The 2,000 year-old practice of making biochar converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and increase soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.
Mothers Out Front, a Cambridge-based organization with community teams in five states, educates and trains mothers and supporters to advocate and act for a “swift, just and complete” transition to renewable energy. Not a few Cambridge members have gone on to play roles in the growing national movement grappling with climate change through “grassroots organizing, personal and collective action, and a focus on shifting policy.” We caught up with Mothers Out Front Cambridge Community Team Co-Coordinators Zeyneb Magavi (right) and Leslie Bliss (left) at a city park recently. Magavi,a graduate student, has three daughters 12, 11, and 6. Bliss, an educator, also has three daughters, 24, 23, and 21.
1. What makes Mothers out Front different from other organizations working on the global warming issue?
Bliss: Since we’re building a grassroots national movement, there’s an emphasis on empowering others and creating leaders.
Magavi: Well, it’s run by women and it’s not hierarchical.
Bliss: We spend time building relationships with each other—within community teams, and with other Mothers Out Front in the state, across the country, and with allies. We give importance to taking the time to listen, connect, and respect.
Another difference is that we are focused on fossil fuel policies as an ethical choice. Environmental organizations have focused, in past years, on love of nature, on trees, etc.; others focus on the science of climate change. These are important, but Mothers Out Front has a very human focus.
Magavi: Mothers Out Front is based on a moral directive—that it is immoral to ruin the climate for our children’s future.
2. What have you told your daughters about climate change and how have they reacted?
Bliss: My kids have heard a lot of talk about it at home and are very aware of climate change. We were chatting with one of our daughters, who dreams of becoming an apple farmer. My husband reminded her that she’d have to look even farther north than New England to be able to do that. Our daughters have been part of mitigating our reliance on fossil fuels in the household.
Magavi: I think of discussing climate change with children the way any parent deals with any other parenting problem. It needs to be developmentally appropriate. My oldest two know the “big picture scary part” of climate change. My youngest (6) and I haven’t yet discussed it directly. The first step is to learn to love nature, understand how it works and that is a system. Once you understand that it’s a system, that you can understand more clearly how it can be disrupted by human activity.
Also, if you present a problem along with information about an action to address the problem, it avoids the anxiety in young kids. My middle daughter got really worried for a while. I brought her to a march, and her worry went away because she had done something about climate change and saw that other people are working hard on the problem. We’re giving them hope.
Bliss: At one point I was gathering postcards and sending them to Governor Baker. My daughter stepped up and said, “Oh, I’ll do that, too, mom.” This sort of thing creates a jumping off point, where you can connect and have a conversation about actions we can take.
3. How do you see the relationship between Black Lives Matter and Climate Activism?
Magavi: Both movements fight injustice. Often the infrastructure for fossil fuels extraction and delivery goes geographically through disadvantaged communities. If you step back in time and think of colonialism and the extraction of resources it involved, you can see a parallel, that the fossil fuel economy is being played out in a class way.
I’ve read a paper spelling out how inequity is the root cause of climate disruption. The main idea is that only from inequity and huge gap between haves and have nots can you get the kind of extraction and consumption of natural resources that has driven climate change.
Black Lives Matter UK recently had a sit-in at the London City airport (editor’s note: The airport is slated for expansion into adjacent neighborhoods). They were drawing attention to the fact that it’s the wealthy who fly in those airplanes, and it’s the front-line communities and the poor who suffer the most as a result of the environmental effects of the air travel industry.
Bliss: The No-DAPL movement is a recent example I’ve seen that’s really taken fire, highlighting the connection between injustice based on race and injustice based on climate.(Editor’s note: The “Dakota Access” Pipeline (DAPL) is a fracked-gas pipeline that will stretch from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields through Lakota Treaty Territory and underneath the Missouri River, to Peoria, Illinois).
4. What does being part of Mothers Out Front mean to you personally?
Bliss: We’re pragmatic and get things done one step at a time—that’s how parenting is, too.
I’ve come to know know I’m not alone in being concerned about this. I have built strong relationships with other women in Mothers Out Front who are part of our Cambridge team. This has been deeply motivating and reassuring.
Magavi: I would second that. I would also say what’s been inspiring is the strength and brilliance of the women in the group. The way we work is so low stress. We work collaboratively —it’s a pleasure. It means a lot to me to take action on climate change through Mothers Out Front because it turns worry into a positive, meaningful action.
5. What does a member do? Can people who aren’t mothers join ?
Magavi: With Mothers Out Front, you can participate at any capacity you are able to do—from ‘liking’ the Mothers Out Front Facebook page to volunteering at a table at a community event. You can volunteer when you have free time, and then not, when you don’t. We’re mothers, so we understand about time constraints.
Bliss: Also—we are mothers, grandmothers, and allies. Anyone of any gender with or without children, can show up at events and support us. The organization is women-run (no man can be in a leadership role). We have people who say, “I have nephews and nieces, so I am very concerned about climate change because of them.” Or, “I’m a caregiver, and I’m very concerned.”
On Saturday, October 1, Cambridge’s Climate Congress opens at City Hall. The purpose is to articulate a vision of “climate citizenship.” The concept of climate citizenship is reviewed in this FAQ regarding the Climate Congress, which also spells out the role of delegates and other kinds of participation open to the public:
“The bare minimum requirements to be a delegate are that you are able to attend the opening (Saturday, Oct 1) (or commit to viewing the video recording ASAP) and closing sessions (Saturday, Nov 12), and participate in at least one weekly evening discussion (usually Wednesday evenings). That said, we understand that not everyone can make that time commitment, so you are not automatically ineligible if you can’t. Individuals can be delegates, and youth and children (the latter with parent’s guidance) are allowed as delegates.”
For full information visit the Green Cambridge site, from which the agenda and information below is drawn.
In the post below, I alluded to the long history of the floodplain forest which is likely to be cut down shortly, but I agree with those who have gently suggested I had not effectively pointed readers in the right direction for further information. The Friends of Alewife (FAR) maintains a web site which is the first place to stop to get more information, follow the campaign, and find ways to support the integrity of the parcel. It can be found at friendsofalewifereservation.org. Friends of Alewife also posts on Twitter and Facebook.Indeed, FAR has been the leader in defending the 15 acres owned by O’Neill Properties in Belmont, Arlington, and Cambridge (3 acres in Cambridge, to be precise) from habitat destruction and development, notwithstanding the good efforts of other neighbors and organizations such as Green Cambridge, the Belmont Citizens’ Forum, and theCoalition to Preserve the Belmont Uplands. In addition to these organizations’ sites, further information and a petition is also posted on a site compiled by Cambridge lawyer Mike Connolly, silvermapleforest.org.Meanwhile, the meeting described below, between Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi and his counterparts in Arlington and Belmont, has been scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, August 7, at Cambridge City Hall. The meeting is not public (see below).
On Monday, July 28th, Cambridge city councillors downshifted a proposed policy order that would have paved the way for an open meeting with Belmont and Arlington regarding an area that has been dubbed the Silver Maple Forest. What’s at stake is storm water management in future flood scenarios and the consequent health, safety, engineering, and local economic issues that depend on decisions made today. The policy order, originally sponsored by City Councillor Dennis Carlone, concerns a parcel of land abutting Alewife Reservation that is due to be cleared of trees by a developer for a nearly 300-unit residence by the end of August. An open meeting proposed in the original order won’t be happening. Instead, Cambridge’s city manager is charged merely to approach his colleagues in the other municipalities regarding a collective effort to stave off the destruction of this critical floodplain forest. There’s a long history of battles over this piece of land. If you care to delve further, see the state’s 2003 master plan for the area. Numerous experts, most recently five professors at Lesley University, have testified in support of the ecological and economic value of the floodplain forest (let’s call it that, in our next breath, after the mellifluous and evocative “Silver Maple Forest”).
If you vote or will vote in Cambridge municipal elections, let your city councillors know that the byzantine history of the Alewife area nor its romantic qualities should put them off wise action on behalf of all of Cambridge’s citizens for generations to come—halting the imminent removal of the regional floodplain forest. The entire city council can be reached via email@example.com. Individual councillors email addresses and phone numbers are available on this page. Thank them for recommending to the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation that the developer be required to prove its proposed construction storm-worthy using up-to-date predictions of extreme precipitation events (More information here).
Tell the Cambridge Community Preservation Committee that you support setting aside funds to purchase the Silver Maple Forest. Friends of the Alewife Reservation has petitioned the Cambridge Community Preservation Committee to set aside funds to help purchase the Silver Maple Forest for conservation land. You can support this effort by emailing Karen Preval (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Committee chair Lisa Peterson (email@example.com) to say you value this unique floodplain forest and support the committee setting aside funds.Emails must be received by August 5th.
Stay in touch with the Friends of Alewife on its “news and events” page. The public may accompany wildlife assessor Dave Brown on a walk through the reservation on August 23, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. Future events will also be found at that link.
Owls visited our fair city last weekend and kids were there in droves to see them.
Licensed wildlife rehab maven and Massachusetts resident Patricia Bade (given the punchy name “Owl Woman” by her Penobscot elders before she could say “boo”) brought her un-releasable saw-whet owl and screech owl to Maynard Ecology Center for a family program on Sunday, February 9, 2014. The venerable Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation and the Cambridge Water Department sponsored the visit. Much hootin’ (the three- to seven-year-olds) and hollerin’ (the babes in arms) resounded through the halls of the center, housed in the basement of Neville Place, an assisted living community within spitting distance of Fresh Pond.
Compared to the snowy owl, these species are diminutive. Bade spread her arms to illustrate a snowy’s wingspan—five feet. She’d gotten up close and personal to an injured snowy owl brought to her recently, though it had expired upon arriving her doorstep. “She was magnificent,” reports Bade, who examined the owl afterward.
Snowy owls such as the one Bade examined have appeared in large numbers this year in Greater Boston.
The first consideration in an upswing sightings of any predator (such as the foxes seen in residential areas of North and West Cambridge earlier in the fall) must be the status of their prey population. There are multiple factors, however, behind the snapshot of what’s plentiful and what’s not in a “food web” (think food chains, intersecting) at any given time.
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reported that by late November 2013,
the first wave of owls was making headlines (literally: see this article in the NYT and this article) in even the greatest metropolitan areas of the Northeast. Numerous visuals show the distribution of these movements, and one project has sought to take advantage of this unique opportunity to track the movements of these birds (check out Project SNOWStorm). It appears that a combination of factors may be responsible for this season’s invasion, but the jury is still out as to what is causing this influx. Are these movements the results of an overabundance of rodent prey items in portions of eastern Canada yielding a bumper crop of young Snowy Owls that are dispersing en masse?
Climate is also the elephant in the room.
The Cornell Lab continues,
Or is the movement we are seeing part of a much larger set of changes occurring in the Arctic related to rapidly changing climate?
Whether the elephant is merely in the room examining its cuticles rather than causing tremors we may not know. Science doesn’t allow for leapfrogging, but it does allow for educated guesses, labelled as such.
In her response to an adult asking why so many snowys showed up at Logan Airport this winter, Bade said the landscape there resembled their home turf—the tundra. There’s a little more to the story, however. These tundra mammal-predators, during the period December through April, apparently travel to openings in the Arctic sea-ice to feed on waterfowl, who are in turn using that type of environment because they can feed there. The 2013-2014 “irruption” of Hedwig and her crew at places like Logan, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports may represent a signal departure from that practice, perhaps by necessity rather than by choice.
Put yourself in Hedwig’s shoes, and wonder whether, like the itinerant snowy owls, increasing numbers of humans will need to seek something that “looks like home.” Wonder whether humans will need to take refuge from our coastal cities or our failed fields of plenty. Wonder whether, in the coming decades, human migration by necessity rather than by choice, will be on the upswing. Even if that possibility seems like something you can’t swallow—dystopia doesn’t, admittedly, go down well—keep those snows in the mind’s eye. That complexity, incorporating vast flocks of many species, the worldwide bird migration patterns interdependent on food webs; the operation of those food webs in cities, towns, rural areas—whether in airport, marshland, watershed, or suburb, it behooves adults to try to grasp a piece of this puzzle, and to get our children hootin’ and hollerin’ like owls and coyotes and slithering like snakes in the meantime.
On November 12, 2013, I attended the hearing of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy at which Rep. Lori Ehrlich of the 8th Essex District testified in support of H. 2935. Here’s my Storify record.
Today my twelve-year-old daughter and I joined hundreds of men, women and children at Brayton Point, a coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. We were with Mothers Out Front and 350.org; we were with an angry mother from West Virginia coal country; we were in a community that deserves not to be the seat of protest, but rather the locus of hope that a radical turnaround in the use of fossil fuels could bring.
Indeed, it’s the economic predicament of towns like Somerset and coal towns in Appalachia that seem to give my daughter the most pause.
It’s the feeling of imposing, even intruding, on a community, that made me balk, even as I walked and shouted in view of the plant. There were a few protesters who voiced their support of the Somerset community to the onlookers whom we assumed to be local.
“We want you to have good jobs,”
called out one, passing a teenager with two adults (and a dog) who stared at the procession en route. However weak the delivery, however it may have raised more questions than answers, that sentiment was–is–right. And if it’s not right up front, and backed with deeds, not pledges, then this isn’t a transformation that’s going to have wings. I’ll trade you those for the lead boots of political pandering and the duplicity of coal companies any day.
We’re tired, and a bit dehydrated, but with much more to say later about our experiences. Stay tuned for profiles of some of the people we met in the shadow of the power plant today. Meanwhile, my twitter feed will give you a window on our day of outrage and incredulity that coal still plays a role in our power supply.
Bill McKibben will be speaking in Cambridge on July 21st.
He will be joined by other veteran climate and economic justice activists to discuss the growing fossil fuel resistance movement and a just transition to a green economy All proceeds will support the legal fund of the Summer Heat action at the Brayton Point Coal Plant – http://joinsummerheat.org/massachusetts/.
Funnels—those are what the Brayton Point coal-fired power plant’s cooling towers look like.
The image has run across my screen fleetingly over the past several months. Those concrete twin cylinders are like a little fly in my peripheral vision.
It’s one of a hundred thousand images or more I’ve registered in that time, that is, since I’ve known Brayton Point is the target of Mothers Out Front, 350.org, and others in Massachusetts who want coal-fired plants outta here. The other one that’s stuck in my mind is a six year old’s garrulous, scrawled, ebullient list of observations during a visit to Fresh Pond Reservation. She came in after barely two hours in the simplest of habitats—the littlest bit of only one segment of our watershed here in Cambridge— sat in the circle, and diligently recorded her findings and those of her classmates. The kids ranged in age from four to six. They did not have the adult filters which relegate a goldfinch to the status of wallpaper, the bee to expendable background.
There is no expendable, until you’re taught so.
Thank you for the garrulous, scrawled record of busy animals and a sycamore that can hold a handful of kids in its hollow, little girl whom I shall not name here. Thank you, Mothers Out Front for trying to shut down Brayton Point.
I’m betting some mothers and some six-year–olds in Somerset, Massachusetts—where the funnels are more than just a fly across the visual field—as well as those farther away—none of us expendable—will be better off without a coal-fired plant in our midst.
It’s time for slow this-and-that. Slow Food. Slow Families. Slow Medicine, even.
Unplug. Be in the moment. Pay attention. But to what?
The “movement” to simplify has, in a way, come full circle. I like those nice two-word concepts, above. Actually, two-word concepts is about all I can stomach these days. A life of slogans has an appeal. As I’m getting older (and harder of hearing) a barrage of verbiage isn’t cutting it any more. Leave me alone, garrulous adolescents, repetitive whining little ones, and radio mavens. Even noncommercial radio is turning me off with the pitter-patter of its patter, so I’m turning it off. And online petitions? Here’s the checklist as it exists in the back bar-room of my mind. The list gets the same treatment as any sequence of paragraphs did in my 1979 journalism class—the whole piece has to stand on its own when the bottom paragraphs get lopped off:
Child #1 CHECK
Child #2 CHECK (If there is a third, fourth, and fifth, and so forth, they all get checked off, too)
Spouse (if applicable) CHECK
Making Meals CHECK
Paying Bills CHECK
Laundry NOT SO MUCH
Sleep, Hygiene, Doctor Appts, Downtime—that whole shebang SURE, BUT HIGHLY VARIABLE
Wait a minute, what was that last one? Should that even be on my list at all, even at the bottom?
See, I think, in all of this urgency to be “slow” and to return to the basics, something else basic is missing. Not something, two things.
You can’t be “Slow” if you’re trying to make ends meet.
Not slow in that aged cheese, hand-packed lunch for the kids sort of way, not if getting to work, keeping up with bills or getting work is out of reach.
You can’t be “Slow” if it’s a shortcut to the sidelines.
In Chutes and Ladders, and in Candy Land, you have NO CONTROL over your destiny. Are these the games we want our kids to learn? Because they need to learn the cardinal rule that you have NO CONTROL over whether you get socked with the “Plumpy” second-rate hard candy or end up shacking up with “King Kandy” at the Candy Castle.
I like aged cheese and hand-canning and growing my own parsley just as much as the next person (on the cheese front—maybe more, sorry to say). But as I’m bushwhacking through the vines of parenthood (think Little Shop of Horrors) and feeling sorry for myself way too often for the emotional and physical ramifications of being a “mature mother”—a phrase I never use even in my own head because it’s simply an awful euphemism, but I’ll use it now anyway because SLOW JOURNALISM at this moment means just-in-time-ranting, aka unedited and unexpurgated and the mature mother thing is an epithet—I’m unable to lop off that very last thing with my wicked cool mom-ninja-machete.
That last thing on the list is so—I don’t know, so—overwhelming as to be farcical. It’s like World Peace. Yeah, I’m going to work for world peace—by grabbing my kids who are screaming and trying to maim each other over something someone took from someone else’s room when the rule is you can’t go in someone else’s room without permission.
No, that last thing had to do with global warming, had to do with not only the messed-up politics in the country but the entire economy and actually the entire planet. Mother Earth.