Summer Driving Season, Reconsidered.

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We Need to Keep Fossil Fuels Buried in the Paleozoic Ground.

 Memorial Day Weekend, otherwise known as the start of the Summer Driving Season, commodity speculators and fossil fuel industry executives will be eager to see how prepared drivers will be to incinerate the oil and gas inventory currently flooding world markets – courtesy of, for the time being, Saudi Arabia and intensive US hydraulic fracturing. There is a way to boycott fossil fuels and signal to the oil industry we don’t need their stinking carbon nearly as much as they imagine. But first we have to be a little less obsessed with our cars, our machines and electronic devices say, once a week.


But First, Memorial Day Isn’t About Commerce.

 I remember the pained words watching a news interview of a father whose son was one of the first fatal casualties of the Iraq Invasion. Possibly it was the agony of his statement that explains the odd phrasing. He said his son gave his life for our American “lifestyle”. I believe he wanted to say American way of life. But maybe, lifestyle was what he meant. Under the circumstances it’s hard to find the words. Our lifestyle choices indeed ought to honor those fallen soldiers and align with the only words that ever seem to express the terrible loss;

 “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” — President Abraham Lincoln, 1863


 Idle the days not your car’s engine.

 While you’re immobilized in traffic this Memorial Day weekend, encountering the annual accursed madness of our era yet again, remember Albert Einstein’s aphorism that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Assuming most of us are relatively sane it would be difficult not to know we’re idling away the climate simply to escape a maniacal lifestyle. The advisable thing to do when you do arrive at your destination is to just…stop. For the next 24 hours relax. You have just experienced an extreme example of an ancestral problem — not participating in a stop day.

Here’s an epiphany; altering the way you use time will reduce energy use and CO2 emissions. There actually is something you can enjoy doing about this.

This summer, ditch the car and rush-hour commutes. And when you return to the regular workweek, you might want to experiment with a Sabbath Day or Secular stop day — one day a week off the grid. It can free your mind and open all kinds of unimagined creative possibilities. (It takes a little practice).

James Lovelock, the freethinking inventor/atmospheric scientist/ecologist who developed the Gaia Theory of our planet as a self-regulating organism remarked;

“It’s personal action that counts. Any biological activation starts with a single organism.”

He also said this; “You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air.”

Indeed, we overwhelmingly now know just how over our heads we’ve come and can start focusing on the inspired things to do about climate change.

There is on closer inspection an unhurried wilderness of biota, migrations, parks and waterways, in your regional surroundings to explore. From community gardening in Detroit to rewilding our children in nature or, as a trail maintainer working The Long Path told me “We do this so other people can have a better experience”. There are myriad other possibilities of your choosing.

And even if your have one of those clever engines that shut down when stopped, we have much better things to do with our time on Earth.

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Think small (again).

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In semi-defense of advertising on Earth Day.

On his passing The New York Times wrote this headline;

Julian Koenig, Who Sold Americans on Beetles and Earth Day, Dies at 93.

To be the Guy who came up with Earth Day and Think Small is a remarkable legacy. At the time of seeing the first photos of our home planet in full, Joni Mitchell singing Woodstock, passage of civil rights legislation and The Wilderness Act, we had enough time then, to heed scientist’s major warnings of climate change and much to feel hopeful for.

Somehow along the way the virtue of sharing and simplicity became passé. But more recently, perhaps of necessity, a younger generation is discovering the practicality of less is more, as in a deeper connection to things they value.

Creative people like Julian and the other writers and art directors of the Mad Men era managed to make wit, the desired commodity.

I’d like to believe enough of us want to see our country and the world stop the climate catastrophe and that this crisis will awaken the necessary response. That wit, talent and simple honesty will reappear with sufficient force now that we need it most.

Advertising is a changed business as much as any other today in one very important way. Corporations no longer see their main purpose to serve the best interests of customers or country, at least in the main. And to be fair there are philanthropic aspects of commerce and market efficiencies are sought. But no surprise here – profits trump humanity. And that has no place in a quarterly earnings statement – the businessperson’s report card. The only reason to be green is if it makes money.

A t-shirt my daughter bought me during the Gap RED campaign reads;

 WHAT WE
COLLECTIVELY
CHOOSE 2 BUY,
OR NOT 2 BUY CAN
CHANGE THE
COUR$E
OF LIFE
& HISTORY
ON THIS
PLANET.

 Change buy to sell and It should hang in every corporate boardroom.

You might say social engineering has been what advertising has been up to all along unwittingly having arrived at this frightful moment. And though pundits rail at the suggestion of “mind-control” mankind is quite capable of creating a successful response to energy use. With cleverness, persuasion, improvisation, fury, love, faith, comedy, art, science, music and every motivational tool and a whole lot more than good intentions.

Industrial nations must confront their primary role in undertaking the planet’s sixth extinction and find ways to dramatically alter a consumptive civilization. Especially in light of the developing world’s emergence and expectations of a planet-wide consumer culture.

Since the Second World War there have been a great many PSA (Public Service Announcements). Advertisers leap at the opportunity to be authors of them.

"We can do it!" Rosie the Riveter Poster smokey_poster Save a Planet

 

Classic campaigns from the Ad Council and one of mine for the Time Environmental Challenge.

 

climatenamechange.org

 

One of The Guardian top 10 climate change campaigns.

Where to begin?

“This is an absolute necessity for anybody today. You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers this morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you might find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

— Joseph Campbell

The return of cheap oil. This time don’t waste it.

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Courtesy Getty Images

Boycott!

The price of oil tumbles but the devastating human cost remains.

What an astonishing and unpredictable moment. Crude oil prices are tanking and the US, producing 70% more in the last six years, is on the cusp of becoming, in a few months, the world’s largest oil exporter – more than Saudi Arabia!

This is good for consumers and our economy – temporarily.

Instead of decades of the punishing OPEC cartel and petro-state extortion, America has a real chance to get its groove back.

Consumers can send a powerful signal and we will never have quite this opportunity again – to alter the fossil fuel path – definitively.

Fossil fuel divestment is a real part of this change. But OPEC won’t be happy and will be back.

Capitalists praise the power of disruption to foster innovation but prefer inertia and an energy-addicted consumer.

Now it’s up to all of us. The stewards of our future.

24-6 Boycott. One day a week off the grid.

We, consumers all, can send prices even lower, enough to signal multinational corporations and repressive petro-states, that there’s more profit in responsible leadership. And we’re serious.

Help Oil Giants become sustainable Energy Companies.

Support coal miners transitioning to new livelihoods.

Acknowledge oil workers with whistle-blower protection and safer work conditions.

Spend a little time with our families and friends.

Bundle up in sweaters building snowmen.

Marvel at an astonishing Universe under a cold clear sky.

A spectacular sustainable future awaits.

With Big Oil extinction.

When Cultures Collapse.

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For the 350th anniversary of my town’s founding in 1661, I was asked to draw the ten items that the Sinoway (An Algonquian-speaking people of the Wappinger Federation) traded for their coastal lands. The concept of actually owning land was as foreign to Native-Americans as the concept of money.

This is a mural that graces a wall in our town’s library titled: The Purchase of Mamaroneck from the Siwanoys, 1661. It was painted with the auspices of the W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) in 1936 by Warren Chase Merritt d.1968.

This is a mural that graces a wall in our town’s library titled: The Purchase of Mamaroneck from the Siwanoys, 1661. It was painted with the auspices of the W.P.A. (Works Project Administration) in 1936 by Warren Chase Merritt d.1968.

Drawing the traded items gave me a few days to contemplate what we value when civilizations collapse. It was a nice detachment from time but rooted in place. (A couple of 24-6 days off the grid to just consider history and draw).

These are the trade items I drew.

2 Firelockes, 12 Bars of Lead, 20 Coats, 20 Hands of Powder, 15 Hatchets, 15 Hoes, 3 Kettles, 12 Shirts, 1- Pair of Stockings, 100 Fathom of Wampum

Items for the purchase of Mamaroneck in 1661; 2 Firelockes, 12 Bars of Lead, 20 Coats, 20 Hands of Powder, 15 Hatchets, 15 Hoes, 3 Kettles, 12 Shirts, 10 Pair of Stockings, 100 Fathom of Wampum

Wampum, “white man’s money”, had more to do with agreements and treaties than currency before European contact.

As you can see, when these descendents of a thousands year old culture dispersed, what refugees needed was just enough to get the hell out, find some safer place, move in with distant relatives — assimilation if possible or exodus.

Sound familiar?

 

The Apocalypse is Having a Real Moment.

With films, novels, journalists and Grammy award songs capitalizing on our angst The Apocalypse is having a resurgent moment. Even climate denial can make hay from our apocalyptic neuroses.

Exactly what you might expect to see today when society loses cohesion.

In an interview of Oren Lyons by Barry Lopez for Orion Magazine, Oren relates exactly what democratic leadership entails. He is a Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan among the Onondaga people and sits on the Council of Chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. He speaks to the inspiration his ancestors provided in forming our early American democracy – the one we still aspire to. It’s a matter of survival for a thriving culture.

America’s leadership goes beyond trade and power or a willingness to squander blood and treasure. It rests on the promise that we prize equality and freedom over exploitation and despoliation.

Surely with our wild streak of independence it’s naïve to think compromise will restore our faith in government or if we compromise enough it will lead to sustaining civilization. Our destiny demands a special accommodation for generations to follow.

The least we can do is be informed and to vote. Always vote.

In the end we only do as well as other people do, and we get the government we deserve.

— Steve Mitsch

Did the Peoples Climate March matter?

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At the time did the various protests for racial equality, women’s suffrage, labor rights, anti-war, bring about change?

Yes — and not completely, immediately or globally.

Although all of these causes, while intolerably endured, even to this day – the marchers recognized a common cause, to take immediate action for a habitable earth.

To say, you had to be there, is more than a saying when the stakes are the demise of the only climate that nurtured Homo sapiens and we have ever known. You can’t just be a bystander.

But what immediate action?

How could it be that we demand political action, corporate leadership, human rights, a scientific certainty and a total remaking of the world’s energy infrastructure – immediately – but not change our own consumptive habits? (Not to discount that all this needs to happen).

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The miles-long march was divided into segments: People most effected, Building the future, Solutions, Who’s responsible, The debate’s over, To change everything we need everyone.

At the climate march I walked behind the large banner of “We Have The Solutions” with my 24-6 Boycott sign. Near me was the only group that suggested individuals do anything to use less energy – Vegetarians. One vocal woman handing out Go Vegan flyers, rightly, but a bit forcefully, proclaimed there is no better way for an individual to reduce atmospheric carbon than to not eat meat. (You had to love their enthusiasm). I goaded her a bit asking if it was ok to just do meatless Mondays. At first she resisted “No, no, no. You have to only eat plants!” But her friends consoled me with “That would be a good start.” and she encouraged that.

That is how 24-6 works. One day a week off the grid. Something we can do immediately to change energy consumption – right now.

It becomes a little through the looking glass epiphany to experience a different possibility. We can all do things – actual fun, joyful, simple, liberating things – this week – just for yourself without waiting for anyone to tell you what to do or wait for anyone else to make it happen.

Heading the opposite way when everyone was heading home I saw only one — one lanky young guy holding his solitary message scrawled on a torn piece of cardboard; “Consume Less”.

I think it was directed to us climate marchers.

Yes we are long past small, individual actions but the banner to wrap up the march stated; “To change everything it takes everyone. My carbon footprint for walking all day in this uber-passionate, carnival of a climate protest, was pretty much zero.

The enormity of the crisis is dispiriting but the possibilities seen in New York City that day were inspiring.

Steve Mitsch

Running Meditation

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Running. It was boring, exhausting, and repetitive and didn’t do much to make a person look all that good.

Discovered by complete accident, I was once told, “To burn body fat it’s not how fast you run but how long you run”. So I started going further.

What makes jogging a 24-6 pastime is that it requires no fossil-fuel energy, starts a day off the grid and you’re in the elements. You don’t need new-age trainers, gyms, treadmills or anybody’s permission (check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program though mine would be skeptical).

Of late, I tell myself that I feel like running and then, to just keep on running. At times it seems to help put the past behind and free my thoughts.

Believe it or not there are many people who run all day.
They’re called Ultra Runners and though that sounds like the province of elite athletes or exceptional humans – perhaps not always.

To spare you the long story here’s all you need to know.
Slow down a little and stay on the ball of your foot.

But the long story is a great one. And the anthropological record suggests that humans are evolved as a running species.

The book that explains a lot of this is Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen written by Christopher McDougall. The main character, Michael Randolf Hickman, a.k.a Micah True or Caballo Blanco was beautiful. He believed what he did was “running meditation” and his motto was ”Run free”. This I know against all expectations to be true. Even though I am a terrible athlete and way past my prime.

(I resist attaching links because 24-6 is s’posed to be your “Exit Ramp of the Information HighwaySM” but here it is). https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6289283-born-to-run?ac=1

Exercise for mind and body should seem obvious but perhaps not as much to a western mind. Remarkably, there is a quality of experience when you realize you are your body.

Running at a modest comfortable pace becomes easy to maintain.

Your breathing becomes regular.

Your thoughts range as in sitting or walking meditation and you, by necessity, return to your breath.

Silly of me to suggest this is a spiritual equivalent of other ancient practices or the current vogue of “mindfulness” but damn if it doesn’t have some merit to it. There is a crossing over of ordinary consciousness and perceived physical limits. To “run free” is not the cliché theory of runners’ high but our more evolutionary human state.

Who knew, or did we forget?

Steven Mitsch

Dog

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We live with a 9 year old female Akita.

Akita’s are a canine breed that was created in Japan.

Once, when she was younger and took longer walks, we passed a man returning from Temple and, as often happens with people, he stopped to remark on her presence. (She weighs in at a fit 120 pounds). What he said to me was not just that I had a beautiful dog but did I know that a dog is a gift from God?

Though I am agnostic the sentiment of a miraculous relationship with other animals, especially this dog, seems evident. And the 15,000 years of co-evolution with our human species does give us a unique history of mutual alliance.

What makes an Akita interesting is that the story of canine DNA establishes them at nearly most like the wolf. They are very independent in nature and are a loyal member of the family pack only insofar as if you are not the leader they will intervene on your behalf – an extremely dangerous prospect.

At about a year old her puppy frolicking at the dog park turned serious and people were afraid she would hurt their dogs. In our apartment building, she had bitten 2 of our neighbors’ dogs – not all her fault and not fatal. Still, we had to learn to control her. Fortunately, the last incident happened while the other owner knew were at a training school and gave us some leeway (and an expensive veterinary bill).

You could say that raising her has given our family a life lesson in animal nature that another breed, let alone, species, probably wouldn’t.

The responsibility is different than owning a “pet”. In other times the whole idea of breeding is to make animals useful to ourselves as protection, territorial claims and workers. Modern dogs aren’t all that different – as companions, accessories or even strangely, extensions of ego. But I think our companion taught us a little about wild animal instinct in the best way – that respect and nature are the practice and reward and friendship of a lifetime. That mastery is the diligent awareness of navigating life together.

As she gets older she seems comfortable to trust her welfare with us. Imagine how difficult it is to ambulate around the human landscape as an animal.

She still adores the neighborhood kids and howls a greeting to most people who stop to pet her, wary of some who approach her tentatively. But when it comes to all but one, very large mastiff who was her playmate, she would just as soon avoid dogs as dominate them.

It is her nature. We are just glad that there‘s room for that version of wildness to exist in our world.

– Steve Mitsch

Sunday Paper

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Sunday Paper

If only a kid on his bike delivered our Sunday paper, it would be a perfect example of how easy it is time spent off the grid. Instead, the delivery woman arrives in her aging Honda probably earning little more relative to what I earned as a boy.

The New York Times is a treasure of a newspaper contrary to the fulmination of those who prefer hardened ideologies. Of course there seems to be a bias that favors their readers but, regular contributors and stories give a wide range of perspectives – even to a fault – to present positions contrary to the weight of consensus science or in politics – the rush to war.

The declared mission of the newspaper, “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is both true and a kind of pun. It can take the whole day to read and it’s a huge and varied tome.

The pages of The Times display everything imaginable, from exclusive advertisers of palatial home sales to stories of refugees, or advertisements for hundred thousand dollar watches to news of the minimum hourly wage. I’d be surprised if I’m the only person not feeling whiplashed and suffering a kind of extreme mood disorder.

How does it all make sense when taken all together?

It takes time to absorb information and let it play on the subconscious compared to the distractions we confront daily. Perhaps see our own life in a larger context. In his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman relates that, compared to various academic experts, attentive readers a publication like The New York Times, are reasonably good at reading emerging situations.

It does help to go deeply to inform my choices and for that I am grateful to the journalists, editors and advertisers that support this, unusually rare independent institution. A functioning democracy depends on it and us to be well informed.

As New Media has upended virtually every enterprise, it is reassuring that in this Digital Age this newspaper ranks in about the top 5 news websites.

Spending a Sunday engaged in one place along with 2.3 million other NY Times readers is a delightful way to recharge.

Sunday readers instead of Sunday drivers. That could save a good deal of carbon emissions.

Now if kids on bikes could feel the heft wouldn’t that be a sight?

Fracking Comes Home

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My apartment complex has been rigging an elaborate looking connection to the town gas line over the last several months. It’s an optional fuel source for heat and hot water.

What’s interesting, besides the economic reprieve from higher heating costs, is the Rube Goldberg contraption. I remarked to the utility inspector that the thing looks like a wellhead and he chimed, “That’s right where it’s coming from”.

When I pass them I can hear the reassuring hiss of fuel delivering us the warmth inside, or conversely I hear a relentless mocking telling me “Of courssse you want thisss.

Ordinarily these essays are about what we do when taking a weekly day off the grid but thought it worth mentioning. Besides, I’ve been working from home for a while and walk a ’lot. (That really does save a lot of running around).

Energy workers have a point when they tell us; if we like to cook they need to drill. The director of Gasland, Josh Fox, said those of us opposed to unconventional energy, including fracking, cannot just be against something – we have to be for something. What we ought to be fighting for is an all-out speedy transition to safe renewable energy and all the prosperity that will generate – forever!

Why aren’t oil and gas companies transitioning to sustainable energy companies? The oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens, placed an enormous bet on wind energy and lost a fortune. He argues that American oil and gas companies are the best at what they do and I guess in a way that’s supposed to be reassuring. But that’s the problem if it’s unbridled capitalism – bottom line it’s simply best at one thing only – profiting.

Originally, Congress assigned rights of incorporation requiring they not exceed their authority or cause public harm. It was at our nation’s discretion they were allowed to serve!

The lauded former industry titan/climate change skeptic, Jack Welsh, presided at General Electric during the deregulation era of the 1980’s. I got a sense of his zeal for Darwinian Capitalism working on computer services advertising for the company – the same year our ad agency helped launch the Apple Macintosh computer.

In the intervening years the stocks of both companies would have made you comfortable (if you could have owned them). Point is, not long after, Steve Jobs needed to leave his own company until the world caught up to his vision, and he and Apple earned largest valuation of every company on the planet, blah, blah, blah.

It’s as good a lesson to take away with regard to the fossil fuel industry. If Jack Welsh supports the conviction that giving consumers the environmentally friendly goods they seek, his reasons seem unapologetically cynical or a damming truth that business responds to consumer demand.

“There’s an enormous opportunity…whether you believe in global warming or not…If you’re in a company, you’d better be pushing those (green) products because the world wants these products.

– Jack Welsh, Fresh Dialogues Interview Series with Alison van Diggelen, May 12, 2009

A delightful GE commercial several years back had creatures in the jungle dancing to Singing in the Rain and stated “Water that’s more pure.”­ – this after spending years and several-hundred-million dollars fighting the EPA requirement to remove their factory’s toxic waste in New York’s Hudson River. Translation; We can make money even when we help cause the problem.

Businesses must protect stockholders and profits until the time comes their actions become unprofitable.

Corporate missions need people to guide their immediate and long range decisions. And the campaign to divest investments in the fossil fuel industry will lead them into the future.

Especially if we, each carbon-based human, reduce our carbon-based energy consumption and help them get their heads out of the ground!

Incredible things happen when we used our boycotts and purchases to dissent. They help mitigate racism, human suffering and destruction of our environment.

The goal of practicing 24-6 is to slow this corrupting process. Everyone take a day off the grid. Earn your own “carbon credits”.

Surely there will be unintended consequences if we all start doing this. Lower energy costs seem to increase usage for one. That makes alternatives costly. But it is something each of us can actually do for ourselves and our childrens’ children.

Walden Pond

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“In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases”.

Henry David Thoreau – Civil Disobedience

 

 

“I remembered how, as a college student, I had been moved when I first read this work. I became convinced that what we were preparing to do in Montgomery was related to what Thoreau had expressed. We were simply saying to the white community, “We can no longer lend our cooperation to an evil system.”

– Martin Luther King

 

On Wednesday I took the train from Boston to Concord, Massachusetts to make a pilgrimage to Walden Pond where Henry David Thoreau made his experiment to see what he could learn from nature about living simply and deliberately.

I thought I’d find a taxi to take me from the depot but there wasn’t any. From reading Walden Pond I remembered his woods were only a few miles from Concord and he’d walk to town to visit friends often – so I walked.

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The frozen pond, beautiful and snow white greeted me with the subterranean groans of ice beginning to heave that Thoreau described in his story. It was a perfect private time courtesy of the arctic cold of this winter.

Heading back, I passed Brister Hill Road named for Brister Freeman who, after thirty-five years of enslavement claimed his freedom, having served two tours during the American Revolution. Prior to emancipation, Walden Woods held poor agricultural land inhabited by former slaves. Stories of these inhabitants certainly inspired Henry’s rare abolitionist beliefs.

It was too late to catch the train back so I spent a couple hours walking around Concord. I got to see the grand homes he described his neighbors investing their lives in cultivating. Many had been enlarged and divvied up into apartments – their former occupants only ghosts in the town cemetery.

The local library, proudly and lovingly, care for archival volumes of Thoreau and Emerson collections and thriving bookstores devote shelves to them.

I was reminded only then of Thoreau’s book, On the Duty of Civil Disobedience. And how we can reject a wrong simply by refusing to participate.

Steven Mitsch