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.
Basic Call to Consciousness, p. 123
ed., Akwesasne Notes, 2005
Evanston political groups
Evanston activists in my networks
Residents of my neighborhood (Nichols Neighbors)
Some non-Evanston voters with Evanston connections & interests
CONTENTS— April 21, 2021
A. ELECTION NIGHT— April 6, 2021
1. The 2020-21 Election Season in Evanston
2. Climate Destruction and Mitigation as an Evanston Election Issue
3. Climate Positions of Candidates & Voters
C. POST-ELECTION THOUGHTS:Dream analysis and Twitter Tips
1. The Day After — Bright Green Lies 2. Two Days Later — Litterati
D. NEXT STEPS:The only question left to ask
ABOUT this newsletter
Once or twice a month I try to put out an informal newsletter about current Evanston issues customized for people and groups in my networks. I try to:
—provide practical information to facilitate participation in our public processes
—connect local actions & issues to larger jurisdictions—county, state, regional (Midwest), national, world
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A. ELECTION NIGHT — April 6, 2021
Even though I’m retired from professional gardening, I still keep gardener’s hours. When the local election results were delayed on election night, I had a hard time staying awake. But there was a lot at stake in this election. Finally, at 10:00 PM, the results started coming in and I soon went to bed.
At 11:15 PM, less than 90 minutes later, I woke up to a surprising dream: Three officials—men in good looking suits, possibly Congressmen — were testifying at a public hearing. As each was called to testify, they each broke down in tears, apologizing for their stance on climate change and climate mitigation. They regretted not listening to the multi-faceted, frontline, community, earth-based approach and, instead, had fallen for the mono-goal of “all renewable energy, all the time” approach in the belief that we could maintain our consumption level and spoiled lifestyle. Now, according to the dream, it seemed to be too late. The Congressmen were in deep regret and grief.
I took that dream as a sign that I needed to do more and say more about — Evanston’s sustainability program (climate action plan)— environmental programs in the U.S.
This blog is my next step, to do more and say more.
First some B. BACKGROUND:
1. Evanston’s 2020-21 elections
2. Climate destruction and mitigation as an Evanston election issue
3. Climate positions of candidates and voters
Or go directly to C. POST-ELECTION THOUGHTS or D. NEXT STEPS.
1. The 2020-21 Election Season in Evanston
It had been a hopeful local election season overlapping with the nation’s rejection of a second Trump term. Many new candidates were running for local office, in addition to most of the incumbents, including all of the long-time incumbents. This added up to crowded fields, requiring primaries in four races (including my ward, the 4th).
It was also a tense election season because the reason for so many candidates was distrust by many voters of City decision-makers. This distrust seemed to play out vis-a-vis:
(a) officials who didn’t seem to know what real democracy is
(b) a city government who had 1,001 ways to say no***
(c) long-term incumbents who had become too invested in their own identity as Council members (to the detriment of their own growth as humans and to the core of democracy—shared power).
***Thank you, Steve Perkins (founder of Network for Evanston’s Future, co-founder of Citizens Greener Evanston), for that description.
2. Climate Destruction and Mitigation as an Evanston Election Issue
Going into election season in Sept. 2020, Evanston’s climate plan and strategy were already on my radar. I had watched as Evanston had written four climate plans (2008-17), declared goals reached with no apparent changes in our lives, with everything just business as usual.
Since moving to Evanston in 1976, I had been active in various community affairs, but I always considered the environmental issue my primary one. For a variety of reasons, however, I had missed the opportunity to be directly involved with writing the first four climate plans (Evanston’s Climate Action Accomplishment Timeline):
— In 2007-10, when the first plan was written, adopted, and implementation begun, I was coordinating a state task force charged with drafting an Illinois-wide food & farm plan. The landmark initiative, a statewide rural-urban coalition (Illinois Food, Farms and Jobs Act), had been sponsored by Evanston’s State Rep., Julie Hamos, and had passed unanimously. The plan, Local Food, Farms and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy, was adopted by the State of Illinois in 2009 and remains one of my proudest personal accomplishments.
— In 2011, when Evanston’s 2008 climate plan was updated, I was reeling from (a) the “great” recession, having been cheated by food & farm “justice” colleagues out of $30,000-50,000, (b) the discovery that most of my food & farm colleagues knew little about good public process, (c) the shock that most Americans — including my neighbors, friends, family, and colleagues — did not seem to care about real democracy in their everyday lives.
— In 2014, when the third climate plan (Evanston Livability Plan) was adopted, I was dealing with (a) my financial collapse (selling my house in 2015), and (b) learning about the deeper causes of climate destruction — our money & banking system, our “second-rate” democracy, our hypocrisy, our patriarchal and white supremacist institutions, our “words” before “things” educational system.
— In 2017, when Evanston elected a new mayor — a businessman with no elected experience who admitted “buying” the election because he needed name recognition — I knew we were in for a bumpy four years. But, like many U.S. voters, I was momentarily concentrating on dealing with Donald Trump as our newly elected president. I didn’t know that one of the first things our new mayor would do was to push through a fourth climate plan written in consultant-speak.
3. Climate Positions of Candidates & Voters
By the time campaign season rolled around in Fall 2020, I was pleased to learn that our corporate mayor had decided not to run. This made it easier to make updating and rewriting the consultant-speak plan an election issue, which I did with every candidate I met.
Mostly I got involved in the elections by watching numerous forums and interviews, reading candidates websites (positions, endorsements), and reading organizational endorsements. I also published my own five “pop-up newsletters” (January-March). In my newsletters, I tried to be practical, highlighting issues, highlighting new political organizations, and trying to connect our hyper-local issues to events at the county, state, national, and/or global levels.
One of my earlier newsletters had cautioned my fellow voters that a suburb of 75,000 people cannot alone solve the problems caused at the larger levels. Knowing this, I tried not to be too personally invested in the local elections — either issues or candidates for 18 offices (Mayor, City Clerk, 9 Council seats, 4 Dist. 65 school board seats, 3 Dist. 202 school board seats).
The climate issue, especially, is a global one. But in my last newsletter before the election (March 27) I focused on my concerns about Evanston’s climate plans:
Like most U.S. climate change plans and policies, Evanston’s discussions have been dominated by advocates of renewable energy, to the exclusion or lesser prioritizing of everything else — energy conservation, monetary and banking reform, local foods, living skills education, reversing decades of desertification, human self-care (slowing down, changing our collective lifestyle), and democracy.
(For anyone who wants to think more deeply about the domination of renewable energy in U.S. climate conversations, I recommend watching the 2020 documentary Planet of the Humans, by Jeff Gibbs and Ozzie Zehner, a former visiting scholar at Northwestern U. People may know the film better by the fact that Michael Moore was the Executive Producer and that the film was temporarily removed from YouTube based on specious complaints by people whose $$$$ investment in renewable energies would and should be affected. Moore, however, was not the director, writer, etc.)
Many candidates did cite the need to update Evanston’s climate plan. Unfortunately, during the campaigns, I did not hear any candidate (a) caution about emphasizing renewable energy too much or (b) prioritize lifestyle, cultural, or consciousness shifts. Nor did I hear any other voter or organization address those issues.
Hence my dream about the three Congressmen sobbing from regret. My personal takeaway is that, even though the weeping officials were federal ones, climate issues playing out at the hyper-local level were now stressful and urgent enough to wake me up in the middle of the night.
C. POST-ELECTION THOUGHTS:
Dream analysis and Twitter Tips
1. The Day After — Bright Green Lies
In the light of day, I thought of my dream. The day after the election, I wondered: What more could I do on the local level?
I looked back at my 43+ years in Evanston. What more could I have done? I had already lived most of my adult years with a relatively small carbon footprint: no car (bicycle + cart instead), laundry rack (instead of dryer), minimal electric appliances, no cosmetics, unprocessed foods, professional gardener (25 years), food & farm policy (last 15 years), recycling, composting. Evanston had proven to be a good place to live during the transition from over-production and over-consumption promoted by an oligarchy to a more human-powered cooperative for the benefit of all — public transit, tree city, farmers markets, environmental activists and groups of all kinds (EEA, NEF, CGE).
But the fact that the City of Evanston has been able to reach its climate goals without any noticeable lifestyle changes indicates, to me, (a) how much lard was in our economy—how much we were over-using or wasting, and/or (b) how much we might, even now, be shifting the burden of climate accommodation — i.e., resilience — to others.
I wondered about contacting Ozzie Zehner, the producer of Planet of the Humans, who had been a visiting scholar at Northwestern University. I wondered if he had been involved in one of Evanston’s climate action plans or with Citizens Greener Evanston. I didn’t actually know when he’d been at NU. I was grasping at straws when, on the morning of April 7, 2021, I decided to check Zehner’s latest Tweets.
Staring me in the face near the top of his timeline, was a new book co-authored by one of my favorite environmental authors, Derrick Jensen, of Deep Green Resistance. The book had launched on March 16, 2021, a few weeks before Evanston’s election. A documentary with the same title — Bright Green Lies — is scheduled to premiere on Earth Day, April 22.
I immediately watched the launch video, 2+ hours of moderated discussion with the three authors and Q&A with the audience. Basically the book fleshes out what POTH had posed and what I had long been questioning about Evanston’s successive climate plans (and successive announcements about having reached “our” goals): an environmental movement that promotes the monoculture of renewable energies in the framework of industrial capitalism over and above the protection of own land and other people’s lands is a movement that has “lost it way”.
2. Two Days Later — Litterati the App
But what is the right way? More to the point, what is the right way for me, what can I do, here in Evanston, in 2021? Once again, Twitter answered the call.
Frustrated by the lack of Twitter action by Evanston voters (who seem to prefer Facebook), on April 8, 2021 (two days after the election) I started to dig deeper. Who else in Evanston was active on Twitter? Were any active Twitter accounts connected to climate activism?
Deep down in the timeline of the Evanston Environmental Assn. — Evanston’s first climate organization, going back to the late 1970s — was a February 2021 Tweet of a Treehugger article: Picking up litter? There’s an app for that! Check out how the Litterati app is being used to make “litter maps” that influence policy and packaging design.
Here’s how the Litterati app works: Walk outside, find a piece of litter, document it with a cell phone camera, app automatically geo-tags the image, discard litter properly (bag, can, etc.), share. The minute I read about it, I recognized it as a template for my LAND WALKS for K-12: Homeschooling & Remote Learning in the 2020-21 Pandemic curriculum proposal.***
The purpose of a Land Walk curriculum is to enable students to connect directly with the land, wherever they live — rural, suburban, urban — and to learn directly from the land —their homeland — first, instead of from books, computers, and lectures first. The impetus for the Land Walk curriculum is my lifelong experience of urban and suburban people being disconnected from the weather, from plants, from the soil, from the source of our food and our health. With 70% of U.S. population living in cities and suburbs, divorced from the land, it’s no wonder that bad decisions are made about land use, climate chaos, biodiversity, etc. My recent essay, Urban Soils, Urban Consciousness describes the problem and a solution.***
The Litterati app showed me the template for the tool to implement the solution: documenting details of the land at an individual level (yard, parkway, park, neighborhood) and aggregating the data by block, neighborhood, class, ward, school district, municipality, etc.
***Since I first posted my LAND WALKS blog, I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback. No one has taken me up on the idea (so far as I know), so I’ve also posted an alternative version REGENERATING U.S. FARMLAND: K-12 Land Walk Curriculum — How to be an organic certifier (March 2021).
***Urban Soils, Urban Consciousness (thinking like an agroecologist), is on p. 375 of the latest New Farmers Almanac (Volume V: Grand Land Plan). Or read an older version in my blog: LEAVE THE LEAVES: Urban Soils, Urban Consciousness (April 2020).
D. NEXT STEPS: The only question left to ask
It’s now two weeks after Evanston’s election. The new Council will be sworn in on May 10. Although I now have some direction, I’m not quite sure what my next steps are.
I do know I’ll be promoting Bright Green Lies:
— Book launch video w/ the three authors, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Max Wilbert
— End the Greenwashing live fundraiser (video, 3 hours, April 17, 2021)
— Documentary by Julia Barnes premieres April 22, 2021 (Bright Green Lies: Clean Energy has a Dirty Secret)
I do know that I’m more committed than ever to restoring our soils — on the planet, in North America, in the U.S., in the Midwest, in Illinois, in Evanston. But in terms of implementing my Land Walk idea, my next steps are still unclear:
—I need the app but I don’t even own a smart phone (I don’t even want one)
—How to engage with Evanston students, other U.S. students, K-12 teachers, school districts, parents
—How to pay my next month’s rent
At the age of 70, I agree with the authors of Bright Green Lies. The only question worth asking in 2021 is: How do we restore our land base — the soil, biodiversity (including ourselves), the web of life? Cutting down forests (biomass), destroying farmland (biofuels), and blowing up mountains (wind, mining) for “renewable” energy isn’t the answer.
Suggestions and resources are welcome.
To keep my eyes on the goal and keep my inspiration up, I’ll try to finish reading the latest New Farmers Almanac published by the Greenhorns. Volume V is described as “an antidote to the repeating story of helplessness in the face of climo-politico-econo-corona-chaos” — revisioning the “future of food systems and land use” — the Grand Land Plan.
I’ll end this blog with the Greenhorns’ description of focusing on the land instead of concentrating on renewable energy capitalism:
The solutions unfurl before us. First, recovery: farmers and food networks reflect on local resiliency and logistics from the time of COVID-19. Next, resistance: we invite readers to consider arguments for land reform, for the localization of food systems, for policy change in the forest and on the farm, for solidarity and sovereignty. We share reporting on restoration projects, from interstate roadsides to intertidal zones to our civic institutions. There are lessons from honeybees. Designs for the seaweed commons and for sanctuary. Together, these thinkers turn their—and our—attention to the long future.