After the People’s Climate March

September 25, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Last Sunday, between 300 and 400 thousand other people and I marched around Manhattan to tell world leaders on their way to the UN climate summit that things have to change. I am sure you have seen photos and videos and read articles about the March. It was in many ways inspiring and encouraging. Just seeing the outfits people wore and the signs they carried made me smile many times. One of my favorites was a crude sign–a piece of cardboard on a stick carried by a young man–that read, “I Can’t Swim.” And as a person who has made many snide remarks over the years about environmentalists being white people who love polar bears, I laughed out loud at a t-shirt with a polar bear on it, who said, in a cartoon bubble, “Save the Humans!” Furthermore, after the March, at the UN, many heads of state, including our own Barack Obama, made inspiring statements about the need to act on climate change.

But there are (at least) two things you need to know if you want to grasp the full significance of the People’s Climate March.  This first may be obvious to a lot of readers: it took a massive amount of work. For the Interfaith Contingent, with which I and my sister Grail members marched, just establishing the order for our various groups to stand in  took very many  emails and phone discussions. The people from GreenFaith and who got us organized deserve an enormous amount of credit. It is also the case that in order to be sure the police would allow us to enter the Interfaith staging area on 58th St. for the March, we had to arrive before 11 AM, even though our contingent didn’t actually start marching until approximately 2:15 PM. Marching around Manhattan for an hour is nothing compared to standing and sitting and standing some more for three and half hours. I was exhausted before we set out.

The other thing you need to know is that, hundreds of thousands of marchers in NYC and around the world notwithstanding, the March doesn’t begin to be enough to force world leaders to take action on climate change. This is the case because neoliberalism, the economic system that came to dominate the world during the reigns of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, simply won’t permit some reasoned process of changing our energy system, no matter how desperately such change is needed. As Chris Hedges points out in a devastating Truthdig column published a few days before the March, the NYC police, under the leadership of our ostensibly progressive mayor, wouldn’t so much as allow the March anywhere near the United Nations, despite the fact that it was explicitly aimed at the UN summit occurring later that week. The fossil fuel industry owns the government, and as Hedges argues compellingly, we’re going to have to engage in non-violent protest in very large numbers to turn things around. (I myself am  terrified at the prospect of going to jail, so don’t think I read Hedges’ article with equanimity.)

Adrian Parr’s galvanizing book, The Wrath of Capital: Neoliberalism and Climate Change Politicsclarifies the ways in which the neoliberal economics that is inscribed in our societal DNA again and again appropriates environmental and climate change discourse (and actions) for its own purpose, the endless expanse of profit. It does this by rendering invisible the full cost of various climate related practices and products. For example, in her chapter on water, Parr explores the ways in which the water wars in Cochabamba, Bolivia in the early 2000s did and did not reverse the impacts of neoliberalism on the thirst of the average Bolivian. For water activists like me, the success of the citizens of Cochabamba in overturning the forced privatization of their water as part of the World Bank’s “structural adjustment program” was a glorious example of an environmental victory. Unfortunately, deeply inscribed class differences and political corruption mean many Bolivians must still struggle mightily for access to reasonably priced potable water. Similarly, the government of India touts the marvels that genetically modified seeds are doing and will do for the farmlands of India increasingly devastated by climate change. No mention is made of the profits the corporations who own these seeds are making, the increasing debt of the farmers who buy them, and the rising suicide rate among them. We might also ask who owns the factories where solar panels are manufactured and what  the laborers in those factories are being paid.

The argument that we can mitigate climate change and grow the neoliberal economy at the same time is what my doktormutter, Laura Levitt, calls a “happy narrative.” Enslaving somebody, destroying the environment,  and growing the economy go hand in hand, and only a radical commitment to stopping all of them can get us where we need to go.



Home from Vacation

September 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Some readers may have noticed a certain silence on my part. My last post appeared on August 16.  Well, we’ve been on vacation. But as with most things, there’s more to it than that.

At one level, there’s my esteemed companion’s absolute objection to mentioning in a blog post that we’re away, even as I find it hard to blog without doing so. We live in the middle of Brooklyn, and while I feel fairly safe here–lots safer than I felt in Brooklyn in the 1970s or 1980s–we really can’t afford to be inviting people over while we’re gone.

But at a deeper level, I just needed to knock off. I mentioned in an earlier post that my husband was seriously ill this past spring and summer, first with pneumonia, then with (thank God, early-stage) kidney cancer. Years ago I took a vocational aptitude test and got a score of less than zero for nursing, so you get a picture of me dealing with all that. Then, as Keith began to recover, Betty, his ninety-three year old mother down in Florida, became seriously ill–sort of lost her mind, leg swelled up, already had congestive heart failure, had surgery, stopped being able to breathe, had a tube down her throat, etc., etc. For days, every time the phone rang we expected to hear we’d have to fly down there for Keith to do the funeral. And in the midst of all that, a tooth popped out while I was flossing, and I ended up having a root canal and other fun dental procedures.

But we seem to have survived. Not only is Keith much better, his mother is about to go back to her independent living apartment, having regained her faculties and begun walking again. And I myself am having the occasional thought.

So let me share a few of them, after which, tomorrow or the next day, I’ll write something about yesterday’s People’s Climate March which I participated in.

During our time away, we spent a week at my brother’s place in rural Vermont, and almost two weeks in Quebec City, east of Montreal, in Canada. Regarding Vermont, let me say that it’s quite an experience for someone who ordinarily shares a borough with two-and-a-half million other people to go walking for an hour and not see a soul. Sometimes I really like it; other times it kind of freaks me out.

As for Quebec City, it’s pretty amazing. You may know that the old part of the city is walled, the only walled city in North America north of Mexico. Founded in  1608, it’s also full of museums and monuments about the history of New France, a subject I knew very little about before we went there. One of my favorite parts of the visit was taking a tour of the Museum of the Ursulines, which explores the history of the oldest order of Catholic sisters in North America, brought there by Sister Marie Guyart of the Incarnation. Sister Marie was a widow in Tours, France, who entered the (cloistered) Ursuline order but in 1639 traveled to New France and started the first convent in North America in Quebec City; the school she founded was also the first women’s educational institution in North America. A mystic, she also wrote dictionaries in three indigenous languages and an Algonquin catechism. And lest you think everything has changed in three-hundred-fifty years, she struggled against efforts by the bishop of Quebec City, Francois de Laval, to take control of her community.  Pope Francis canonized both of them together last April; I’m sure Archbishop Laval was thrilled to have feisty Soeur Marie join him at the same level of churchly adulation.

The other thing I love about Quebec City is that when I’m there I know how to speak French, whereas when I’m in Paris, I’m way too ignorant to be able to do so.  Seems as if only 10 percent of English Canada speaks French, so when an English speaker starts speaking in French, the Québécois are thrilled. A sales person said, “You really know how to speak French, don’t you!?”  whereas the snotty Parisians say, “Your accent is terrible. Speak English.” Finally, my seven years of French classes have been redeemed.

There’s lots more to be said about Quebec City, but not now. Stay tuned.

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