Archive for March, 2013

A Climate Confrontation

Saturday, March 30th, 2013
photo by Paulette Moore

photo by Paulette Moore

I wrote the piece below for www.BlueVirginia.us, a Democratic blog that deals primarily with Virginia politics.  Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner recently joined 61 other Senators in voting to go forward with the climate-endangering Keystone XL Pipeline.  350.org is working with citizens around the  the country during the Senate’s spring recess to publicly show these 62 Senators that many of their constituents are very displeased with this vote.

I was assigned the position at the back door of the restaurant.  If Sen. Warner tried to avoid the large, determined crowd in front of the Harrisonburg eatery by sneaking in through the back, he would first have to deal with me.

And I knew just what I would tell him.  I would first remind him that we had met last Labor Day when my husband Andy Schmookler, the 6th District Congressional candidate, gave what Lowell Feld, Blue Virginia editor, called a ‘kick ass’ speech that brought 350 Democrats to their feet, including Sen. Warner.  But this time I felt we would be meeting on less harmonious ground because of his vote last week in support of a non-binding resolution recommending that the Keystone XL Pipeline project go forward.

“Your legacy is going to depend on one thing above all,” I was going to tell him.  “It won’t be long before everyone realizes that we are in great peril because of climate change.  People will want to know,” I would continue, “what he did–or failed to do–to protect us from the ravages of a changing climate.”

But then, the folks in front of the restaurant sent me word that I should abandon my post;  the Senator had already made his way through the crowd in front and was inside the restaurant.  When I rejoined my companions in front, I gathered that they were less than satisfied with the interactions they’d been able to have with the Senator.  Nonetheless, he’d had to push his way through about 70 of his unhappy constituents, whose deep concerns were reflected in numerous signs, sporting such slogans as “Sen. Warner:  What Have You Done for the Climate?” and “Don’t Commit to Dirty Oil.  Invest in Renewable Energy.”

The Keystone XL Pipeline, if built, would carry some of the world’s highest carbon tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through America’s heartland, to Texas for refining and shipment to world markets.   Leading climate scientists tell us that the pipeline’s impact on the climate would be devastating.

Even though Warner had made it into Clementine’s, he hadn’t escaped me yet.  I headed down into the restaurant basement where his session with businesspeople was to be held.  I arrived in time to see him interviewed by local TV reporters. And I was disturbed by what I heard.

It wasn’t his telling the TV reporters, “I’m very concerned about climate change” that disturbed me, but rather his citing the State Department’s recently issued Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as evidence that Keystone would have no major environmental impact.  Didn’t he know it has been revealed that the EIS had been prepared by individuals with close ties to TransCanada, the company pushing to build the pipeline?

As distressing as it was to think that a U.S. Senator might not know the truth about the EIS, it was less distressing than to think that maybe he did know.  If he did know, how genuine was his expressed concern about climate change?

At the end of the TV interview, I reached out to shake Mr. Warner’s hand.  He was visibly eager to escape me and join the group he was there to meet with, and I barely had a chance to deliver a couple of choice sentences to underscore the importance of the climate issue.  Then he was gone.  So I turned to the journalists and told them that the Senator’s remarks about the EIS had been misleading.  How could we be reassured by a statement prepared by people with a huge financial interest in the project?

But the reporters replied that they were running late;.  It was clear that the problems with this Environmental Impact Statement were not going to be part of the story.

Later, when I told Sen. Warner’s chief of staff Luke Albee about the problematic nature of the EIS his boss had praised, Mr. Albee said it was news to him.

The organization that planned the Harrisonburg confrontation with Sen. Warner, 350.org, is planning similar encounters at Sen. Warner’s events around the state during the rest of the Senate’s spring recess.  When the recess is over, maybe Warner and his people will have learned some things about the Keystone Pipeline and our climate, about the corrupting infiltration of special interests into the federal decision-making process, and about the passionate concerns of many of his constituents.

And I hope that from now on, Sen. Warner will join Virginia’s other Democratic Senator, Tim Kaine, in voting in ways that show appropriate concern for the challenge we face with climate change.–April Moore

Reflections from a Climate Jailbird

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

climate-activists-at-white-house

Yesterday was a big day for me.

Normally a law-abiding citizen, I joined with 15 others in breaking the law and being arrested in front of the White House. The reason for this uncharacteristic behavior was climate change.

For several years now, I have viewed climate change as a global emergency, the greatest problem humanity has ever faced, a situation that requires nothing short of a World War II-level of effort to address.  I have only recently put climate change action at the top of my personal agenda, after spending the last two years focused on helping my husband Andy Schmookler in his run for Congress.  (I felt that helping his campaign was the best way available to me to address the problem of climate change).

Since the election, I have been looking for other, more direct ways to address climate change.  I feel fortunate to have found Fifty Over Fifty (www.fiftyoverfifty.org), a group of people over age 50 who are eager to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and willing to risk arrest for the sake of the our planet’s health.  If not we baby boomers, then who?  My age cohort, more than any other, CAN risk arrest.  After all, we boomers are no longer raising children, and many of us no longer work full-time.  Besides, my generation owes it to younger people to act on their behalf.  While it is too late to ensure that our grandchildren will be born into a world as healthy as the one we inherited, it is our duty to do our best to stop as much of the ravaging impact of climate change as we can.

Yesterday’s event, organized by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, was a multi-faith outdoor service near the White House.  Christian, Jewish, Native American, and Muslim leaders called on President Obama to take strong action on climate change, especially to say no to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Following the service, 16 of us separated from the larger group to line up in front of the White House fence.  I was moved almost to tears by the alignment I felt in that moment of my love for the planet and this serious and public step of inviting arrest.

It is illegal to tarry for long in front of the White House.  But tarry we did, singing.  And we were joined in song from across the street by the 25 or so others from the service who were not risking arrest.  I especially loved singing our version of the old song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  We sang, “WE’VE got the whole world in our hands,” spontaneously substituting “the future generations” and “the mountains and the rivers” for “the whole world.”

And truly, we do have the world in our hands.  Currently, those hands are plundering the planet.  But it’s also in our hands to quit trashing the earth and to work for a planet that will support the coming generations as it has so abundantly supported us.

As we sang, we received a series of three official warnings from the Park Police to move on.  Then, when we didn’t, the 16 of us were handcuffed, searched, and escorted, one by one, into waiting paddy wagons, one for the eight women and one for the eight men.  All went smoothly, and the police treated us with courtesy and respect.  One officer, upon escorting me into the wagon, even apologized for the vehicle’s lack of heat!

While the Park Police had been notified in advance that only 10-20 people would be inviting arrest, officers were out in full force.  Four policemen on horseback stood by, along with numerous cops in squad cars and on motorcycles, and about a score of officers on foot.  Good of them to amplify our event!

The paddy wagon ride, a first for me, was unexpectedly exciting.  The two wagons were preceded by an eight-motorcycle police escort.  Lights flashing, the motorcycles roared ahead of us, sometimes on the wrong side of the road.  The wagons followed close behind, as if we were ambulances en route to the hospital.  Inside the wagon, we ladies sat, four on either side of a partition.  Neither group could see the other, but we could hear each other fine.  In high spirits, we sang and stomped and talked our way to the police station.

After the rush through DC streets, it was waiting time at the police station.  We women were led out of the wagon and into a dreary, cement-walled police station basement.  Four women were escorted into each of two holding cells, while the men were held in their paddy wagon.  We continued singing and getting acquainted as we stood around the cell’s sole furnishings–a stainless steel toilet and a stainless steel bench.

After a half-hour or so, our (disposable) handcuffs were cut off, we were issued written citations, we paid our $100 fines, and we were released.  Only then were the men taken from their wagon and brought inside for the same routine.

Once freed,  how cheering it was to see fellow climate activists waiting for us with food and drink and appreciation.  I found their support before, during, and after the arrest meant a great deal to me.  Even though I had been told what to expect in being arrested, I felt a lingering fear, and their support comforted me.

So what did we accomplish yesterday?

While no mainstream media showed up, the alternative press was well-represented.  They filmed and interviewed, and the word went out on Facebook.  Whether President Obama will ever know we were there, we will likely never know.  And while we didn’t turn the climate situation around, I believe our efforts were worth it.  I remind myself that we are just at the beginning;  as more people come to share our alarm about the changing climate, more will join us.  I can see it happening.  Besides, those of us who participated yesterday are getting the word out to our own family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors.  And we are strengthening each other for future actions on behalf of the planet.–April Moore

Good News for Birds–and Farmers

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

In California, an experiment is underway that is proving a win-win for birds and for farmers as well.

Working to show that conservation and agriculture can go hand-in-hand, the Nature Conservancy (TNC) is implementing bird-friendly practices on a 9,200 acre farm the organization bought in California’s Central Valley.  Dubbed Conservation Farms and Ranches, the land is 80 miles northeast of San Francisco, on Staten Island.  The land has historically served as a stopover and wintering ground for many migrating birds, including sandhill cranes, snow geese, tundra swans, ducks, herons, plovers, and sandpipers.

Nature Conservancy officials are hopeful that practices developed and tested at Staten Island will show area farmers that their farms can be productive and profitable, while also creating needed winter habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway.

TNC’s efforts are important.  Staten Island is one of the last remaining bird-friendly habitats in the Central Valley.  In fact, only 5% of the area’s once-vast wetlands remain.  If Staten Island farmland is lost as a bird refuge, it could mean the collapse of the entire Pacific Flyway, scientists say.  And a collapse would be devastating;  the flyway is one of North America’s four main migratory routes.  If birds could no longer stop and winter in the Central Valley, it is doubtful they could move to another flyway.

At Conservation Farms and Ranches, birds are allowed to forage, uninterrupted, on the land at any time.  And after grain crops are harvested, waste grain is left behind on the field as forage for birds during the winter months.

After harvest, some of the fields are deliberately flooded with water to make them attractive for roosting.  The amount of flooding varies from field to field because of different species’ different water needs.  For example, “a cornfield that’s deeply flooded is good for certain species but not for shorebirds or cranes,” explains TNC ecologist Greg Golet.  While flooding fields costs farmers money, the practice also helps them by flushing salt from the fields and by keeping weeds from growing.

In some post-harvest cornfields, the dead stalks are mechanically flattened, rather than left upright.  Birds have shown that they prefer foraging in these fields to those in which the dead cornstalks have been left standing.  Researchers speculate that large birds can forage more easily when they don’t have to navigate among tall stalks.  And the more open space makes predators easier to spot.

Flattening dead stalks in the fall benefits farmers as well as the birds.  In the flattening process, stalks are cut into small pieces, which decompose much more quickly than the uncut stalks.  Then, in the spring, the cut stalks can be easily worked into the soil without the use of heavy tillage equipment, explains Brent Tadman, who manages Conservation Farms and Ranches.

TNC scientists are experimenting with crops that mature earlier and therefore are harvested earlier, in order to increase the time that winter forage is available.   For instance, triticale (a cross between wheat and rye) is harvested in late summer, earlier than other grain crops.  Thus, the triticale fields can be flooded earlier, making roost habitat available for early-arriving migrants.

“Helping birds on Staten Island even extends to the farm’s power lines, which have reflective strips attached to twirling pieces of plastic strewn along their lengths to help birds see the lines and prevent collisions,” writes Ker Than in NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC NEWS.

None of the bird-friendly practices implemented at Conservation Farms and Ranches has had any negative impact on crop yields.  ”Even though this farm is owned by the Nature Conservancy,” says Brent Tadman, TNC’s manager of the land, “it stands on its own legs and it’s required to be sustainable, and we’re pretty proud of that fact.”

Fortunately, area farmers have expressed interest in the bird-friendly practices at Staten Island.  But because of varying conditions and situations, implementing those practices on other farms can be difficult.  To help farmers overcome obstacles to embracing bird-friendly practices, TNC has teamed up with other conservation organizations to offer farmers cash incentives.

Surprisingly, the greatest impediment to increased bird-friendly agricultural practices in California’s Central Valley comes not from farmers but from consumers.   Growing demand for such foods as grapes, almonds, cherries, olives, and pistachios is tempting many farmers to abandon corn and grain crops in favor of the more profitable vineyard and orchard crops.

Many of the birds that stop and winter at Staten Island have such large wing spans that they would have trouble landing in a vineyard or orchard.  They are also easy prey for coyotes and other predators in vineyards and orchards, Tadman explains.  He notes a conspicuous absence of birds on nearby farms where trees or vineyards have been planted.

TNC scientists are hopeful that cash incentives and education will be enough to save the birds that depend on California’s Central Valley.  Farmers and environmentalists are not naturally at odds, Tadman maintains.  He adds,  ”I would say we have more common goals than we have differences.”–April Moore

The information for this article comes from National Geographic News.

Entering the Lives of Penguins

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

I thank John Cochrane for sending me the link below.

Watching this five-minute video brought tears to my eyes.  While I’ve seen many photos of penguins, and I enjoyed the movie, “The March of the Penguins,” this experience somehow felt more personal.  The Russian camera team seemed to approach their subjects with tenderness and delight.  I felt I was right there inside the penguin colony.

This video shows that penguins are not all that different from us.  Penguin children are every bit as darling and cute as our own children, and their parents are like human parents–watching, chiding, nuzzling their little ones.

If you’re up for a few minutes of delight, I invite you to watch this video.–April Moore

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=SkY03n0_sD8

Help Stop the Keystone Pipeline

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Unfortunately, this is not my first posting on this subject.

Even though President Obama announced more than a year ago that he would reject TransCanada’s plan to build a 2,000 + mile pipeline to carry dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to the Texas coast, there is reason to suspect he will reverse that decision and approve the climate-altering project.

Just two months after the President first rejected the pipeline, he announced that he would expedite construction of the pipeline’s southern leg, from Oklahoma to the Gulf.  And now, the U.S. State Department has issued its Environmental Impact Statement, saying the pipeline is “unlikely to have a substantial impact” on the climate.

Sadly, I don’t trust President Obama to do the right thing.  While he gave great hope to millions when he spoke boldly about climate change during his second inaugural address and in his recent State of the Union speech, I know the pressure he is feeling from Big Oil is beyond enormous.

The fossil fuels industry, the biggest and wealthiest the planet has ever seen, wants this pipeline.  And they are bent on making sure that nothing gets in their way.  In fact, I learned recently from 350.org that industry moguls have assembled a group of influential U.S. senators to join the industry in pressuring the President to approve the pipeline.

That’s where we come in.  We, the People, that is.  The movement to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline is growing rapidly.  In fact, more than 35,000 concerned Americans gathered in Washington recently to urge the President to heed the warnings of the most respected climate scientists, who believe construction of this huge pipeline and the shipping of tar sands oil through America’s heartland would have dire consequences for the climate.

No one knows just when President Obama will make his decision.  But we need to do everything we can do to push him to do the right thing.  The industry has money, but we have the numbers.  And we need to use that advantage.  One thing all of us can do is to make a phone call to the White House.  Tell the President to do the right thing for all of our children and the planet, and say no.

You can call the White House at 202-456-1111, between 9 and 5, on any weekday, and leave your message on the recorded message line.  Phone calls can be effective, but only if many, many of us are making them.  So please spread the word to people you know, after you make your own call.

Another helpful action you can take is to visit the website, www.350.org.  Learn about the science of climate change, why it is the most urgent problem humanity has ever had to face, and why the world’s most respected climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, says the Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would mean ‘game over’ for the planet.  At 350.org, you may also be able to connect with citizen groups in your area who are working to address global warming.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.  I think of what Van Jones, founder of Green for All and former Special Advisor to President Obama for Green Jobs, had to say.  He told more than 35,000 gathered in Washington to protest the pipeline that all the good the President has done or will do is simply going to be wiped out if he approves the pipeline.

Please take action.–April Moore





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