Great Tide Rising

Great Tide Rising:  Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a time of Planetary Change
Kathleen Dean Moore

GTRI’m writing this review in the hopes that it might actually motivate someone to read this book.  It’s on the same caliber as Joanna Macy’s work.  Kathleen turns out to be another really good friend that you are so glad you met so please do make the effort to meet her.

She is comforting in her beautiful nature writing vignettes that give breathing room between her intense doses of clarity, which is what the title promises.  She is one of us and is more than.  I so enjoyed the trip through her brain and its thoughtful, knowledgeable progression of logic.  Her perceptions give voice to much that many of us may have felt but not expressed and she does this with love and eloquence.  Certainly there is anger and despair; I love that she occasionally cusses, but she keeps going to get to a realistic, useful resting place of thought and a solid springboard for action.

Kathleen lays the responsibility of our current situation at the feet of the fossil fuel industry and calls their business plan ‘a moral monstrosity on a cosmic scale’.  She says we can’t help but be complicit in this and that our fear of being seen as hypocrites is immobilizing and probably the biggest reason for public silence on climate change.

She talks about the traditional deniers, those that state their denial due to loyalty, economic self-interest or political strategy.  They attack the science of climate change and thus take the risk of looking stupid or stubborn.  But it avoids the truth that by supporting denial they are morally reprehensible.  She goes on to talk about the new deniers that deny that action can help and that the odds against preventing business as usual are so overwhelming all efforts are useless.  She argues otherwise.

Kathleen also argues against adaptation and states we should be using all our efforts toward mitigation.  She calls on scientists to live up to their responsibility to speak out in ways that prompt healthy social change and that to do any less is an abdication of one’s responsibility as a scientist who is entrusted with the truth.

Her pages are filled with humor and surprise.  They are also filled with a call for a new set of ethics, of what it means to be smart and happy, how we need courageous, relentless citizenship to change the ‘dysfunctional values married to catastrophic leadership’.  When asked ‘What can one person do?’  she responds by saying ‘stop being one person’, become part of a community of caring.  She discusses creative disruption and includes art, investigative journalism and direct action among her examples.  To her, civil disobedience is an act of love.

I hope this whets your appetite for more.  Please let me know if you read it or want to be part of a discussion group as you read it.  Reading this book is like having a life coach that CSunderstands, explains, encourages and expects.

– Cathy Strickler, founder, Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
cathystrickler4 [at]

The Burning Question

Book Review by Les Grady
The Burning Question: We can’t burn half the world’s
coal and gas.  So how do we quit?
Mike Berners-Lee and Duncan Clark
Greystone Books, Vancouver/Berkeley, 2013
ISBN 13:9781771640077

TheBurningQuestionAs popularized in 2012 by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone, science has made it clear that humans can put just so much CO2 in the atmosphere without causing catastrophic global warming.  This means that we must stop burning fossil fuels and leave the bulk of them in the ground.  The burning question, therefore, is how to do that without disrupting the global economy?  This book addresses that question.

Having read a bit about global energy supplies and the unimaginable quantities of energy that humans use, I have been pondering that question for some time.  Thus, I started reading this book with a great deal of anticipation, hoping for some clear guidance on the path forward.  Perhaps my expectations were too great, but they were not met.  This probably speaks more to the enormity of the task than to the quality of this book.  The authors have done a good job of pulling together a large amount of material in a logical manner and with an easily readable writing style (if one can overlook a few quizzical phrases that seem to be common to British English).  They have also been willing to speculate about technologies and strategies that might unlock the stranglehold that the fossil fuel industry has on the world, for which they are to be commended.  Thus, all in all, I recommend the book, particularly if you have only recently begun to grapple with the problem and want a good summary of all of the issues involved.

The text is 200 pages long with another 68 pages of notes and index.  It is organized into five parts comprising 19 chapters.  Both Amazon and Google Books have samples from the book, including the table of contents, so you can go to either to learn more about the organization.

Part 5, “What now?” was the part of the book that resonated most with me, and of course is what the rest of the book prepares the reader for.  I particularly liked the first chapter in it, “Waking up – Facing the facts.”  Unlike many articles you read about how to communicate with the public about climate change, these authors recommend a straight-on approach.  “Given where we are now, it’s crucial that more people hear the simple facts load and clear: that climate change presents huge risks; that our efforts to solve it so far haven’t worked; and that there’s a moral imperative to constrain unabated fossil fuel use on behalf of current and especially future generations.  It’s often assumed that the world isn’t ready for this kind of message – that it’s too negative or scary or confrontational.  But reality needs facing head on – and anyhow the truth may be more interesting and inspiring than the watered down version.”  This is a conclusion I have come to myself, so you can see why I liked this chapter.

I also liked Chapter 16, “Pushing the right technologies – hard”, perhaps because it also conveys some thoughts I’ve been having lately.  One concerns carbon capture and storage (CCS).  CCS faces some huge hurdles, both technological and physical.  For example, a physical limitation, which the authors don’t mention, is that each gallon of oil burned results in three gallons of (liquefied) CO2.  Consequently, it will be a real challenge to find sufficient appropriate subsurface space into which to put the stuff.  Nevertheless, the authors see CCS as the key to getting the big fossil fuel companies and countries on board as part of the solution.  They state “… no one is better placed to dominate the world of carbon sequestration than the big oil companies.  A plausible global market in carbon capture could therefore give some of the world’s most powerful countries and companies – and the companies with the most to lose from scaling down fossil fuel use – a powerful incentive to support climate legislation.”  While this idea will doubtless grate on some who view the fossil fuel industry as the enemy, there could well be some wisdom in it.  We need to be focused on the main objective – reducing CO2 in the atmosphere – and if this requires some uncomfortable compromises, so be it.

Another uncomfortable compromise that Berners-Lee and Clark think bears consideration concerns nuclear energy.  “The key point about the nuclear debate, therefore, is that we shouldn’t allow it to distract us from the question of how to leave fossil fuels in the ground.  That said, it is important to ask whether nuclear should be part of the energy mix that replaces fossil fuels, ….”  After admitting the well-known downsides of nuclear, they then point out that France converted almost all of its electric generating capacity to nuclear in only 11 years, demonstrating that rapid deployment is, indeed, possible.  Furthermore, “… most mainstream energy analysts believe that rejecting nuclear would make an already difficult task even tougher and more expensive ….”  They go on to say, “Our own view, given the profound threat of climate change, is that we’d be foolish to limit our options.  At the very least campaigning against nuclear seems like an odd use of time and effort.”  Finally, after more discussion of the new generations of nuclear reactors they conclude “Both in terms of technology and what’s at stake, the context of the nuclear discussion is very different today from how it was a few decades ago and at a minimum it is important that all those with long held views consider the issue with fresh eyes.”  To which I say, Amen!

The concluding chapter of the book deals with the fact that we all have a role in solving this problem.  No efforts are too small.  Rather than all of us taking on the responsibility to act, “we could keep on as we are: ignoring or playing down the risks and putting responsibility for action elsewhere.  But that would mean taking a monumental gamble with our children’s future, and a species as intelligent as ours surely wouldn’t do that.  Would it?”

The Burning Question poses many interesting questions.  Hence it is well worth reading if you are concerned about how to address the root cause of climate change, our use of fossil fuels.

The views expressed are mine alone and should not be interpreted as the views of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley or its Steering Committee.

March 2015

Don’t Even Think about It

DontEvenThinkAboutItI recently finished reading Don’t Even Think about It – Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change by George Marshall, Bloomsbury, New York, ©2014, ISBN: 978-1-62040-133-0.  As one who tries to engage the public on the issue, I found the book to be very helpful in understanding the full dimension of our reluctance to talk about climate change and in gaining insight into how I might approach the subject. As Marshall notes, “If climate change becomes intentionally harmful only when people know they are causing it, is it any surprise that most people do everything they can to avoid learning about it or accepting that it exists?”

As important as the moral dimension of climate change is, Marshall cautions that we must be very careful in raising that dimension. As Jonathan Haidt points out in his book The Righteous Mind, various groups in our culture place different degrees of emphasis on each of the six moral foundations.  Consequently, moral demands must be carefully tailored to speak to the values of the group being addressed or they will fail to have the desired effect, and may backfire.  In fact, when discussing framing (i.e., how we present the issue), Marshall says “Never assume that what works for you will work for others.  Indeed, the fact that you strongly like something may well be an indication that people with other values will hate it.” Insights such as this were very helpful to me.

It is always gratifying when an author presents a concept that you, too, had been pondering. Thus, I was pleased to read that Marshall also thinks that we need to mourn the end of the fossil fuel age, which was “exceptionally affluent, mobile, and exciting. The low-carbon world will have new pleasures, but no longer the sweet roar of the Ford Mustang V8.”  As a former owner of a 1965 Mustang (in 1965) and as a person who drove sports cars for years, I really identify with that idea.  Fossil fuels brought us many benefits, but now it is time to let them go.  As we do so, many of us will long for the “old days” and hate to give them up.  We should acknowledge that loss and create a way for people to grief, thereby helping us move on to a new future.  Such acknowledgement may also serve as a bridge to communities we aren’t currently reaching.

While the book is full of little seeds for further thought, I’ll bring up just one more. Marshall thinks that the climate change community and governments have placed too much emphasis on carbon dioxide (the tailpipe) and not enough on the fossil fuels themselves (the wellhead) and everything in between. This causes a disconnect, allowing our government to subsidize fossil fuel exploration and production at the same time it is beginning to regulate carbon dioxide emissions. Perhaps the divestment movement will help us focus on the fuels themselves and the need to stop making new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure.

The book is relatively short, 242 pages, and is divided into 43 chapters. Thus, one can pick it up for a few minutes and read a chapter or two, making it easy for someone like me, who never seems to have enough time to read, to get through it.  In addition, Marshall’s writing style is very easy to read and understand. I think you will find it to be very informative and well worth your time.

Les Grady
CAAV Steering Committee
February 2015

“Active Hope” by Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone

Active Hope

Book Review By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

from Spirituality and Practice, Resources for Spiritual Journeys

Active Hope
How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy
Joanna Macy, Chris Johnstone
New World Library 03/12 Paperback $14.95
ISBN: 9781577319726

Joanna Macy, author and activist for peace and deep ecology, and Chris Johnstone, who trains and writes on resilience and positive change, know that we are living in hard and perilous times. They write about three stories that are afoot in our culture that address our situation. The first is “Business As Usual” with its emphasis on economic growth, consumption, getting ahead, and using nature as nothing more than a commodity. The second story is “The Great Unraveling” which focuses on economic decline, resource depletion, climate change, social division and war, and mass extinction of species. The third story is “The Great Turning” which involves campaigns in defense of the earth; a change in our perception, thinking, and values; and developing new economic and social structures.

To choose the third story is to live in active hope. This practice has three steps: taking a clear view of reality, seeing the direction we’d like things to move in, and taking concrete steps to change things. Macy and Johnstone envision gratitude as a practice that animates us to act for our world. They also believe that it serves as an antidote to consumerism.

The planetary emergency often promotes such a feeling of pain that we are immobilized or sidetracked to trivial pursuits. The authors present practices and exercises to help us honor our pain for the world. Active hope also provides us with a wider sense of self and the desire to connect with like-minded souls.

It is hard to cope with feelings of powerlessness in the face of so many global problems. But we can derive new strength by relying on a wider view of community, a larger view of time, catching an inspiring vision, and daring to believe it is possible. We can stem the tide of catastrophe by building support for ourselves, maintaining energy and enthusiasm, and accepting uncertainty (we really don’t know how things will turn out).

Active Hope is the right book for our time!

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Trilogy

Forty Signs of RainForty Days of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting

by Kim Stanley Robinson

From a interview with the author by Brandon Keim on 7/03/07:

WN: One of the main characters in the new trilogy is Frank Vanderwal, a scientist who leads a radical National Science Foundation initiative to respond, immediately and on a planetary scale, to climate change. Vanderwal becomes heavily influenced by Buddhist thought, and his own lifestyle becomes a form of Freganism — living without a single permanent home, communing in a deeply spiritual way with nature, accepting change and valorizing adaptability, living off the excess of our own over-producing society. Do you feel this to be the ideal mentality and lifestyle for a time of radical climate change?

Robinson: He’s a character in a comedy who takes things too far. A lot of scientists act on their beliefs and so do things that look crazy to the rest of us. He’s basically following the right line — but without going homeless or moving into a treehouse, all of us can look at the way we live and adjust accordingly. That’s what novels are for in the utopian sense: to suggest modes of thought so you can examine your own life and see what you can do.

read the rest here

“Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight BehaviorThe New York Times Sunday Book Review

The Butterfly Effect                                       ‘Flight Behavior,’                                              by Barbara Kingsolver                                     By DOMINIQUE BROWNING                   Published: November 9, 2012

Dellarobia Turnbow is about to fling herself into a love affair that will wreak havoc on her placid life, and she’s worried about what she’s wearing. She’s frantic with desire, frantic with passion, also frantic for a cigarette. Her boots, bought secondhand, “so beautiful she’d nearly cried when she found them,” are killing her. It’s the wettest fall on record in southern Appalachia, and she has to be hiking in pointed-toe calfskin on a steep, muddy trail to a deserted cabin for an illicit rendezvous.

All sorts of “crazy wanting,” both prosaic and earth-shattering, are shot through the intricate tapestry of Barbara Kingsolver’s majestic and brave new novel, “Flight Behavior.” Her subject is both intimate and enormous, centered on one woman, one family, one small town no one has ever heard of — until Dellarobia stumbles into a life-altering journey of conscience. How do we live, Kingsolver asks, and with what consequences, as we hurtle toward the abyss in these times of epic planetary transformation? And make no mistake about it, the stakes are that high. Postapocalyptic times, and their singular preoccupation with survival, look easy compared with this journey to the end game. Yet we must also deal with the pinching boots of everyday life.

read the rest here