The Voice of the Streets

Restoration, conservation easements and even deed restrictions protect habitat, yet repair and preservation of the nation’s lands is not enough to address the climate and species extinction crises. The mindset of the nation — the entire world — must undergo an immediate and radical change if we are to avoid the end of civilization, as we know it. This won’t happen unless a massive street voice forces those in positions of power to recognize the urgency of these crises. To quote Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “Go out and make me do it.”

Every community provides the opportunity to force the status quo to change and do the right thing. In Silver City, Fridays for the Future protest at Gough Park gave the streets a voice every Friday for over a year before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the weekly protest. Everyone needs to step-up and keep the admonition and this sketch in mind.

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A Grim Sign of the Times

Along with more than a thousand climate-crisis activists, James Hansen was also arrested. Dr. Hansen worked at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and as of 2014, he directs the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. After alerting President Johnson to the implication of the greenhouse effect, he became well known for his 1988 U.S. Senate testimony where, for the first time, he brought the warming climate to the world’s attention -  stating that he was 99% certain the earth was warmer that it had ever been measured to be and would worsen if not addressed.

Picture: Nasa Scientist James Hansen being arrested at the White House.

In opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline

More than 1,100 activists participated in “The Voice of the Streets” at the White House in 2011. Everyone in this photograph – Lucinda with a hat in the lower right corner – was arrested, handcuffed, taken in patty wagons to jail and paid a fine. September 11, 2011.

You have to love this woman.

We spent time with her after our release from custody. Her daughter and son-in-law had jobs and kids, couldn’t attend, so they paid her way to the protest. The climate and extinction crises and the various contributors – like fossil fuel pipeline contractors – require people to meet up with others they don’t know, may have little in comon and do things they have never done before. That is what this woman did. This was her first protest and she was extremely pleased with the small part she played in what Wes Jackson believes: “We live in the most important moment in human history.” September 11, 2011.

Yes, stand up and don’t give up.

“Speak Out, Don’t Co-Operate, Participate Fully.” Aldo Leopold Charter School and others at the Friday’s for the Future weekly protest in Silver City, New Mexico, March 29, 2019. These protests occurred on more than 52 consecutive weeks until the COVID-19 pandemic forced suspension of the protests. The younger generations realize this planet is our only home and that they have no future if humankind continues on the path of “business as usual.”

No one is too young or too old to join The Voice of the Streets.

July 5, 2019

We’re Living in a “World Turned Upside Down”

Global temperatures are warmer now than in thousands of years, species are going extinct more than a thousand times faster than normal and suddenly the COVID-19 pandemic has spiked the death and hospitalizations rate to unimaginable levels. As of this 2020 writing, humankind has less than a decade to turn things around. Scientists in overwhelming numbers have warned us that if dramatic change fails to occur by 2030, various tipping points will be triggered, causing irreversible declines in life support systems that will lead to the end of civilization as we know it.

There are a number of ways to achieve required change and the Voice of the Streets is the one with the most historic success that offers us the most hope. The inspiration for taking to the streets often begins in song and Silver City’s Jeff Ray’s tune does it better than most.

WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

Living in a world turned upside down

It's not the first time trouble's come around

One little ripple in any one place

Spreads trouble like a virus through the whole human race

 

The planet's getting smaller with every passing day

Too many people is the current world's way

With so many souls just trying to survive

A day that tips the balance will certainly arrive

 

Living in a world turned upside down

It's not the first time trouble's come around

Living in times when uncertainties abound

What're we gonna do to help it settle down

What're we gonna do to help it turn around

Salvaging a world turned upside down

 

It's been said before something's gotta give

Sustainability is a better way to live

With greed at the core grabbing for more

The challenge lies before us to reach that distant shore

 

To reach that distant shore with justice for all

Where taking is eclipsed by giving's humble call

Whether we can make it is yet to be seen

Prepare the gate to open for a new awakening

We’re in The Midst of Three, Not One Planetary Crisis.

By now, most of us realize we’re in the thick of a world-wide COVID-19 pandemic and increasing numbers are coming to grips with the climate and species crises. The stakes have never been higher than now; we are living in the most important moment in human history as our hotter and drier world is far more conductive to fires, floods, hurricanes and other forms of what used to be thought of as natural disasters.

What few realize is that diseases such as COVID-19, bird flu and HIV are entirely caused by animals removed from wilderness for farming, logging and trade in wild species which has brought people into contact with dangerous microbes. Unless the destruction of the natural world is halted, this current “era of pandemics” will become permanent due to the potential for 540,000 to 850,000 unknown virus releases. There is a global effort afoot to preserve 30% of land, allowing the natural world and us to persist. E.O. Wilson maintains we need to preserve 50% in order to save ourselves. A November, 2020 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services makes clear that the same activities that are causing the climate and species extinction crises are driving pandemic risks – capitalism’s dependence on growth and consumption.

Consumption by whom is the question countries quarrel over. Looking more closely, the social crime of consumption that threatens our survival is dominated by the lifestyles of those earning $34,000 or more a year, the top One Percent of the world’s income earners. Yes, you read that right, world-wide, $34,000 is the cut off point for the top One Percent. If your reading this, that likely means you.  And me. Another 2020 study in the journal Nature Communications, “Scientists’ Warning on Affluence,” concludes that the most fundamental cause of environmental destruction is the overconsumption of the super-rich. Excessive consumption is the chief driver of industrial agriculture, stockyard beef, deforestation, fossil fuel use, air travel and other causes of these three crises — the civilization threatening trifecta of climate breakdown, species extinction and viruses like COVID-19.

It turns out the economic theory that helped create the world’s most powerful nation has a structural obsession with endless growth that is destroying the conditions for the survival of life on Earth. And capitalism has fostered a global structural inequality:

  • where the richest 10 percent of people in the world are responsible for 43 percent of destructive global environmental impacts
  • while the poorest 10 percent cause about 5 percent of the loss.

This imbalance is intimately related to the downturn in environmental stability threating the very existence of the human societies. The Scientists’ Warning paper concludes: “It is clear that prevailing capitalist, growth-driven economic systems have not only increased affluence since World War II, but have led to enormous increases in inequality, financial instability, resource consumption and environmental pressures on vital earth support systems.” The top One Percent (the richest 1 in 1,000 Americans, fewer than 200,000 families) holds as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of Americans (about 110 million households). These few Americans have risen to levels of income and wealth unseen in the short history of this republic’s experiment in democracy.

Consumption is the central problem, significantly reducing it and a sharp uptick in natural-climate solutions are the main means to solve our quandary. The era of internal combustion is over. Consuming less and the elimination of fossil fuels will prevent the worsening of these three major crises — climate breakdown, the species extinction crises and the COVID-19 pandemic — but the legacy load of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) must be recaptured and returned underground where it belongs. Fossil fuels, the principal cause of the greenhouse effect, were in the ground until the Industrial Revolution and our reliance on coal and oil since then has been nearly exclusive. Current CO2 levels are around 415 parts per million (ppm) when 350 ppm is the safe level.

There is a relatively inexpensive and nature-based way to accomplish the draw-down of excess atmospheric carbon. Two recent papers – Natural Climate Solutions, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Natural Climate Solutions for the United States, Environmental Studies maintain that as much as 37 percent of the Paris Climate Accord goals can be attained by a combination of 21 natural-climate solutions. The cure entails living on the planet differently, more responsibly. Technologically or naturally, there is no other known way to extract the 65 ppm (415 less 350) legacy load of carbon out of the overheated atmosphere. The proposition of natural-climate solutions means humankind must make a third major transition in its way of life. First, we moved from a hunter-gatherer life way to an Agricultural Civilization, next to Industrial Civilization and now we must transform civilization into an Environmental Civilization.

Nature’s Mangum Opus is the marvelous process of photosynthesis where plants ingest carbon dioxide (CO2, one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms) and then releases oxygen into the atmosphere for us and others to breath. The plant also consumes about 60 % of the carbon nutrients and transfers up to 40% of the nourishment to the multiple upon multiple zillions of earthlings living under foot in the subsurface world. No contest, photosynthesis is the most essential natural process for life on our planet. Recall this simple but life-giving process from you sixth-grade science class: photosynthesis allows plants to consumes CO2 and emit oxygen for above ground life.

What most of us didn’t learn in elementary school, because scientists didn’t fully understand, is the importance of the little-known subsurface microbial world of soil. The soil we live on and from is a vast underground kingdom of microorganisms without which life as we know it could not exist – far richer than we ever imagined. All forms of underground life require carbon and plants to get their foods – sugars, proteins and carbohydrates. Here’s what is now known about the extent and importance of that lightless world. 

  • There are more microorganisms in a cup of healthy soil than the number of all the humans who have ever lived — 113 billion people. 
  • The dark, underground world is thought to account for up to 95 percent of the planet’s species diversity. 
  • Healthy soil contains as many as six billion tiny organisms per tablespoon or two hundred billion microbes in a handful of soil.
  • Scientists guess that as many as 75,000 species of bacteria could be in a single teaspoon, along with 25,000 species of fungi, 1,000 species of protozoa, and 100 species of tiny worms called nematodes.

The basic difference between the earlier grade-school understanding of 

photosynthesis and our appreciation of it today is the recognition of the 60/40 carbon allocation where about 60% of the carbon nourishes the plant and the important distribution of up to 40% of the carbon nutrients the life-preserving animals of the soil underworld.  

           If we can agree that a life of political engagement and civic virtue is better than a mere existence on the sidelines as part of Earth destroying consumer culture, what can each of us do to help pull the legacy load of carbon out of the 300-mile thin atmosphere? Of course, the Voice of the Streets is a given, it has always been essential to American democracy. Beyond engagement in disruptive protest — peacefully, but persistent — and a radical reduction in consumption, there is a workable course of action.

           For the individual, as with Lucinda and me on the Pitchfork Ranch, the way to help further the transition to a new ecologically centered world is with one of the 21 natural-climate solutions, habitat restoration. For most landowners or renters, the way to take part in this shift is to plant seedlings or a Climate Garden or create a backyard sweet spot. Lawns are the single largest agricultural sector in America, and there are organizations like Food Not Lawns, Urban Gardens, Rooftop Gardening, Urban Farming and Edible Gardens that welcome new membership and offer an environmentally constructive way to live with yards. The conversion of backyards and even front lawns to Climate Gardens is a response to the climate crisis that each of us can make. There are many other habitat restoration options. All of us can do this, on our own or with our families and neighbors. Whether you initiate a restoration program on you own land or join a volunteer program, in either event, the task is to dig in.