Blog

August 21, 2017

In the Path of Totality

by Laurie Dougherty, 350 Salem OR

Watching the solar eclipse with my daughter this morning from our backyard was amazing, from the first nibble of the moon to the fantastical moment of totality. I expected the corona to be like a starburst with yellow flares all around it, but it was asymmetrical and brilliantly white.  Stunning.

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View of totality during the total solar eclipse from the top of Marys Peak, Oregon
Connor Radnovich / Statesman Journal

All the while watching the sun disappear, I was thinking about the sun’s gifts – gifts of light and warmth. In its most fundamental processes, life on earth is adapted to the sun. This is an ancient and intricate relationship. We abuse it at our peril.  Mostly I was thinking that the sun gives us all the energy we need if only we would commit to using it. We are accustomed to hearing from naysayers and deniers who support the fossil fuel industry with all their might and money.  But the momentum for renewable energy is building.

Folks from other 350 chapters recently shared articles that point to the “disruptive” nature of renewable energy – disruptive of the fossil fuel industry and the economic system it powers. One is a report from the Rocky Mountain Institute Positive Disruption: Limiting Global Temperature Rise To Well Below 2 C°.   This RMI report “describes scenarios for rapid transitions in energy, agriculture, and land use that could limit global average temperature increase to 1.5–2 C° above preindustrial levels.”

The other article is from Below 2o C, a website run by climate activists in Canada, about Tony Seba who teaches at Stanford and his book and lectures on Clean Disruption.  Seba argues that a convergence of technologies will lead to exponential growth in renewables and the fading away of fossil fuels. He compares this to digital cameras overtaking film and smart phones overtaking land lines, and claims that, “New York City basically went from all horse to all car in 13 years.”  Some 350 Seattle members along with others at the Backbone Campaign are involved with Solutionary Rail, an organization that shows the way to full electrification of freight and passenger rail, running on renewably generated electricity.

These are breathtaking, visionary ideas. They offer hope that we can break free from the downward spiral of climate chaos.  But they also offer a cautionary tale: disruption can bring on a kind of chaos of its own. As the renewable energy economy emerges, we need to work hard to ensure that resources are used wisely and sustainably; that benefits are shared widely and equitably; and that workers and communities experience a Just Transition from the fossil fuel economy to one that is powered by the gifts of the sun.

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JANUARY 17, 2017

Do Public Demonstrations Make a Difference?

by Linda Wallmark, Co-Coordinator 350 Salem OR

After our rally in front of Senator Wyden’s office last Monday someone turned to me and asked “Do these types of rallies really help? After all, aren’t we just preaching to the choir?”
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                                                      Linda Preaching to the Choir

I’ve asked myself this same question, as I’m sure have many others. Last year, several of us from 350 Salem participated in the Break Free action in Anacortes. Hundreds of kayakers and marchers converged upon two refineries.  There were beautiful Native American led ceremonies with colorful and visually arresting signs and props. Over 100 protesters camped out on railroad tracks for two nights, and 52 people ended up being arrested (including our own Laurie Dougherty!) Now THIS will make a difference, I thought. Great photo ops, Native Americans, arrests . . . it had it all. But aside from some articles in a few newspapers in the Seattle area, there was little main stream media coverage. I was disappointed. Were we just preaching to the choir? Did it change anything?

There are two purposes for public demonstration. One purpose is to energize our base, what some might call “preaching to the choir.” The second purpose is to draw attention to our cause and hopefully change minds. They both are vitally important but, of the two, I would argue that preaching to the choir matters more.

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Bob McDonnell at Nearly 90

When we rally together, we harness our private frustrations and anxieties to power a collective voice and will. This is transformative. I find inspiration with every rally, large or small.  At Sen. Wyden’s office, a man on the verge of his 90th birthday made a plea for the future of his great grandchildren, a woman on the verge of tears read her letter to Sen. Wyden, and others added their voices while 33 people clustered under umbrellas in the sleet and snow listening attentively. These are things that move me and encourage me to never give up.            1-9-17-rally-bob-mcdonnell-statement-by-g-zurbrugg

 

As for the second purpose, that of drawing attention to our cause, here is what my husband and I have personally experienced during our own short involvement in the climate movement. We don’t do social media, but we do tell people about what we’re doing when the occasion arises. Additionally, after the Break Free action in Anacortes, I wrote a long, detailed description of the weekend complete with photos and sent it out to family and close friends.

The responses were varied. At first, except for our two sons who seemed thrilled and proud, we got no response from friends and family. I think they didn’t know what to say. We had been involved in illegal activity. There were police involved. It was so unlike us. In order to understand the significance of what started to eventually happen, it helps to understand some of our family dynamics.

Ours is a large and harmonious family. We have our family gatherings and they are happy events. We talk about jobs, kids, vacations—typical small talk. Mostly we tell jokes and laugh.      I can’t speak about what happens in each nuclear unit, but generally in our extended family we are not the kind that pore over the little details of each others lives on social media or on the phone. We don’t do a lot of texting back and forth. They rarely ask about our climate activism, but we sometimes share with them anyway. I know my husband and I are making a difference when one of our nieces buys an all-electric Golf and takes the time to send us a photo posed with all her kids gathered around it. Another niece emails us to ask for permission to read our account of the Break Free action out loud to her three children. A young cousin we don’t often see makes a point to sit across from me at a family gathering to excitedly tell me about her participation in a climate action event, and a sister who rarely shares her private feelings, calls to tell us of her anguish over the election and that she’s thinking about engaging in activism of some sort. I can’t help but think that our participation in 350 Salem OR has, at least in part, played a role in all this.

So, do public demonstrations make a difference? My response is a resounding YES! We come away empowered and, even though it may not seem like it at the time, we influence those around us. I believe that the women’s vote, Indian independence, US civil rights protections, the end of the Vietnam war and South African apartheid would never have come about as they did without people getting out into the streets. It was the unrelenting accumulation of events, day after day, week after week, month after month that changed the established order.

It is not the average citizen, caught up in the minutia of daily life, who determines the course of our future. It is those of us who pay attention, who speak out, and who are willing to be uncomfortable—perhaps even risk arrest—that drive change forward.  We are the ones whom Margaret Mead spoke of in that well-known quotation, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

So, fellow thoughtful, committed citizens, let us go out into the streets, join our voices as one, and change the world!

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Nancy Wields Her Artful Umbrella
Photos of Bob McDonnell by G. Zurbrugg. Other photos by L. Dougherty

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DECEMBER 5, 2016

The Magic of
350-logo

by Laurie Dougherty, Co-Coordinator 350 Salem OR

I’ve had a some kind of connection to 350.org since before it was called 350.  In the beginning it was Step It Up – a call to public officials to step up to the challenge of protecting the climate.  A group of friends who had graduated together from Middlebury College in Vermont saw the need for “a climate movement that reflected the scale of the crisis” and joined with environmental author Bill McKibben to start it.  They later changed the name to 350.org to reflect the scientific understanding that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe upper limit for a stable climate.*

In the beginning word spread through the internet and by word of mouth to hold days of climate action everywhere.  I was living in the Boston, MA area at the time and on the first Step It Up day I went on a bike ride in Brookline, then to a community walk in the nearby Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston which ended at a subway station next to a bike path. Some of us biked and others took the subway intown to a rally on Boston Common.

Later that year I worked to organize a bike ride from a climate forum in one of Boston’s historic churches to the Energy Revolution Rally at the Old North Bridge in Concord where the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired. But there was a remnant hurricane offshore and it was a raw, rainy, windy day.  Only a couple of intrepid bicyclists made the trip from Boston to Concord, but hundreds attended these and other events. I stayed back in the warm, dry church in Boston.  The Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN), active in many cities and towns around the state, often organized events for 350 days of action.

On another 350 day of action in 2009, I also participated in three events: a bike ride that stopped first at a renewable energy/energy efficiency fair in a low income neighborhood of Boston, then went on to “Boston Underwater” in a park on the downtown waterfront. People walked around with life jackets, swim fins and kayak paddles. Tents simulated a climate refugee camp. Billionaires for Business as Usual strutted with messages like “Global Warming = a Longer Yachting Season” and “Money is Green.”  Everyone gathered on steps behind a wall of sandbags and a Boston SOS banner for the group photo.

In 2010, 350 called for a Global Work Party. I was part of a volunteer crew at a community garden on the grounds of a community center.  Another group of volunteers was retrofitting the center for energy efficiency, so we all worked side by side that day.

By 2011, as well as days of action, 350.org began calling for or joining in larger events like the No Keystone XL demonstrations at the White House where 1200 people were arrested during two weeks of sit-ins.  Much as I would have liked to go to DC, I had already made plans to retire and move to Salem at that time.

After moving here, together with friends in Occupy Salem OR and Oregon PeaceWorks, in May 2012  we organized a Bike/Walk Tour de Flood of some locations in Salem that were flooded earlier that year.  This was for the 350.org theme Connect the Dots Between Climate Change and Weather. In 2013 we had a forum about climate action on the day of the national Forward on Climate march in Washington DC.  Off and on we had some small street corner demonstrations around KXL and other issues. Many of us joined with people around the region in opposition to impending fossil fuel projects in the Pacific NW attending hearings and rallies with Beyond Coal, Stand Up to Oil and the Oregon No LNG Coalition.

Meanwhile, in Oregon and other places, 350 chapters began to pop up as people wanted to work together more coherently and strategically. 350.org began to assign staff to assist local chapters with toolkits, conference calls, and listservs for sharing experiences.  After staying in touch via email with a loose network of people in Salem, I invited them to a meeting in the spring of 2014 and we formed our 350 Salem OR chapter. 

A few of us, along with others from Oregon, went to the 400,000 strong People’s Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014.  Others participated in related events in Portland and Salem along with several hundred thousand people around the world.  All over the world people marched behind the banner of climate justice.

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Many thousands marched again in November and December 2015 in Paris and Salem and around the world to send a message to world leaders at the International Climate talks that we need serious action to meet the climate crisis.  The agreement reached in Paris was a step in the right direction but is nowhere near sufficient. In the spring of this year 350.org and allies called for escalated actions directed at key fossil fuel installations around the world in a campaign called Break Free from Fossil Fuels.  

Members of 350 chapters and other climate action groups in the Pacific NW held three days of activities at Anacortes, WA near two oil refineries. Break Free PNW included a march and rally alongside the refineries led by local Native Ameiican tribes and incorporating a water blessing. Educational workshops took place at the campground where many participants stayed and in a downtown hall for local residents.  Along with about two hundred people from around the region, I camped out on the rail line to block oil trains from entering  the refineries. We were there from Friday evening until Sunday morning when a Washington State Trooper Swat Team rousted us out at 5:00 am. Fifty-two of us were arrested. We go to trial in March 2017.

The magic of 350 is that it is local and global at the same time.  Most of what happens happens because we make it happen – where we are, with our own resources, and in ways that reflect our own circumstances and concerns.  But we are connected through a global network with people in 188 countries who project their own circumstances and concerns into our awareness, enlarging our perspective and strengthening our resolve. We see the faces and hear the voices of people struggling with deadly pollution from coal fired power plants in India, rising sea levels in Bangladesh and Pacific Island nations, terrible droughts in sub-Saharan Africa, violent storms in the Phillipines and Haiti, historic floods in Europe, the US and Pakistan.

We are humbled and inspired by the indigenous peoples who courageously resist predatory, even murderous, fossil fuel and logging companies in Ecuador, Honduras, Nigeria, Canada and Standing Rock. The 350 network is itself connected at all scales in intricate coalitions of community, environmental and social justice organizations confronting hard questions of how to nurture equity and justice in the face of climate change; how to create a Just Transition to a world with a stable climate and an economy that works for everyone.

With the recent election of Donald Trump I feel like we have gone through the looking glass into a surreal and frightening world we do not yet understand. But as I told a friend, I also feel fortunate to be wrapped up in such a strong, supportive organization with the core values that the world desparately needs right now and with the resolve and experience to fight for those values with bold creative non-violent strategies. That too is the magic of 350.

*As you can see by the little chart at the bottom of each page here, we are now over 400 ppm of CO2. That chart, called the Keeling curve for Ralph Keeling who began measuring CO2 at Mauna Loa, HI in 1958, is a live link to the Mauna Loa measuring station maintained by the Scripps Oceanographic Institute. Scripps updates it every few days. The squiggle in the overall upward trend comes with the changing seasons: vegetation on the greater land mass in the Northern Hemisphere absorbs CO2 in spring and summer when crops grow and trees are in leaf and then stops taking up CO2 in fall and winter. This has been called “the respiration of the planet.” 

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