By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III), | Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Friday, Dec 15, 2017
|[Author’s note: this article was inspired from attending the Long Island Climate Summit on June 11. 2017; a busy schedule delayed this report.]
With about 200 human beings I attended the Long Island Climate Summit; there were birds, trees, grasses, flowers, insects and more outside, so one could say that thousands of ‘people’ attended.
The event was held inside at Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. They have been there since 1896, have an organic farm-stand, and are returning twenty-eight acres of land to agricultural production, which may include leasing to six farmers. Part of their “land ethic” is: “We acknowledge our responsibility to balance our communal needs and the needs of Earth now and into the future. … To treat all parts of the Earth as sacred and Earth's beings as our neighbors to be respected and loved.”
There were presentations from various groups but since my focus was on interviewing as many of the groups present as possible, I only listened-in on one presentation.
While interviewing various organizations I couldn’t help but notice the common theme of interdependence. It is also my wish that those from other regions of the world may garner something from this article that applies to their local situation.
What follows is a thematic overview, then brief summary of each organization's activities.
Roots of Interdependence
In a country built on so-called independence there is a lie lurking in the lead water-pipes of Flint, in the potential for nuclear disaster, in the utility bill, and many more places. It is a lie of independence.
Whether the framework is the Hua-yen Buddhist perspective that all is interdependent, or one of the essences of Native Peoples’ way of life, We Are All Related, or mystical Kaballah's Tree of Life which is ever-balancing its energy-branches yet ever-rooted since time began ... all living-things are naturally interdependent. A tree would not be a tree without the Mother Earth to root itself and 'empty' space to breathe into.
American so-called independence was more about escaping from a bad situation and then invading other peoples’ good situation to establish a more comfy situation. With its archetype of the rugged individual, American independence is based on the denigration and dehumanization of others, most notably African slave labor and the taking of the Original Peoples’ lands – many lives were taken, too, in what can be called the American Holocaust, which included the elimination of 90-95% of the Native Peoples. Denigrate literally means “to blacken, defame” (de-negro), and the Original Peoples were considered “sub-human,” especially inaccurate since many First Nations’ names loosely translate as, “human beings” or “we the people.”
Yes, the USofA gained independence from Britain but in the process took on some of the same behavior patterns of the empire it was supposedly running away from, including control freaking – (fast-forward) post- WW II – for example, working with Nazi scientists (see “Operation Paperclip”), and a recently published book attests to the influence of the aforementioned violent racism toward Natives, Blacks, and other minorities: “Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law” by James Q. Whitman, (Princeton University Press, 2017).
When it comes to energy sources and the consciousness that connects us all, interdependence is THE working model of Nature. If Art imitates Life, it is time for more of us to imitate Nature. Various beings and elements in Nature, by necessity, work together and there are studies of how, for example, trees communicate with and care for each other.
Transforming the energy landscape requires shedding the racist psychologies as well as truly working with and having respect for the land and all who live with it – who doesn't? Too-often minorities bear the brunt of toxic waste sites or pollution from everyday operations; when energy and race are linked in a detrimental way, it is called environmental racism.
If a bigot or a criminal plants a seed, odds are it will grow; that Mother Earth still cares about such people is a lesson to all of us.
[Author's note: Except for the first one, the following summaries are in no particular order, except perhaps to enhance an appropriate flow. The length of each summary does not indicate that any one group's efforts are more or less significant, rather my aim is to convey the gist of what, in sum, was a lot of information gathered by interviews, websites, and fliers; my long range goal is to put together a book on the topics.]
Shinnecock Nation Environmental
First on the list are the First Peoples, in this case the Shinnecock Nation; wherever you live, when it comes to sustainability one has to look to the Original Peoples. On so-called Long Island, the Shinnecock Nation traces its ancestry back 20 to 25,000 years! “We Need Our Neighbors,” said
Shavonne Smith, Shinnecock Nation environmental director, highlighting that ground and drinking water is affected by tide/shore and can become polluted from activities on the surface or what flows underground; what flows toward the coast can seep into bays and streams, affecting aquatic and other life. Since many in the town of Southampton use the waters for recreation, swimming, fishing & boating, the risks of contamination are higher. Thus, the need for “our neighbors” to also have water consciousness. A display poster highlighted that: “Monitoring surface water and groundwater can help us help Mother Earth,” so the Shinnecock are using YSI 9500 photometer for data. (Some of the info here also comes from speaking with Shinnecock national resource manager, Viola Cause.)
Shinnecock Nation Environmental is working with the Southampton village board sustainability committee and the Peconic estuary program, other Native Nations in the northeast region and state, Department of Environmental Conservation, NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), and USDA (US Department of Agriculture).
As water flows through lands with no concern of borders or ownership, so must we work together. That said, there are other Native Nations around Turtle Island for whom being able to handle their own affairs is preferable; much depends on location and historical context.
On any local level, those most familiar with the locale must be consulted. The Shinnecock are able to identify plants and trees that need assistance and are being affected by climate change and subsequent migration patterns. These changes directly affect Shinnecock culture and spiritual practice because seasonal wildflowers and herbs are a part of all that. As well, if the weather is too warm in November, turkey hunting is affected. The layers of interdependence have, perhaps, never been more intricate than what we are experiencing nowadays. As one of the Original Peoples of this land, the work of the Shinnecock deserves the utmost respect. Since they've been living with the land for 20 -25,000 years, it's a no-brainer that they know a thing or two about sustainability.
Since the core of Native Peoples' ways is often translated as “All Our Relations,” next is ...
All Our Energy
According to their website, “George Povall, Director of All Our Energy, was honored by Sierra Club Long Island Group as environmentalist of the year for 2016, citing work with offshore wind and reducing plastic bag pollution.” All Our Energy is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit Corporation focusing on renewable energy use, climate change and local environmental issues in a way that gets the public to take action. From e-mails since the Climate Summit, other All Our Energy activities include: beach clean-ups, screening of films, reusable bag campaign, clean drinking water, community solar, and more
Sane Energy Project is a “New York based organization working toward a sane energy future that includes shutting down fossil fuel infrastructure and building a just transition toward renewable energy.”
They began by fighting fracked gas pipelines and the infrastructure that goes with it. As an example of a negative health impact, compressor stations affect breathing. Sane Energy encourages “community task forces.” An example of needing to think outside the geographical box was their mention that fracked pipelines have the potential of connecting to Pennsylvania.
“Port Ambrose [a marine facility for off-loading LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) proposed for construction off the New York shore] was killed in December of 2015, when Governor Cuomo vetoed it, following a two-year campaign by a coalition of advocates led by Sane Energy Project and allies in NYC and Long Island, that included a successful push for the New York City Council to pass a resolution against it. Sane Energy Project was honored for our work on the campaign with a proclamation by the Long Beach City Council.”
Sane Energy considers wind-power another solution, and working with NY state, too. Sane Energy is concerned about local jobs and marine life, as well as green-washing.
I'll add that the name “sane energy” alludes to what too many people are hesitant to point out: that the current system is, and those who profit from it are, literally insane. Can anyone whose actions contribute to the desecration and destruction of their Mother (Earth) be considered sane?
Mothers Out Front: mobilizing for a livable climate
According to their website: “We are mothers, grandmothers, and other caregivers who can no longer be silent and still about the very real danger that climate change poses to our children’s and grandchildren’s future.”
The organization started in Massachusetts and is expanding into NY state and the west coast as caregivers of the next generations. One of the key efforts on Long Island is getting municipalities to sign-on to agreements for clean power, i.e. converting from fossil fuels to renewable energies. Again highlighting interdependence, Jennifer Rogers Brown said that with any disaster in NY, everyone pays. The Surety Bill aims to make owners/operators transporting oil financially responsible for hazardous costs.
Vegan Long Island
At first I thought: What does food have to do with all these organizations dealing with energy? Then I learned that Jennifer Greene supplied the meal for the summit. For one, foods give us energy, and two, food has everything to do with it. Agri-businesses use of monoculture has depleted the soil's nutrients and their inhumane, concentration camp treatment of animals could rightly be called crimes against non-humanity.
Vegan Long Island also works with/caters for various communities, projects, and events. For those wanting to learn more, Jennifer recommended these documentaries: “Cowspiracy”, “Vegucated”, “Forks Over Knives” “Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home”, to which I'll add “Food
Inc.” and the book “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, also a documentary.
And worth noting is that the vegan wraps were delicious. Vegan Long Island started in 2008.
Farmingdale State College
The College has a renewable energy and sustainability center of which the primary mission is to enhance public awareness via workshops, lectures, and an annual conference.
Friends of the Earth
This organization started in 1970 as part of the original environmental movement (except of course if you include the Original Peoples). I spoke with a volunteer of the Long Island chapter, Cathy McConnell. Friends of the Earth is starting to kick-off a grassroots campaign resisting destruction of environmental regulations; this national campaign aims to pressure electoral representatives to stand up to DJTrump and Co. and not cut the EPA budget by 31%.
The local Sierra Club highlighted the “NY Beyond Coal Campaign” with the aims of becoming nationally off coal, plus alterations and closing of plants. Sierra Club expressed thanks to Governor Cuomo while also stating the need to keep the pressure on. I spoke with Jacob Shimkus, a legislative team co-lead for NYC. Sierra Club encourages Long Island offshore wind power. There was mention of LIPA's Integrated Resource Plan, which they support, yet PSEG is now the energy business so am not sure where that's at. Sierra Club engages with State Reps, Assembly, and Senate to get them them to sign-on for alternative energies, and they help mobilize people to hearings, organize meetings with Reps, and encourage events/networking. There is a Sierra Club team in Nassau County and one starting in Suffolk County.
I also spoke with Jane Fasullo, the Long Island Group Chair, and she highlighted the importance of education for adult, high school and elementary levels, as well as outdoor programs such as hikes, bikes, and kayaks. Other highlights included mention of Green Fire Productions, one of whose documentary films is “ Ocean Frontiers: A New Era in Ocean Stewardship,” plus a coalition to protect Plum Island.
Food and Water Watch is a non-profit and environmental organization focusing on activities to help ensure access to clean, safe water and food. Each Charter works locally. I spoke with Nico Mendoza, an intern with the Brooklyn Chapter. Their main activities are meetings on Long Island along with opposing EPA cuts, etc., and they are against nuclear energy and fracking. Also mentioned was “stop the Cuomo tax” which would be used to bail out nuclear plants. F&WW is also trying to get the Water Act passed.
Long Island Progressive Coalition I spoke with Ryan Madden, sustainability organizer, who said that LIPC is a multi-issue, community-based organization focusing on education, justice, climate and energy issues. Also, developing worker cooperatives and transitioning business to worker-owned, hence local jobs and community owned. LIPC has weekly volunteer sessions. As part of a program for energy efficiency, also see their Power Up Communities.
New York Energy Democracy Alliance website states “The New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) is a statewide alliance of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. The EDA formed in response to New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceedings - a state overhaul of energy policy and renewable energy funding. The REV is a historic process that will shape our energy future for generations to come. The EDA holds regulators, political leaders, and energy companies accountable, and works to ensure that the benefits of our energy system flow to all New Yorkers, especially poor, working class people, and communities of color. All New Yorkers, regardless of their background, should have access to the benefits of renewable energy and a sustainable and equitable energy future.
"The EDA advocates a transition to a decentralized energy system in which individuals and communities have access to real decision-making power and ownership over our energy production. The environmental catastrophes we face, the economic crises in our communities, and the racial injustice that permeates our society are all exacerbated by our current energy system. Nearly all our electricity generators and power lines are owned by multinational corporations with accountability to no one but their shareholders. We believe that while New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) provides a regulatory check on some of that power, corporations must not continue to exercise an outsized influence in our political and regulatory systems.”They also mentioned: “The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, known as NYSERDA , promotes energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. “
New York Interfaith Power & Light
From their website:
“We believe that climate change is the moral issue of our time. Our mission is to help diverse faith communities in the state of New York state actively respond to global warming as responsible stewards of creation. We help congregations reduce their carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency, use renewable energy, and educate their members on climate change. We also encourage people of faith to speak up at community, state and national levels about global warming, and to collaborate with other faith communities in these efforts.
New York Interfaith Power and Light (NYIPL) is an independent nonprofit (501C3) organization established in 2004. Over the past decade, we have grown to include more than has more than 110 member congregations located across the entire state. Every congregation or faith-based organization in New York is welcome to join.
If we do not act, our grandchildren will not have a sustainable planet.Guest speaker: Jacqueline Patterson, the Director of the NAACCP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, highlighted how minorities are typically the most marginalized, with communities adversely affected or worse with what are known as sacrifice zones. She mentioned “food deserts” where minorities have no local access to fresh foods; also that Halliburton applied for an exemption to the Drinking Water Act. Patterson encouraged getting away from the extractive economy and into a living/interdependent economy. Other phrases mentioned: zero waste, green schools, solar-co-ops, local food movement.
If we do not act, we are guilty of having solutions and not fighting to implement them.
If we do not act, then all of our uttered words of piety and faith are meaningless mumbles and empty gestures.
If we do not act, that vacuum will be filled by others who are already guilty of hurrying the destruction of our planet. They are hoping, I daresay praying, that you do not act.”
At the Long Island Climate Summit I also happened to meet a student enrolled at Stony Brook University, Bridget Foley (Environmental Humanities and Minor in Writing & Rhetoric), and later interviewed her via email; here are excerpts of her responses:
“Stony Brook’s Sustainability Studies Program is an academic program that responds to the problems of unsustainable human behavior and environmental degradation with an interdisciplinary approach. In our program there’s green chemistry, literature, anthropology, geospatial science, policy, urban planning, environmental health, coastal studies, ecology studies, philosophy...How did you connect with Mothers Out Front?
“I’m studying Environmental Humanities, which integrates the social sciences and the humanities to train students to bring a creative liberal arts-based thinking to questions of sustainability. … I’m more concerned with questions like “how can I get people who are biased against each other because of their political parties to actually talk and solve problems in their community?” and “what are the actual problems that folks in this community are facing and how can I use what I know to help them help themselves?”
“My supervisor, Shameika Hanson, actually graduated from Stony Brook with an Environmental Humanities degree, too.”
“As for Long Island, I’m involved with (as a Mothers Out Front intern and general concerned citizen) efforts to ensure that Offshore Wind is developed responsibly. Moving towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels is definitely towards or even at the top of the list in developed countries like the United States. … But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. We also need to take a critical look at the social systems and structures that have got us where we are. The plain fact is, most of the people doing community organizing work--paying attention to the problems and concerns about our environment and Mother Earth--are those who have it as their jobs in some way or another. We have a culture where civic involvement and attention isn’t prioritized... And the plain fact is that in American culture, we aren’t taught to make attention to issues around us and civic action part of our everyday life. From my perspective, then, one of the biggest concerns for people to take action with is looking at the intense need for a massive cultural shift--not automatically a cultural shift towards sustainability, but a cultural shift towards paying attention and responding. The sustainability comes naturally after that, because when we do pay attention, that’s what we see the need for.”As a fitting bookend (or more like book-beginning) to this report, I also attended an event in November 2017. Artist Action Group organized a gathering pairing activists and artists. According to their Facebook page:
“Bring your skills, your ideas, and your passion to collaborate for change. … Partner organizations include Democratic Socialists of Suffolk County, Girls Inc. of Long Island, Herstory Writers Workshop, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Long Island Together, Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, NYCLU-Suffolk Chapter, Peconic Green Growth (PGG), Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk County (VIBS), Yerbabruja Arts Center, and more.”As a writer/publisher I was paired with Peconic Green Growth: protecting our bays and estuaries http://peconicgreengrowth.org/ and the discussion helped prompt ideas for merging the arts with activism. PGG also works for affordable and sustainable housing.
A side benefit of such gatherings is printed matter, thus more links:
Citizens Campaign for the Environment
Peconic Estuary Program (I had never heard of “bayscaping".)
Group for the East End
Win Wind NY (NY State's Offshore Wind Advisory Coalition)
And I just learned of Seatuck Environmental Organization.
Since it hasn't been mentioned, a reminder that the Pentagon/US Military Industry Complex is one of biggest fossil fuel polluters. Add to that, for example, the fact that uranium mined for munitions left toxic/cancerous residues – which many Native Peoples are still dealing with – and it must be exclamation pointed: the cry for peaceful relations along with sustainable/renewable, not destructive, energy resources!
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is an essayist and resident poet at Axis of Logic. In addition to his work as a writer, he is a small press publisher and Turtle Islander. See his new book of nonfiction with a poetic touch, “photo albums of the heart-mind”.
Copyright 2017 by AxisofLogic.com
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