Sacredness, Solemnity And Memory
15 March 2015
Crimson Rose, co-founder of Burning Man. Tells us about the significance of ‘Temple’ projects, at Burning Man and beyond.
Sacred ritual is a very old activity — almost as ancient as humanity itself, but not quite. There was a need that came first, a feeling that drove us to ritual. We may not have even known what we were doing when we designated the first sacred space or lit the first ceremonial fire, but we just knew we needed to do it, so we did.
That’s how the ‘temple’ at Burning Man was created. Before David Best created the first one in 2000, we didn’t know what we were missing. Now the ‘temple’ feels as integral to Black Rock City as Emergency Services or the Center Camp Café, the essential infrastructure that makes our city habitable.
The ‘temple’ counterbalances the mad masquerade of our community, with sacredness, solemnity and memory.
It makes room for grief and renewal, for people to bring those heavy parts of themselves and release them. Whether through a fleeting gesture or touch, a movement or prayer, or even through writing the contents of one’s heart on the wall, the ‘temple’ incorporates the energy of everyone who passes through, and all of it is released by fire.
The ‘temple’’s role in Black Rock City remains, even as its design changes every year. But it’s also portable and flexible, as befits an institution of a transient, ephemeral desert culture whose reach is now everywhere. Summer 2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of the Hayes Green Temple, a David Best temple of renewal in the heart of San Francisco and the template civic project for Burning Man Arts. In 2008, Best and his crew built the Temple of the American Dream in Detroit. The international community of Burners has also taken to building ‘temples’, such as the 2012 Temple for Christchurch designed by Hippathy Valentine to help that New Zealand city process the devastating 2011 earthquake there. And now, Best is teaming up with Artichoke to build a ‘temple’ in Derry-Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Derry will demonstrate one of the most potent effects of the ‘temple’: unification.
By drawing people into its structure, incorporating the energy of their emotion, and releasing it all at once by burning and crumbling down, can Temple bring people together? Can people who feel different come together there and have a moment where they feel the same? Those are the questions Temple can answer, and that’s why its ashes always represent a beginning.
To find out more about these projects and others, head to http://burningman.org
From the guardian:
John Vidal, environment editor
This is the first time in my experience that any editor of any national paper anywhere in the world has taken climate change really seriously, as a major issue and understood it to be an existential problem.
Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief
The problem with this story is… it’s so big, and it doesn’t change much from day to day. Journalism is brilliant at capturing momentum, or changes, or things that are unusual. If it’s basically the same every day, every week, every year, I think journalists lose heart.
George Monbiot, columnist
We’ve been really bad at changing the story where climate change is concerned. We carry on flogging a load of dead horses, in exactly the same way, with exactly the same whip. We have to constantly be reinventing our storytelling capacity.
Pressure is growing. A relentless climate movement is starting to win big, unprecedented victories around the world, victories which are quickly reshaping the consensus view.
In the third piece in the Guardian’s major series on climate change, Bill McKibben describes how relentless climate movements have shifted the advantage towards fossil fuel resistance for the first time in 25 years. But he argues triumph is not certain – we must not rest till the industry is forced to keep the carbon in the ground.
The official view: all eyes are on Paris, where negotiators will meet in December for a climate conference that will be described as “the most important diplomatic gathering ever” and “a last chance for humanity.” Heads of state will jet in, tense closed-door meetings will be held, newspapers will report that negotiations are near a breaking point, and at the last minute some kind of agreement will emerge, hailed as “a start for serious action”.
The actual story: what happens at Paris will be, at best, one small part of the climate story, one more skirmish in the long, hard-fought road to climate sanity. What comes before and after will count more. And to the extent Paris matters, its success will depend not on the character of our leaders but on how much a resurgent climate movement has softened up the fossil fuel industry, and how much pressure the politicians feel to deliver something.
The good news is, that pressure is growing. In fact, that relentless climate movement is starting to win big, unprecedented victories around the world, victories which are quickly reshaping the consensus view – including among investors – about how fast a clean energy future could come. It’s a movement grounded in the streets and reaching for the photovoltaic rooftops, and its thinking can be easily summarised in a mantra: Fossil freeze. Solar thaw. Keep it in the ground.
Triumph is not certain – in fact, as the steadily rising toll of floods and droughts and melting glaciers makes clear, major losses are guaranteed. But for the first time in the quarter-century since global warming became a major public issue the advantage in this struggle has begun to tilt away from the Exxons and the BPs and towards the ragtag and spread-out fossil fuel resistance, which is led by indigenous people, young people, people breathing the impossible air in front-line communities. The fight won’t wait for Paris – the fight is on every day, and on every continent.
Consider, first, the fossil freeze
On 24 February, Barack Obama vetoed Congressional attempts to force the construction of the Keystone pipeline – a proposed pipeline to transport oil from Alberta in Canada to refineries on the US gulf coast. Four years ago, a poll of DC energy insiders found that 91% thought Transcanada (the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline) would quickly and easily acquire the permit for the pipeline; the company was so confident that they mowed the strip they were about to dig up across the centre of the country. But that easily-explained arrogance (no infrastructure project like this had ever been stopped before) ran into a indefatigable band of Native Americans, farmers, and climate scientists and activists, who in record numbers went to jail, filed public comments, and generally refused to buckle. Already their pressure has forced the cancellation of $17bn in new Canadian tar sands projects, and another big project was shelved last month. The oil industry continues to press for Keystone, offering increasingly frantic promises of good behaviour on carbon from Canada if only they’re allowed to build this one last pipe. Those last-minute bargains could still save the day for the tar sands—so far the president has merely rejected Congressional efforts to force his hand, not ruled on the permit itself. But if Obama says no later this winter, it will be a landmark moment.
And in any event, the bigger effect has been to embolden opponents of every kind of carbon-intensive new infrastructure. Tar sands pipelines across Canada are now hopelessly snarled by First Nations activists. Valiant local organisers in upstate New York forced the powerful governor, Andrew Cuomo, to ban fracking – a ban that has now spread to Scotland and Wales, with much of England up in arms as well. You can’t frack in France, and Tasmania just added its own moratorium. In the Algerian Sahara thousands are waging a relentless battle against the technology, and their arguments about wasting water are resonating loudly in California as well, where governor Jerry Brown is under intense pressure as his state’s record drought deepens.
Oil and gas – but also coal. Two years ago, on the west coast of the US, developers proposed building six giant coal ports. As America began cutting its use of coal, they planned on essentially shipping Wyoming’s Powder river basin – a huge coal deposit and site of the world’s largest coal mine – to China for easy combustion. So far, though, campaigners have forced cancellation of four of the ports, and the other two are on the ropes.
In Australia, which also boasts massive coal deposits, plans for the world’s largest mine in the Galilee Valley are foundering after the ruling party suffered a massive defeat in Queensland polls, throwing government subsidies for the mine into question. The fight comes with huge international implications – its Indian owners want to ship the coal back to the subcontinent where the new government has planned to double coal consumption. But fresh data shows the subcontinent with the world’s dirtiest air, and one Indian in six dying of indoor and outdoor air pollution –internal resistance to more coal is rising fast, just as in China.
In Sompeta, in Andhra Pradesh, southern India, for instance, a six-year campaign (which left two activists dead from police gunfire) has now blocked a huge thermal coal plant. The fossil fuel resistance, like the fossil fuel industry, is protean and sprawling – and each win reverberates for decades to come, because that’s how long pipelines and coal mines are built to last. Wins in 2015 shift the landscape in 2055. That’s why, if politicians want to lead, they need to stop new fossil fuel development now. A piece of paper explaining what should happen 20 years from now is easier for them to sell, but atmospheric chemistry is unimpressed. Hilary Clinton, to name one example, says the right things about the dangers of climate change, but she’s backed Keystone from the start – a pointless combination.
With the help of feckless politicians the world around the industry still wins its share of fights too – the rapid spread of fracking across the Dakotas and Texas has boosted Obama’s US past the Saudis and Russians to become the world’s largest oil and gas producer, for instance. Fighting one pipeline at a time, the industry will eventually prevail.
That’s why the climate movement has left its usual defensive crouch and started playing offense too, trying to freeze the pipeline of capital that sustains the industry. The campaign to force institutions to sell their fossil fuel stocks – which an Oxford study described as the fastest growing divestment campaign ever – has rolled up significant victories. Universities from Stanford to Sydney have started offloading their shares. At first the industry feigned unconcern – “someone else will buy the shares,” their lobbyists said with a patronising smile. Silly kids.
But the divestment movement never thought it could bankrupt BP in the short term. Instead: intellectual, moral, and political bankruptcy. Campaigners had a story to tell, one based on compelling new math first compiled by London’s Carbon Tracker Initiative. Their figures – based on SEC filings, annual reports, and other official data – showed that the fossil fuel industry had in its proven reserves four times as much carbon as scientists thought we could burn and still have a hope of keeping temperature rise below 2C. (Given that 1C of warming has melted the Arctic, 2C is a target for fools – at this point, however, that’s as reasonable a label for us as Homo sapiens.) Once you knew those numbers you could never think the same way about Shell again. The fossil fuel companies (and the countries – think Kuwait – that operate as fossil fuel companies) are rogues. If they carry out their announced business plans, they break the planet.
The math is so basic and easy that it’s quickly carried the day. What in 2013 was the rallying cry of a few student campaigners has by 2015 become the conventional wisdom: there’s a “carbon bubble,” composed of the trillions of dollars of coal and oil and gas that simply must be left underground. Here’s the president of World Bank speaking in Davos: “Use smart due diligence. Rethink what fiduciary responsibility means in this changing world. It’s simple self-interest. Every company, investor and bank that screens new and existing investments for climate risk is simply being pragmatic.” Those radicals at HSBC, in between sheltering taxes for the super-rich, ran the numbers: if the world actually tried to keep its 2C commitment, valuations of the fossil fuel industry would drop by half.
Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, did his best to explain the unwelcome news to the industry at a conference last October: the “vast majority” of the planet’s carbon reserves “are unburnable,” he said. When Shell’s chief executive hit back last month, calling a rapid transition off fossil fuel “simply naïve,” it was Tory veteran and chair of parliament’s energy committee Tim Yeo who told him off: “I do believe the problem of stranded assets is a real one now. Investors are starting to think by 2030 the world will be in such a panic about climate change that either by law or by price it will be very hard to burn fossil fuels on anything like the scale we are doing at the moment.”
Forget sea level rise for a moment – this is a sea change, happening in real time before our eyes, as the confidence in an old order starts to collapse. Last September the members of the Rockefeller family – the first family of fossil fuels – announced that they were divesting their philanthropies from coal, oil, and gas for reasons “both moral and economic”. As the head of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund put it, “We are quite convinced that if John D Rockefeller were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.” This is the rough equivalent of the Pope appearing at his Vatican window in saffron robes to tell the crowd below he’s now a Hare Krishna, or Richard Dawkins showing up at Lourdes in a bathing suit.
The fossil fuel industry – facing a serious challenge for the first time in its 300-year run – has tried to pretend it’s not happening. They’re just a year or two removed from record profits, and they keep producing internal forecasts showing that the world will stick with fossil fuels for decades to come (forecasts that caused Shell and BP, among others, to dump their tiny renewables divisions and double down on hydrocarbons). Here’s Exxon, for instance, arguing that divestment campaigners are fools because the company’s “estimates suggest that wind, solar, and geothermal will make up no more than 4% of the global energy supply by 2040.” Shell was blunter still: “We do not believe that any of our proven reserves will become stranded.”
Increasingly they’ve fallen back on public relations, with some companies funding a PR guru named Rick Berman, who once worked for the tobacco industry and who promised at a secretly videotaped industry meeting to wage “endless war” against environmentalists. But their great offensive has been a damp squib, consisting mostly of lecturing greens that we can’t “turn off fossil fuels overnight”. A highlight, produced by Berman in the lead-up to Global Divestment Day, was a minute-long cartoon about a boy whose girlfriend was a barrel of oil till his enviro friends convinced him to break up with her – at which point he could no longer use his cellphone, or eat food, or do much of anything else. (It features my floating disembodied head as a leering demon).
No one thinks, of course, that we will get off fossil fuel overnight; there’s a couple of hundred years worth of infrastructure guaranteeing it will take a while. And of course the industry argument, if true, is a good one. Even facing catastrophic global warming, we’re not going to stop using energy. In the face of that brute fact, a fossil freeze might seem like so much posturing.
Which is where the solar thaw comes in. Because the fossil fuel industry faces a closing pincers. Month by month, activists hold up its expansion and damage its reputation. And month by month engineers undercut its rationale. The price of solar panels has dropped 75% in the past six years, and now the “soft costs” of putting them on your roof is falling just as fast – Deutschebank estimates they’ll be 40% less expensive in the next two years.
Exxon thinks, in their Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040 report, that wind and sun will supply 4% of the world’s power in 2040? The Danes got 40% of their juice from wind turbines last year, and sadly for the fossil fuel industry Denmark has no monopoly on wind. There were days last summer when the Germans got 80% of their electricity from solar panels – and Germany, on average, gets as much sunshine as Alaska. The fastest gains will be made where energy is needed most, across the sun-rich tropics. I saw the first solar panel ever installed in Bangladesh, a single panel atop a village schoolhouse roof that went up sometime in the late 1990s. By now Bangladesh has 15m solar arrays, and 60,000 new homes a month come on line: the nation plans to be entirely solarised by 2020. When the Indian state of Aandhra Pradesh put out a tender offer for new power last October, the winning bid came from a big solar farm – at two cents a kilowatt hour less than the cost of importing coal.
The erosion is happening at both ends of the technological scale: Indian peasants are powering their cellphones with the extra power generated by the solar panels that runs the cellphone towers themselves. And Apple is building giant data centres in California, Denmark, and Ireland that run entirely on renewables. Investors see where the growth will come: Tesla, which produced 2,500 cars a month last year, now carries half the valuation of General Motors, which produced 300 times as many. As the electric car fleet expands, the demand for oil will start to dwindle, and there will be an ever-larger number of four-wheeled batteries to rejigger the grid.
None of the problems the fossil fuel players keep predicting for renewables seem decisive. Yes, the sun goes down at night, but that tends to be when the wind kicks up. We’re learning to store peak power in all kinds of ways: a California auction for new power supply was won by a company that uses extra solar energy to freeze ice, which then melts during the day to supply power. The smart meters now coming on line around the world allow utilities to juggle demand, turning off your water heater when its not needed. Wise companies have either seen the future or learned their lesson: E.ON, Germany’s biggest utility, announced last year that it will now focus on wind and sun. “We are the first to resolutely draw the conclusion from the change of the energy world,” chief executive Johannes Teyssen told reporters in Dusseldorf. “We’re convinced that energy companies will have to focus on one of the two energy worlds if they want to be successful.”
Most utility executives aren’t so far-seeing, of course – in the US, for instance, many are coping with the threat posed by solar power by trying to make it prohibitively expensive for customers to put panels on their rooftops, a strategy embraced by the Koch Brothers. But the pushback is coming not just from enviros but from Tea Party conservatives – a “Green Tea” coalition has had success even in Deep South bastions like Georgia. As national Tea Party founding member Debbie Dooley puts it: “This is about the freedom to choose and create your own electricity.”
Polls show that even people who doubt the climate is changing instinctively understand the pleasure of controlling their own energy destiny. Even large elements of the labour movement are coming to understand the appeal of renewable energy, where jobs are growing far faster than in the economy as a whole (and where the profits don’t end up funding your bitterest enemies, like the Koch Brothers).
The best news, of course, is that the new renewables make the most sense in the developing world, where whole nations are poised to leapfrog past coal just as they went straight to mobile phones. They’ll need money to make that happen – which is why the most crucial decisions at Paris may be about providing financing for poor nations – but they’ve got the crucial ingredient: sunshine.
And so the race is fully, finally on. There are three teams. Team one, in the green: that’s the climate justice activists and the solar engineers, working together, scrappy but gaining. Team two, in the red as the price of oil drops: that’s the fossil fuel industry. It has a big lead, but a big gut too; it’s tiring fast. And the third? That’s physics, the most mysterious of the contestants, and arguably the most important. So far physics has meant that a single degree of global warming was enough to melt most Arctic ice. Last year the California heatwave lifted 63tn gallons of groundwater from the drought-stricken state, allowing its main mountain range to jump half an inch skyward. The heavy groundwater was depressing the Earth’s crust so when it evaporated in the drought, the land rebounded upwards. The world’s sea levels are now rising inexorably, turning every storm and high tide into peril. It’s happening faster and scarier than we thought a quarter-century ago when I wrote the first book for a general audience about all this.
Had we acted a quarter century ago, physics would be working on our side by now. We could have acted from a sense of justice, since global warming’s inherent unfairness – that those who contributed the least suffer the most – has been obvious from the start. Or we could have acted, you know, rationally: every economist, left, right and centre, has said for a generation that it makes no sense to let the fossil fuel companies pour their carbon out for free, and that the economic mess we’re creating far outweighs the cost of preventing it.
But this fight, as it took me too long to figure out, was never going to be settled on the grounds of justice or reason. We won the argument, but that didn’t matter: like most fights it was, and is, about power. The richest industry in human history wants to keep on their current path for a few more years, even if it means dragging the whole planet over a cliff. (Never forget for a moment that this industry, having watched the Arctic melt, immediately set out to drill the newly open waters for more oil.) Their power lies in money and the political favour it can buy; our power lies in movement-building, and the political fear it can instill. They know they’re in a tough spot so they’re spending like crazy (the Koch Brothers, party of two, just announced plans to dump $900m on the next US election, which is more than the Republicans or the Democrats will spend). We’ve therefore got to organise like crazy.
And if we do we have a chance. The Copenhagen climate summit was a fiasco, but not because the science wasn’t clear – in 2009, too, the world had just come off a record hot year. Copenhagen was a fiasco because environmentalists were hopeful that our leaders would do the right thing. Not this time – we’ll push as hard as we possibly can, and if we do then good things will happen before Paris, after Paris, and for years to come. Our task is brutally hard and painfully simple: keep the carbon in the ground.
The fact is that the climate change “movement” is weaker than it was in the late 80s and during the cold war.
We have seen the right wing move from Thatcher to: Cameron, Osborne, Paterson, Truss, Harper, Abbott, Inhofe, etc…
Yet, there is no backlash in the polls.
Obama’s veto of the keystone pipeline came after Shell basically said that they were pulling out. With the falling oil price – it was a near certainty that the pipeline would be vetoed.
The fact is that time is fast running out and we are still being lied to by politicians over their action on climate change with no apparent holding to account.
The technology for the solution has been around since the 70s and we saw more action then in an oil crises than we see now in the face of incontrovertible science.
It is all very well going on about the Arctic ice melt and droughts in California but the media is all too absent in making the links for the public. There was no mention of climate change on the BBC when the floods were happening in the UK until the final news report at midnight on a Sunday after the floods had all bu subsided.
Key positions are being infiltrated by the right-wing too.
Bluecloud Matthew2012 9 Mar 2015 15:59
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Artist, activist, and author Keith McHenry
Artist, activist, and author Keith McHenry co-founded Food Not Bombs in Boston with seven friends in 1980. He enjoyed his childhood living at the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Shenandoah and several other National Parks. Keith studied painting at Boston University and started a graphic design company called Brushfire Graphics.
He has recovered, cooked and shared food with the hungry with Food Not Bombs for over 30 years. Keith was arrested “for making a political statement” by sharing vegan meals in San Francisco, spent a total two years in jail and faced 25 years to life in prison. He has written two books including “Hungry for Peace – How you can help end poverty and war with Food Not Bombs.”
Keith lives with his partner and fellow Food Not Bombs activist, Abbi Samuels, in Santa Cruz, California and at their farm in Taos, New Mexico. He enjoys tending to their gardens, sharing meals with the hungry, maintaining one of the movement’s websites and helping coordinate logistics for Food Not Bombs. He is an experienced public speaker giving presentations at colleges and conferences all over the world. Keith also draws, paints, and writes about social justice issues.
Keep it in the ground
Join us and more than 95,000 others in urging the world’s two biggest charitable funds to move their money out of fossil fuels
Sign the petition
To Bill and Melinda Gates, founders of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Jeremy Farrar and Sir William Castell, director and chair of the Wellcome Trust:
Your organisations have made a huge contribution to human progress and equality by supporting scientific research and development projects. Yet your investments in fossil fuels are putting this progress at great risk, by undermining your long term ambitions.
Climate change poses a real threat to all of us, and it is morally and financially misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding and burning more oil, gas and coal. Many philanthropic organisations are divesting their endowments from fossil fuels. We ask you to do the same: to commit now to divesting from thetop 200 fossil fuel companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments in those companies.
The Guardian, one of the world’s most respected and influential newspapers, is today joining the fight to keep fossil fuels underground by launching its very own divestment campaign in partnership with 350.org.
In a watershed moment for the growing divestment movement, The Guardian is setting its sights on the contradictory fossil fuel investments of two of the largest philanthropic health and development organisations — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. Both are heavily invested in the industry wreaking havoc on our climate — a move that’s completely at odds with their missions to create a better world.
Both foundations are full of good people who recognise the huge threat that climate change poses to the health of millions — but their investments are completely out of step and actively undermining their own good work. Join our new campaign with The Guardian to end this dangerous double standard now:
Together, we can convince these leading philanthropic organisations to lead by example and stop profiting from the industry wrecking our chances of a safe, healthy future. If the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust divest from fossil fuels, it will send a powerful signal that tackling climate change and promoting global health and development are two sides of the same coin.
We know this can work – it already is! The fossil fuel divestment movement is winning new victories every week – from the City of Oslo to the Rockefeller Foundation – and each act of divestment helps build an even stronger case for keeping fossil fuels underground.
With enough of us on board – and working with The Guardian newspaper – we know we can convince huge health and development charities like Wellcome and Gates to divest and create the watershed moment needed for climate action.
Sign the petition now – and then please share it widely with friends and family
It’s completely counter-productive to help those affected by climate change using money made from the fossil fuel industry. And it’s increasingly clear that fossil fuels are a bad long term investment. To avoid climate crisis, we’re going to have to leave 80% fossil fuels in the ground — which means current fossil fuel shares are massively overvalued and investors could lose billions.
This is a battle we must win, and together we will. Over the coming months we’ll be working with The Guardian, Avaaz and other partners to help us secure some major divestment wins around the world – please do join us.
p.s. click here to listen to a fascinating podcast by the Editor of The Guardian on why he decided it was time to use their influence to make an impact on climate change.
350.org is building a global climate movement. You can connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and become a sustaining donor to keep this movement strong and growing.
Dear MAP artists, contributors and friends,