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April 14, 2015

Along with the introductions to this evening's dialogue, Virginia asked the people who were at the last meeting (What is your ecological footprint?) to share something they took away from that session. Those who were not there were asked to contribute some thought or action about reducing human impact on the earth.

Some comments from those not at the meeting were:

  • Plastic bags end up in the trees and plastic is destroying life in the oceans. I always bring a cloth bag when I shop. Grocery bags should be outlawed.
  • I pick up bags on the street and also the rubber bands the postal workers drop on the ground when they are delivering mail. I save up the rubber bands and bring them to the post office. They are glad to have them.
  • I save rubber bands and bring them to a place where they send them to a school in Zimbabwe where they don't have anything like that.
  • I'm a fanatic about re-cycling in my community. The city's "garbage police" actually come through my neighborhood periodically and sort through the re-cycling bags we put out. If there is stuff in them that is not supposed to be there, we get fined $200.
  • I pick up litter on the subway and the bus. I'm cutting back on plastic that I use. When I was growing up we used salt or baking soda to brush our teeth. I've started doing that again. The $4 I would spend on toothpaste would buy a lot of salt and baking soda.
  • I live in a village of 8,000 people where plastic bags have been banned. It's been a good thing. Some people complained at first but now they don't even remember what a plastic bag is.
  • The motto in our home is repair, reuse, re-cycle, re-allocate. I grew up repairing things. For re-allocating we send stuff we don't use to a big evangelical church where there are people in need.
  • In the school where I teach business, we're working on changing the business paradigm from the idea that the most important thing is to maximize shareholder growth to one that includes more stakeholders. We are asking what is best for workers, consumers and the earth as well.

For the next part of the meeting Virginia explained that the focus for this evening was collective action to support the earth. How can we bring people together to share responsibility for our ecological impact? She suggested that one of our regular dialogue practices in particular could help with this.

That dialogue practice is described as: "Hold space for differences – embrace all points of view. Change the "buts" to "and." The rest of the meeting was a challenge to put that practice into action. In this practice, when a person makes a statement we don't agree with we do not immediately jump in with a contradictory "but….." We affirm that statement "and" add to it. It's not about arguing a point or winning an argument.

Virginia gave us some examples to practice with that she obtained from a business school's website and challenged the group to think of an "and" response. The first was a classified ad from the food industry:

Some ideas for a response were:

  • Yes, and I'm concerned that someone can't live on that wage in Brooklyn.
  • Yes, and is this full-time?
  • Yes, and are there also benefits like health care, sick days and vacations?

The next statement was from the fast food industry:

Consumers of fast food focus on taste, price and quality - in that order.

Some ideas for a response that seemed to offer opportunities for collective action were:

  • Yes, and there is a question of health they need to look at.
  • Yes, and I think people are going to be more aware of quality.

The next statement was:

Land trusts, also called land conservancies, have been in existence since 1891. The goal of Land trusts is to preserve sensitive natural areas, farmland, ranchland, water sources, cultural resources or notable landmarks.

Some ideas for a response that seemed to offer opportunities for collective action were:

  • Yes and how much of this is taught in schools?
  • Yes and a developer might pay you a lot for it.
  • Yes, and to what extent to people have access to it?
  • Yes, and I think community gardens should be set up like that.
  • Yes, and it should be used to preserve wetlands. What's happening now is an insult to the earth.

The final statement for the exercise was:

The Clean Power Plan introduced in 2014 by the E P A to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, has been stayed 0n February 9, 2016, by the Supreme Court pending judicial review.

The EPA says: "The Supreme Court's recent ruling on the Clean Power Plan is a speed bump, not a stop sign. Urge your governor to act now." Tell your governor to power ahead on the Clean Power Plan

Some ideas for a response that seemed to offer opportunities for collective action were:

  • Yes, and also look into other emissions harmful to the environment.
  • Yes, and look into the alternatives.
  • Yes, and get all your friends to sign on.
  • Yes, and stop using fracked gas and oil.

After these practice statements, Virginia invited the participants to contribute statements of their own, some of these were:

Mexico is going to build a wall and will pay for it.

Some responses were:

  • Yes, and will the wall keep them in when we are trying to deport them?
  • Yes and the Canadians are joking that they will need to build a wall to keep out people fleeing the United States if Donald Trump is elected.

Rich countries like the U.S. should fix the problem of climate change because poor countries can't afford it.

  • Yes, and the reason they can't afford it is because we have taken away their resources.
  • Yes and how could rich countries share their research on clean energy with them?
  • Yes and how can developing countries like China and Brazil be persuaded not to try to offer their people the same luxuries we enjoy in the developed countries?
  • (A side comment: The US and China have been the first countries to sign the agreement negotiated in Paris last December.)
  • Yes, there are poor countries where the people have had nothing to do with global warming that are going to be under water.
  • Yes, and we should hear the stories of people in indigenous communities who have not contributed to the problem and are being harmed.
  • Yes and how will this country deal with people in the Marshall Islands, a U.S. possession, who are going to expect to come here when their islands are submerged.

My mother needs her car to get do her work which involves traveling to a number of different places. This makes her footprint large, but what can be done about it?

  • Yes and our government made a decision after World War II to put resources into highways which encouraged the development of the auto industry. In cities, we got rid of light rail and replaced it with buses. These were deliberate policy decisions that supported industry and employed people.
  • Yes, and they said at the time the interstate highways were needed for civil defense. At the time we were being told there was a danger of nuclear bombing or invasion from the Russians.

Finally, Virginia asked what conclusions we could reach about shared responsibility as a result of this exercise.

  • If an issue is not in a person's direct experience, it's difficult for them to see its importance. How can we help the next generation know the history? How will consciousness be raised?
  • A privileged group may understand, generally speaking, and be ready to sacrifice. How many people are really willing to sacrifice their comforts?
  • A piece of good news is that a judge in Oregon ruled in favor last week in favor of a youth group which argued that their constitutional right to life was being violated by the government because it has not acted to stop climate change and environmental damage. See a description of this important ruling below:

From the Website of Our Children's Trust |

"Today, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of the federal District Court in Eugene, OR, decided in favor of 21 young Plaintiffs, and Dr. James Hansen on behalf of future generations, in their landmark constitutional climate change case brought against the federal government and the fossil fuel industry. The Court's ruling is a major victory for the 21 youth Plaintiffs, ages 8-19, from across the U.S. in what Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein call the "most important lawsuit on the planet right now." These plaintiffs sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels."

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