Tag Archives: climate change

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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IMCL conference day #1

Rome is an excellent location for an international conference about making cities livable. If my first impressions are any clue, this city has a mixture of both what works and what doesn’t (yet) work as a livable city.

IMG_4487

Rome, Italy

On the positive side, I count the historical buildings, monuments and architecture, along with the great public transportation, delicious food, and very kind people. On the other hand, the graffiti is a big distraction (it’s on every surface visible to spray paint). The homeless sleeping under the bridges, and the urban poor are clear reminders of the inequities that exist. I rode a city bus to the end of the line on the far west side of Rome and saw poor neighborhoods that most tourists won’t see.

An Italian architect who helped make the local arrangements for this conference lamented that his colleagues didn’t even bother to show up. “They could learn so much from IMCL speakers,” he said, “but instead we [architects] are making life worse and worse in our cities.”

The four days are jam-packed with presentations. Participants (I’m guessing 100+) are a mix of architects, urban designers, planners, policy folks and elected officials from around the world, and the venue (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana, Vatican City) is well-equipped for the program.

I presented a paper about Gaza on the first day (more in a future blog post) but my two colleagues from Gaza are not here. Israel wouldn’t allow Yaser to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy wouldn’t give Eman a Visa to enter the country. (More here about the travel restrictions.)IMG_4555

Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, IMCL Co-Founder and Director, opened the conference with words that easily resonated with me about what’s wrong with our city-building today. There are two competing value systems at work, she said. The first is based on GDP, where the city is seen as an economic engine, and its function is to fuel growth and raise the standard of living; while the second is based on the Quality of Life. In this model, the function of the city is the “care and culture” (Lewis Mumford) of people and of the earth.

Some of the highlights from her presentation:  Extreme capitalism creates a consumer society where we find hundreds of ghost cities in China; vertical sprawl in cities like Hong Kong (the least affordable housing in the world); and New York City with its “safe deposit boxes in the sky” (investors are stashing their $$ in high-rises, seen as good investments). In Tokyo’s housing, there are high levels of hikikomori — people who suffer from severe social withdrawal. Some estimate there are more than 700,000 hikikomori in Japan. Teenagers will not leave their bedrooms for days, weeks, even months at a time while their meals are left on trays outside their door. High-rise living can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and we see higher rates of obesity and related chronic diseases. Paris has a population of 20,000 people per square kilometer in 6 stories, but now is considering adding high-rises to its skyline.

Suzanne summarized the IMCL Principles of TRUE URBANISM: (as opposed to new urbanism?)

  1. Facilitate community social life. Key to achieving a high quality of life for all is the way we treat the public realm. The most essential task is to make it possible for people to come together, to form friendships and face-to-face social networks, and to develop social capital and community, but we seem focused on over-investment in private property and under-investment in the public realm.
  2. Facilitate contact with nature, including nature everywhere in our cities, and make nature accessible to children. My ears perked up when Suzanne mentioned community gardens. I wish my defunct community garden in Albuquerque was growing and active.
  3. Facilitate independent mobility. We must focus on balanced transportation planning that first prioritizes walking, second on biking, third on public transit, and lastly on the car. Living streets (“Wohnstrasse” designated by the international blue sign) have been traffic calmed and are safe for children and elders.
  4. A hospitable built environment that frames social life. Human-scale and mixed use environment instead of the mono-culture zoning districts in the U.S. which divide uses.

“Profit is privatized

Loss is socialized”

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Richard Jackson (r) and Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard (l)

 

Richard Jackson, a physician and professor of environmental sciences at UCLA, shared some provocative thoughts when he asked “will we merit gratitude from our grandchildren?” Dr. Jackson says the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has been right about everything it has projected for the past 20 years with the exception of one thing.  The pace of change is occurring much faster than the IPCC experts thought it would. He used many of the same climate change slides that I have used when I talk about climate change —- but one stood out for me.  The IMF tells us that the fossil fuels industry is subsidized to the tune of $10 million/minute!! Estimate of $5.3 TRILLION for fossil fuels, much greater than our total expenditures for healthcare.  (At that point, my blood pressure was rising.)  He said there are 20 Attorney Generals in the U.S. filing a lawsuit against Exxon, similar to the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.

Are we guilty of child abuse?  Maybe, but certainly we are guilty of child neglect by our acts of omission — our failure to protect our children and grandchildren from the ravages of climate change, and subjecting them to a life of inactivity, in large part by the way we’ve built our cities.  There’s a lot of research out about the impacts of the built environment on our children’s health. I’m going to look for the May 2016 JAMA issue when I return home. Finally, Dr. Jackson mentioned British Columbia’s carbon tax which has dropped carbon use by 16%.  It’s working and others should follow their example.

Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontificia Universita San Tommaso, Vatican City, addressed how the Pope’s Laudato Si relates to city planning.  I read the Laudato Si last summer when it was released, see here. Father Crosthwaite said The Holy See was shocked with the impact of the Laudato Si, especially among non-Christians. A number of good questions followed his presentation. Someone observed that the church hierarchy has been slow to teach and speak about the Laudato Si, another thought the Vatican needs a good marketing campaign to spread the word. Father Crosthwaite acknowledged that a lot more needs to be done and applauded the laity for taking the leadership around the world. The “structures of sin” didn’t come from outer space, they came from each of us as individuals, and so we need to do this both as a community and as individuals. Key for the Pope is “dialogue.” The Vatican city-state is now carbon neutral. They bought a forest to offset the carbon use within the Vatican as well as transitioning to solar energy. The Vatican also works closely with the United Nations, influences the meetings and discussions about climate change.

Richard Economakis, architect and professor at the School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, shared a presentation entitled “Streets of Hope: Outlining an Urban, Environmentally Responsible Approach to Housing EU Asylum-Seekers”. I want to visit some of the refugee camps on the Greek Islands and was keenly interested in how Richard proposed to meet the challenges presented by this “migration of biblical proportions”. He mentioned that IKEA is producing housing for refugees using PVC components, non-degradable materials and designed to last 2 years. The Swiss government rejected IKEA’s housing as a fire safety hazard.

Professor Economakis stressed the “principle of repurposability” – meaning that designing and building human settlements for the refugees should consider the future reuse or repurpose of the structures once the refugees have moved on. Richard and eight of his graduate students prepared a Master Plan for the creation of temporary Refugee Villages to serve as processing centers for the refugees seeking asylum in the EU. He was kind enough to give me a copy. I hope I can find a way to send it to my colleagues in Gaza.

Statement of Intent

Let us build modest homes to serve as temporary shelters for the dispossessed in those ports and towns of their arrival. We must do so responsibly, using natural materials which have no carbon footprint, and in such a way that buildings can easily be torn down when they cease to be useful, without significantly impacting the environment – or else they should be able to stand for generations. Let us arrange the houses to form real communities of hope, villages that dignify the waves of tired men, women and children while they wait for their asylum requests to be processed. When the crisis abates and the refuges have moved on to new places and new lives, these towns may serve the hosting nations by being converted into affordable neighborhoods, academic villages or resorts.

Are there ideas here that might be applicable to the Gaza Strip?  I think so.

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Singing for the future in Gaza

My heart sings when I hear these young people. They are the hope for the future.

 

 

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Beyond COP21

cop21Everyone is celebrating the COP21 agreement — the world’s collective response to climate change. Read the agreement here.

President Obama said: “We’ve transformed the United States into the global leader in fighting climate change,” he declared. “We came together around the strong agreement the world needed. We met the moment.”

The Palestinians say they will submit to the U.N. secretary-general their instruments of accession to the global climate change convention.

The Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, says “we are so proud of this moment.” He says the Palestinians will become the 196th state party to the convention. It is currently an observer state.

Pope Francis on Sunday hailed the UN climate accord reached in Paris but warned the key now lay in its implementation, especially in help for the poor.

If the goal was to reach an agreement — any sort of agreement — then the applause is understandable. One word nearly killed the deal on the very last day.

I wasn’t in Paris and wasn’t part of the effort to reach an agreement, but one participant in the negotiations shared:

The intense work of civil society advocates in lobbying various delegates, in strategizing, in sharing ideas, in reaching consensus was impressive to observe and participate in.

I fully recognize that the COP21 agreement represents a major shift in the global consciousness about climate change.  This NY Times story is a must-read for understanding and appreciating the context and history leading up to the Paris meeting.

but

If the goal of the COP21 agreement was (is?) to shift the planet away from its current destructive path, then we failed.  (See here and here and here for descriptions of our current path and projections for the future.) 538184_10150847367692709_547417736_n

Why is the COP21 agreement a failure?

  • Even if the parties completely fulfill their aspirational goals to reduce CO2 emissions, we will see an increase of 3 to 5 degrees C in global temperatures by the end of 2100. The media focuses on the discussion in Paris about 1.5 or 2 degrees but that is inconsistent with the specific commitments made by the parties in the agreement.
  • If history is to be our guide, then we know that countries will not meet their aspirational goals. And there’s nothing in the COP21 to hold any country’s feet to the fire. There’s no legally binding enforcement mechanism in COP21. So the planet is more likely to witness global temperatures rising much higher than 3 to 5 degrees C.
  • The bottom line, Earth will not be capable of sustaining life as we know it by the end of this Century with or without the COP21 agreement.

That’s a “take-away” message that the majority of us either can’t comprehend, refuse to believe, or just plainly reject.

"Instead of embracing these grassroots alternatives," writes Munic, "politicians have fallen under the spell of corporations pushing false solutions to climate change." (Photo: Ronnie Hall/Friends of the Earth International)

“Instead of embracing these grassroots alternatives,” writes Munic, “politicians have fallen under the spell of corporations pushing false solutions to climate change.” (Photo: Ronnie Hall/Friends of the Earth International)

So while the mainstream media and some climate negotiators are sharing congratulatory praise for the COP21 success, I want my family and friends to focus on what we must do very quickly to change the path we’re traveling on together.

We need to inform ourselves. We need to act. We need to upset the BAU applecart (“Business-As-Usual”) and do anything it takes to destroy our current fossil fuel economy while rebuilding our local, livable, sustainable communities.

Bill McKibben says:  You’ve got to stop fracking right away (in fact, that may be the greatest imperative of all, since methane gas does its climate damage so fast). You have to start installing solar panels and windmills at a breakneck pace – and all over the world. The huge subsidies doled out to fossil fuel have to end yesterday, and the huge subsidies to renewable energy had better begin tomorrow. You have to raise the price of carbon steeply and quickly, so everyone gets a clear signal to get off of it.

We know what needs to be done, there are no excuses for our failure to act. 522340_535769796438370_364932514_n

Begin by reading or watching This Changes Everything. Then reduce your consumption (power, “stuff” and meat and dairy). Thanks to Chuck McCune for this energy calculator. Get plugged in with others working to set us on the right path such as 350.org, Climate Action Network, Citizens Climate Lobby, and many more.

Then  ACT ….. and continue until you draw your last breath. This is our responsibility to those yet unborn in 2050 and beyond.

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In Albuquerque with friend Nancy Galloway

November 2011 in front of the White House

(November 2011) In front of the White House

Loaded into the paddy wagon in front of the White House (August 2011)

Mohammed and Lora in Gaza on Earth Day 2013

Mohammed and Lora in Gaza on Earth Day 2013

 

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