Category Archives: Climate Change

Critical thinking in the age of COVID-19 and climate change

Humans are lazy thinkers — me included.

Give me a book, a video, a manuscript that supports my worldview, and I’m a happy camper.  (We’ve all heard of confirmation bias.)

This week I was challenged to reconsider two beliefs: one dealing with COVID-19’s stay-at-home orders and the other, a film that Michael Moore released called Planet of the Humans.

My first response in both cases had nothing to do with my brain but with my gut. I didn’t want to be corrected nor embarrassed if my initial opinion had been wrong. Maybe I could just dig in my heels and “prove” why I was right and explain why those who disagreed with me were wrong.

Then I decided that I’d better have a closer look. Asking others to use their critical thinking skills means nothing if I’m not willing to challenge myself.

Case #1 – COVID-19 Stay-at-Home orders

In the first case, a thoughtful friend of mine from Colorado told me he believes the stay-at-home orders are unwise and unnecessary. I watched the interview of two doctors who presented loads of statistics and personal experience to support their strong conclusion that the stay-at-home orders are not based on hard science and are actually contra-indicated.  Their position flies in the face of nearly every medical expert we’re hearing from in the world.

I’m not an epidemiologist and don’t have an ounce of comfort when throwing numbers and statistics around. How should I evaluate this claim about the stay-at-home orders? Here’s what I did.

  1. Who are these two doctors making the claim and can I discern what their motives might be? They admit they’re “entrepreneurs” in the interview, they own the largest testing site in Kern County, and mention that people are fearful of coming in for a test. The last hint was a comment Dr. Erickson dropped about “constitutional rights” in his answer to one of the reporter’s questions. From this I surmise that they’re concerned about their business, and they’re politically conservative individuals which may (may not) be the motivation for their contrarian views.
  2. What are other professionals and colleagues saying about their claim? I found several news reports disagreeing with them, and I found no one else that publicly supports them. Dr. Navin Amin’s interview directly contradicted Dr. Erickson.
  3. How do I weigh the evidence and form an opinion? Since I can’t bring any independent scientific or medical expertise to the question, I weigh the opinions of others and judge the pros and cons of each side. What are the positives of removing the stay-at-home orders and opening up our communities? What are the downsides? What are the positives of keeping the stay-at-home orders in place for the time being? What are the downsides?

Factoring 1, 2, and 3 together, I believe it’s wise to keep the stay-at-home orders in place while ramping up our COVID-19 testing abilities, and preparing for re-opening our communities based on clear and non-discriminatory criteria.

Case #2 – Planet for the Humans

In the second example that challenged my critical thinking skills, Planet of the Humans made my head explode.  You can watch the full movie here (1 hour 40 minutes).

My take-away message from the film is three-fold: clean energy comes with an environmental cost which we’re often not talking about or taking into consideration; consumerism and a technological fix to our rapidly deteriorating planet is not the answer; and human population growth exceeds the Earth’s limits and we’re not talking about that much either.

I watched the film earlier this week when there were fewer than 200,000 views. Today there are more than 2 million views. Planet of the Humans is certainly getting attention and stimulating discussion. It’s also generating considerable criticism; enough that filmsforaction.org decided to remove and then restore the film to its website.

We are disheartened and dismayed to report that the film is full of misinformation – so much so that for half a day we removed the film from the site.

Ultimately, we decided to put it back up because we believe media literacy, critique and debate is the best solution to misinformation.

You can read the entire statement from Films for Action here. I applaud their decision.

The criticisms of the film can be boiled down to:

  1. the filmmaker didn’t include positive messages about the wind & solar potential (there appears to be universal agreement now that biomass is destructive); its message was totally negative against green energy without sharing alternatives.
  2. the film was a hit piece on the environmental leaders and groups that have earned the trust of generations of Americans.
  3. the film was manipulative and deceptive, using clever editing and misinformation to shape the viewer’s opinion about the topic.

Check out the following for more details:

This review from Vote to Survive (which details both its merits and flaws).

“A movie that purports to care about the environment and the future of humanity and yet seeks to undermine support for the very things we must do to save this planet, and ourselves, is worse than a disappointment. It’s reckless.”

This in-depth review from Ketan Joshi who says the film’s contents are old, really old, and by implication, irrelevant.

“Later, they visit the Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) solar farm, only to feign sadness and shock when they discover it’s been removed, leaving a dusty field of sand. In the desert. “Then Ozzie and I discovered that the giant solar arrays had been razed to the ground”, he moans. “It suddenly dawned on me what we were looking at. A solar dead zone”. Which is a weird one, because the latest 2020 satellite imagery shows a site full of solar arrays, and a total absence of any “dead zones”. The damn thing is generating electricity.

This review from Neal Livingston.

Planet of the Humans uses the most worn-out editing techniques to emotionally manipulate the viewer. We see windmills from the early 1970’s, the early days of wind power, which are long gone. We see on the street facile interviews, with film editing techniques to make environmental leaders look dumb. We see a dying orangutang as the film ends to make you cry. But nowhere does the film show us how to get off fossil fuels, by showing us where renewables are working. Nor does the film help us to stop forest destruction, by showing us places that have taken steps to protect nature, and there are many places that have done so.

Bill McKibben’s response (to get his side of the story).

Like the film-maker, I previously personally supported burning bio-mass as an alternative to fossil fuels—in my case, when the rural college where I teach replaced its oil furnaces with a wood-chip burner more than a decade ago, I saluted it. But as more scientists studied the consequences of large-scale biomass burning, the math began to show that it would put large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere at precisely the wrong moment: if we break the back of the climate system now, it won’t matter if forests suck it up fifty years hence. And as soon as that became clear I began writing and campaigning on those issues. Here’s a piece of mine from 2016 that couldn’t be much clearer, and another from 2019 in the New Yorker about the fights in the Southeast, and another from 2020 as campaigners fought to affect policy in the Northeast. The other side has definitely noticed—here’s an article from the biomass industry attacking me, 350.org, and others. I’m reasonably sure that most of the valiant people here and in the UK that have been fighting this fight will vouch that I’ve been a help, not a hindrance.

I’ve watched the film a second time, thinking about the criticism leveled against it, and have the same opinion. The filmmaker got me thinking about a very important issue that many people (even environmental leaders and organizations) don’t discuss.

We need to look at ourselves, our lifestyles, our consumption of the Earth’s resources, our greed, our economic system, our belief system — all of it — and make big changes.  No, we need to reinvent ourselves! Richard Heinberg (The End of Growth), Richard York, Nina Jablonski and others said it very well in this film, and their voices are a wake-up call.

I certainly understand why Bill McKibben, Tom Solomon (350 New Mexico), Michael E. Mann and some establishment environmental groups might take umbrage with Planet of the Humans. It’s really, really uncomfortable to have one’s worldview challenged, and this film certainly does just that. It also calls into question whether there’s an unholy alliance between these environmental groups and the titans of our capitalistic system. Interestingly, none of the responses to the film touch on that last point at all, or dispute those assertions made by the filmmaker.

Use your critical thinking skills —- and you may come away with a different conclusion than mine —- but THAT is the whole point of critical thinking and, I venture to say, the making of this film.  The filmmaker is making us think about the issues he has raised. Good for him!

 

 

 

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Filed under Climate Change, COVID-19, People, Uncategorized, Video

The Possibilities

When I visited the Duomo di Milano (the second largest cathedral in the world) on March 24, 2019, I stood in awe of the magnificent interior, and then scrambled around the rooftop with hundreds of other tourists.

I never imagined the possibility that Piazza del Duomo in Milan would be empty a year later, or that I would be listening to the Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli perform inside that empty cathedral.  Today I sat alone but joined more than 2.5 million people from around the world for his performance. Alone but together, I couldn’t have imagined that possibility either. A link to his performance is here. Bocelli did not accept a fee for his performance but his foundation has established a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to purchase protective equipment for doctors and nurses here.

When I arrived in Rochester, Minnesota about 3 weeks ago to visit the orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic about a hip replacement, I was pleased when he said “yes” and not surprised when he said “but we don’t know when we can do it” because the Coronavirus put an end to all elective procedures. I’m a patient person and can certainly wait, but I couldn’t have imagined that I would be sheltering inside for weeks with my brother and his family. (He probably couldn’t imagine it either since we haven’t lived in the same house together since he was 4 years old. He’s much younger than me.) 

My Baltimore friend shared a short 13 minute audio clip of a discussion about the significance of language, and especially the metaphors, that we use to describe things like the Coronavirus. President Trump and many in the U.S. talk about our “war on this virus” and we want to name and defeat this enemy.  Other leaders are using very different metaphors, and a famous epidemiologist uses education metaphors.  Here’s a link to that audio clip. Check it out and see what you think. I couldn’t have imagined the possibility that we might actually build bridges and conceptualize in concrete terms that “We Are One” just by changing our language.  Truly a new paradigm for relating with the “other.”

And my New Mexico friend shared the joy of Easter with me today.  His Argentine cactus bloomed on Good Friday.  I never imagined that a cactus could produce such a beautiful flower.  I can see it.  I believe it. (Photo credit: David Day)

What other possibilities can’t we imagine in this world, and in our lives?

Restoring the Earth and eliminating the catastrophic damage of climate change?

Repairing the social contract between all humans who deserve shelter, food, healthcare, education, love and dignity?

Ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and finding harmony and peace for all people in the Holy Land?

In my old age, with half a century or more of hearing the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, I never really believed in that possibility. It didn’t make sense and it didn’t seem particularly important to me.  Today, I have a new appreciation for the possibilities that might be just on the horizon.  (Thank you Grandma for sharing the Easter story every year.)

 

 

 

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Filed under Climate Change, COVID-19, Peaceful, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized

Governor’s hypothetical speech to the oil & gas tycoons

Is this an example of cognitive dissonance?

While New Mexico teens are urging the Governor to declare a climate emergency and to  set aside state income from the oil and gas industries to pay for the transition to an economy without greenhouse gas emissions, Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham is meeting with oil & gas tycoons to deliver a message of collaboration. Not a word about climate disruption.

Cognitive dissonance or shrewd political calculation? In either case, it’s a deadly mistake.

Michelle Lujan Grisham

Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham

If I was the Governor’s speechwriter, here’s what I would have given her for that audience.   (Her actual speech is reprinted at the end of this blog post.)

“Thank you for inviting me. This is an important gathering and I value the opportunity to speak with you about the serious challenges facing our state, and how we can work together to address them. In this hyper-polarized environment that we find ourselves in this country today, I want to reassure you that my door is always open to you.

I know you want to hear the bottom line from me, what I’m concerned about and what I plan to do, not political posturing to win your vote. 

I know your bottom line is making a profit for your shareholders, making a good living for those engaged in your industry, and providing a sustainable future for the industry.

My bottom line is being a responsible steward of our resources for future generations, my shareholders, and setting us on a path towards a sustainable future for my family and yours.

Our state is at a critical crossroads, and I’m either lucky or jinxed to be the Governor at this point in time.  There’s no denying the fact that climate disruption is bearing down upon us, and the window of opportunity to address this freight train is rapidly closing.

The scientists have been warning us for fifty years or more about the rising carbon dioxide levels, but we had time back then for further research and study. The timeline of our actions and inaction over the past half century to address the rising CO2 levels is brutally honest. It hasn’t been convenient to find solutions or make serious changes when, in hindsight, it certainly would have been easier and cheaper to do so.

I’m pleased that national leaders in your field (oil, coal and gas) recognize the urgency of addressing the impacts of climate disruption. They recognize that climate change is occurring, and that human activity, including the use of fossil fuels, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

New Mexico is blessed with the brains and the scientific labs that have been studying climate change for decades.  I’m thankful the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratories are at the forefront of studying climate impacts, and potential adaptation and mitigation measures. They are designing new technology which has the potential to make a profound difference in the livability of our planet for future generations. New Mexico needs to reap the benefits of transitioning this research from the laboratory to the factory and create hundreds, maybe thousands of new jobs for New Mexicans.

I’m a straight shooter.  There’s no arguing with science, and no alternative exists but to transition away from business as usual and away from our reliance on fossil fuels, and towards renewable energy.

But before you blow a gasket — hear me out.

This transition must happen quickly and I know it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt the industry. It’s going to hurt the state budget. It’s going to hurt every New Mexican. I acknowledge that with great trepidation.

If we had owned up to this reality 20 years ago, I suspect the hurt might not be so great.  Sadly, we did not. And if we don’t own up to our responsibility at this critical moment now, I’m convinced that we’re condemning our children to a very difficult life, and their children to an uninhabitable planet in the future.

The symbiotic relationship between the state and your industry has grown very tight over the years. We’ve worked together, and I hope we will continue to work together to ease the transition for both of us.

Here are some ideas to think about:

I want your families and employees who are currently working in the oil & gas industry to be at the front of the line when opportunities for retraining open up in renewable technologies.  And I want them to fill those new jobs when they come online.

I want you to be role models for the industry and show the rest of the country and the world how we can plan for this transition thoughtfully, without rhetoric or recrimination. Working together, we can forge a creative alliance that reaps untold benefits for all of us —- a win, win, win.  I need your experience and advice at the table.

I plan to enact a moratorium on fracking on lands within the jurisdiction of the state. I’m well aware of both the benefits and costs of fracking, but the health and environmental impacts of fracking concern me.  This moratorium will allow time for reasonable and informed debate at the Legislature about whether a permanent ban is warranted or what type of regulations might be appropriate to mitigate the impacts of fracking. I want the industry, the scientists, and the general public engaged in that discussion.

My bottom line — New Mexico’s future generations require that we act now. I can’t kick this ball down the road. NIMTOO — Not In My Term of Office — is no longer an option.

Thank you.

 

Governor Lujan-Grisham’s speech to the NM Oil & Gas Association in Santa Fe on October 8, 2019.

Opening joke. Good morning and hello again. I see a lot familiar faces from my talk the other week in Carlsbad, at Mayor Janway’s summit. If we keep seeing each other this often, you guys might even start to like me. So be careful. I’ll charm you. Ask the mayor.
Introduce primary theme: Collaboration. When I came down to the southeast the other week, I made a little joke about getting out of Santa Fe and spending time where the money is made, not just where it’s spent — at that old circular building up the street. But jokes aside: Thank you for coming here. It’s important to remember we are one state; we’re united. The differing viewpoints in different regions all across New Mexico, the different benefits each region brings to the table, the different livings hard-working New Mexicans make in different parts of the state — this diversity makes us stronger. I truly believe that. I think it’s true nationally, too, but with the conversations coming out of Washington, D.C., at the moment, it’s easy to lose sight of that. I think we’re a great example — meaning you all, myself, our administration, your industry. New Mexico contains multitudes, and the dialogue we’ve undertaken together this year underscores how we can always find areas of overlap. When we recognize our differences as opportunities to come together and talk, not as excuses to remain in our own separate silos, we are being good neighbors. We’re proactively doing the work to partner up, move forward together. We’re being good stewards of the New Mexican ideal of listening first, speaking second. We put ourselves in a position to develop the right kind of policies for everyone — I give a little, you give a little, and New Mexicans come first. Collaboration, so often a mere buzzword, is put into action.
We’re making progress together. But let’s talk about your progress first. A 400% increase in production over the last few years. (Not bad, huh? Not bad at all.) As I said in Carlsbad, and it’s worth repeating: This industry is the reason New Mexico educators got raises this year. It’s the reason students across New Mexico have new programs, new school supplies; it’s the reason we were able to boost our state investments in small business, rural economic development; it’s the reason we’re able to begin rebuilding behavioral health services in this state, providing care to the most vulnerable families and kids in every corner of New Mexico. These are not talking points: These are the lives of New Mexicans, the everyday struggles and needs and hopes and dreams that we as a state can provide for and meet and exceed. We have a lot of work to do to make sure our state finances — meaning the investments in our kids and our families that we have made and still need to make — have solid back-up. Reserves, rainy day funds, strategic savings — I’m not pollyanna about the way prices fluctuate, the way the winds blow. It’s our duty, in building out the economy of this state, to make the foundation as broad and sturdy as it can be. I don’t believe in luck, but we are fortunate, as a state, to have this opportunity right now to reinvest in our families, in our workforce, in our economy. And the oil and gas industry is the reason, point blank, that we have this incredible head start. That New Mexico families have greater access to high-quality services. So, once again, thank you.
With opportunity comes responsibility. I want to thank you for recognizing the responsibility that comes with the opportunity of this surge in production. The Permian Basin right now is a rock star. I want to make sure — and I know you share this goal — that this rock star doesn’t burn out, doesn’t go too far too fast. We need to work together to keep this thing rocking and rolling. And as an industry, I would say unequivocally: You have stepped up and volunteered to contribute to that effort at most every chance. Again, thank you.
An example of the industry stepping up (in a relatively small way, but symbolically): Chevron (California-based) just announced last week they’re going to donate $1 to local school projects for every tank of gasoline purchased … they’re making $75,000 available to three N.M. school districts. I’d like to see more. I’d like to encourage more of that. Help us continue to make direct investments. [They said they would make up to $5 million available to support school initiatives across the country.]
Necessity is the mother of invention. Your industry and my administration understand this concept and – together were solving problems and creating opportunities around methane and produced water. Because of our collaboration around these two topics – the world is watching, and we will deliver. Your shareholders, as well as mine, are demanding more responsible management of methane. And while We’re clear about methane: We recognize one size does not fit all . So many producers operators and investors are stepping up to work with have stepped up in this arena when our Environment Department and EMNRD set to work. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Methane mitigation is a win-win-win. I want to rack up as many of those collective W’s as we possibly can.
Flares to fuel cells. As your industry pursues e-Frac and solar powered compressor stations, we are pursuing technological advancements like Fuel cells for flares. When we put innovation to work, when we explore how we can find the best solution for as many producers and our environment as can be found, the result will be a reduction of waste methane and an increase in revenue and opportunity. Flares can become fuel cells — we’ve got the labs, we’ve got the top scientists, we have smart and dedicated Cabinet Secretaries, and you have my commitment to  in our administration, all committed to making this transition. We can turn waste into electricity. Why wouldn’t we want to lead the world in that kind of innovative problem-solving? And, let’s make those fuel cells right here in New Mexico – employing our people in the manufacturing of technologies that are deployed all over the U.S. and the world.
I know you’re on board. And if you’re not, my administration will keep working with you until you are. (You might not have my re-election bumper sticker on your car yet but we’ll get some of you there — I’m gonna work on that.) Since we launched our public input strategy around methane, this industry has been coming to us, offering to be and asking to be part of the solution. You guys recognize the responsibility that comes with growth, and that means you’re asking to have a voice as we craft regulations that are realistic, enforceable and adaptable. Senate Bill 553 was a perfect example: That bill, boosting our Oil Conservation Division, had industry support. Thank you for that. With that law now in place, we’re modernizing our systems so we can be more efficient and meet your needs. Our framework has to match your growth. For years, we were behind you. I think we’re closer to being on the same footing now — and it shows. Moving forward together is the only way.
The collaboration and innovation around produced water is just as exciting as methane. I signed into law HB 546 to protect our fresh water and incent scientific and technological advancements. The Environment Department and New Mexico State University entered into an MOU to facilitate fill the data gaps so we can write science-based regulations related to treating produced water. And, NGL Midstream pledged $1M to this effort. Thank you, NGL. Investments in the consortium created under the MOU will advance scientific and technical solutions related to the treatment and ruse of produced water generated by the industry. What’s interesting is NGL is doesn’t make a single barrel of produced water – so for all the operators in the room who are made the 1.3 billion barrels of produced water in 2018 – where’s your contribution? [Pause] Let’s see it. Let’s fund this effort and protect and sustain our fresh water supplies, expand economic development opportunities and continue to stack up the wins.
At the end of the day, when we talk about working together on produced water innovation, we’re talking about leading with science, leading with innovation: We’re going to ensure sustainable management, protection of water resources and opportunities for economic development. Another win-win-win. (Those are starting to add up…)
The same as I recognize your incredible contributions to our state, I hope you recognize my commitment to working together. I’ve talked about it a lot. You’ve heard me say it. I’ll keep saying it. I’m more than talking about it, I’m doing it because when we’re pulling together, when we avoid — as best we can — working at cross purposes. We can identify common goals and protect your investments and support expanding growth industries and protect our water and air, on and on.
So thank you for your time, thank you for having me, thank you for your willingness to listen and partner with us as we identify reach our climate and environmental goals, as we work to build fair and enforceable frameworks for the industry, as we move forward for all New Mexicans.

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Filed under Climate Change, Uncategorized

My Coddiwomple

Coddiwomple – to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination.

Kabir (a 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint, whose writings, according to some scholars, influenced Hinduism’s Bhakti movement) — “I felt in need of a great pilgrimage so I sat still for three days.”

My journey began in Malaysia and ended in Dubai, with visits to London, Langholm, Edinburgh, Stirling, Cambridge, Brussels, Leuven, Tilburg, Paris, Lyon, Geneva, Milan, Como, Venice, Cairo and finally to the United Arab Emirates. Despite all the miles, I failed to reach my destination: Gaza, Palestine. [That’s another story.]

My itinerary was clearly not of my own making. My path appeared as the opportunities opened up. I simply kept my eyes and heart open to the possibilities.

Living out of my suitcase for nearly nine months was easy; traveling light is my forte. Staying connected with family and friends was easy too, thanks to WhatsApp and social media. My online SCRABBLE friends will never know how much they kept this traveler tethered to home.

SNAPSHOTS OF MY JOURNEY

MALAYSIA: The invitation to attend the Freedom Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur jump-started my adventure.  (I wrote about it here.)  A month in Malaysia included a radio interview about Gaza, a wedding attended by the new (old) Prime Minister and his wife, a press conference in Penang about an ill-advised and poorly planned highway project, and ended with a visit to a remote village in the Kelabit Highlands where I spoke with a classroom of middle school students, and received a simple request through a translator from an old woman sitting next to me in the village church. “Pray for me. My husband just died and I’m lonely.”

The Kelabit Highlands in Sarawak, Malaysia

I learned an important lesson in Malaysia. I’m never traveling alone despite the fact that I’m a solo traveler, an elderly American woman who can’t speak any language but my mother tongue, and without resources to squander on hotels.  My new Malaysian friends opened their homes to me in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, guided me through their country, shared their time and experience with me, and opened up new possibilities (from tasting the durian fruit in Penang to learning about stingless bees and honey at the agricultural expo in Kuching). When I left Malaysia, I had a new appreciation and confidence about traveling. It’s important to be cautious and smart about my surroundings, but I don’t need to fear the unknown.

EGYPT:  In November, I flew to Cairo and returned to my Egyptian family at Pension Roma. My goal was to finish a writing project (which I did) and get permission from the Egyptian authorities to travel to Gaza (which I didn’t).  Pension Roma has been my home away from home since my first visit in 2011, where I’ve met the most interesting people. This time, Elizabeth from the UK, Mona from Paris, Andre from Canada, and Belal from Gaza were my new friends. We traveled to new and old places in Cairo; Mona and Andre and I took the train one day to Alexandria; and Mona and I traveled to an Ecolodge in the Fayoum Oasis where we met Evelyne Porret, a potter from Switzerland, who transported the art and commerce of pottery to the village of Tunis in the 1980s.

Mona and I rode on a Felucca on Qarun Lake, visited the Wadi el Rayan protected area, explored the Meidum Pyramid that hasn’t been open to tourists for years, and dodged the Egyptian security detail following us. On my 65th birthday, my friends surprised me with a cake and a serenade at Filfila, one of my favorite restaurants in Cairo Jimmy Carter visited many years ago. I made a birthday resolution to walk 10,000 steps each day, a reasonable goal since I love to walk so much.

A casual remark from an employee at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed that the U.S. and Egyptian governments are working together to keep Americans out of Gaza. I was very disheartened and not sure about my next step until an American friend in London invited me to spend the Christmas holidays with him. With my writing project completed and no plans on my horizon, I jumped on a plane to London.

LONDON AND NORTH TO SCOTLAND:

I’ve never been to London, and seeing the city for the first time with Maurice was a wonderful reintroduction to the West following my adventures in Malaysia and Egypt.  In addition to the famous tourist spots, we walked and walked and walked . . . 3 dogs to be exact. Maurice and I decided to accept a house-sitting, dog-sitting assignment in the East End for nearly 3 weeks which allowed me to experience London at the granular level (sidewalk by sidewalk).

One day I met the author of Shy Radicals, another day I met a Facebook friend who shares my passionate advocacy on Gaza and also loves live theater. I joined a protest against the maltreatment of refugees. Amid everything new and exciting, I learned something important about myself. I’m stubborn, judgmental and have little patience when things aren’t going MY WAY.

Maurice and I decided to accept another dog-sitting assignment —- but he headed south and I took the bus north to Langholm where I was suppose to meet up with a retired Buddhist nun. Maurice and I had talked with her on the phone a couple of times from London; Maurice thought she might have a screw loose but I thought she sounded OK. Maurice’s instincts turned out to be accurate. She lived alone in squalid conditions with a little dog. It looked like the kitchen sink held dirty dishes that had piled up for several weeks, and she was a hoarder. I spent the night on her couch and extracted myself at dawn with a quiet “goodbye”.  I would have sought out protective services to assist her but she told me her adult son was visiting later that day, and I told her neighbor that I was leaving.

Without any alternative plans, where should I go? What should I do? I decided to check out the Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery up the road from Langholm, the nun’s spiritual home. I found a quiet retreat center at the monastery and was assigned a bunk bed in a room for six people but I was alone. January is a quiet time in northern England.

Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery

The monastery’s quiet serenity included peaceful walks around the large estate, simple but delicious meals, nightly prayers in the temple, reading a very good book set in Scotland (Outlander) and lots of sleep. I arrived with a persistent cough that wasn’t getting better. The monk leading the prayers each night read off a list of names — people we were praying for — and I added my family to the list. Someone added my name to the list as well. One evening I was so tired, I skipped dinner and slept. When I awoke, I found a note next to my bed with a piece of bread and jam. “In case you’re hungry when you wake up.” Another evening the night watchman brought me a special medicinal tea bag that he said might help.

A monk recommended I visit with a doctor in town, and so I caught the bus for the 30 minute ride back into Langholm and the small clinic. A nurse practitioner saw me without an appointment. After many questions, taking my vitals and listening to my chest, she prescribed Amoxicillin and told me to return in a week if I didn’t feel better. Neither the clinic nor the pharmacy wanted a penny from me!

Within a week I was feeling much better and able to sit through the evening prayer in the temple without coughing. I may never know whether the prayers, the Amoxicillin, the medicinal tea, or simply the extended bed rest were responsible for my healing, but I learned an important lesson at Samye Ling. 

There are angels all around us, some we see and many we don’t. Speaking to them through prayer is a powerful way to connect with each other and the universe.  I learned how to pray at Samye Ling.

EDINBURGH: 

Scotland in January is cold, damp and gray but I didn’t know if I’d ever return and so at the end of the month I caught a bus to Edinburgh. I was hooked on getting to know Diana Gabaldon’s Scotland in her Outlander series better.

I walked and walked and walked, but noticed I was walking with more difficulty. Old Edinburgh is a three-dimensional city with steps everywhere. I spent part of every day in the Central Library Reading Room working on another writing assignment. Then I went exploring the city when it wasn’t raining, and sitting in Starbucks reading when it was.

Friends suggested I taste the Scotch. One evening I went up to the bar to ask for a recommendation. The bartender served me and the young man next to me paid for it. He could have been my grandson. I thanked him and asked him why? He said he was paying it forward, and suggested I do the same. The next day I discovered Social Bite where I bought lunch and paid it forward.

In Edinburgh I observed a heated debate about homelessness in Parliament, and watched the Advocates make their oral arguments in court wearing their robes and white wigs. I walked past protesters demanding a vote on whether or not to leave the UK following the ill-conceived Brexit move which a majority in Scotland didn’t support. I found myself caught in the middle of the Irish rugby fans waiting in front of Balmoral Hotel for their team to depart, walked through the Palace of HolyRoodhouse, and felt immersed in history everywhere.  The high points of my visit were the people I connected with — including a friend from Samye Ling, a friend from Gaza, and new friends from South Korea and Italy.  I finished my writing project and reserved a train to London.

I learned an important lesson in Edinburgh.  As much as I love to explore places and cities (I’m a city planner after all), it’s meeting people (old and new) that give my life meaning. The places and cities shape our understanding of the world and each other, but people provide the glue that makes the world turn.

LONDON REDUX:

In February, Maurice and I reconnected in London. This visit involved less tourism and more activism as I stood with the Women in Black at the Edith Cavell memorial, observed a discussion about Palestine in the House of Commons, attended Emma Sky‘s book reading at the Frontline Club, listened to Professor Ilan Pappe speak about colonization versus occupation in Palestine, and joined thousands of students protesting our inaction on the climate crisis.  I was keeping my pace at 10,000 steps or more each day but with difficulty. The pain in my left leg wasn’t going away. Maybe I should visit the doctor when I return to the US.

BRUSSELS, LEUVEN, and TILBURG:

I boarded a train on February 28 to Brussels and must have looked bedraggled when I arrived at the hostel. The receptionist asked me if I knew it was a hostel? Yes. “A youth hostel.” Yes. “We have an age limit of 35.” I didn’t notice any age limits on the website when I booked the reservation. She made an exception for me. Although I was clearly the oldest guest, young people from many countries struck up conversations with me and I felt right at home.

Brussels YOUTH hostel

Lora at a YOUTH hostel in Brussels

The museums, churches and the European Parliament filled my days, as well as a massive march opposing the Death Penalty.  One day I caught the train to Tilburg to visit an Egyptian friend pursuing his graduate studies there. Another day I took the train to Leuven to attend the Women in Black international conference. We stood outside city hall holding our signs in our vigil for peace and the end of war. When the organist in the church across the plaza played John Lennon’s IMAGINE, many of us had tears. It was the most meaningful vigil I’ve ever participated in.

PARIS, LYON and GENEVA:

A train to Paris (3 days), on to Lyon (7 days), and then a bus to Geneva (7 days) connected me to Mona, Naki, Eva and a new friend – Claire Elise. This was my second visit to Paris. I wasn’t interested in seeing the typical tourist sites. Instead, I spent one day walking around the Marais neighborhood only a few steps from my hostel. This is the Jewish quarter with very different architecture and history than most other districts in Paris. The Shoah Memorial and the Museum of Jewish Art and History captured my attention; a beautiful piano recital at the oldest church in Paris where Herbert du Plessis performed Chopin and Liszt soothed my restless soul; and a tour inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Crypt under the plaza in front turned out to be prescient. Five weeks later, Notre Dame was engulfed in flames.

On March 10, I headed to Lyon on the train (the European Union has wonderful trains) and again I spent the days walking, walking, walking. The stairs up Fourvière Hill, the historical site of Lyon, almost did me in. The effort was worth it to see the whole city of Lyon below and the Basilique de Fourvière.

I joined students protesting climate inaction on Friday, and thousands of people marching and demanding climate action on Saturday. But I was questioning my next steps. Should I return to the US? Then I received a WhatsApp message — my name had been included in a medical convoy traveling to Gaza in a month!

Suddenly, my focus shifted to fundraising for the medical convoy. I consulted with a seasoned fundraiser and decided to record short videos about my campaign. Before returning to Cairo to join the convoy, I decided to meet a friend in Geneva.

Lora and NakiThere are people who touch your heart unlike any other. I hadn’t seen Naki since our days together in Cairo at Pension Roma seven years ago. When we reconnected in Geneva, and I met her husband, I felt the time melting away. We’re bonded together whether we share any physical space or not. I can’t explain it. 

We visited the International Committee of the Red Cross and I dreamed of a career my alter ego could have/should have had. My own career trajectory seemed so pitiful in comparison. Regrets and more regrets.

One day I walked past a well-organized Zionist demonstration in front of the United Nations Building. They were condemning the UN Human Rights Council meeting which had just wrapped up a discussion about Israel, Gaza and the Palestinian Territories. Back at the hostel, a young man overheard me talking with someone about the demonstration. He was from Brussels and had traveled to Geneva to be part of it but had questions after Googling information about some of the people who had spoken. He supported Israel and its right to defend itself against terrorism, but the information he found indicated the speakers at the demonstration were Far Right reactionaries. He was questioning what the “other side of the story” might be. We had a good engaging conversation, listening to each other, and both agreeing to disagree respectfully. We agreed on the most important thing —- that it’s important to build bridges across the great divides in our society.

I learned something important in Geneva. It takes courage to walk across the divide and speak with the opposition (whether Israel-Palestine, pro-choice and pro-life, etc). That young man showed me how to do it, with respect and an open mind and heart. I hope I can emulate him in future conversations I have, and take the initiative to reach out across the divide.

MILAN, COMO and VENICE:

My three weeks in Italy (March 23 – April 11) was an adventure of pure convenience. I didn’t know anyone there, but it was so close. I didn’t want to pass up a chance to see a part of Italy I’d never visited. I also didn’t want to pass up the chance to take a bus through the Swiss Alps!

I was still managing 10,000 steps in Milan but not every day, and my gait was much slower. My posture must have given me away. Clerks were routinely asking me if I needed assistance and offering me special consideration to get to the front of the line. My head felt young and inquisitive, but my body was feeling its age. I thought about attending a performance at the Teatro alla Scala but I was too tired to stay out late.

Throughout my journey, I’d been reading history books about the places I visited. For the very first time, my high school history lessons were beginning to make sense. This was especially true in Milan and Venice.

Milan will always stick in my mind as a high-fashion center of clothes and design with very good public transportation, and some of the most magnificent buildings I’ve ever seen. I felt like a country bumpkin wearing the same things I’d been wearing for the past 6 months, but there was no one to complain, and I took a shower every other day. Ha!

A guest at the hostel raved about his visit to Lake Como, so I decided to take the train there the next day. The natural beauty + the town’s charm = a very special spot to return and settle down for a spell to write. I rode the funicular up the mountain. Just imagine — it’s been in operation since 1894.

Then I boarded a train to Venice (March 27 – April 11). Train travel everywhere was easy, inexpensive, and a joy. When will the U.S. emulate Europe’s leadership in public transportation?

Arriving at the Santa Lucia Train Station, I had directions to my hostel on Giudecca and knew I had to get a vaporetto (water taxi).  I knew exactly which one too.

I asked the first man who approached me for directions. He was slick and firm with his response. He could take me to my hostel on his private water taxi for a princely sum. I insisted I was looking for the public taxi, and he finally caved and pointed me in the right direction. As I walked off pulling my suitcase behind me, a young man said “Good job!” I asked “What?” And he told me I handled the pesky taxi sales person very well. On a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being the highest level of confidence, I think my confidence traveling alone has shot up to 8 or 9 since I started this journey in Malaysia six months ago.

venice-sestieri

I loved Venice so much, and the people were so welcoming, I decided to stay two weeks and really explore. Venice is definitely the city to walk. I walked everywhere, every day, but now slightly limping on my left leg. I explored nooks and crannies that I suspect the first time tourist never sees, but I also visited all of the tourist sites. I purchased Jan Morris’ book “Venice” at the most beautiful bookstore in the world, and took it everywhere I went. The weekly transit pass for the vaporetto was 60 Euros and well worth it. I jumped on and off several times each day, along with Venetians and their pet dogs. Venetians love their dogs.

The Vivaldi concert at Chiesa San Vidal was excellent. The food everywhere was delicious but expensive. Along with the calories, I was counting my Euros carefully.

Naila and the Uprising 3Every day I was fundraising for the medical convoy to Gaza, and slowly making progress. Asking people for money is difficult but I have overcome my reticence because I know the need is so great. One evening I decided to go to the mainland to see “Naila and the Uprising” — the same film that I’d seen at the film festival in Malaysia. I was curious to see how many people might show up. Are the Italians good solidarity activists for Palestine? I was pleased to see a roomful of people (probably 75-100) of all ages. My biggest surprise was seeing Naila herself, the central protagonist of the film, at the event with her husband. They answered questions after the film through an interpreter.

Throughout my travels, I found tremendous support for Palestine, much more so than I’ve seen in the U.S.  Maybe my solidarity work should focus on Americans in my own back yard.

Before I left Venice, I had to know whether there were any plans or actions addressing the inevitable sea rise and impacts of climate change. One evening Piazza San Marco was flooded when there was a convergence of high tides, full moon and lots of rain. It seemed to me the entire city would be under water with rising sea levels.

I asked to meet with the city’s planning director and was pleased that an appointment could be arranged before I traveled. I sat with Vincenzo de Nitto and his colleague, Marco Bordin, and our conversation ranged from the impact of tourism on the historic center of Venice to the inevitable rising sea level. They showed me the MOSE project which should be completed very soon, a series of steel gates at the inlets which will be raised whenever the sea level is expected to rise, and lowered when the water recedes. A technological fix to a new reality, but I wonder if it will work. Many planners and scientists laud Venice as a leader in addressing climate change.

On April 11, I boarded my flight to Cairo to connect up with the medical convoy going to Gaza.  That’s for another story.Coddiwomple

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019) — “Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon? Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

 

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Three in one: the human mind

Yesterday a friend from Germany acknowledged with approval that I have an open mind.  He was referring to my willingness to rethink my opinion about Antifa after I finished reading a book by the same name.  (For those who may not know, Antifa refers to anti-fascists who oppose fascists using many different tactics, including violence.)

On the very same day, another friend in the U.S. expressed disappointment with my closed mind after I refused to entertain arguments from a climate denier that my friend thought might have some merit. I flatly rejected his invitation to engage in an intellectual exercise to disprove this climate denier’s “facts.”

Of course, I felt validated by my first friend’s pat on the back and irritated by my second friend’s jab when he implied that I couldn’t think for myself but was simply following dogma. He equated my refusal to engage in his intellectual tit for tat as a personal weakness or failure.

Brain

Scanning of a human brain by X-rays

Well, on further reflection, the open mind / closed mind dichotomy are merely two sides of the same coin.

The open mind questions, rethinks, and re-evaluates all information coming in because new information might change one’s opinion. The open mind knows that no one is God and all-knowing. The open mind is a humble mind. Each of us is a fallible human being on a path of constant learning.

On the flip side, the closed mind rejects inquiry or further reflection because the closed mind has a profound certainty that it knows all — at least all about the given issue at hand. The closed mind sees the world as white and black, right and wrong, truth and lies. What beautiful comfort to live in such a world, and what arrogance!

Both sides of this mind have an important role to play, and neither should be rejected outright.

If we didn’t take some facts in our world to be settled, we’d be incapable of decision-making and taking action. “The Earth is round and gravity keeps us firmly planted.” Thank goodness I don’t need to re-evaluate that proposition every day. A closed mind comes in handy sometimes.

If we never questioned the commonly-held beliefs, humanity would never progress. “The Earth is flat.”  Thank goodness someone questioned that “truth”. An open mind charts the path for humanity’s future.

The open / closed mind has particular relevance in the Israel / Palestine “conflict”.

The extremists on both sides have closed their minds to any opinions or facts that might disprove or cast some doubt on their cherished position (whatever that position might be). I wish everyone had an open mind about Israel/Palestine rather than spewing “terrorist” and other dehumanizing venom at each other. Few are willing to entertain any information that might recast Hamas from a terrorist group to a political party duly elected on a platform of resistance to the occupation. Few are willing to have an open mind about the future of the state of Israel apart from their firmly held convictions.

Between the two sides of the same coin — the “open mind” and the “closed mind” — is the rational mind, where “rational” means a mind based on reason or logic., a mind capable of discernment, a mind actively engaged rather than just spouting firmly held beliefs.

I suspect (and I have no studies or reports to support my suspicion) that most humans divide their minds in the following way — 75% closed, 5% open and 20% rational.  Or perhaps that division is too generous to the rational mind.

It’s important to recognize that each of us is operating with all three running simultaneously — our closed mind, open mind and rational mind.

Which mind was I using when I read Antifa?  Just by picking up the book, I was willing to rethink my preconceived notions about Antifa. I chose to read the book not to confirm my previous notions that anti-fascists are hoodlums hyped up on testosterone that prefer violence over nonviolence. I wanted to learn about the arguments and the strength of those arguments presented by an author who was clearly pro-Antifa.

I learned a lot that I didn’t know about Antifa — about the long history of anti-fascists’ movements (primarily in Germany, Italy and Spain … and more recently in the US). I learned about their activities and motivations from the author’s research as well as his personal interviews with anti-fascists. I learned how Antifa responds to the typical arguments against its tactics — some of which I agree with and others I don’t. Finally, I weighed the Antifa tactics in the political climate which permeates much of the world today. I concluded that Antifa has a legitimate role to play and shouldn’t be discounted outright, although I worry about violence that perpetrates more violence.

I was using my open mind and concluded that I needed to revise my perceptions about Antifa.

Which mind was I using when I rejected my friend’s invitation to engage in an intellectual exercise about climate change?

A closed mind reflexively refuses to entertain contrary evidence. My friend called my refusal to engage an example of my closed mind.

A rational mind discerns the utility of engaging, weighs the pros and cons, the likelihood of making an impact or learning something new.

  • I reject climate change deniers and question their motivation.
  • I believe the anthropomorphic impacts on the earth systems are indisputable based on the reports of a vast majority of scientists over many decades, and the IPCC reports and articles by James Hansen and others whom I respect.
  • I know that the fossil fuel industry has been engaged in deceptive tactics to misinform the public for many years, just as the tobacco industry was in prior years.
  • I’m aware that the vast majority of the scientists believe the window is rapidly closing on our ability to turn this ship around. Should we spend our time debating the reality of climate change or debating about what actions we must take very quickly? I’ve made my choice.
  • Finally, a rational mind asks itself “what’s the downside of being wrong?” In other words, what if the majority of scientists are wrong about climate change, and calls for action are overblown or unwarranted? What’s the impact if Lora Lucero remains ignorant? In my assessment, the world will benefit by getting off fossil fuels and moving towards local economies, public transportation and all the rest of it …. regardless of whether climate change is real or not.  The potential harm of not acting is catastrophic.

this-way-that-way-signpost

We only have one journey on this Planet, and none of us knows the future. Let’s fully engage our minds — all three minds — in a respectful way.

 

 

 

 

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Signs of the Times

One day in the future, will we look back at the events in 2017 with a sigh of relief or a gasp of horror? We knew and we acted? Or we knew and failed?

This video was put together by organizers of the #PeoplesClimateMarch. The photos below are mine. Read about the March here.

 

Monarch message

moms clearn air force 2

18193730_10212957176910049_2041451883844289139_n

In Science We Trust

Crowd in front of white house

Librarian

No Sides again

Scott Pruitt

 

 

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I think we can, I think we can!

little red caboose

When I was a young child (1950s-1960s) there were no seatbelts. We rode around in the back seat without a care in the world, listening to my grandfather behind the wheel intoning “I think we can!  I think we can!” in the spirit of the Little Red Caboose as he chauffeured my sister and I up the hill to their house every Sunday afternoon.

We always made it up the hill.

When my children were young, cars routinely had seatbelts but there was no law requiring people to wear them until 1983. We could still get away without wearing them in the back seat until 1989.

Fast forward, thirty years later, and now it’s second nature for most everyone who jumps into a car to put on their seatbelts.

Science Keeping RBG alive

Can we do the same behavior modification to save our planet?

On Earth Day 2017, I worry whether Americans will be able to put on the proverbial seatbelt to curtail our profligate overconsumption and learn to live within the Earth’s finite limits.

youth

First, we don’t see the connection between our personal consumption patterns and the larger, scarier reality that we are directly contributing to the inevitable planetary wreakage.

Second, if we do see the connection, we probably don’t feel our solitary actions will make much of a difference.  So, why change?

Third, many of us believe our quality of life will suffer and the “sacrifices” will be too great.

Fourth, there surely must be a technological fix hiding somewhere given all of the creative geniuses populating Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

The short answer: It’s up to me, you and anyone else reading this blog, to change our consumption habits just as we changed our driving habits. Now, today. In every way. Lets put on our seatbelts!

“I think we can, I think we can” said the little Red Caboose. I think we can change our consumption habits and conserve, reduce, recycle, simplify, live with less, share more, and build a world where every child will make it up that hill.

 

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Why I won’t vote for the lesser of two evils

A professional colleague/friend warned me today …

“Try explaining to your children why you didn’t vote for Clinton if el Trumpo gets elected. If you believe that it doesn’t make a difference if he gets elected and appoints one or more Clarence Thomas types to SCOTUS you don’t really care about the future. You of all people should recognize the potential for long-term damage that POTUS can do by appointing another Thomas or Scalia.”

Aside from the false notion that I “believe it doesn’t make a difference” if Trump gets elected, I agree that I certainly owe my children (ages 43, 39, 36) an explanation for why I’m voting for Jill Stein, the first time I’ve voted for a Green Party candidate.

I owe them an explanation and an apology for waiting so long (beyond the Planet’s expiration date, I fear!) to stand up and act consistent with my values.

We all agree that a Trump Presidency would be catastrophic. On my travels in Spain (April), Italy (June) and Greece (July), when anyone learned that I was an American, they almost always asked my opinions about the election and expressed alarm about a possible Trump Presidency. I share their alarm, but I reject the binary-thinking that a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump.

The candidates win or lose their campaigns, while the voters cast their ballots. I reject the notion that my vote for Jill Stein will cost HRC the election. If Clinton loses, then her campaign autopsy should consider many factors. I’ll list a few.

  • Clinton’s positions on the substantive issues might have failed to persuade enough voters to support her.
  • Clinton’s track record (years and years on the track) might have failed to persuade enough voters to support her.
  • Clinton’s campaign staff and volunteers might have failed to GOTV sufficiently.
  • Clinton’s Superdelegates who swung the primary in her favor might have failed to swing the general election in her favor.
  • Clinton’s legal issues (emails, etc.) might have ended up being a greater drag on her run for the White House than the Superdelegates and the DNC imagined.
  • Clinton’s DNC’s apology to Bernie Sanders might have failed to convince enough voters that the DNC is not a tool of the party establishment.
  • Clinton’s flip-flopping on the TPP might have failed to convince enough voters that her current opposition to the TPP is genuine.
  • Clinton’s aggressive pro-fracking advocacy around the world might have failed to convince enough voters at home that she’s serious about tackling climate change, as many of us believe it must be fought.
  • Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy positions might have unnerved many voters who thought they had voted for a change in direction when they elected Obama, but soon learned Obama (and even more so Clinton) did not share many Americans’ concerns about our country’s perpetual war.
  • Her obeisant and unquestioning loyalty to the government of Israel might not sit well with a growing number of American Jews who are fed up with Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza.

There will certainly be many other factors to consider postmortem, if Clinton loses in November, but realistically the polls and common wisdom point in her favor. The list of Republicans who are voting for Clinton is growing daily.

So why am I NOT voting for Clinton?  Why can’t I bite my tongue, pinch my nose, or do whatever else it might take to vote for the lesser of two evils?

I always knew I couldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  I knew it in 2008 and my opinion hasn’t changed. I’m not a Bernie or Bust groupie. I abhor group-think in any form. Just because Bernie Sanders now endorses HRC and urges his supporters to vote for her, doesn’t persuade me in the least to follow his recommendation. I think for myself.

After it was clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, and HRC would be the Democratic nominee, I considered my options  and decided that I could vote for Jill Stein. Here’s my calculus.

I’m voting in New Mexico, a safe state for Dems. If I voted in a swing, battleground state, my calculus would be quite different. HRC is very likely going to pull off a very big win in N.M., even bigger now that many Republicans are jumping their sinking ship and announcing their support for HRC. My vote for Stein will help bolster the Green Party’s standing in 2020, and might send a message to the Democratic Party that they no longer stand for my values.

I’m not a one issue voter. And I don’t demand 100% perfection from any candidate, contrary to what some friends have alleged.

I was an enthusiastic Sanders supporter, contributing $25/month to his campaign before any of my friends on-and-off Facebook acknowledged that he might actually pull off a win. His positions didn’t align with mine 100% but he was much, much closer than any other candidate, and I felt he could be “educated” on issues, such as Black Lives Matter and Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Einstein

I’ve been watching HRC and her campaign very carefully these past few weeks, secretly hoping that she would give me some reason to vote for her — not perfection, but some small kernel of hope that I might have been mistaken all these years about her.

She gave me nothing. The DNC gave me nothing. Both confirmed for me that my decision to vote for Jill Stein is the only decision I can make consistent with my values.

Consider the following:

  1. The primary was rigged against Sanders.  Despite many friends asserting otherwise, the evidence appears too strong to deny. I’m particularly disgusted with the Superdelegates disclosing their pledges (for Clinton or Sanders) before the voters even cast their votes. Could Sanders have won the primary if the Superdelegates had not prematurely thrown their support for HRC and the media had not prematurely announced the “winner”? We will never know. But we should all be very troubled with these revelations and how the Democratic primary was conducted.
  2. The two sides hammered out a pretty good Dem platform, but I was sorely disappointed by the Clinton representatives’ intransigence on TPP and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. I don’t think the Party’s platform should be taken too seriously, it certainly  has no binding effect and doesn’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire. But the discussions that lead up to its adoption should give everyone pause. HRC says she opposes the TPP, but then why did her representatives oppose a position against the TPP in the non-binding Democratic Party Platform?

3. I’ve come to the conclusion that we (all of us on the planet) have run out of time. We have the answers, we don’t have the political will power to effect the radical change we need.  We don’t have time for the status quo and incrementalism that a Clinton Presidency promises to give us. In my view, HRC represents a nail in the coffin of the war on climate change because of her positions on fracking and oil & gas. She represents a nail in the coffin of a sane and just foreign policy in the Middle East and around the world. She represents a nail in the coffin of a sane economic policy for Americans and everyone on the planet. She just doesn’t get it.  Those are the three big issues and she gets an F in all three.

So I’m voting for Jill Stein because I must act and vote consistent with my values. I don’t expect miracles if Stein is elected, but I don’t expect a continuation of the status quo either. If Jill Stein’s deeds and actions match only a sliver of her rhetoric, then she will be a better President than either HRC or Trump. And she’ll be the first woman elected President in the United States, the first Green Party candidate elected, and the first sane candidate elected to the highest office in the land who is unbeholding to the corporatocracy.

I won’t tell you how to vote, but I hope you will get out and vote.

Corporatocracy

 

 

 

 

 

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A Livable Gaza

At the International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome, I presented a paper about how to make Gaza a livable community. Two colleagues in Gaza and I collaborated on this paper earlier this year. They were not present in Rome because Israel would not allow Yaser (an environmental engineer) to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy rejected Eman’s (an architect) request for a Visa.

So with a heavy heart, I began the presentation by telling the audience about these travel restrictions and reminding them how privileged we are to travel and sit together to talk about building livable communities. My presentation included five lessons.

Lesson #1 – Include the people from the community in building a livable community.

I shared some brief facts about the Gaza Strip. It’s relatively small, only 139 square miles or about the size of Detroit or twice the size of Washington, DC., with a rapidly growing population of 1.8 million people in 2014 and a density about equal to Boston. Unlike Detroit and Boston however, the Gaza Strip has been isolated from the rest of the world for nearly 10 years.

Gaza Strip

Travel in and out of Gaza is very restricted. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to return for the past 2+ years. There’s a “youth bulge” in Gaza with 51% of the population under the age of 18.  There’s a high literacy rate (96% in 2011) and the majority of the youth speak 2 languages, if not more. But 85% of the 677 schools in the Gaza Strip are running double shifts, and some are running triple shifts.

Unemployment in the Gaza Strip was 44% in 2014. Food insecurity is high (80% of households receive assistance) and 39% live below the poverty line. OCHA estimates that roughly 20% of Gaza’s population need treatment for mental health conditions.

Lesson #2 – Communities are not on a level playing field; they begin the path towards a livable future from very different baselines. 

I shared some caveats (warnings) about our paper because many of the reviewers have told us our recommendations are good but won’t succeed until some preconditions are met, including the end of the blockade and occupation of Gaza. We agree, of course. We believe Israel’s occupation will end, either by design or by default, but we must not wait until that day comes.

Our recommendations for a Livable Gaza are premised on the belief that Palestinians can plan and prepare today for a Livable Gaza, absent any resolution of the serious political challenges that exist.

Lesson #3 — Don’t wait until every impediment has been removed to begin building a livable community.

Then I discussed our methodology. The Gaza Strip has been studied and examined by NGOs, by the United Nations, by sociologists, and a whole plethora of professional disciplines.  The focus of most of the research has been how to prioritize projects to sustain the population and repair the damage caused by nearly 10 years of a brutal economic, political and cultural siege, as well as 3 military assaults. My colleagues and I decided to filter this research through a new lens — Kate Raworth’s economic doughnut.

doughnut_full_white400x400

Raworth’s economic doughnut situates a livable community in a safe and just place between the planetary boundaries and the social boundaries.

The planetary boundary is the environmental ceiling which humans must not exceed in order to maintain earth’s life support systems.  That includes such things as climate change, freshwater use, chemical pollution, biodiversity loss, and land use changes. The social boundary is the bedrock of human rights which we must not fall below. That includes such things as food, water, jobs, health, energy, voice, education, etc.

Where is Gaza within the economic doughnut?

The Gaza Strip has exceeded the environmental ceiling: (1) climate change vulnerability – rising sea levels and significant warming, (2) freshwater use is just a memory (UN predicted the aquifer would be unusable by 2016 and irreversibly damaged by 2020), (3) land use change – military operations have flattened entire neighborhoods, buffer zone policies restrict agricultural production, (4) pollution – more than 100,000 cubic meters of raw sewage are dumped into the Mediterranean from Gaza every day. The Gaza Strip has fallen below the social foundation: (1) public health (2) education (3) energy (4) water (5) food (6) jobs (7) shelter (8) voice.

gaza-2020

Can a livable community be created from such a deficit?  Of course, the immediate needs must be addressed and met.  That is the focus of the international NGOs and many governments that are trying to keep the Gaza Strip functioning, but they are not focused on building a livable Gaza.  They are focused on survival.

Gaza Unsilenced

Yaser, Eman and I wrote about our potential vision for what a livable Gaza might look like, but I didn’t describe that during the presentation. I told the audience that the “process” of building a livable community is more important than our “vision”.

Lesson #4 – Process is more important than the vision or the goal.

The three biggest challenges to building a livable Gaza are:

  1. Lack of voice. A failure to hold elections in over a decade has neutered the Palestinians’ voice in a representative government in both the West Bank and Gaza. The donor community contributes to this problem. Even though donors oppose the occupation in principle, they are financing it; and they are indirectly implicated in a relation of domination that they were supposed to help dismantle. A Livable Gaza will empower the Palestinian to regain their personal agency and power.
  2. Lack of movement. The Israeli/Egyptian/US blockade and siege have resulted in Gaza’s de-development and political/economic/social strangulation. A Livable Gaza must have complete freedom of movement and this must be a top priority for both the international community and for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
  3. Finally, I mentioned the antiquated laws and regulatory framework. Palestinian legislation is extremely complex and contradictory, a hodge-podge of different traditions which lack coherency for the 21st century. Building a livable community will require a significant reform of the regulatory and legal framework in Palestine.

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There must be two tracks working simultaneously but separately towards building a livable community in Gaza.  One is already underway, and has been working for decades since the establishment of the State of Israel and the forced expulsion of many Palestinian refugees to Gaza in 1948.  This track includes 12 UN organizations, 36 international NGOs and 31 national NGOs working in the occupied Palestinian territories. They are monitoring the facts on the ground, distributing aid and resources, and financing development projects such as housing, schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. The express purpose of these organizations is to keep Gaza from falling below Raworth’s social foundation, but they are failing miserably.

The second track must address the three biggest challenges, unencumbered by the planning and actions occurring on the first track.

COMMUNITY DISCUSSION

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RESOURCES                                                                       PLAN

Building a livable community requires the active support and engagement of community leaders; but in the absence of political engagement and leadership, it’s important to remember that there are many different types of leaders, unelected and elected, at all levels (household, neighborhood, associations, districts and on up.) Many actions can be undertaken today at the local level to build a livable Gaza, regardless of what’s going on in the political sphere. We believe it involves three key components.

The youth are at the center leading a broad community discussion, gathering the resources, and preparing the plan. The youth should be acknowledged as the change-agents for this process. Most came of age after the last election, have experienced multiple wars and tragedies, and many have never left the Gaza Strip. The future belongs to them and to their children.

Lesson #5 – Recommendations must be sensitive to the challenges.

Our current concern for a livable community needs to be replaced with a new and broader concern for ‘environmental sustainability and justice’ in Arabic – ءدل

Justice is the cornerstone for good governance and a sustainable community. The Gaza Strip could be the turn-around example that shows the world by example, how to transition from the brink of collapse to a safe and just place for all life.

Please send me an email to request a copy of our paper.   LoraLucero3@gmail.com

 

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Sustainable, Healthy, Just Cities and Settlements (IMCL conference)

The International Making Cities Livable Conference in Rome spanned 4 days and was chock full of ideas, information and energy. I met people from Canada, the U.S., Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Turkey, England, Ireland, India, Slovakia …… and even someone from north of the Arctic Circle. Really!

There’s certainly a yearning for this type of information, but I wish there had been 3 or 4 times the attendance.

I summarized Day #1 here.  Here are a few of the key take-away messages for me from the rest of the conference:

A livable city must work well for children. Children don’t have the same opportunities to play, socialize and recreate as I did when growing up in Minnesota in the 1950s. Lamine Mahdjoubi from Bristol, UK pointed out how children have vanished from the public realm, living lives of isolation at home in front of their computers and TV. The children in the Mediterranean countries are particularly suffering from obesity because of this rise in sedentary lifestyles.

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Mayor James Brainard, City of Carmel, Indiana

A strong, healthy town knows how to leverage public-private partnerships. Mayor Brainard of Carmel, Indiana, USA, explained that when he ran for election, he knocked on many doors to ask people in the community what they wanted. When he synthesized all of their comments down, he realized they were all wishing for a livable community. So he’s succeeded in creating the Carmel Arts & Design District where he’s leveraged public-private partnerships to implement many of the design principles we know make livable communities. He shared amazing before-and-after photos, explaining how tax increment financing (TIFs) have succeeded in putting much of the parking underground. He’s a firm believer in the use of round-abouts too, so much so that the local newspaper made a cartoon of him. IMG_4639Carmel has added 187 miles of bike trails in the city, and between 14,000-15,000 people use them every day. Wow!  I was thinking of Chuck Marohn from Strong Towns as I listened to the Mayor.

Old people and the youth are the indicator species for a livable community. If it works for them, it works for everyone. I didn’t know much about the age-friendly movement, but was pleased to hear a panel discussion about it on Wednesday. Phillip Stafford from Bloomington, IN, USA shared some depressing statistics about our aging population in the US, and noted that our market economy has commodified old age. The disastrous planning of the past few decades, along with unbridled capitalism (the market economy), have actually put most of the aging population in homogeneous sprawling suburbs where they’re stuck, isolated and can’t remain independent. However, there’s a glimmer of hope with a recent APA publication on the topic.

Stafford recommends we focus on collaborative consumption where the aging population has many assets to share including: time, talent, and treasure. By treasure, he wasn’t suggesting their pocketbooks, but rather their community gardens, house share, tool share, car share. How do we make these shareable assets known and connected with others?

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Maxim Atayants, St. Petersburg, Russia

An architect from St. Petersburg, Russia discussed how to create a new classical urban fabric by sharing some of the projects he has worked on. In 1984, I visited St. Petersburg (then known as Leningrad), Moscow, Alma Ata and Tashkent and recall the Soviet-era buildings that were such monstrosities. Retrofitting those ugly utilitarian blocks will require new ideas, and new architects, such as Maxim Atayants. What impressed me as much as his design ideas, was his talent as an artist and his obvious passion for his work. I Googled him and found some of his sketches here.

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Stefano Serafini, Italy

“Urban designers and architects are a big problem … creating machine-like cities, computer-like cities, Internet-like cities.” Stefano Serafini, a philosopher and psychologist, challenged us (me?) to think outside of our design silos about our communities. I found this interdiscplinary presentation was one of the strengths of the conference, but I’ll have to read some of his ideas here to try to grasp what biourbanism is all about. Honestly, alot of it was over my head.

I was very pleased that he referenced the work of my friend from Albuquerque, architect and planner Besim Hakim.

Besim’s book — Mediterranean Urbanism “brings together historic urban/building rules and codes for the geographic areas including Greece, Italy, and Spain. The author achieved his ambitious goal of finding pertinent rules and codes that were followed in previous societies for the processes that formed the built environment of their towns and cities, including building activities at the neighborhood level and the decision-making process that took place between proximate neighbors.”

Human health and the built environment — go hand in hand. I thought about the environmental engineers I’ve met in Gaza. Mariano Bizzarri from Rome shared alot of statistics showing the links between the built environment and health. It was all a bit overwhelming for me to absorb, but I hope to learn more about this topic if his paper is posted on the conference website. The bottomline is that we easily understand the relationship between the natural environment and human health & disease. There’s a direct corrollary between smog and air pollution and breathing problems. However, now there is more research being published about the impacts of the built environment and human health.

IMG_4685The most alarming fact shared at the conference came from Michael Mehaffy, Executive Director of Sustasis Foundation.  “At the current pace of development, we will build more urban fabric in the next 50 years than we have built in all of history.” OMG!  

Clearly, we’re doing a lousy job of building livable communities now. At this pace, do we have time to unlearn the bad lessons, repair the damage, and move forward on a better path? The Habitat III conference will be in Quito, Ecuador in October this year. “Habitat III” is shorthand for a major global summit, formally known as the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. I’m going to learn more about that and see if there’s an opportunity to participate.

Mehaffy talked about the need to change our models of global development, change the tools we use in this process, and also change the rules. What we’re building today is functionally segregated and resource inefficienct — the “crack cocaine” of economic development is the origin of sprawl. He mentioned the work of Christopher Alexander and The City is Not a Tree. I didn’t really understand it until I found this pdf.

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A selfie with my team working on the last day of the conference to distill some principles of sustainable, healthy, just cities and communities.

Many of the points Mehaffy made (rather, all of his points) resonated with me from my education and experience as a city planner, a land use lawyer, and an observer of urban life and politics. I’ve been talking for years about the professional silos and group think that pervades the planning and urban design professions. Mehaffy was speaking rapidly, and every point he made deserved some thoughtful elaboration. He ended by saying there’s no need for cynicism and despair that only serve the powerful. “We” need to take the power.

Yes! I want to be on his team.

(Caveat: There were other presenters who contributed dynamite presentations. My head is still swimming. I hope the conference organizers will share everyone’s papers and powerpoint presentations.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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