In the summer of 1983, when I was four-years-old, I heard about the Ethiopian famine on the radio. I reacted to this news with all the disbelief and indignation of a child who had no idea the world might be unjust, or cruel outside of a friend cheating at a game, or broken promises of ice cream. I remember being totally incensed that there were children in the world who were hungry. Why weren't the adults doing something about it? Why wasn't the president? The government? The United Nations? All those all-powerful-grown-up-things were just going to let this happen?
In the following weeks I was determined to save as much money as I possibly could to put on the bank account (probably Red Cross?) the radio announcer had mentioned. I saved all of my "candy day" money, I kept my eyes peeled on the sidewalk for coins, and asked my grandmother, aunt, and uncle for money.
When I had finally gathered what seemed, to me, a sizable sum, I demanded that my mother take me to the bank to deposit it. (By the way, that sizable sum, was approximately two of your 1983 US dollars. I was four, okay?) When I explained my business to the bank teller, she ended up taking my mom and I to meet the bank manager, who shook my hand, gave me a piggybank and added a whole extra hundred marks to my donation. It was written on the deposit slip next to my name and address.
I remember walking out of that bank, feeling like the world made sense again. You saw that something was wrong, or unfair, and you did your best to fix it, and when you explained it to other people they too would see that it was wrong, and unfair, and try to fix it too.
I don't know if you've ever felt that way, an absolute conviction in that you can change things for the better?
In May, a group of our friends from the island, including Charlie and I, took part in "The Paddle In Seattle", to protest Royal Dutch Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic. The protests garnered a lot of attention in the media, both social and traditional, local, national, and even international. It was a great way for GREENPEACE and other organizations to draw attention to the fact that even as he made speeches about Global Climate Change being the greatest challenge our society faces today, the President of the United States was letting a company with a terrible track record drill for oil in one of the most remote, vulnerable areas on the planet.
That action, small in numbers, made huge waves in bringing climate change to the forefront of people's consciousness. Frankly, it got more attention in the national news media, than The People's Climate March, which had 400 000 participants.
I'm writing about these two events because they are now somehow linked in my mind. Last fall, after the Climate March in New York, I kept telling people that this was only the beginning, that they didn't "miss" the main event, that we were building a movement, and that anyone could join.
In the nine months since, that movement is gaining traction, becoming more vocal, more articulate, more visible, more credible, but in spite the fact that Climate Change affects literally EVERYONE, it's still not a mass movement. EVERY ISSUE IS A CLIMATE CHANGE ISSUE.
Make no mistake: the chances that Shell bungles its extremely delicate operations in the rough, unpredictable waters of the Arctic, are very high. But this is a Climate Change issue. It is absolutely clear to scientists, experts, and environmentalists, that we do not need to open another oil field. Not in Canada's tarsands, not in the wilds of Chuckchi Sea. We need to come up with something else.
Frankly, I'm sick of tempering that statement. I'm sick of people I know trying to make like it sounds slightly crazy to demand that we need tell our leaders we want off of oil. Or that protesting against the little things is somehow more palatable. I'm not protesting because I'm worried about an oil spill. I'm fucking worried that this planet is going to become uninhabitable to countless species of animals, that those who did not cause this shift in climate, are the ones paying for it's consequences. I'm worried we're running out of time, while we're busy trying to not sound crazy.
Whenever I start doubting this, I think back to my four-year-old-self. The issues around species loss, Climate Justice for the Global South, the land-rights of Indigenous People located in "resource" rich areas being violated, have clear rights and wrongs. You see a wrong, you try your hardest to make it right, even if it doesn't directly affect you. Which as previously stated, Climate Change does.
You bring your two bucks to the table, because it's the right thing to do. Not because some human hubris about "Saving the World!". You do it because you can stand for something, even as you're standing against something. Protesting against Shell, we were standing in solidarity with all those species, people, places who are being treated wrong, fighting for them.
I also am sick and tired of the people's reactions to these actions. And I don't mean the internet trolls who think it's "ironic" to drive to a protest, or demand energy independence from a kayak made of fossil fuels. Those people are clearly very afraid, and feel powerless (in addition to having poor vocabulary skills). I mean the actions of well-meaning, kind folks, people I know and love, the ones who try to temper those statements of fierce urgency, who give head pats to those of us who occasionally go out there; who say things like "I'd like to do that, but I'm ______ (insert excuse)", or "What can we do? The corporations _____________" (insert platitude about our political system and capitalism), or "I'm praying for a paradigm shift from my inner light center being." (Insert me rolling my eyes hard.)
It took me a long time to figure out why so many people profess to believe in the environmental cause, but fail to ever act on it, even in the most basic level. While fear and grief surely account for some of that disconnect, it has also recently occurred to me that a lot of it has to do with…well, embarrassment. People are simply embarrassed to go stand in front of a building with a sign. They're literally so scared of ending up the only nut-job with a banner, that they're willing to give up their right to express their discontent with a clearly the dangerous, unjust systems our leaders support.
If this planet goes to hell in a hand basket, it's going to be because we were too embarrassed to fight for it. Now that's embarrassing.
I'm also, frankly, sick and tired of people who follow me online, being so timid about discussing these issues, but so vocal about the "hip-and-dreamy-country-magic-life" they perceive me as leading. For every like I get when I post a picture of my (small particle generating!) wood-cookstove, images of hiking, planting potatoes, or wild-crafting, only about half of the "likes", or comments are generated by pictures, or posts on activism.
In my mind those things are naturally, and intrinsically linked: there is no homesteading without a steady climate, there is no hiking in burnt out National Parks, no wild crafting as species decline, there's no point in healing one-self, while letting new and dangerous illnesses result from our collective lifestyles.
What I consider #omginspirational is something else altogether: it's discomfort, it's potential embarrassment, it's facing up to one's own hypocrisies.
Stop making unfunny jokes, stop just discussing capitalism, environment, "this paradigm", social justice, and do something about it. And I don't mean just talking about it to like-minded people, writing about it, or making art, or fretting. Do something concrete. Today is the international day of protest for the Arctic. Go to a protest, a rally, just one for starters. You'll feel better. I promise.
Here's something introductory, while you hunt for the perfect plastic vessel to pour your activism into.