On June 3, 2021, I had the good fortune to listen to a no-nonsense plant scientist, Stan Cox of The Land Institute, frame the climate emergency in a few clear and immediate actions. This blogpost is my summary of his recommendations, plus a few of my own. Thanks to Chicago Area Peace Action for hosting the webinar, along with a number of local partners. Full details and links below.
A. INTRODUCTION: Livability
B. BEYOND THE GREEN NEW DEAL: Official webinar information
— Book information
C. MY UNOFFICIAL WEBINAR SUMMARY, plus my own action recommendations
D. LIVABILITY, LIBERATION, & THE POWER OF FOOD
E. RECENT AND RELEVANT RESOURCES
NOTE: I was disappointed in the webinar by only one thing: that a plant scientist with The Land Institute did not talk more about the food and farm system as a source of both emissions and opportunities for mitigation. That may have been an issue with time in a 90-minute event. Or it may have been an issue with assumptions made about an urban audience. Or it may speak to my own contribution to U.S. voter consciousness — that getting specific about Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of happiness by studying Food, Farms, and Democracy is a high-impact and productive focus.
A. INTRODUCTION: Livability
The roadmap outlined by Stan Cox on June 3, 2021 (to a Zoom audience of about 100+ people) is mostly contained in his 2020 book,The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can. Since that book has been out for more than a year already and a new book is scheduled for publication in a few months (Nov. 2021), I suspect that we were also the beneficiaries of his latest thinking which will appear in the new book.
In any case, I’ve chosen to borrow the title of his forthcoming book for this blog — The Path to a Livable Future — because of congruencies with other climate initiatives in my life, specifically the Food Policy Networks at Johns Hopkins University and the City of Evanston, my hometown.
— CENTER FOR A LIVABLE FUTURE: Food Policy Networks (FPN)
The Food Policy Networks, in which I am active, is a program of Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future, which is part of the university’s school of public health. FPN serves as the clearinghouse for food policy councils (FPCs) in North America and provides services to create and support FPCs at local, state, and regional levels.
After co-founding two Illinois FPCs (Evanston 2005, State of Illinois 2009) and drafting an ordinance for a third (Cook County 2010), I’ve come to view FPCs as the food & farm movement’s contribution to participatory democracy. Even though the first FPC was founded in 1982 (in Knoxville, TN) and the national food & farm movement didn’t begin until three years later (with the first Farm Aid concert in 1985), from the distance of almost 40 years, I think my analysis is valid.
I very much appreciate that the Center for a Livable Future has committed so much time, space, effort, and resources to supporting FPCs.
— THE LIVABILITY PLAN — City of Evanston, IL (2014)
The City of Evanston is my hometown, a large, very urban suburb just outside Chicago. Climate issues have been on our radar since at least 1974, when the Evanston Ecology Center was built, and 1976, when the non-profit Evanston Environmental Association was created to help fund the Center’s programs. In 1999, the Evanston Interreligious Sustainability Circle was formed by some long-time activists, and the group quickly expanded into the Network for Evanston’s Future. Different groups tackled local, metro, and/or state policies on transportation, housing, energy, food, etc. We made measurable progress on most fronts.
A critical mass or tipping point was reached in 2007, when our state legislator (Rep. Julie Hamos) was able to allocate $75,000 for a city sustainability coordinator. With a full-time staff person in place, the City of Evanston and voters wrote our first Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2008.
In 2014, we called our updated climate action plan a Livability Plan with the goal of creating “the most livable city in America”. Livability was defined as “healthy citizens and a healthier environment for all of Evanston.” At the time, I was not wild about the livability framework and messaging, but on deeper reflection and compared to what came next I’m now nostalgic for a livability plan.
In 2017, Evanston voters elected a disaster capitalist businessman as mayor who promptly initiated another update of our climate plan, written in consultant-speak and highlighting resilience. To this day, I wonder if resilience was highlighted because everyone had conceded that we’d already lost the battle (of returning to normal weather patterns) or because businessmen were busy planning for new revenue streams. At any rate, here is the description of our current climate action plan. I quote at length to enable some comparison with Mr. Cox’s recommendations.
City of Evanston 2018 Climate Action and Resilience Plan (CARP)
Carbon neutrality by 2050, zero waste by 2050 and 100% renewable electricity by 2030
By the year 2050, Evanston has achieved carbon neutrality; all buildings are “high-performing” in terms of energy and water efficiency; all energy produced and consumed is from clean and renewable sources; a Zero Waste Strategy has been implemented and achieved; half of all trips made in Evanston are by transit, walking or bicycling; all vehicles and equipment rely on zero-emission technology; and the urban canopy is healthy and growing in size, adapted to the 2050 climate.
Green infrastructure is distributed equitably throughout the community, increased precipitation is captured by rain gardens and naturally filtered into the soil, the transition to zero emissions vehicles has improved air quality, the boom in renewable energy installations has solidified Evanston as a regional leader and expert in renewable energy and local food options are accessible and affordable to residents in every neighborhood. By 2050, Evanston will be a climate-ready and resilient City that has successfully prioritized the needs of its most vulnerable while combating climate change.
Now in 2021, with a new City Council and Mayor in place, there is already talk of updating the CARP plan. It remains to be seen whether we emphasize livability, consultant-speak, or some third way of messaging.
— LIVABILITY AND LIBERATION
Cox’s forthcoming book, The Path to a Livable Future, is subtitled: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic. As a political person, I look forward to learning the details of his “new” politics, especially if (as one reviewer suggests) meaningful answers to our interlocking crises are “unlikely to come…from traditional urban liberal strongholds” (Felix Marquardt).
As a 43-year resident of the City of Evanston — which is nothing if not a “traditional urban liberal stronghold” — I’d like to end this introduction with a most insightful, radical observation about the connection between our prized freedom — liberty — and the seemingly automatic cycles of life — the renewability quality of life. This quote is from Basic Call to Consciousness, by the editors of Akwesasne Notes, a newspaper published (1969-97) by the Mohawk Nation (whose lands are on both sides of the border between New York and Canada). Published by Native Voices (Summertown, TN) in 2005:
“The renewable quality—the sacredness of every living thing, that which connects human beings to the place they inhabit—that quality is the single most liberating aspect of our environment. Life is renewable and all the things that support life are renewable, and they are renewed by a force greater than any government’s, greater than any living thing or historical thing. A consciousness of the web that holds all things together, the spiritual element that connects us to reality and the manifestation of that power to renew that is present in the existence of an eagle or a mountain snow fall, that consciousness was the first thing that was destroyed by the colonizers.” (p. 123)
To best understand this observation, it might be useful to reflect on the liberty-less condition of astronauts in space, constantly having to think about their very survival (or dependent on “Houston” to do the thinking for them) and dependent on the Earth for all the comforts of home—without being on the Earth. The livability of life includes, as a core characteristic, liberation, which is dependent on the renewability, the stability, the continuity of the web of life.
Now, to the webinar with Stan Cox.
B. BEYOND THE GREEN NEW DEAL: Official webinar information
Announcement of the June 3, 2021 webinar as it appeared on the Evanston Public Library’s website:
June 3, 2021
Stan Cox with Jerome McDonnell: Beyond the Green New Deal
An analysis of the complexities of energy transformation in the U.S.
Stan Cox, author and senior scientist at The Land Institute, will explain the need for more serious actions to avoid climate disaster. The Biden plan is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. In his fifth book, Cox analyzes critical issues not being addressed in the dominant discourse today.
Jerome McDonnell has hosted Worldview, WBEZ’s global affairs program, since 1994. Currently, he is WBEZ’s Environmental Reporter.
About The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can
The prospect of a Green New Deal-sustainable energy, and justice for all Americans-has instilled millions of people with a sense of hope. To make it happen, the plan will require a national mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II. But will it be enough to prevent disaster? Scientists now warn that we have little time to eliminate greenhouse emissions. To do what’s required, Stan Cox urges readers to embrace the Green New Deal but go beyond it in order to stop global warming before it’s too late. In clear and accessible language, Cox explains why we must abolish the use of fossil fuels on a clear timetable, and reduce over-production and over-consumption-points not mandated by the GND. By starting now to find creative ways in which we can live in a lower-energy society, Cox writes, we as individuals and communities can play key roles in bringing about the necessary transformation.
This is a Chicago Area Peace Action event, co-sponsored by the Evanston Public Library.
Follow-up information sent by CAPA to webinar participants:
Actionable Asks: Follow-up actions
Be the Change; Spread the Word
— Audit personal energy & plastic use. Set a cap; take specific steps to reduce consumption; share on social media.
— Join civil society climate groups (local, national).
— Read The Green New Deal and Beyond, by Stan Cox.
Change the System
— Ask Congress to immediately stop new fossil fuel-based power plant installations100% of electricity be generated from clean renewable energy sources by 2035
— Ask Congress: directly, rapidly, transparently phase out extraction and use of ALL fossil fuelsA foolproof declining cap—no carbon tax, no cap-and-trade, no offsets.
— Climate Mobilization Victory Plan
Contact sheet for the following partner organizations (webinar co-hosts)
— Chicago Area Peace Action (CAPA)
— Citizens Greener Evanston (CGE)
— Nuclear Energy Information Services (NEIS)
— Save our Illinois Land (SOIL)
— 350 Chicago
— 350 Kishwaukee
— Extinction Rebellion Chicago
— Sunrise Movement Chicago
Stan Cox book information
— The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency while we Still Can
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers (May 2020)
— The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic
City Lights Booksellers & Publishers
forthcoming (Nov. 2021)
C. MY UNOFFICIAL WEBINAR SUMMARY
plus additional recommendations
SUMMARY of June 3, 2021 webinar (taken directly from my notes)
a. General comments about U.S. climate policy by Stan Cox
We’ve done very little in 30 years to deal with climate emergency.
Currently we have no fleshed out plan.
About the Green New Deal:
“New Deal” part is welcome and good
“Green” part is deficient in real plans
Fossil fuels account for 3/4 of greenhouse gas emissions.
We currently have no plan to get rid of fossil fuels.
We do have current plans to continue fossil fuel use:
— XXX new power plants (I believe the number was in the 100s)
— 500 new pipelines
Renewables don’t replace fossil fuels.
History shows that they just add to total energy use.
b. Primary recommendations for U.S. climate policy by Stan Cox
#1 Plan: Statutory cap every year, decreasing fossil fuels coming out of the ground, year by year
As of 2021, we need an 8% reduction per year
In addition, we should explore:
—Banning exports & imports of fuel
—Rationing: equitable amount (per WWII rationing)
—Nationalizing the fossil fuel industry: business plan is to go out of business in 15 years.
Reduce total amount of energy use to run society.
— “2,000 Watt Society” (Sweden)
— U.S. energy use per capita is currently 10,000 watts.
The organizational plan most aligned with Cox’s recommendations is Climate Mobilization’s Victory Plan.
Agriculture and land use: next to fossil fuels agriculture is the biggest contributor to emissions.
Forthcoming book (Path to a Livable Future) emphasizes
c. Question by Dave Kraft (NEIS)
Why aren’t we engaging social scientists, mental health professionals, etc., about
—why we act this way?
—why are so resistant to change our behavior (addiction, etc.)?
Answer from Cox: Agrees
—cognitive behavior: why are we so resistant to changing our minds?
—book by Margaret Solomon (psychologist) addresses these questions
MY ADDITIONAL ACTION RECOMMENDATIONS
Questions for Stan Cox sent to CAPA in advance of the webinar
These questions imply some recommended actions.
1. Where does Mr. Cox see his climate recommendations vis-a-vis:
— Planet of the Humans (the 2020 documentary by Jeff Gibbs)
— Bright Green Lies (2021 book by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Max Wilbert — Deep Green Resistance)(also a film)
2. Unfortunately his book does not have an index.
Does his book deal with our money, banking, and economic system as a driver of over-production and climate destruction?
If not in his book, does he have any opinions or recommendations vis-a-vis money, banking, and/or economic reform? E.g., public banks in every state, nationalize the Federal Reserve, eliminate GDP as an economic metric (use Genuine Progress Indicator or some other index).
3. Many of us see local food systems and food policy councils (FPCs) as a major tool in reducing our emissions and restoring the soil, water, air, and biodiversity.
Will Mr. Cox be attending the September 2021 national conference on FPCs — The Power of Food to be held in Kansas City, Missouri?
Additional action recommendations
Should block chain and/or cryptocurrency be outlawed in U.S.? Block chain technology for Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrency ?) uses an enormous amount of energy. Cryptocurrencies might also violate the U.S. Constitution.
2. WOMEN’S PUBLIC AUTHORITY
What do U.S. women think about codifying women’s public authority as the primary authority for drafting and implementing a U.S. earth emergency policy?
It seems as if misogyny is being ignored as a cause of climate destruction (Cox’s new book subtitle doesn’t include fighting sexism as part of his “new” politics). Likewise, while some plans still recognize women as a primary agent for mitigating and eliminating climate destruction, mainstream plans such as Drawdown no longer identify women and girls as important priorities (in terms of education, finance, authority, etc.), even though more and more studies are showing that women bear the brunt of climate destruction. For example, the new weather service, Currently, recently featured this 19th News article by Zaria Howell: Experts say Disaster Relief Plans need to Center Women as Hurricane Season Approaches (June 4, 2021).
Likewise, I did not see women’s public authority identified as a major tool in Climate Mobilization’s Victory Plan. (Nor does Climate Mobilization identify women’s public authority as a “remaining section” still to be drafted.) For more on women’s public authority, see one or both of these 2018 blogs featuring Indigenous governance in North America:
— Women’s Authority, Women’s Lives: The ERA or the Great Law of Peace?
— In Case of Constitutional Crisis…Start here: The Great Law of Peace
3. HALF EARTH CONSERVATION
The Half Earth Conservation section in Climate Mobilization’s Victory Plan (p. 87) seems a useful framing for conceptualizing the place of humans vis-a-vis the Earth. Are Cox, Climate Mobilization, etc., familiar with Martin Prechtel’s “roadmap” to a peaceful and sustainable earth, where humans relearn how to serve the renewable web of life, the holy in nature? Here is the outline of Prechtel’s vision.
The Unlikely Peace of Cuchumaquic
The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive
by Martin Prechtel (North Atlantic Books, 2012)
Part IV: Our Agreement with the Holy in Nature (pp. 307-400)
Keeping our Agreement with the Wild — Our Ancient Seed Jars: Finding an Agreement to Keep
Sprout One: There has to be Wild Land, Air, and Sea
Sprout Two: The Veld — Sacred Feral Land
Sprout Three: All Origins Must be Known — Where the Seeds Go, so the Agreement Must Go
Sprout Four: When the People Marry, the Seeds Marry
Sprout Five: Kneel at the Feet of the Mother of the Food You Eat and Ask Her to Adopt You
Sprout Six: Beautiful Farming
Sprout Seven: A Temple Called a Field
Sprout Eight: The Majesty of Decay
Sprout Nine: The Body of the Plants City
Sprout Ten: Offerings– Farmers as the Jewelers of Vitality
Sprout Eleven: Kiss your Pumpkins–Sacred Pantry Temples
Sprout Twelve: Learning to live Beyond Our Time — The Dead Must Feed the Living
D. LIVABILITY, LIBERATION, & THE POWER OF FOOD
Dave Kraft’s question during the webinar was a good one, largely because climate activists have focused on “objective” science and logical argument over and above more “subjective” storytelling and human self-interest. A corollary to his question might be, “How do we get more people’s attention (in order to make a clear plan and implement it before it’s too late)?”
Action-wise that might mean:
— Broadcasting and discussing the Akwesasne quote about the connection between LIBERTY (freedom) and CLIMATE RENEWABILITY (sustainability)
— Talking more about the sacred and the holy in food and farming, especially from a cultural perspective — growing, preparing, and eating food in community.
— Talking more about real democracy in terms of real people’s real lives — reliable access to food, money, housing, health care, education, and land.
The good news is that this September, Food Policy Networks at the Center for a Livable Future is hosting the first-ever national conference for food policy councils (FPCs). The forum is titled: The Power of Food — Cultivating equitable policy through collection action.
Whatever the Green New Deal finally looks like — if indeed it’s a comprehensive plan that matches the moment — I suggest that FPCs would be natural coordinating bodies for implementing the plan and sustaining the results, long into an Earth-loving future.
The Power of Food: September 2021 conference in Kansas City, MO
Power of Food — Cultivating equitable policy through collective action
Here’s a historical snapshot of the power of food combined with the power of real democracy:
— Thirty-nine years ago (1982), the first food policy council (FPC) was created. The Knoxville FPC still exists, along with hundreds of other FPCs across North America. Here’s the FPC map for 2020.
— Thirty-six years ago the first Farm Aid concert was held on Sept. 22, 1985 in Champaign, Illinois, a date that I use to mark the beginning of the farmer-consumer, rural-urban coalition that turned into the “local food” movement.
— Fourteen years ago (2007) I started counting women at food & farm policy events. It’s no accident that 70-80% of the people leading FPCs and the U.S. food & farm movement are women.
— Last year, 2020, the COVID pandemic revealed the value of the local food movement, of the components that had been taking root in every community (farmers markets, farm-to-school programs, community gardens, urban farms, seed saving, grocery co-ops, compost projects, etc.) and the networks that had been formed (listservs, food policy councils, food plans, etc.). When food shortages and other supply chain disruptions started (March-May 2020), FPCs and other local food activists were able to move into action immediately, calming officials and voters alike.
— This year — 2021 — I expect that The Power of Food conference will produce awesome conversations, networking, action items, and policy initiatives. We know what’s at stake, we know what needs to be done, and we know who needs to do it. FPCs and FPC-like groups can be found all over the country and all are welcome to attend. There are 311 FPCs listed in the on-line directory, but I can confirm that more and more U.S. groups look like (food & farm), talk like (public policy), and act like (real democracy) food policy councils.
If you can’t make the conference, join the Food Policy Networks listserv and check out other FPN resources.
— Food Sovereignty in the USA: A Selection of Stories
U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance
14 pages, a short selection of representative stories + short videos
— Building Community Food Webs
New book by Ken Meter, Crossroads Resource Center (MN)
Civil Eats interview by Nancy Matsumoto
Ken has done “local food” assessments all over U.S. (including central Illinois).
This book synthesizes decades of field work. Very accessible writing.