress.com/charles-hendricks/
17. Doug Holt: http://www.brandclimate.org