28 July 2013

Grass Roots Action

Pittsburgh Environmentalists 12.0’s (PE12.0) events have been well attended, engaging, and effective at fostering deep social connections rapidly. Our diverse group of event participants were asked to think about three things that they have personally done or are thinking about doing to reduce their carbon emissions prior to our first meeting.  

At the first event I shared with the group my joy in knowing that there are others out there who share my passion for the environment and willingness to become more active in working to reduce carbon emissions. The event began with a brief “meet and greet" and was followed by a short hike. We then sat down at an outdoor café and began our shares over a cool drink beside the beautiful Allegheny River.  As a facilitator my goal is to assist members to connected with each other, to the group as a whole and to share what personally moved them to become members. They were asked what they are doing to reduce their own environmental footprint. The conversation was lively, yet controlled enough to stay on track.  Active listening  and  facilitating techniques helped reveal the following:

Short list of things our group members have done in the past year to reduce carbon footprint:

1. Exploring sustainable construction methods such as “Earth Bag” construction.
2. Driving an efficient electric car, motorcycle bicycling or walking.
3. Organic gardening and permaculture restoration.
4. Joining non-profits that promote sustainability of the earth’s resources such as the Sierra Club.
5. Downsizing and moving closer to work to reduce carbon emissions and increase time outside as we walk or bike to work.
6. Continuing education in the fields of sustainability, environmental science, etc.
7. Becoming more self-sufficient and less reliant on modern conveniences and consumer driven lifestyle.
8. Exploring possible sociological connections between the disconnect with nature and greater societal problems.
9. Using social media to share with friends new ideas we have to live sustainably, reduce toxins and shrink our carbon footprint.
10. Bringing sustainability into our workplaces by finding alternatives to harmful, wasteful and unsustainable tools and habits.

I began to develop a short list of action projects that the group expressed interest in initiating. Our meeting offered several ideas and I posted a discussion online to generate more ideas from group members who were unable to attend. My goal is to gather this list prior to the next meeting where we will will prioritize the ideas into 2-3 initial action initiatives.

1. It was suggested that the group present an educational presentation at the upcoming (Sept 6-8) Pittsburgh Encounter to be held at the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning.
2. It was suggested that the group might be interested in working to combat mountain top removal. Several of the group members are also members of the local chapter of the Sierra Club where this as a major issue on their agenda; this connection may provide some local opportunities to act.
3. GMO was mentioned at the meeting. The group is interested in developing a list of resources where folks can find non-GMO food items in our area.
4. We also discussed developing a public school presentation on Climate Change. This could be piloted at a local school that one of our members has a relationship with.
5. A bike collection, repair and distribution project was suggested; we would collect unwanted or broken bikes, repair them and distribute them free to inner city kids.

Finally we discussed the “Challenges to Change.” As I just shared, change is largely an inside job. I shared with the group that I have been personally examining my own roadblocks to change and actions. This process is not only is self-revealing, but also enlightens me to the internal roadblocks that may be in place within those I want to reach.

Here is a list of challenges or roadblocks to change that our group came up with:

• Convenience
• Disinformation: active effort to dis-inform
• Incentives are not there for change
• Inertia (or lack thereof)
• Lack of Community
• Structure of Society
• Consumerism
• Lack of Nostalgia: forgetting the shoulders that we stand on
• Lack of feeling of personal responsibility
• Feeling that others will offer technological advances to deal with major problems
• Feeling of being seen as not sophisticated and social pressures to just fit in with the norm

The question was asked: How do we translate the mission of PE12.0 to a larger audience? Here are some ideas we came up with:

1. Governmental Actions: Taking actions such as calling community groups, speaking with local representatives , polling, lobbying
2. Write letters to the editor on one topic from different viewpoints to reach more people.

Three references were shared and recommended at the meeting:
Documentary: “Who Killed the Electric Car”
Documentary: “King Corn”
Book: “They Fired the First Shot 2012”

I have been posting discussions on the page in order to generate social interaction. I have also asked other members to post discussion topics, and directly requested that several members become more involved as a “Changemakers.” I reached out to two members that expressed interest at the first meeting in working on social media and educational programs are now more active and we are moving into the Transitional stage.

Feedback from the Meetups have been channeled back into future Meetups, for example it was revealed that one of our members is not comfortable with the walking portion of our events. The events have options now for those who are not able to walk; they “meet up” at the café.

The key decisions that have to be made by our Meetup thus far that are important to the project success are:
1.      Group members expressed unanimously that they want the meetup to perform real actions and not just talk about climate change.
2.      The group is moving towards solidifying 2-3 action items that will be our first victories, and is jumping right in to begin the actions. An example of this is one member posted in our discussion forum that there is an opportunity on August 3rd to volunteer or participate in Pittsburgh’s “ReuseFest,” a one day collection and educational event focused on the importance of material reuse. A meetup is being formed by this meetup member for volunteering at the event. Volunteers will:
• Participate in a brief training session prior to the start of the event
• Perform tasks such as set up, directing traffic, handing out educational materials, unloading vehicles

The decision making processes relevant to making this project a success is grass roots community participation.  This bottom up organizational structure allows for members to initiate projects and group discussions.  My role in the project is as active listener and facilitator.  Uncertainties regarding the project are:
1.      Will the Meetup continue to gain momentum
2.      Will members continue to step up into leadership roles
3.      Can our Meetup eventually transition into a more “formal” community organization and would this be beneficial

Our membership mix includes members with diverse skillsets that include marketing, social media, community activism, environmentalism, art, teaching, and gardening. Many of our members already are active in community activism, environmental groups and eco businesses. These connections offer opportunities for the group to extend reach into the community.

One of the members offered to introduce me to the founder of a local group that successfully translated from a grass roots group into a formal not for profit statewide organization.  While the project initially requires a lot of time and expertise in social marketing and there are no initial costs involved with the actions that I have discussed above.  I am confident that we are on the right track and feel energized to move forward.  Thanks for being a part of the process.

19 July 2013

The Thousand Mile Challenge

"A thousand mile journey begins with a single step". (Tao Te Ching, 604 B.C.) The intent of this statement seems fairly clear. Simply stated, no matter how large the task, no matter how far, how big, how insurmountable something seems, it always starts with the first step. When something seems impossible, insurmountable or undoable, we can make a decision to embark, concentrate on the present, and take the first step. By breaking challenges in tiny doable tasks, change is possible. The ultimate challenge is in making the decision to take that first step. 

The challenge to becoming a “Changemaker” is largely an inside job.  Our “big assumptions” about ourselves and others condition us to avoid vulnerable situations and what we may view as insurmountable challenges.  We therefore proceed defensively, never aware of the underlying fears that keep us from committing fully to action. There are, however, ways to become more mindful of these unconscious, hard-wired drivers of behavior.  And with knowledge comes power.

What are the major underlying roadblocks to action?  I’ll share with you my personal roadblocks (Feeling vulnerability here).  Two major competing commitments that I’m feeling as I proceed forward with the 12 Steps to Green Program (new working title) are:

  • A personal commitment to being well-prepared for my challenges. I am a self-starter and am also very self-reliant.  I can also be pretty tough on myself when I do not meet my own expectations.   I therefore have an unconscious need to have all of my “ducks in a row” before embarking on that thousand mile journey. It seems silly now that I see it in writing, as it’s impossible to be fully prepared for a challenge. If I wait until I feel fully prepared, I will never take that first step.
  • I have a personal commitment to maintaining balance in life.  This is certainly healthy, however it can prohibit me from taking that first step.  I am afraid of overcommitting and feeling overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed can lead to negative consequences such as burn out. Lack of balance in my life can also lead to feelings of frustration, inability to act (deer in the headlights), and depression. 

How can the self-knowledge of my subconscious fears help me plough through?  Of course I am not trying to build Rome single-handedly in one day.  If I embark on the small steps and share the journey with a community of travelers, willing to share the load, I can maintain balance. It will also make the journey more FUN!

Others that share a stake in the outcome of a challenge also proceed into the journey with their own “Big Assumptions.”  Understanding that others are also hard-wired with fears and competing commitments enables you to better support them in their journey, just as they support you.  By actively listening, a diverse group sharing a common goal can work together to understand one another’s vulnerabilities and provide a more supportive and “safe” environment.

An example of this concept in action might be a situation where you invite several guests to a party who do not know anyone else at the party.  It would be important to help these guests feel at home by learning about them, introducing them to other guests that share commonalities and checking back to ensure that these guests feel comfortable and are enjoying themselves. It seems simple, however when the concept applies to big challenges, we are often so caught up in the end game that we forget that there are little steps and a community that come first.

Establishing supportive partnerships between community members (just like when you connect those folks at your party) is a great way to build a solid working community.  It’s being present in the dialog, respectively listening, asking for clarification and supporting one another's thought process. By asking questions that can support progress you can lend support of the individual community members.  

When we look at the enormous challenges ahead of us as we search for ways to mitigate climate change and adapt to these changes, that inside job seems insignificant. Self-examination reveals that change begins as an inside job; know thyself!

08 July 2013

Carbon Recovery 12.0

Recent reports have shown that climate change is occurring faster than scientific estimates had predicted. Despite repeated warnings over the past 50 years we have not managed to curb our addiction to carbon. In fact we have barely started to take any real action. In the next several weeks I will be developing and sharing with you a 12 Step Carbon Recovery Program.  Like so many things in life, most of us have to hit bottom before we are ready to make real life changes. Will hitting bottom require us to go through major environmental crisis or can we take charge of our own carbon addiction after careful scrutiny of our carbon footprint?

Thomas Berry coined the term Ecozoic Era for the challenging era we are confronted with as a result of our addiction to the burning of fossil fuels. Berry compares the current climate change challenge before us with Earth’s two greatest mass extinction eras: the Paleozoic Era and the Mesozoic Era, and proposes that a “degraded earth produces degraded people.”  We are challenged to take personal responsibility in climate change and enact positive changes that will contribute toward mitigation of, and adaptation to this new climate.

This is me enjoying nature at Big Bear, California.
I have decided to step up and make personal changes in my life that will lessen my carbon footprint and to reconnect with the natural world.  These changes are not simply a matter of acting on a minor scale by recycling, carrying my reusable coffee mug to Starbucks and turning off the lights as I leave the room. It’s time to make a more personal systemic change to act mindfully in mitigating climate change.

I have chosen the 12 step recovery framework as developed by successful addiction recovery groups to model the Carbon Recovery 12.0 Program. The steps will include coming to realization about the depth and breadth of carbon addiction, reconnecting with the environment, taking a carbon footprint inventory, identifying who, what, when, where and how carbon addiction causes harm, making amends in real ways through mindful systemic change, and spreading the word through local “Meetups”, social media sharing of personal stories, and starting local 12.0 groups. Intervention will also be touched on as a way to push heavy carbon users and climate change deniers towards taking a real look at the scientific evidence that unequivocally shows that burning fossil fuels is the major contributor to current changes in our environment.

This week I will share the first three steps along with my own personal journey.  Please also join the new Meetup, Pittsburgh Environmentalist 12.0, to participate in the program and check back in the next weeks as the journey continues. I will begin at a grass root level with a website and will employ social media to build base support. This program is being offered as a pilot project to local environmental organizations and civic groups of which I am an active member. I encourage you to go through this process with me, or simply follow my journey.

Step One:  We admitted that we were addicted to carbon-based energy and our lives have become un-sustainable.

When I read the latest report on the state of global warming I have to admit that my first and second emotions were fear and helplessness.  How can one person make a dent in the major climate change issues our world now faces?  It feels rather akin to attempting to turn back the hands of time; an impossible task.  But once the deer in the headlights stage passed, I began to pull up my bootstraps.  I began to look at my personal contributions on a daily basis to the problem; I saw that just like the layers of an onion, my own mindless carbon addictions are multi-layered. Once I peeled one layer back, I exposed yet another.  I can see that I am living as a “taker” on this earth, and as Ishmael wrote so insightfully, "The Takers' story is 'The world belongs to man.' ...The Leavers' story is 'Man belongs to the world.'".  How often have I thought to myself, "I am running late, and although I had planned to walk or bike to my next appointment, I will have to drive in order to be on time?"  These cop outs do not allow me to take personal responsibility for my footprint. 

Step Two:  Came to believe that Mother Nature will continue to provide for us on planet Earth if we learn to walk lightly again.

When I look at scientific evidence of evolution, it is clear that living beings can adapt to environmental changes IF those changes occur slowly over time. The Gaia Theory, developed by James Lovelock proposes that all living organisms and the inorganic environment evolved together as a single living system and the interconnectivity of these greatly affects the chemistry and conditions of Earth. Earths ecosystem is intricate, balanced, and malleable; when humans tilt the weight too heavily in their direction, all of the other elements on Earth tilt, too. Isn’t it time to return to a balanced harmony with our environment?  This is the essence of sustainability:  to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the Brundtland Commission).

Step Three:  Made a personal daily pledge to walk lightly in harmony with Mother Nature.

So I have decided to make personal changes in my life that will lessen my carbon footprint and pass on this idea to others. How can I maintain these changes over time?  I see that it will take a daily commitment to be more mindful. I will also have to connect with Nature on a daily basis.  “The Natural Wildlife Federation” suggests that everyone get outside for an hour a day through its One Green Hour program. This seems so simple, and the benefits of an hour outside are so great.

Evolving a relationship with nature reconnects us to the natural world.  Environmentalist Aldo Leopold wrote about the mind, nature, body connection in his 1940 publication, A Sand County Almanac. “A land ethic … reflects the existence of an ecological conscience,” he wrote, continuing, “This in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land.”

Thank you for joining me on this journey and I look forward to your feedback.


Berry, Thomas, The Ecozoic Era,Eleventh Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures
October 1991, Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Quinn, Daniel, Ishmael: An Adventure of Mind and Spirit, 1992, Bantam Turner Books, USA.

World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, 1987, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Leopold, Aldo, Sand County Almanac, 1949, Oxford University Press, New York.