Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Forward On Climate Rally

On February 17, I was lucky enough to sleep in and enjoy my breakfast before making the 15-minute Metro journey to the Washington Monument for the Forward on Climate rally. But thousands of people travelled from all over the country for this moment—the biggest climate rally in history—to protest the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and to let President Obama know that we expect bold climate leadership.

It was a bitterly cold day (by D.C. standards at least), but the energy was palpable. Volunteers passed out buttons and posters as participants emerged by the dozens from the Metro tunnel onto the National Mall. People from all walks of life, including some dressed as polar bears, migrated to the stage near the Washington Monument, where Hip Hop Caucus’s Reverend Yearwood was acting as MC for the event, getting the crowd to jump and wave their arms for the climate, as well as their core temperatures.

Despite the cold, more than 40,000 people crowded together, all willing to ignore their temporary discomfort in the name of acting on behalf of an issue that has a far greater timeline, scope, and potential to inflict suffering much worse than being chilly for a few hours. A diverse group of people spoke to show solidarity with the crowd. Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree tribe of Alberta, told the crowd how her community was already being affected by the horrifying process of extracting tar sands oil in Alberta. High cancer rates plague the communities adjacent to the operation. She reminded us of this certainty: “If this pipeline goes through, it will be at the cost of human life, air life, water life.”

We also heard from Tom Steyer, a member of the financial community and a clean energy investor. “For the last thirty years I have been a professional investor, and I am here to tell you one thing: the Keystone XL pipeline is not a good investment.” The speeches were impassioned, clear, and concise.

The Keystone XL Pipeline does not make sense. The pipeline will be transporting oil from tar sands in Canada to the Gulf Coast. At the source, tar sands extraction requires clear cutting Boreal forest in Alberta, which completely devastates this rich ecosystem and poisons the waterways and adjacent communities. Although the companies responsible for this destruction are required under Canadian law to restore the area to a condition similar to what was there originally, evidence suggests this very well could be an impossible task. In order to separate the sand from the oil requires large amounts of hot water—which relies on fossil fuels to heat—adding to the already atrociously high environmental impact.

This oil will then be transported through the Keystone XL pipeline, which runs through America’s heartland: over rivers, aquifers, and precious farmland. When it comes to oil pipelines, it is not a matter of if a spill occurs, it is a matter of when. The pipeline will put our water, food, and diverse prairie ecosystems at risk.

When the oil finally arrives in the Gulf, it is not for American consumption, and it will not reduce domestic oil prices. Period. After its journey across the U.S., the oil will be shipped abroad. Sure, the construction of the pipeline may create some jobs. But a pipeline only gets built once. And then these jobs will end. And then where will we be? With a long, metal straw, transporting a dirty fuel source out of the U.S. in the name of corporate profits and maintaining the status quo. Why not invest in creating long-term, skilled jobs that make us globally competitive? Building wind turbines and solar panels, operating wind turbines, and installing solar panels are part of the solution. Investing in a destructive, finite, greenhouse gas-producing fuel source is not.

Van Jones, President Obama’s former advisor on green jobs and a climate activist put it this way: “This is the last minute, in the last quarter, of the biggest, most important game humanity has ever played. President Obama, all the good that you have done, all the good you can imagine doing, will be wiped out by floods, by fires, by superstorms, if you fail to act now to deal with this crisis, that is a gun…pointed at the head of the future.”   

Climate change is the most complex and urgent conundrum the human race has ever faced. The Keystone XL pipeline, the development of Canada’s tar sands are simply not part of the solution. What is part of the solution is education. At Wild River Academy, I am excited to engage with high school students about what climate change is, what it means, and how we as individuals and as a community and as a movement we can create a hopeful, bright future for ourselves.

40,000 people gathered to speak truth to power on February 17, to let President Obama know that the climate simply cannot wait. And it will not wait. We must act now because every moment lost is another child with asthma, another home flooded by a superstorm, and another species gone extinct. The sooner we act, the faster we create good, green jobs, increase our quality of life with more livable communities, and create a viable, bright future for ourselves. On February 17, the American people said peacefully, but forcefully, that climate change mitigation must be a priority, and we will not stand aside and let our future go up in smoke.

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Canoecopia Utopia

On Thursday March 7th Wild River Academy began the trek to Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin. Excitement was in the air as we consolidated our presentable materials and overnight bags into the trunk of my car. We had spent the last week gathering blown up pictures in the form of: posters depicting scenes from our pilot trip on the Potomac River with quotes superimposed, beautifully designed postcards all thanks to Alyssa Phanitdasack and her designing prowess. We printed a banner depicting our logo and motto in all its 5' x 3' glory. This was Wild River Academy's first experience tabling at an outdoor expo and we did our best to get our ducks in a row. A major player in our success with booth materials was The Print Shop in Bloomington, MN which worked with us to stylize and complete on time all of our masterpieces.
We entered the Alliant Energy Convention Center with about 4 hours of set-up time and beautified our booth to be an eye-catching showcase of Wild River Academy. They opened the doors at 4:00pm and our day began. We were able to meet with a multitude of interested people. Some teachers, throughout the weekend, showed interest in programming through their science and history departments and grabbed multiple brochures. We met with the Bending Branches representatives and picked up our three intricate, efficient, and gorgeous paddles sponsored to Natalie, Anna, and myself as Wild River Academy Guides. Thanks Bending Branches! You guys ROCK! We met many people who showed interest and talked with us about our route, equipment, and plans for the future. Talking with people about our organization helps us to put the plans we have in our minds into conversational and easily understood words which improves our vision of the future and our ability to convey our ideas.
We debuted our idea for a trip-based group called Paddle for Change which uses long paddling trips throughout the USA to bring global environmental concerns to the public by meeting with community organizations, talking with individuals, and spreading information through local media. Specifically, we made connections with potential sponsors for a trip down the entirety of the Mississippi River from Lake Itasca to Port Eads, Louisiana. This Mississippi trip will focus on exposing the truth behind surface mining of bitumen in the Athabasca Region of Northeastern Alberta, Canada specifically from the Athabasca River. These surface mining operations leave behind ponds of excess, unusable product which often leak and are extremely harmful to the native wildlife. Ducks landing on these ponds die upon contact with the toxic contents. Our goal is to use the trip to bring awareness to a wider swath of conscientious Americans who might not have previously known about these environmental atrocities.

Natalie and I both spoke with many people, and found time to listen to some very informative and captivating speakers. I had the opportunity to listen to a representative from Big River Magazine, which focuses on the Mississippi, speak about the river itself, how much it has changed, and the paddlers who enjoy it. I also got to hear a presentation from Jon Turk who circumnavigated Ellesmere Island with Erik Boomer in 2011. Jon Turk was a great speaker and his presentation was inspiring and incredibly interesting. Being exposed to such a wide array of all things canoeing improved my knowledge of the intricacies involved in this amazing industry. The access to a wide variety of canoeing experts, outfitters and suppliers, and experienced paddlers made Canoecopia an incredible opportunity for Wild River Academy.