Climate Change

Overcoming Fear

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Threatening hurricanes like Joaquin churn up waves of speculation. When a doozy of a storm is eminent — dumping boatloads of rain and destruction — I fearfully follow a steady stream of hurricane alerts on social media. Normally, the wild weather choir would swallow me up — especially, since family members literally lost the house in Hurricane Sandy. But lately, my perspective has had a slight shift.

Still squarely aligned with the scientific community, I look to the experts who tell us carbon pollution is the main reason our planet is getting hotter, thus increasing our chances for severe weather.

Having recently spent time outside my little corner of the world at a series of conferences, I’m using a moral rudder to sail beyond fear. Mashable’s Social Good Summit, the Global Women’s Climate Justice Day of Action at the United Nations and the Omega Institute’s Women and Power conference focused heavily on women and climate change.

Gender and Climate Change

“It is terribly unjust that the people paying the most brutal price for climate impact are the ones least responsible.” Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN)

Locally and globally, climate change is not gender neutral. This injustice takes aim at women because women encompass a disproportionately large share of the poor — in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Women are the caregivers for children, and those tiny lungs bear the brunt of pollution.

I was shocked to learn, women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters.” And according to the World Economic Forum, women perceive climate change risks more than men.

Yet, the policies of extreme weather are governed mostly by men. This is our political reality. In fact, leading up to Hurricane Joaquin, my newsfeed in the New York metropolitan area focused solely on two decision-making governors tracking the hurricane — Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie.

As Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, noted in her keynote speech at Omega:

“I meet amazing women who want to do amazing things, but are not doing it. They are not because of fear.”

Empathy, Education and Ethics

There was an overarching theme I heard over and over at these conferences to counteract the powerless fear women feel about climate change — we employ empathy, education and ethics.

To overcome fear, we need to use these weapons and get active. When we started Moms Clean Air Force, we didn’t ask people to donate, we asked them to care – to care about air pollution, to care about how toxic chemicals affect their families, to care about the climate that will impact their children’s future. We discovered once people cared about the issues, they became empowered to activate in their community.

But as Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State of the U.S., said at the Social Good Summit,

“America is a generous country but we aren’t doing enough…given the scale and our own capabilities.”

In the U.S. we call for strong environmental regulations and get pushback every step of the way from polluters who defend their right to pollute and the politicians that protect them. Compromised, we inch forward.

Storm Warning

Globally, the situation is even worse because nature doesn’t regulate. For instance, in the Maldives, the islands off the coast of India, “could become the first state in history to be completely erased by the sea.”

Thilmeeza Hussain, from the Maldives and founder of Voice of Women spoke at the WECAN event about a location that can’t wait for politics:

“We are thinking about our survival, our existence. There’s nothing to negotiate when it comes to global warming.”

Living in a sacrifice zone is no way to live. Many of us care about our relationship to climate change — now we need to reach beyond and help women across the globe move from fear to caring about solutions.

The scientific evidence is settled; global warming is real and climate change is a women’s rights issue. Now it’s time to weather the storm together.

Desert Light

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“My first memory is of light — the brightness of light — light all around.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe

It struck me the minute I stepped off the plane. That light! After spending hours in airless airports, I thought I landed in a foreign country. At first glance, the Albuquerque landscape seemed barren, thirsty dry and dramatically not green, like my east coast home, that had finally begun to recover from the depths of winter.

Georgia O'Keefe

Georgia O’Keefe

Unlike Georgia O’Keefe who came to the desert of New Mexico on a vacation and felt an immediate affinity, I landed in the desert for a conference. Inspired by O’Keefe’s enthusiasm for brightly colored paintings of the earth, sky and mountains, before dawn each day of my NM trip, I grabbed the down jacket I hoped to retire for a few days, and stepped out onto the balcony to watch the sunrise over jagged mountains. It was easy to imagine O’Keefe’s desert abstractions as the day crept in. The sunrise was dramatic, but nuanced, as it revealed colors in contrast to the dusty groundcover. Moments before sunrise, coyotes, dogs and rustling creatures I could only hope were elusive roadrunners, sounded a wake-up call in unison.

Santa Ana Pueblo

Santa Ana Pueblo

I knew it would be dry, but was it supposed to be bone-dry?

As drought bakes California, we tend to forget climate change is also ravaging other areas of the west. Changes in New Mexico’s climate are taking a toll.

“In this parched state, the question is no longer how much worse it can get but whether it will ever get better — and, ominously, whether collapsing ecosystems can recover even if it does. The statistics are sobering: All of New Mexico is officially in a drought, and three-quarters of it is categorized as severe or exceptional.” ~ LA Times 

After the last conference session, I decided to see what was beyond the Santa Ana Pueblo. I wanted to catch a glimpse of a roadrunner and was told by a conference attendee who lived in the area, the highly adaptive bird can survive on very little water. But it’s been unusually dry, even for NM, even for roadrunners, which is why they have been spotted along the path leading to the Rio Grande River behind the pueblo.

Rio Grande River

Rio Grande River

adobe_shadow_smI hiked the path down to the river slowly because the heaviness of the high altitude was beginning to take hold. Dry heat is deceptive. While I didn’t spy a roadrunner, I did stop to catch my breath and marvel at the Rio Grande in all its muddy spring glory.

Unlike other places I visit for work, New Mexico is a wistful dream I can’t seem to get out of my head…and I don’t really want to.

Photos: Ronnie Citron
Painting: Georgia O’Keefe Museum

Winter’s Mood Swings

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As days and nights revolve around weather, with apocalyptic wrath, the frozen skies repeatedly opened, dropping 3 feet of snow on my nest. Winter’s mood swings erupted – first, angling in with a warming nudge, and then in a full hot rage – rain, thunder, fog – leaving us waterlogged.

I’m one of those snow lovers. It’s an accumulated love. The more, the merrier. Even if you despise the chilly season, you’ve got to admit you’re waiting for the weather to equalize to some sort of normalcy. I know from many reliable sources, if you’re barking up that tree, you’ll end up mighty hoarse.

Young snowboarder, Forrest Shearer,  sums up it up:

“The winter season is a magical time, my favorite of the year. The peaks and hills get covered in a fresh coat of white providing a palate for all of us artists to use our mind and imagination to draw our own lines on the mountains. But it won’t be here forever if we don’t all take some time to protect it.”

I long to sprinkle a little seasoning on the moody blues of our changing climate. So I spent last month worshiping winter. Here’s a peek into 3 questions I asked:

  1. How well do you know snow?
  2. Why did NY Fashion Week visitors trade in stilettos for Sorels?
  3. Do the winter Olympics even have a future in a warming world?  

With spring waiting in the wings, at the cost of sounding shrill, let’s not forget WE MUST PROTECT WINTER.

Life Before Air Conditioning

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I’ve run the Mothership” around here for years, and have lived through a litany of complaints from my kids about the rising heat and the need for air conditioning.

“Why don’t we put in a pool like Rebecca’s family?” Not.
“It’s too hot to go out, we’ll just watch TV all day.” 
Not.
“We can’t sleep upstairs, the walls are melting. We’re sleeping downstairs on the couch.” 
OK.

And like all parents, I pull the generational “before you were born” -thing with my kids:

“When we were young, we ran through the sprinkler…A little sweat didn’t kill us…Have you ever heard of a fan?” 

Then came my final stand, “Do you know Americans use twice as much energy air-conditioning our homes than we did 20 years ago…and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined?” 

Although I live in what is considered to be a cooler Northeast climate, the rising temperature in my neck of the woods has left me sweltering.

I threw eco-caution to the wind and started my own whiny campaign to bring air conditioning into my home. Come hell or high water, and both seemed to be happening, I needed cool air to think straight. I tried rationalizing my case to my ultra-conservationist husband.

Me: “Do you know how much extra laundry I’m doing cleaning sweat-soaked sheets, tee-shirts and towels? Running the dryer day and night will kill the environment. An air conditioner could help!”

Husband: “You’re exaggerating, my dear. And the electricity generated to power air conditioning carries a larger environmental consequence. In burning fossil fuels such as coal and gas to supply electricity to homes and workplaces, power plants discharge clouds of soot and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Among these are mercury and carbon dioxide. Did you know air conditioner use in the U.S. results in an average of about 100 million tons of CO2 emissions from power plants every year ? Also, you emailed me this blog post, 10 Design Tips To Help You Live Without (Or Use Less) Air Conditioning

Me: “Pleeeze, don’t throw posts back at me, I’m a blogger. Bloggers can make anything sound sexy. I can’t work. My keyboard is damp…sticky. I’m sure the Apple manual clearly states, moisture on the keyboard will not be covered under warranty.”

Husband: “Air conditioning is a twisted way to stay cool. If you want to stop warming the planet why would you want artificial cooling? There’s nothing natural about that.”

At this point, guilt got the better of me and I gave up, realizing it was just too damn hot to bicker.

Then it happened. After hours of pushing a hand mower (4 acres of grass and no riding mower…of course) in the latest brutal heat wave, my sweet husband’s defensive brain fried, and he ran to the hardware store and bought one of those portable air conditioners.

Kidding aside, in the age of climate change, can we possibly put air conditioners into the deep freeze? Probably not. My family held out as long as we could, but bucking a culture that is not making the connection that what we’re sending up into our atmosphere is reigning down on us in the form of hot and hazardous weather, is a daunting prospect. But if we adjust our ethos, and take serious measures to power our homes (and air conditioners), using clean renewable energy – wind and solar, and stand with President Obama’s ambitious climate action plan to stop global warming, we have a fighting chance.

Will our leaders compromise and put an end to the warming trend? Or will our kids have to sweat it out hugging air conditioners instead of trees?

He Gets It.

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President Obama gets it.

“That bright blue ball rising over the moon’s surface containing everything we hold dear – the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity – that’s what’s at stake.” ~ President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013

On Tuesday, President Obama told us he gets it — he’s putting the breaks on climate change. Obama is imagining a “cleaner, safer, more stable world,” because he gets it. He gets that humans have created climate change by burning massive amounts of fossil fuels. He gets that these changes will have a devastating impact on people, ecosystems, and energy use. He gets that we must do something about it now.

“Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”

 “We have to all shoulder the responsibility for keeping the planet habitable, or we’re going to suffer the consequences – together.”

“Our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind.”

“We can’t just drill our way out of the energy and climate challenge that we face.”

“I urged Congress to come up with a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one that Republican and Democratic senators worked on together a few years ago. And I still want to see that happen. I’m willing to work with anyone to make that happen.”

“A low-carbon clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come.”

“Those who are already feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it – they’re busy dealing with it.”

“While we may not live to see the full realization of our ambition, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that the world we leave to our children will be better off for what we did.”

“Someday, our children, and our children’s children will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world?”

President Obama gets it.

Please join me in telling your representative to do everything in her or his power to support the president’s plan HERE. Thank you.

Watch full speech here. For those visually-inclined (like me), here’s an infographic

Photo: Ben Scott for Bluerock Design