Fire & Ice – Responding with Wisdom to Climate Change

A few nights ago, in a dream, as I was sitting at the controls of a wide body jet, holding the steering yoke, when I suddenly noticed that we were losing altitude and with a sense of alarm, saw the ground approaching quickly. I pulled back on the controls in an attempt to climb. Nothing, a crash seemed imminent. I asked my co-pilot for guidance and he instructed me to turn on the thrusters, so I did. Problem solved.

“If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry. And if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.”          HH the 14th Dalai Lama

About a dozen of my activist friends in the Safe Utility Meter Alliance – NW (SUMA) and I had worked thousands of hours collectively over the past few months, gathering data, connecting with a fast growing number of individuals concerned about Seattle City Light’s proposed “smart” meter roll out, building a movement for truth and justice.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant helped organize a 90 minute official Council meeting for us to present our concerns and findings on Sept. 18. But first, on Sept. 15, two scientists (rewarded with hefty appearance fees doled out from the public coffers), and other City Light yes men, presented their findings aimed at marginalizing the growing public concerns.

This was to be expected. Global capitalism is a monstrous machine ever hungry for profits. The goal is ever to market fantasies and pipe dreams, win the new contract, build millions of new devices, reap billions of profits, and spin dense webs of damage control to muffle any dissenting voice attempting to be heard. A majority of Councilmembers showed up on Monday to listen to the machine.  On Thursday, only two Council members besides Kshama listened to The People, with somewhat glazed eyes, eating their lunch, eyes seemingly glued to their computer screens and rarely looking up, slinking out of the room before the leading expert, a man with 30 years of experience in the energy management field at the federal level, had delivered his testimony.

During public comment, one woman from Woodinville testified that on the day they installed “smart” water meters on her house a few days ago, she and another member of her household developed migraine headaches which have persisted on a daily basis. In early September she would wake up in the morning to the sounds of bird song drifting through her open windows. On the day after the meter install, silence. No birds to be heard or seen.

Fast forward to Saturday evening. I was back at City Hall to watch and listen to a livestream on the eve of the Climate March in New York City. Kshama Sawant would be speaking on a panel with Senator Bernie Sanders, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, and Chris Hedges. But a funny bit of irony interceded – the technology failed -no livestream. So I asked Kshama’s aide for the mic and began speaking about climate change, beginning with smart meters. My friends in the audience smiled and a rich discussion ensued. We’re all leaders!

Point one. The smart grid is a great idea, but “smart” meters are an obsolete technology designed for a centralized power grid which wastes energy and is increasingly vulnerable to cyber-terrorism which could bring down the entire U.S. power grid. We need to lobby our elective officials to incentivize distributed small scale roof top solar and wind projects, smart inverters, batteries and storage technology, electrical vehicle integration, not mega projects which, though great for investment bankers on Wall Street and the manufacturers selling more stuff, will not move us closer to zero carbon, which is where we need to go quickly. “Smart” meter pilot projects thus far have shown virtually no benefit in carbon savings.

Point two. Nuclear power is definitely not the answer. Although industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would have us believe that a nuclear accident can only happen on the order of once every 2500 years, we’ve had 5 major accidents in 35 years: Three mile island (partial meltdown). Chernobyl (complete meltdown), and Fukushima (3 complete meltdowns). That’s one accident every seven years, with Fukushima being by far the most serious as it continues to release radiation into the air and water, and the melted cores have not been found yet. There is no viable plan to deal with radioactive nuclear waste which will be with us until the end of time. Enormous quantities of fossil fuels are used in the refining of uranium. Further, there are issues of genocide to indigenous people and finally, the spent fuel plutonium is easily converted into nuclear weapons. Insanity from every angle.

Point three.   Your food choices have an impact; global green house emissions from livestock and byproducts may represent as much as 51% of total emissions. This is due to the fact that cattle produce methane in prodigious quantities, and methane is at least thirty times more potent than CO2 in terms of its atmospheric heating properties. If we all reduced or eliminated our consumption of animal products, those efforts would have an immediate impact on climate change, and incidentally, massively reduce the amount of human caused suffering to animals. One leading Buddhist master believes there is a direct connection (i.e. karmic causality) between the staggering numbers of animals who suffer and die in industrial “farming” operations, and the rise in “natural” disasters which bring suffering and death to humans.  Food for thought. (If you are thinking of changing your diet, you may wish to speak with your primary health care provider and in any case it is safer to make a gradual dietary transition instead of a sudden change).

Zooming out to a macro analysis, the problems of climate change, smart meters, nuclear power, and even industrial farming are all derivatives of capitalism where profits to shareholders are “the bottom line”, and lip service is paid to social good and humanitarian values. The Talk Before the Walk featuring Kshama Sawant, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, and Bernie Sanders drove home this point with a mixture of contemplative, sobering reflections from McKibben, and more passionate speeches calling for political revolution (to varying degrees) from the rest.

On Sunday, my Buddhist teacher was in town. Although it was a glorious sunny day and many of my friends would be marching in solidarity with people around the globe, I sat (in solidarity) on a cushion most of the day and meditated on compassion and wisdom. We can start a revolution, effect public take overs of major corporations, vote out all the crooks and vote in the Socialists, reverse Citizen’s United, stop fracking, tar sands, oil trains, and put solar panels on every roof on the planet – but we can’t legislate greed, anger, and ignorance from our own mind.

Inner peace means inner work and if we neglect this foundation, then the external world will still be a mass of suffering, regardless of whether we “save the world”, or destroy ourselves, taking most of the biodiversity on Planet Earth with us. Please reflect for a moment on the size of the nuclear arsenal.  President Obama wants to spend a trillion dollars over the next three decades modernizing our atomic arsenal.  And not accounted for in that list is all the plutonium which has gone missing and may be somewhere on the black market right now.

Our world is in uncharted territory. But of course, that is where it has always been – the forces of destruction and creation constantly engaged in dynamic tension – yin and yang, heaven and hell. In closing, while a part of me wants to give you a list of things that You Need To Do to save the world as we know it, my contemplative side recognizes that each person will respond based upon their individual mental-emotional-spiritual outlook.

Personally, I am thinking about what the world will look like in 2050, when my daughter turns 47 and may have children of her own – assuming she is still alive. On our current trajectory, sea levels may have already risen a meter or two (or perhaps significantly more if the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets suddenly drop into the ocean.) Wildfires, droughts, crop failures, more intense hurricanes, throw in a Pacific northwest earthquake or another nuclear disaster – and the future begins to look very tenuous indeed.

Pema snowfield
Mount Rainier – Seattle Park snowfields.

Look inwards though, feel the love and compassion in your heart. Witness the infinite acts of kindness each day, in every corner of this world. The sun itself, rising over the eastern horizon each morning is the supreme act of kindness in this cosmic mystery.  Reflect on the infinite acts of kindness that have touched your life – beginning with your mother, the people who grew your food, made your clothes, built your house, your teachers, the bees and insects that pollinate the crops, and the entire web of life which touches your life in countless ways. Hold that gently in your heart.  Nurture it like an inner sun. Then let it radiate outwards in enlightened action!

Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
*   *   *
Robert Frost

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