Tag Archives: Earth Day

Earth Day & March for Science

I’m heading to the lovely Santa Cruz March for Scienceonlinesquare and Earth Day celebration, and wanted to share a song to celebrate that:

(You can also see the lyrics to IFLS hereHank Green has lots of other nerdy science songs, plus SciShow and Crash Course, and I guess I’m a fangirl.)

Happy Earth Day!

Little humans on a big planet

Happy Earth Day!  I hope you enjoyed the Google doodle and quiz as much as I did (in my squiddy way, I ‘spose).  You can even get Google to match your donations to the Jane Goodall Institute  and other wildlife charities (Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust, World Wildlife Fund, WildAid, Zoological Society of London and Virunga Fund), through the end of the month.  Such donations are a small thing, to be sure, but if enough people pitch in where money is being leveraged so cleverly, we can change outcomes for the better.

Google Doodle Earth Day 2015

However, there are some big problems that are not going to be solved by a little donation here, or a shorter shower there. These are great things to do, they’re not wrong, but they’re still not enough.  All indications are that we are tipping over into some serious crisis conditions, and we will not be able to just do the first 10 of the 50 Simple Things… or shop our way out of it. As a recent Union of Concerned Scientists blogger pointed out:

When we focus on the “human activities” that are causing climate change, we sound like we’re laying climate blame on things like using a washer and dryer, driving, flipping a light switch and other day-to-day things many humans in the developed world take for granted and that many humans in the developing world would very much like to do, too.

two-thirds of all industrial carbon emissions come from just 90 institutions...

The problems are big, and the biggest sources of those problems lie in the policies of governments and the actions of big industries.  The people who make the decisions about how much coal and oil is burned to run our economy are the tiny handful of humans with most of the ability to cause (or, one hopes, fix) the problems.  And as Utah Phillips is alleged to have said

The earth is not dying. It is being killed, and the people killing it have names and addresses.

What’s more, those people who bear the vast majority of the responsibility could fit into a small auditorium (or, say, a few dozen board rooms, plus the chamber of the US House of Representatives).

How do we get them to change their evil ways?  Well, that’s where our real power comes in, not as individuals, but as groups and communities.  We need to demand transparency, so that we can make informed choices.  We need to demand accountability, so that those who are most responsible for making the messes are the ones who pay the most to clean them up.  We need to demand justice, for the global billions alive today who did so little to cause the problems, and the coming generations who are blameless, but who would suffer so much if we do not make real changes.  And we need to demand sanity, so that the nearsighted self-interest of a few does not lead to catastrophe for all.  To make these demands, we must come together, share information, and refuse to be silenced.

We are primates that have undergone millions of years of evolution to specialize in social learning and creative problem-solving. The seven-billion-plus humans alive and breathing right now have a lot of potential.  We can do incredible things.  So, let’s decide to do them, together.  We haven’t got time to wait any more.

Observational Learning in Sumatran Orangutans

Observational Learning in Sumatran Orangutans

Okay, now that I’m done ranting, I should probably go hug a tree 🙂

Happy Earth Day!

Vernal Thoughts

Four quick thoughts on events that come around this time of year…

1. Solar zenith in Singapore and what the Equinox is all about

At 1:11 PM Singapore time, the sun passed directly overhead here in Singapore. Vertical structures cast no shadows.  We are a couple of days behind the Equinox, because we are about 1.3° North of the equator.  (For those of you who don’t grok what the Equinox is, it’s one of the two days of the year when the sun is directly overhead when viewed from the Earth’s equator.)

Equinox Day arc at 0° latitude (Equator) The arc passes through the zenith, resulting in almost no shadows at high noon. (from Wikimedia)

2. Earth Hour – how useful is it?

I’m all in favor of events that make people think seriously about sustainability. Earth Hour is meant to help people think about energy conservation, by asking people to turn off their lights for an hour (Earth Hour: 28 March 2015 at 8:30-9:30pm local time, wherever you are).  As this hour of “lights off” passes around the globe, we will no doubt save a lot of energy.  This is one of the bigger environmental events in Singapore, and lots of usually excessive lighting in/on skyscrapers goes dark for the hour. Perhaps, around the world, people will get to see more stars with darker skies, and remember that not everything needs constant illumination, and you can have a lot of fun in the dark.  I hope that’s how people take it.

However, I worry that people will continue to associate conservation with deprivation.  I’m all in favor of doing less with less when appropriate, but we can also do a lot more with less harm as well.  This event (and other “turn it off” events), perhaps fail to highlight that sufficiently, by putting the focus on sacrifice instead of innovation.

3. Ape-ril is almost upon us

Ape-ril is a great excuse for a silly fundraising campaign by my friends at Sumatran Orangutan Society.  Get in touch with the 96.4% of your genome that is indistinguishable from orangutans.  Gents, prepare to grow that facial hair!

Beards are beautiful (especially when orange)!

 4. Earth Day is April 22nd

Earth Day has been happening every year on April 22nd since a couple months after I was born. I believe this makes me one of the key organizers, somehow. Well, I was involved in planning local events in California for 9 or 10 of those years, starting in 1987 or 88 at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, CA.

Earth Day has become a fairly international thing, but I haven’t been involved this year or in 2014, as it doesn’t seem to be celebrated here in Singapore.  I’m hoping all my friends back at Cabrillo Green Steps are getting party plans in place – I’ll be thinking about you.

Enjoy Spring!

Indigenous Energy Idle No More

Indigenous voices are being raised.  The amazing story of Idle No More, and their resistance to the exploitation of the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone XL Pipeline, is a source of tremendous inspiration for me.  Local groups are organizing around the themes of Indigenous Rights and the Rights of Nature.  These rights have been ignored and abused for far too long.

Idle No More at San Francisco demonstration against KXL

Near the winter solstice of 2012, the Catholic Bishop at Mission San Juan Bautista offered a formal apology to the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Ohlone/Costanoan Indians.  Valentin Lopez, Tribal Chairman of the Amah Mutsun band of Ohlone said they misreported that he accepted the apology.  Instead, he acknowledged the apology, as it was not sufficiently extensive to accept.

You [nearly] exterminated his race. What could you possibly say that would make him feel better?

~Spike (BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson)

Perhaps there is no way to truly apologize for the damage done by colonialism. Healing from historic trauma is a vast challenge that will confound us as a species for a long time.

Everybody’s been traumatized in this society… To civilize us, they have to traumatize us.

~John Trudell 7 Feb 2013, “dedicated, coherent, prolific, inspiring, AIM leader, poet troubadour”

Still, an apology is not a bad place to start, as long as everyone understands the inadequacy of the gesture. In the US, a 2010 military spending bill  included an apology to Native Americans that was signed into law, far too quietly, by President Barack Obama. In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to apologize for the (not-un-Borg-like) government efforts to assimilate previous generations of First Nations peoples via residential schooling.   At least in Canada, they’ve adopted something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, trying to bring the history of atrocities into the light of day, so that healing might begin.  As far as I can find, the only Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the United States is in response to the Greensboro Massacre by the KKK in 1979.

Willow : …we should be helping him redress his wrongs. Bring the atrocities to light.

Giles : If the history books are full of them, I’d say they already are.

BtVS #64, by Jane Espenson

Is the truth really out there?  You can find it, if you’re looking in the right history books.  In her book Bad IndiansDeborah Miranda sketches the terrible history of the California missions.  California received the barbed tip of the lash that was struck across Turtle Island. It tore asunder languages, cultures, people. The reverberations of that violent blow have echoed down the generations descended from the too-few survivors.  This book is brilliant, sometimes in the way that a fresh wound is brilliant with crimson.  Miranda‘s indictments of the 4th grade California history mission assignments are sharper than an obsidian scalpel.

One might also seek enlightenment in museums.  The website of National Museum of the American Indian (part of the Smithsonian) certainly doesn’t foreground the atrocities of colonialism, but you can search for “massacre” and find some of it.  Valentin Lopez mentioned that there is fundraising to establish a museum in San Francisco that would highlight a history of the atrocities against Native Americans, especially in California (this may be a reference to the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa). Stan Rushworth (instructor of Native American Literature at Cabrillo College) notes that the missions, the scenes of so many atrocities against indigenous California peoples, rarely if ever acknowledge that part of their history; this is in contrast to places like Dachau and Auschwitz, where the brutality of what was committed there is central to their stories.

However, it’s a tiny minority of people that actually go to museums, and those are often people who are already aware and seeking more information.  Mass media only tells these stories occasionally.  Valentin Lopez commented that there has never been a movie about the native people of California – it’s just too sad for a Hollywood story.  We can watch Schindler’s List and The Pianist, but not this?

When the Occupy Movement was emerging in the fall of 2011, I was excited about their ideas, but a little less sure about their chosen name.  This image from Occupy Oakland inspired me to create (well, borrow and rework, with some help from my spouse) a hometown version (full-size for printing).  Santa Cruz is Occupied Ohlone Land

California was perhaps the most populous and culturally diverse area of pre-contact North America.  The peoples now referred to in the aggregate as Ohlone were actually several culturally and linguistically distinct bands, including the Chochenyo in the area that now includes Oakland (those who left the shellmounds that gave Shellmound Drive in Emeryville its name) and the Awaswas of Santa Cruz.  

If we want to understand how to live here on the central coast of California,we need to ask the Amah Mutsun, the Rumsen, the Indian Canyon Mutsun, the Esselen, the Chumash, and so many other peoples, living and extinct.

Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Costanoan/Ohlone Indians

And, more difficult still, we have to ask politely.  We of “mainstream American” culture, must be humble, we must be patient, and we must learn some manners.  We cannot just expect to be welcomed into what remaining mysteries the natives of this continent have managed to retain, to dip our toes in, to take a weekend retreat.

I’m proud to say that this semester, Cabrillo College (where I work) has been actively engaged with conversations about the genocide of indigenous people, about the invisibility of white privilege and how we’ve benefited from historic efforts to exterminate native people.  Last November, the school newspaper published the article “400 Years Too Late: The Reality of Thanksgiving.” On March 14th, we had an intense and critical  discussion of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a short story collection by Native American author Sherman Alexie that was banned from curriculum lists in Tucson, Arizona.   On April 15th, Cabrillo will host Deborah Miranda (author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir).

On Earth Day this year, Cabrillo College will emphasize the theme of Indigenous Rights.  We’ve invited a speaker from the Pachamama Alliance to talk about the Achuar and other tribes of Ecuador.  We also plan to host Darryl “Babe” Wilson, California Indian author and activist.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

~Lilla Watson and Aboriginal activists groups, Queensland, Australia 1970s

As we say in the Cabrillo Sustainablility Council, “We’re All In It.”  It’s time to work together, and be Idle No More.