Earthy Activism—Changing the World with Head and Heart
September - October 2010
Volume and Number:
Volume 10, No 5
Information and Action Addressing Public Policy for
an Ecologically Sustainable World
Volume 10, Number 5
Earthy Activism—Changing the World with Head and Heart
LAST MARCH Mary Gilbert of Friends Meeting at Cambridge,
who has been faithfully representing QEW at the UN for the
past several years, sent the following email to the Internet discus-
“This is just a heads-up to say that some manner of burnout has
come my way. I’m emerging from it, but for several days I wasn’t will-
ing to turn on my computer. Got dressed but read fiction. The negative
load really got to me.
“So although I still feel I’m not doing nearly enough, I recognize
that estimate is based on what some other, super-person might do in
response to the world going down the tubes. I can’t do more, and have
to learn how to do less so I can keep on doing it. I also want a return
of joy, which I clearly remember, to my life. ...”
This Friend felt a bout of despair coming on and took precau-
tions to give her bruised and overworked spirit some time off to
allow some healing. This seems a healthier response than forging
ahead with a stiff upper lip and risking a serious, debilitating break-
down. She also hints, however, at circumstances in which activists
may need to step back and reassess their goals and methods.
Gilbert’s experience echoes that of another Quaker, Lindsey
Fielder Cook, who represented QEW at the latest UN climate
change talks in Bonn, Germany in June. (p. 7) A number of times
in her report she mentioned feeling, as did many others, “shocked,”
“angry,” “deeply disturbed,” “deeply disappointed,” and “deeply
frustrated” over the lack of urgency, the misplaced priorities, the
The inward journey is the other half
empty rhetoric, and the stalling tactics that she observed during
of cultivating a “whole-world view.”
the UN sessions.
After this emotional buffeting, we can only hope she wil have
It was interesting to hear Blume describe at a recent com-
the heart to attend another UN climate session. Whether we are munity gathering how she tries to immunize herself against activ-
talking of veteran activists or enthusiastic but political y naïve new- ist burnout. She is very selective about the books she reads, the
comers, these stories of frustration and disappointment raise serious lectures she attends, and the videos she watches. “I want to know
concerns about how the peace, justice, and Earthcare movement can only enough to help me keep moving, and not so much that it
protect its members from overload, disillusionment, and burnout. weighs me down.” She also has to reluctantly say “no” to many
Another activist, actress Kathryn Blume, who happens to be a urgent calls to help with countless causes, in order to conserve her
neighbor of mine in Vermont, went to Copenhagen in December, energy, health, and sanity for the long haul. One activity that she
not for the UN talks but to perform a one-person play about cli- has said “yes” to wholeheartedly has been her town’s participation
mate activism at the independent Klima Forum. Most of the Klima in the global Transition Town Initiative (see sidebar p. 6).
Forum’s participants were there to envision bottom-up strategies
Some people, on the other hand, go to the extreme of tun-
and to speak truth to power about the radical changes needed in ing out all unpleasant news. They are interested only in inspiring
virtually every facet of life. The festive and upbeat atmosphere of examples and listening to people who take a “positive” approach.
the Klima Forum, in contrast to the relentlessly solemn UN ses- But it’s hard for me to imagine being effective in the world without
sions, illustrated the importance of solutions that are responsive to a tracking in depth both encouraging and discouraging develop-
people’s dreams and hopes for the future.
ments on the social, political, and environmental fronts.
There are plenty of disturbing developments, to be sure. Dwindling populations
Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB) is pub-
of honeybees, fireflies, amphibians, insects, and mollusks have formed a seemingly
lished bi-monthly by Quaker Earthcare
endless procession of ecological losses and wounds over the past few years. This sum-
Witness (formerly FCUN) as an insert
mer came the grim news that methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is being released
in BeFriending Creation.
at an accelerating rate by the Siberian sea beds—one of many dangerous “positive
feedback loops” that may send global warming out of control. In July I read that late
The vision of Quaker Earthcare Wit-
ness (QEW) includes integrating into
blight, an insidious destroyer of potato and tomato crops, may be spreading our way
the beliefs and practices of the Society
as it evolves to tolerate warmer weather!
of Friends the Truths that God’s Cre-
It was recently reported that bat caves in six Western and Midwestern states have
ation is to be held in reverence in its own
been closed to visitors temporarily in order to reduce the chance of contamination
right, and that human aspirations for
peace and justice depend upon restor-
from the white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has been killing bats in the eastern
ing the Earth’s ecological integrity. As a
United States. The white-nose syndrome (possibly climate-related) has hit New
member organization of Friends Com-
England so hard that cave bat counts here are down as much as 90 percent.
mittee on National Legislation, QEW
Seeing bats fluttering above our back yard at dusk used to be one of the joy-
seeks to strengthen Friends’ support for
FCNL’s witness in Washington DC for
ful signs of Spring, as reassuring as the white Serviceberry blossoms and the calls of
peace, justice, and an Earth restored.
returning Redwing Blackbirds—so many losses and wounds in such a short time
that we can’t take time to mourn or reflect on their larger meaning.
QEB’s purpose is to advance Friends’
witness on public and institutional poli-
AT A QEW-SPONSORED afternoon interest group at this year’s FGC Gather-
cies that affect the Earth’s capacity to
ing, Jim Crowfoot, who teaches in an interdisciplinary environmental studies
support life. QEB articles aim to inform
program at the University of Michigan, spoke bluntly about the seriousness of the
Friends about public and corporate poli-
“absolutely radical, mind-bending” changes that are already afoot around the world.
cies that have an impact on society’s
He described three main ways that informed, caring people have been responding
relationship to Earth, and to provide
to these changes:
analysis and critique of societal trends
and institutions that threaten the health
1) Some are called to be on the front lines of resistance—writing letters, joining
of the planet.
protests, etc.—trying to slow down the military-industrial juggernaut.
2) Some are engaged in deliberative public policy-oriented work.
Friends are invited to contact us about
writing an article for QEB. Submissions
3) Others are envisioning and bringing into being alternate ways of living on Earth.
are subject to editing and should:
Each of these paths, Crowfoot said, evokes strong emotions that need to be
• Explain why the issue is a
shared in a safe space. “To ignore these emotions and just talk about ideas is to put us all
• Provide accurate, documented
at peril.” Retreats, furloughs, peer counseling, support groups, nonviolence training,
background information that re-
and numerous other tools can be helpful in addressing spiritual, social, and emotional
ﬂects the complexity of the issue
stresses of activists.
and is respectful toward other
One such tool is the “despair and empowerment” work of Joanna Macy, which
points of view.
• Relate the issue to legislation or
has helped many people suffering from stress and emotional trauma to get in touch
with their joy, sorrow, anger, loss, grief, and hope. These are feelings that people tend
• List what Friends can do.
to keep hidden—sometimes even from themselves. They might fear that others would
• Provide references and sources
respond with indifference, rejection, or ridicule, which would only add to their pain.
for additional information.
Instead of being worn down or dragged down, people in Macy’s workshops often
QEB Coordinator: Keith Helmuth
find that by confronting their despair and mourning their losses in an emotionally
safe space, they can finally put that behind them and engage the future with hope.
QEB Editorial Team: Judy Lumb,
Sandra Lewis, Barbara Day
In the atmosphere of safety that Crowfoot created in the FGC Gathering in-
terest group, a number of Friends began to share some of the raw emotions coming
To receive QEB:
out of their own peace, justice, and environmental activism. One Friend, part of
a citizens group that had recently lost a battle to save a wooded tract from urban
sprawl, expressed bewilderment over the millions who are “willing to drive 50 miles
Mail: write to address below
to work so they can live on 5 or 10 acres in the country.” Another lamented that the
Projects of Quaker Earthcare Witness,
ecological disruption from gas and oil exploration in her region may be the reason
such as QEB, are funded by contribu-
she hadn’t heard the call of a whippoorwill in 15 years.
Crowfoot said such comments il ustrated “what everybody involved in the
Quaker Earthcare Witness
movement is carrying inside.” He said he was discouraged that few economists and
173-B N Prospect Street
virtually no political leaders are stepping forward to challenge the prevailing notion
Burlington VT 05401
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:5 • September-October 2010
of continuous economic growth, despite the indictments mounting
against it. While there is great hope in a “Great Turning,” we are
still in the midst of a “Great Unraveling,” which is evoking many
creative as well as destructive responses, he said.
The trouble is that both the creative and destructive forces
tend to reside in the dark recesses of our being where they can shape
our moods, thoughts, and actions without our even being aware.
Even those who acknowledge the existence of a “shadow side” often
are not equipped to engage it at a conscious, rational level.
The above metaphor of “dark recesses” alludes to the actual
caves into which early humans retreated, where they may have
shared stories, songs, poetry, art, myths, rituals, etc., that served
to connect their deeper fears and longings to their outer world.
This mention of caves brings back fond memories of exploring
a cave with a Quaker group during a Quarterly Meeting retreat at
According to some pueblo dwellers’
Devil’s Den State Park in northwest Arkansas in the early 1990s.
ancient legends, humans originally
About a tenth of a mile beyond the entrance to a subterranean fis-
sure called Devil’s Den, our Quaker group arrived at long narrow
lived inside the earth.
passage that opened into a large chamber. But the only way forward
was a vertical slit only about a foot wide. The children slipped right
through, but it was a tough squeeze for most of the adults. As the MY REACTION to the unlit cave was not typical for mod-
ern Westerners, who commonly fear and avoid darkness,
last in line, I decided not to join the group, afraid that I would scuff which they have been taught to associate with danger and evil.
my clothes. Through the slit I could hear laughter and joking about Our language and culture are full of “darkness = bad” associations.
ghosts, witches, and robbers. They obviously weren’t in a hurry to Europeans were prone to giving sinister names like “Devil’s Den”
leave, so I yelled through the slit that I was going to walk back to and “Robbers’ Roost” to remote and wild places they encountered
the cave entrance alone.
in America. How might the course of settlement have changed if
I didn’t have a flashlight, but I wasn’t deterred by the prospect the pioneers had been led to name that mysterious underground
of returning in total darkness. I knew that the floor of the passage- chamber in Arkansas something like “Gaia’s Womb”?
way was fairly level, and I followed an impulse to see how well I
Modern religious sensibilities clearly have turned toward more
could rely solely on my sense of touch during the 550-foot passage light, physically and metaphorically. Worshipers flock to the Glass
back to the cave entrance.
Cathedral in sunny California. Quakers refer to “walking in the
Stroking my fingertips slowly along the cool, moist walls and Light” and take to heart (perhaps too literally) George Fox’s vision
probing ahead with the tip of my right shoe, I covered uneventful y of an ocean of light’s ultimate victory over an ocean of darkness.
what seemed like a few hundred feet, then paused to rest and listen. Turn off the lights during morning worship to reduce reliance on
At this point the meandering passage must have swallowed up all fossil fuels and someone may get up to turn them on again. What
sounds of the Quaker group I had left behind, for I found myself would those at my Quarterly Meeting retreat have said if I had
not only in total darkness but in total silence. All I could hear was proposed holding meeting for worship down in the Devil’s Den?
the blood trickling through capillaries in my ears, and the rustling
But humans haven’t always shied away from darkness. For
of clothing as I moved.
thousands of years, caves, sweat lodges, and other dark places
I wasn’t feeling particularly afraid or lonely. In fact, this solitary have been choice sites for spiritual encounters. There are countless
game of “blind man’s bluff” was not an ordeal that I was anxious Paleolithic cave paintings around the world that appear to have
to have behind me. As I approached the cave opening and began been religious symbols linking Earth and spirit. Underground
to detect a faint glow of light filtering in from the outside, I felt ceremonial chambers of pueblo peoples in America’s Southwest
a little sad that my solo adventure was about to end and I would reflect the legends that humans originally lived inside the earth.
soon resume my ordinary visual-social mode of engaging the world. Pilgrims have gathered in grottos to wait and pray for visions and
signs. When people lived closer to the land, they appreciated the
I remained in a contemplative mood as I watched the others darkness of the soil where seeds germinate. They celebrated the
emerge, still chatting about all they had seen and done in the cave, return of the darkness of winter, echoed by the circadian rhythms
but offering very little about what they had felt. The main differ- of their bodies, as times of needed rest, regeneration, and rebirth.
ence in our experiences was that they had been to the cave, and, Pain, death, and other negative events were considered part of life,
at least for a little while, I had felt part of the cave. As I emerged, something to be borne with dignity without keeping them from
a part of me had been “reborn.”
moving ahead with their lives.
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:5 • September-October 2010
I AM INTENTIONALLY juxtaposing this reflection on physical
and spiritual darkness with that of the January-February 2010 THE INTERPLAY of outer and inner journeys brings to mind
an article about the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) by
Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB 10:3), “Climbing to a Whole-World George Lakey and Sharon Cantor in the July-August 2010 QEB
View.” In that QEB I had suggested that many of the problems in (10:4). During the FGC Gathering in early July, Lakey gave a ple-
the world today are caused by, or made worse by, narrowly trained nary talk on “Conflict as a Gift of the Spirit,” in which he encour-
specialists in a variety of fields and walks of life who are prideful and aged Friends to study the decades-long social-change movements
largely ignorant of their own ignorance. In that article I encouraged of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, to emulate whatever it was that made
Friends to cultivate a whole-world view, or “mountaintop,” perspec- them so effective.
tive so that we can all better appreciate life’s infinite complexities
One of the most significant features of those earlier social
and interconnections. This lofty ideal resonates with a Protestant movements was that leaders like King, Gandhi, and Mandela spent
hymn that I learned as a child:
many hours in solitary reflection and prayer, which helped infuse
“Oh, lift me up and let me stand
them and their followers with courage or “heart energy.” Their
regular spiritual practice helped them discern when the time was
by faith on Heaven’s table land,
right for confrontation, when it was time for dialogue, and when
a higher plane than I have found,
it was best to wait for different circumstances.
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
Later during the FGC Gathering I joined Lakey and about
20 other Friends in an EQAT-led vigil outside a local PNC Bank
But later reflection has shown me that this is only part of a branch office, publicizing the parent bank’s financial involvement in
larger truth. The danger of overspecialization often comes from mountaintop-removal coal mining. I was among those who cheer-
highly verbal, visual y-oriented people who are biased against forms fully waved signs like “PNC Kills Mountains” at passing drivers.
of knowing that don’t fit into materialistic science. Cultivating only
But this action might have been more effective and empow-
the left side of the brain—associated with the ability to reach out to ering for me if it had been preceded by specific steps to ground
and manipulate the environment—can also breed the assumption us in Quaker values. An initial meeting for worship, ideally in a
that humans are separate and exempt from the laws, cycles, and place of great natural beauty, might have made us more mindful
rhythms of nature. In the Christian scriptures, Jesus is shown the of why we were there and what we wanted to achieve. A veteran
world from a mountaintop when Satan tempts him to abandon of decades of protest movement, Lakey no doubt understood that
his calling in favor of worldly power.
our spiritual motivation, our love for that of God in all Creation,
Attaining a “whole world view” means more than gathering was key to that “virtue and power that takes away the occasion” of
objective information from a cognitive mountaintop. It is also all mountaintop removal. But perhaps it was assumed that because
about descending from time to time into the dark root zone of our we all identified ourselves as Quakers we had already done enough
essential kinship to Earth, using the full range of our faculties and inward preparation to move into a public action.
senses, returning healed and refreshed to continue our role as Earth
This concern was voiced during vocal ministry at Burlington,
acting to protect itself. This is how Earth activism is transformed Vermont, Friends Meeting this summer. A Friend who had spent
into “Earthy” activism—when we temporarily let go of “nature” as much of her time in the 1960s and 1970s “stepping forward and
an object of scientific inquiry in order to experience it subjectively speaking out” on a range of social issues, shared that “learning when
as a teacher and a portal to our innate inner wildness.
Children, it must be noted, do not ordinar-
ily climb to mountaintops. They delight instead in
building hideouts among bushes and rocks, free from
prying eyes. They are developing a sense of self through
a sense of place. A likely response to the trauma of
mother separation, their nest-building creates secure
stepping stones for exploration of the wider world.
Our timeless quest for authentic connection is
expressed in a Native American song found in the
Quaker Worship in Song hymnal:
Ancient Mother, I hear you calling.
Ancient Mother, I hear your song.
Ancient Mother, I hear your laughter
Ancient Mother, I taste your tears.
Quakers publicize a banking giant’s financing of mountaintop-
removal coal mining during the 2010 FGC Gathering in Bowling
it is time to step back, wait, and listen is one of the great gifts that By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey,
coming to Quakerism has given me.” Her message reminded me I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish
of one of the principles of Permaculture, in which one respectfully act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was
observes a site or situation before taking tentative steps to interact put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and
with it constructively and cooperatively. (See the sidebar below on give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the
many others whose lives we touch. ...
One sign that I am violating my own nature in the name of nobility
E QUAKERS AND OUR ALLIES in peace, justice, and is a condition called burnout. Though usually regarded as the result of
Earthcare are too few in numbers to change the world di-
trying to give too much, burnout in my experience results from trying
rectly. Our activism is best seen as a form of spiritual leadership. to give what I do not possess—the ultimate in giving too little….When
Our goal is not only to inspire and inform others, but to lead us the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes
all to wholeness by engaging both head and heart.
from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself—and
If we are unconsciously projecting anger, bitterness, and frus-
me—even as I give it away. ...
tration through our words and actions, this may be a sign that we Go far enough on the inner journey, they all tell us—go past ego to-
are neglecting the inner work of grounding and discernment. If our ward true self—and you end up not lost in narcissism but returning
actions have the unintended effect of triggering denial or defiance to the world, bearing more gracefully the responsibilities that come
in others and pushing ourselves toward despair and burnout, we with being human. ...
may be inadvertently reinforcing the old paradigm through short-
Why must we go in and down? Because as we do so, we will meet the
term, “us-vs-them” thinking.
darkness that we carry within ourselves—the ultimate source of the
shadows that we project onto other people. If we do not understand
When is Earthcare also soul-care? Quaker educator Parker that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making
J. Palmer explores that question in his book, Let Your Life Speak, someone “out there” into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress
Listening for the Voice of Vocation:
rather than liberate others.
PERMACULTURE was originally Australian gardener Permaculture activists initially work behind the scenes to
Bill Mollison’s answer to industrial agriculture, which identify natural allies and to gauge which way the wind is
through its domination mind-set, destroys land, blowing before discerning what actions are appropriate.
communities, and natural systems. He devised a basic They also look for ways that community resources can
set of principles—since elaborated by others—to guide be organized and brought into focus. The basic goal of
people in maximizing both the utility and the ecological Permaculture activism, says Starhawk, is to help create
health of a piece of land, primarily by looking for ways “a rich, regenerative environment for those with the
to imitate and cooperate with nature.
least power and resources.” This process may begin
with community gardens in inner-city neighborhoods
One of the principles is to take time to observe the land, without access to fresh food, and move on to confronting,
identifying where water and energy flow and how other creatively and energetically, the powers that are standing
elements are arranged so that you can become an ally of
in the way of employment, education, healthcare, a clean
those natural processes, rather than waging a frustrating environment, and decent housing.
campaign to make the land do what it isn’t naturally
inclined to do. Permaculture also closes ecological loops But it’s not about educated, privileged people coming in
so that waste from one process becomes food for another.
and showing local residents what to do. She says, “It’s
about transferring skills and building capacity—a sense
In 2001, around the time of growing public opposition of ‘gardening the community’ and not just the land.”
to economic globalization and the proposed Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA), American activist Starhawk Significantly, the community-building aspect of
and others began to apply Permaculture principles to a permaculture activism doesn’t require immediate success
wider social and environmental agenda. Just as good to be rewarding. There is joy to be felt just from creating
gardeners try to be sensitive to what the land wants to and sharing. Solidarity and earthy-hands-on activities
be, Permaculture activists begin by cultivating a shared reduce the risk of burnout. As one community activist in
vision of a more healthy, just, and sustainable world. Portland, Oregon, put it simply, “Permaculture makes
“There are many young people today who don’t like you happy.”
the direction the world is going and want to change it,”
Starkhawk notes, “but many of them don’t know what <transitionculture.org/2008/07/23/an-interview-with-
they want to change the world to,”
starhawk> and <www.permacultureactivist.net>.
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:5 • September-October 2010
Palmer also helps to dispel the misconception that activism national bodies. But legislative processes and treaty negotiations,
and contemplation are polar opposites and that time spent in for all the good they may accomplish, do not feed and restore the
thought, discussion, and nurturing the spirit wastes time and energy individual soul. It is important, when we send Friends into those
that should be channeled into action:
often dark chambers, to offer appropriate soul care and to help
The gift we receive on the inner journey is the knowledge that ours them discern what vocation they are led to at this time.
is not the only act in town. ... We learn that we need not carry
the whole load but can share it with others, liberating us and
QEW has support groups for its representatives to FCNL
empowering them. We learn that sometimes we are free to lay the and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. We should
load down altogether.
ensure that their debriefings include opportunities to share feelings
about what they have been doing and to encourage other emotional
COUNTLESS PEOPLE around the world—teachers, scientists, care, such as support committees in their Monthly Meetings.
inventors, artists, theologians, elected officials, etc.—are racing
to repair the storm-wracked vessel of civilization, to steer it away
We also need to nurture those who are called to nonviolent
from the rocks, and to chart a new course. Some are mending rig- direct action and those who are experimenting with different ways
ging and scoping the horizon. Others are pumping the bilges down of being in the world (along with recovering lost skil s and wisdom).
in the dark hold. All are valued.
They too can suffer from the world’s indifference and scorn. We can
start by listening and trying to understand. Permaculture activism
Most Friends today believe we need to carry our witness for and Transition Towns are on today’s leading edge and good places
a peaceful, just, and sustainable world to state, national, and inter- to start (see sidebar below).
Transition Towns—Activism Based on Permaculture Principles
WHAT IF the place you call home was really prepared for a
The Transition Town movement currently has member
post-carbon world? What if people in your town or section
communities in many countries worldwide <www.
of your city gave the TV a rest and got together regularly
for local foods potlucks, discussions about sharing resources,
I love the Transition Town idea of building resilience. What
listening to speakers and watching films, making music,
will the world be like when oil is no longer cheap and
and having fun? What might that look like? Can you imagine
abundant? Can we adapt to that and still have rich, full
bringing people together who are from different political
lives? One of the steps of following The Transition Handbook:
viewpoints, different incomes, and different educational
From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins
is to create a positive vision of the future of your town.
If you are hard put to imagine such things, maybe you need
The handbook is divided into three sections; “The Head,”
to join the Transition Town movement. I live in Charlotte,
“The Heart,” and “The Hands.” The beauty of this division
a small, rural community of 3,800 just south of Burlington,
is its positive, localized approach so that problems don’t
Vermont. We have farmers and farm workers, lawyers,
seem overwhelming. In my work as QEW General Secretary
doctors, retail clerks, and a whole mix of incomes and
I need to keep informed about the state of the world, and
it could easily lead me to despair. But because of my other
For the past five years small groups of neighbors have been
work within my community, especially with Transition Town
studying the Northwest Earth Institute curricula to help
Charlotte, I am able to get up each day with hope and joy.
understand the global environmental crisis and to learn
The Transition Town Charlotte steering committee is now
what can be done. Those of us who wanted a more town-
planning a “harvest potluck” supper for September where
wide effort started the Charlotte Sustainable Living Network
we’ll give 10 families backyard composters, plus how-to
(CSLN). We brought in interesting speakers, showed videos,
books and weight scales to show how much organic matter is
led workshops, and provided lots of information about local
not going into the landfill. We’ll also provide a workshop on
composting. We already have trained “energy visitors” who
A little over a year ago, we who were most involved in CSLN
go into neighbors’ houses to look for potential energy savings.
were ready for real action and decided to start the process
We are currently doing a survey of the resources and skills
of becoming a Transition Town.
available in our town. We work with our town’s conservation
The Transition Town movement began in England, using
commission and energy committee and hope to include more
Permaculture principles to equip communities for the
town commissions and committees as allies. Our plans for
dual challenges of climate change and peak oil. Their
the coming year are to create “conversations” throughout
methodology has a lot to do with tapping into the inherent
the town to listen to fears, hope, and plans, and to discuss
wisdom of a community—just as Permaculture gardeners
tap into the inherent wisdom of natural communities. They
How can I be anything but hopeful when surrounded by such
believe that ordinary people have a lot of creative problem-
committed, enthusiastic, and caring people?
solving capacity—as long as they know what the problem is.
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:5 • September-October 2010
QEW Rep Feels Frustration and Hope at UN Climate Talks
The following is a condensation of a report to the QEW UN Support
• Annex I countries playing a game of, “if you do it, I’ll think
Working Group that Lindsey Fielder Cook, an American Quaker
living in Bonn, Germany, filed after attending the latest UN FCCC
climate talks in that city last June. (The U.S. and European Union
• Annex II countries were full of mistrust, a sense of unfairness
are among the “Annex I” countries.)
and a longing for Annex I countries to take “historical respon-
sibility.” But this can also be used as an excuse for inaction.
I was shocked by the following:
• The lack of a sense of urgency or passion, except with the Island
countries and radical left (Bolivia).
• The focus on money/cost, not science.
• The lack of discussion over immediate measures to counter
emission rises (taking personal responsibility for lifestyles, in
both Annex I and Annex II countries).
• The desire for a solution without material sacrifice or political
disturbance (usually a concern of democratic countries).
My two favorite quotations were:
“We must focus on the structural causes of climate change,
and decide if we are to save capitalism or save the planet.” (Bolivia)
“The most difficult conflicts to solve are those without an
enemy.” (Mediation Beyond Borders, noting that our lifestyles are
I AM WRITING THIS from the Meridian Hotel in Bonn, the enemy)
setting of the latest UN climate change talks under the United
In the first days of negotiations, there were countless references
Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UN- of the need to rebuild trust after Copenhagen, to be constructive. By
FCCC). I live just a mile away, though I am here as an observer the second week there was a sense of desperation and bottlenecking
for Quaker Earthcare Witness. And though it is my first climate political stands resurfacing.
conference (my background is humanitarian aid), I am already
finding the experience both fascinating and deeply disturbing.
In the first days I, the newcomer, was waiting for delegates
from the Annex I countries to list how their countries were reduc-
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the UNFCCC, it ing pol ution and natural resource depletion. I was obviously naïve.
is an international treaty created with the objective “to achieve… I found the absence of this kind of discussion deeply disturbing.
stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at
a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference
In the first day I found myself writing, “It’s all about money.”
with the climate system.” The UNFCCC Secretariat (based here Delegations called for solutions coupled with economic growth. I
in Bonn) supports the institutions involved in these processes. did not hear a debate concerning the effectiveness of cap & trade,
The UNFCCC Treaty was followed by the Kyoto Protocol, which despite questionable performance. There was no mention (in my
created legally binding measures for developed nations. By 2012, a presence) of decreasing personal consumption in view of depleted
new and more demanding framework must be negotiated to replace natural resources.
the Kyoto Protocol. At present, the United States of America is the
Temperature targets. The emphasis on “adaptation” appeared
only Annex I country which has not ratified the Protocol. This has to reflect an acceptance that serious emission cuts wil not be made,
slowed progress dramatically.
and therefore vulnerable countries must prepare. Talk of “1 degree,
1.5 degrees, or 2 degrees” seemed to happen ingenuously, as if
Part 1: Observations and Contacts
everyone secretly knew the political will was absent and tempera-
EVEN WITH FIRST IMPRESSIONS, I could identify very tures would be higher. This fatalistic tone was strong with the U.S.
serious bottlenecks, including:
mission. Bolivia and Micronesia continued to speak with urgency.
• The old definitions/division of developed and developing
Emissions reductions. Again, in my newness, I was shocked
countries is now used as an excuse for inaction.
by what had not been achieved. The discussion often focused on
improving the efficiency of the “rules.” This was a source of deep
• Using the method of human politics to solve a scientific chal- frustration. As a negotiator from South Africa stated, “After four and
lenge which will shift with action, but not compromise.
a half years of discussions, we have spent too much time discussing
• A stunning lack of leadership.
and not deciding. Imagine if, from 11 June to 11 July, we spent the
• Approaching this as a trading or economic issue, rather than whole World Cup discussing the rule for the length of the football
as a science-based crisis.
field, rather than playing. That is what these talks feel like.”
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:5 • September-October 2010
Shared scientific information. In the second week, I fol owed
There is truth to my early observation that “it’s al about
an argument that appeared so obvious in need that its controversy money.” The developing countries want to know how much money
was heartbreaking. It concerned scientific, technical and socio- they wil get to develop clean energy and adapt to the consequences
economic aspects of mitigation of climate change.
of climate change. The developed countries, called Annex I coun-
It is both good to see the small and vulnerable countries ex- tries, whose fossil fuel dependant economies are responsible for the
pressing such a strong voice and disturbing how surreal these talks majority of emissions, wonder how much (little) money they need
can be. Science is only rarely quoted in the negotiations, and getting to commit, and how to reduce emissions while still making money
solid data to the parties via the Secretariat is a potential struggle. (a cap & trade system rather than a carbon tax).
The EU representative expressed being “deeply disappointed that we
The Kyoto Protocol commits Annex I countries to legally
have not reached an agreement. . . We have no more time to waste.” binding cuts, but not (yet) the rest of the world. China is not an
Side presentations. I attended a presentation by Mediation Annex I country, though it is now one of the biggest polluters. The
Beyond Borders. A former member of the Swedish negotiating team U.S. uses this example as an excuse for its own inaction. There is a
stood up and said that in fact the talks desperately did need help. strong presence here of oil companies and big business, as well as
He then noted my presence and said, “The role of the Quakers on environmental and social justice groups.
UNCCD was of capital importance. ... [It was] one of the condi-
tions for success. ... [T]he work the Quakers did in these cases is
Member State delegates talk of word choice and finance
essential and should be considered (mediation, quiet diplomacy, measures and data processes on emission graphs. This makes the
etc.) as having a role in these negotiations. ... Just getting the word discussions somewhat surreal. Urgency is expressed mainly by the
‘mediation’ into the text was not enough, these negotiations need countries in the climate change firing line, that is, the island states
which are a few feet above sea level. There is an increasing call for
delegates to refer to the actual science of climate change, which
Press conferences. In the U.S. mission’s presentation, deliv- might seem obvious, but it is shocking how few delegates refer to
ered by Jonathan Pershing, I had to remember that, as a Quaker, science. In the second week, a simple request for the UNFCCC
I did not see violence as an answer. Yet I felt such anger, that I Secretariat to prepare a report on scientific information already
took a break from the negotiations on the following day. Jonathan undertaken was rejected by most OPEC countries. Thankfully, the
Pershing talked about the “marriage between science and pragma- U.S. and the EU did not object, Venezuela backed down, and the
tism,” adding that the U.S. Administration could not do more at proposal remains “on the table.” But it is shocking.
this moment with emission targets because “politics at home don’t
allow that.” I found no leadership or risk or courage in their stand.
Is this the best forum for negotiations? Most delegates are
Overal , Pershing appeared to accept that much of the damage positive about the role of the UNFCCC. The most vulnerable
cannot be stopped.
countries (usually the poorest and smallest) say that in this forum
Klima Forum. Fol owing the U.S. mission’s press conference, they can be heard. But the UN is not the sole forum in which to
the Klima Forum discussions were a breath of fresh air. They focused seek reversal of climate change. Environmental NGOs stress the
on personal action (in this case, Germany/Europe), starting with crucial importance of encouraging our national capitols to take a
a debate as to whether growth cannot be maintained at the pres- serious stand on climate change. Thus, when governments come
ent level. The debaters asked, “Do we wait for a crash or prepare a to the UN Climate Change negotiations, they can offer substance.
shrinkage policy?” The discussions overal , though led by political y
Climate change is an unprecedented challenge in our human
progressive and often ideologically left speakers, were exactly what history. The chance to halt a global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees
I found missing at the UN climate talks, specifically on what must is nearly gone and the chance for a 2-degree rise (as suggested in
we do to live sustainably on this planet.
the non-binding Copenhagen Accord) is at serious risk. Higher
There was hope here for movement, in view of public outrage temperatures wil also lead to a greater melting of permafrost, which
over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. These seasoned observers in turn releases methane gas and adds drastical y to global warming.
saw the missions as more constructive but saw no resolution of the Such global warming wil cause unimaginable suffering if not bring
“crunch issues” at this meeting.
into question our long term ability to live on this planet. There is
not much time. We have the science, we have the chance, what we
Part 2: Negotiating Our Future
need is the political will.
THESE CLIMATE NEGOTIATIONS are different from any- What can we do? A lot. These negotiations need a sense of
thing I’ve ever experienced, and are arguably the most complex urgency, and it is not coming from our politicians. So let us get off
and important negotiations of our lifetime. If the negotiations fail, our comfortable chairs and speak out. Then, when our children
it is not just a region that will fall apart. It is our ability in the long say, “Mom, what did you do? Where was your courage?” we will
term to live on this planet.
have an answer.
—Lindsey Fielder Cook, Bonn, Germany
Quaker Eco-Bulletin 10:5 • September-October 2010