Monday, December 28, 2009

It started as an email on "The Law of Two Feet."

"The Law of Two Feet" came up in a side discussion tonight (at a very traditional committee-style meeting for climate action). I thought I would share this, as it relates closely to another topic of another side discussion that deserves further (and central) consideration (by this particular group): that topic being Transition Towns. (I started to right this as an email to a few members of the group, then it seems to have turned into a blog post, so... enjoy!)

The Law of Two feet is part of a scalable organizing approach for groups "focused on a specific task". It's called Open Space Technology (OST) as wikipedia defines it,

"The approach is characterized by five basic mechanisms: (1) a broad, open invitation that articulates the purpose of the meeting; (2) participant chairs arranged in a circle; (3) a "bulletin board" of issues and opportunities posted by participants; (4) a "marketplace" with many breakout spaces that participants move freely between, learning and contributing as they "shop" for information and ideas; and (5) a "breathing" or "pulsation" pattern of flow, between plenary and small-group breakout sessions." ...The approach is often defined by its lack of an initial agenda.

The Law of Two Feet promotes the "breathing", "the flow" of the gathering. It is a critical operating instruction, which states:

“If, during the course of the gathering, any person finds themselves in a situation where they are neither learning nor contributing, they must use their feet and go to some more productive place.”

This is an example of an organizing process that can maximize the creative output of a large and diverse group of people, WITHOUT the need for hierarchical power structures and it's related ego-battles. In fact, as this Transition Culture website puts it,

"If you are a control freak, you will hate organizing an Open Space event! It involves a lot of trust that the process will work but at the same time I have never seen or heard of one not working."

I've been part of open space activities, and can personally attest. By simply setting an intentional tone for a gathering with simple rules, one can allow people to express and synthesize their ideas to their greatest potential as a fluid yet cohesive group. That is why this organizing tool is central to Transition Town model. One way I define the Transition Town (or Transition Initiative) model is as an organizing model for community-scale climate action, based in the principles of permaculture, that builds community resilience and decreases dependence on fossil fuels. With this scale of intent, and in the context of our climate emergency, we can see how such efforts to maximize the creative potential of a group (and to abandon dysfunctional interpersonal dynamics) seem most appropriate.

I would strongly suggest to anyone who is concerned with climate change and/or peak oil: look at the Transition Initiative model. They can borrow the book from the library, read the pages and forums online, or start with this 49-page primer. Then all they have to do is find someone else in their community and turn them onto it. Then... they're ready to start.

Transition Initiative, as an organizing model, gets at the root causes of climate change. It addresses the ways in which we relate to each other, to ourselves, and to the planet. It helps us to think about the climate and energy crises in a more holistic context, with sensitivity to the psychological and emotional reality of our situation. And even if a person is not ready to start an Initiative herself, the principles, theories, and tools will surely be useful in the years ahead.

more useful links:
A Brief User's Guide to Open Space Technology, Harrison Owen - Transition United States

Monday, December 14, 2009

After the Disaster

"The possibility for a rapid regeneration of human culture is predicated
on a great awakening happening quickly -- before ecological meltdown
leads to systemic breakdown.."

After the Disaster, by Daniel Pinchbeck (read the article here)

This is the kind of thinking that attracts me to the 2012 meme. It's what helps me to keep an optimistic outlook! Much gratitude to Daniel for sharing these words!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

we will save this mountain

Last Monday I had the privilege to join a protest to save one mountain from the destructive onslaught of mountaintop removal coal mining. Coal River Mountain is the tallest standing mountain in West Virginia (almost 500 mountains have been destroyed across Appalachia), and its ridges provide some of the most viable locations for wind power generation. But the coal companies began blasting away at the mountain several weeks ago. This single mountain serves as a potent symbol of the greater struggle for energy justice in the coal fields of Appalachia. (more details here and here).

The protest was intense and bordered on surreal. About 500 people (at most, by my estimate) assembled into two pretty even groups in the parking lot of the DEP in Charleston, separated by two temporary fences and a detail of police. There was a strong counter-protest to this anti-mountaintop removal protest, composing largely of miners (in striped uniforms: they likely got the day off to attend). They had nice printed or vinyl signs with words like "Loud and Proud, Miners of WV" and "Environmentalists: Endless Bitching." They certainly were loud; boisterous shouting, insults, cheers ("whose coal?") and especially the massive coal trucks; a dozen or so of which circled the block, tirelessly airing their booming horns, in an attempt to drown out the speakers at our protest.

You can hear the horns in the background of this video.

Judy Bonds began to shout "Honk if you love mountains" every time a truck went by, blaring its horns. The cheers of our crowd would then join with the shouts and jeers of the miners and other counter-protesters, much to their dismay. (photo cred. Scott E., via facebook)
I had the honor of assuming a "Peacekeeper" role for this action. Dozens of angry miners, shouting, blaring horns, blinded by ignorance and hate. This volatile setting provided a trial-by-fire, as it were, for my peacekeeping skills. Our charge, as Peacekeepers, was to diffuse any conflicts between protesters and counter-protesters, to pull our people aside and remind them of our purpose there, and if necessary, to intercept any insults, glares or violent gestures. ("Sure... no problem... just breathe..." I told myself...)

I found it to be an incredible exercise in non-attachment, in mindfulness, in non-violent thought. Not only did I have to keep my own emotions in check, I had to monitor the emotional state of others around me, and to step in when energetic interactions approached violence.

And I realized:
The whole "us vs. them" polarity is becoming obsolete.
We only believe that we are in competition with each other.
But we all need clean air and clean water, a live-able climate.
Mountaintop removal mining is ecological suicide for Appalachia.
And our continued burning of coal is a fatal mistake for the planet.
Coal extraction is poisoning the same families that are fed by it.
They depend on coal to live, yet it kills them slowly.
What a profound microcosm...
Our collective our addiction to fossil fuels!

If we're going to solve this problem, then we need to dismantle false polarities.
In the end, we're all in the same boat! (except the exploitative corporations... we should vote them off the boat...)

Mining coal is currently the only option for so many fathers that need to feed their children. And of course, the coal companies want to keep it that way! So I was so delighted to hear the words shared by Mountainkeeper Larry Gibson, which included an opening line to the effect of: "Before we shut down the coal companies, we have to create jobs for all of these miners back there!"

The coal fields of Appalachia have provided the cheap and abundant fuel source that has propelled our nation's industrial progress and amassed great wealth for Wall Street bankers. But ironically the top coal-producing regions are also the most impoverished in the country. Imagine if the rest of the country were to pay its dues and respect to the coal regions, and help it to develop more sustainable and just economies? Ideas for restorative justice have been proposed by green jobs champion Van Jones; give the older miners an early retirement and retrain younger miners to perform green and sustainable jobs. What if we helped them create an alternative economy to coal? They could then walk away from the jobs that are killing them!

We all need to respect those who've been sacrificed to get us here (wherever we are...) I guess it comes down to "hating the sin, and not the sinner..." or maybe "the game, not the player?" We need to end mountaintop removal. And we need to end exploitation of all kinds. The miners, as much as they have been conditioned to hate environmentalists, are themselves being exploited by coal companies. The only viable answers to this conundrum will be to work together, to realize that we're on the same side (as humans). The only "them" is the disembodied corporate structures, the machine of exploitation (which, by the way, is in its final death throes), and perhaps the few sad and sleep-walking souls who think they're on top.

time to stop tip-toe-ing around the tulips

We can't just substitute one power source for another.
The energy crisis and climate change are only symptoms of a much larger disease.

New PCI Study Concludes No Combination of Alternative Energy Systems Can Replace Fossil Fuels

From the press release:

"An alarming new study jointly released by two prominent California-based environmental/economic think tanks, concludes that unrelenting energy limits, even among alternative energy systems, will make it impossible for the industrial system to continue operating at its present scale, beyond the next few decades. The report finds that the current race by industries and governments to develop new sustainable energy technologies that can replace ecologically harmful and rapidly depleting fossil fuel and nuclear technologies, will not prove sufficient, and that this will require substantial adjustments in many operating assumptions of modern society."

One particularly powerful conclusion from the study includes:

"...It is
necessary to prepare societies for dramatic shifts in consumption and lifestyle expectations. It will also be necessary to promote a new ethic of conservation throughout the industrial world. A sharp reversal of today’s globalization of commercial activity—inherently wasteful for its transport energy needs—must be anticipated and facilitated, and government leaders must encourage a rapid evolution toward economies based on localism especially for essential needs such as food and energy. The study remarks that this is not necessarily a negative prospect, as some research shows that, once basic human needs are met, high material consumption levels do not correlate with high quality of life."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Harnessing Coal River Wind in Appalachia

Today, the confluence between mountaintop removal coal mining and climate change is front and center on the streets of Charleston, West Virginia and on stage at the "COP15" United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

In Charleston, activists from around the region are gathering in front of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection headquarters to demand an end to blasting at Coal River Mountain -- ground zero in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining.

And in Copenhagen, Google is unveiling a new layer in Google Earth that dramatically illustrates the choice to be made at Coal River Mountain -- a choice between a clean energy future and the increased threat of climate change.

As Lorelei Scarbro, who lives in Rock Creek, West Virginia, at the foot of Coal River Mountain, says in the video, Coal River Mountain represents a crossroads in our future.

Massey Energy plans to mine more than 6000 acres of mountaintop at Coal River Mountain, which would destroy the opportunity to build a 320 megawatt wind farm on the ridges of Coal River Mountain.

Instead of 320 megawatts of clean energy that would power more than 70,000 homes indefinitely, Massey's plans would release 134 million tons of C02 -- the equivalent of putting 1.5 million more cars on the road for 17 years.

That's what makes Coal River Mountain a "cauldron of Climate Change," in Lorelei's words. That's why Google is showing millions of Google Earth users and the delegates in Copenhagen what's at stake at Coal River Mountain, and why people from around the region are gathering today in Charleston.

Can you stand with the activists in Charleston and the delegates in Copenhagen today by taking two simple actions?

1. Watch the Coal River Mountain Video and forward it to your friends and family. Ask them to join you in stopping mountaintop removal coal mining by signing up at

2. Email your Senators and tell them to pass the Appalachian Restoration Act. If Congress is serious about addressing climate change, we need this bill to dramatically reduce mountaintop removal coal mining, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Thank you for taking a moment today to help secure a clean energy future for all of us.

Matt Wasson