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What Actions Can We Take When We're Running Out of Time?

  January/February 2013
The Networker

At the Women's Congress for Future Generations, we discussed legal guardians for Future Generations.

Dear Friend,In preparation for the Women's Congress for Future Generations, I asked the great musician and storyteller Ilene Evans to describe the music we need for a civil rights movement for Future Generations. I asked her because I had lived through a terrible flood in Iowa the summer of 2010, likely exacerbated by climate change. I knew Future Generations would face similar storms with unfortunate frequency.

The nights of angry thunder and torrential rain, and the knowledge that all able bodied people were sandbagging the town made clear that the old lullabies would not work. A grandmother sitting by the crib of a baby who could hear the raging storm needed something different than rock-a-bye-baby. Ilene, an expert on the music of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, said that music has work to do. And lullabies during hard times need to tell a truth as well as give comfort. She described lullabies sung by slaves telling children that mama would be sold tomorrow. Those lullabies didn’t hide the truth, but at the same time brought sleep and some measure of comfort.

The discussion about climate change has reached a crescendo. It is increasingly evident that we have crossed the point of no return. How, then, shall we act? How do we face the future? What about hope? So many of us are struggling to meet this moment. What is worth doing? What will make a difference? Is it too late?

It is too late to prevent climate change. It is already here. But what is required of us is to tell the truth, to prevent as much harm as possible, and weave resilience into our ecological and human communities so that we can survive the coming chaos. These three are intertwined: truth-telling, preventing harm, and building resilience. It is so tempting to sugar-coat the truth for others. But lying or denial is a betrayal. We can begin work on deep resilience if we know what we are really up against.

After the flood, keenly aware that we in the Midwest might ping pong from drought to flood, I considered the options. What isn't window-dressing? What actually makes a difference? How do we choose actions that increase the odds that life can flourish on Planet Earth?

Here is a list to guide our choices:

  • Do no more harm: Don't take actions that add to the problem.
  • Diversity and redundancy are essential for survival. There are no silver bullet solutions. No single technology or philosophy will get us out of this mess.
  • Scale matters. Large-scale technology always has an ecological cost.
  • Pay attention to the recipes. Any technology that requires energy probably also requires water.
  • Measure solutions against ecology. Fit actions to the landscape in terms of time and scale.
  • Ecological restoration is a first order of resilience.
  • The arts are essential path makers, truth tellers, and comforters.
  • Plan and dream for both the immediate moment and the long-term.
  • When in doubt or despair, wait. No action may be the most appropriate action for that moment.
  • Pool wisdom and creativity. Take collective action.

At the Women's Congress, Ilene led us in a song, the kind of lullaby I anticipate singing to great grandchildren, "I don't want to die in the storm." It tells us the storm is coming. That is just the truth. But it also signaled that we will do whatever we can to prevent worse storms, that we are in this together. It may not bring cheer. But it does bring strength to face what we must.


Carolyn Raffensperger

Executive Director

Science and Environmental Health Network

Latest News and Events This month, two members of SEHN's Board of Directors, Dianne Dumanoski and Rebecca Gasior Altman, contributed guest pieces to the SEHN . We're grateful for their wisdom!
1) Biography of a Bell Curve Rebecca Gasior Altman, SEHN Board of Directors "I've never been to a political rally," my husband says after I suggest going to the Climate Forward Rally in Washington, DC over February vacation. He is a scientist, an entrepreneur, a pragmatist. Sometimes he slips and introduces me as a "socialist," though really I'm a sociologist. 2) The Future is Slipping Out of Our Hands By Dianne Dumanoski, SEHN Board of Directors Two decades ago, when I covered the first Earth Summit in Rio, the catch phrase of the day was a purported Chinese proverb warning that "if we keep going down the current road, we'll end up where we're headed."
3) A Prescription for Injuries of the Soul: Healing the Earth Healing Us op-ed in Common Dreams Most people suffer from a sense of moral failure over environmental matters. The mismatch between being told to change our light bulbs when the planet seems in free fall—melting ice caps, polluted water supplies, drought—creates a needling angst and anxiety. We know that we are in deep trouble, but feel that there is little we—or anyone—can do individually. 4) Women's Congress Next Steps We're planning next steps for the Women's Congress for Future Generations, including a call for a Guardian for Future Generations and another conference next year. We also need your comments on the draft Declaration of the Rights Held by Future Generations.
5) Precaution Reporter: First Do No Harm More than 100 leading medical and scientific experts from Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy urged the White House to halt the rush to expand shale gas fracking for export. Their petition reads "There is a growing body of evidence that unconventional natural gas extraction from shale (also known as 'fracking') may be associated with adverse health risks through exposure to polluted air, water, and soil." To learn more about the petition, visit Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy. 6) Forward on Climate Rally On Sunday, February 17, thousands of Americans will head to Washington D.C. to make Forward on Climate the largest climate rally in history. To join the movement, click here.
7) Collaborative on Health and the Environment Each month, we'll feature an organization we work with and admire. This month, we're highlighting our partners at the Collaborative on Health and the Environment's (CHE). CHE's primary mission is to strengthen the science dialogue on environmental factors impacting human health and to facilitate collaborative efforts to address environmental health concerns. Founded in 2002, CHE is an international partnership of over 3,500 individuals and organizations in 45 countries and 48 states, including scientists, health professionals, health-affected groups, nongovernmental organizations, and other concerned citizens, committed to improving human and ecological health. To learn more about CHE, visit Join Us! Do you feel called to stand for Future Generations? Do you believe the health of our bodies is intimately tied to the health of our communities, ecosystems, and our political systems? Join with SEHN and become part of our community working for lasting, systemic change. Your gift is vital to continuing this work, and we are so grateful for your support.