Time to Put Public Health Before Corporate Interests

Do you know what your strawberries are sprayed with? If we don't take action they will be sprayed with a know carcinogen and neurotoxin called methyl iodide.

You can let California’s Governor-Elect Jerry Brown know that you don’t want your strawberries sprayed with a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. There was public and scientific opposition to approving methyl iodide but lobbying and corporate interests won out over the health of strawberry consumers across the country (90% of all strawberries consumed in the U.S. come from California), farmworkers and residents near fields where strawberries are grown.

So much for Terminator-Governator Schwarzenegger going “Green“.

This decision can be reversed-Please read the petition to ask California’s new Governor to issue a moratorium on methyl iodide. Scientific and public opinion must start taking priority over corporate profits in all areas and this is one place to start. It is up to us to let our elected officials know that we are paying attention and will hold them accountable if they continue disregarding our health and welfare…we vote for them and put them in office.

Buy local when you can and ask your farmers what pesticides they use.

We should not have to eat strawberries that have been sprayed with pesticides that are carcinogenic and neurotoxins.

Toxic Holiday Toys-The Gift that Keeps Giving…dangerous chemicals

Could the holiday toys you buy be toxic?

Just as we dive into the holiday season a warning about shopping at Toys “R” Us.

In spite of a promise two years ago “to reduce the use of PVC in the toys they sell and to offer more PVC-free products, the store has not kept its promise.” Imagine 72% of the toys that were tested by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice contained high levels of chlorine-which means they more than likely were made of PVC, polyvinyl chloride.

PVC is dangerous when additional chemicals are added to alter its consistency. Imagine the difference between a soft child’s toy and a PVC pipe. These additives allow polyvinyl chloride to be used in many different ways. The problem is that these chemicals can leach out. Think about that the next time you see a baby, toddler or older child chewing on their favorite toy.

Phthalates, one of these chemical additives, “are easily released because there is no covalent bond between the phthalates and plastics in which they are mixed. As plastics age and break down, the release of phthalates occurs.”  This release can also happen into food if it is stored, or heated, in a plastic container that has phthalates.

The problem is that phthalates mimic hormones and this affects our endocrine and reproductive systems. Most Americans tested by the CDC show evidence of multiple phthalates in their urine, and this is especially hazardous for children (and phthalates can be found in personal care products too).  Some other places that you can find them are in vinyl flooring, vinyl shower curtains, adult sex toys and even intravenous bags (one large hospital network even signed a contract to have vinyl free intravenous bags and tubing made for them-so it is possible). “Children that live in homes with vinyl floors, which can emit phthalates, are more likely to have autism, according to research by Swedish and U.S. scientists published in May 2010.”

These endocrine disruptors have also been linked to problems with male sexual development in humans as well as fish, and also childhood asthma and ADHD. There may also be a link between obesity and exposure to phthalates too, since they are metabolic disruptors. You can read much more about them here, and I encourage you to educate yourself about them.

Making these products is also dangerous to the workers. Around the world workers when they are exposed to vinyl chloride emissions have high liver cancer rates-and the EPA knows this. The process of making vinyl chloride also creates dioxins as a by-product. You can read much more about polyvinyl chloride here.

My question is, when we know all this why are manufacturers allowed to use these chemicals? Why aren’t our governmental agencies that are supposed to be protecting us, prohibiting companies from selling products that are making us sick? In the EU many of these phthalates have been restricted or banned for use in kids toys. There are some restrictions in the US, but it doesn’t seem as if they are being adhered to or enforced.

Some days I look around my kitchen and wonder if everything in there is safe, and I don’t use much plastic, but I am looking twice at what I still have. What about the dishes that I use, are they safe, could they have lead in them?

When kids toys can be dangerous we need to start really looking around us and start asking some serious questions. Some months ago I posted a story about the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck which talks about all of the chemicals around us and how we are being affected by them. This YouTube video is about this issue, and you will hear how the government agencies that could be doing something lack the resources to do their job properly. Maybe if our government leaders hear from us they will start to reallocate funds rather than allow unsafe products to be untested and available to poison us.

Another problem is cadmium in toys and kids jewelry. It is being used as a substitute for lead (and there are still toys out there with lead) and this news show will give you more information about it.

There had been a Toxic Toys “R” Us web site but it no longer is up and running-I wonder why… This is such a serious issue that even the Teamsters Union was involved in the report on the “toxic toys”. You can sign this petition to ask Toys “R” Us to phase out PVC.

So when you are out shopping for toys (of any kind), and also other products, take a good look and spend the time to find out if it is made from PVC, or contains lead, cadmium or other toxic chemicals. It looks as if we have to look out for ourselves until we can get the government to do its job.

Another Chance for Banning Plastic Bags in California

Trying once again to ban plastic bags in California.

It looks as if Gov. Schwarzenegger is taking a final stand to terminate plastic bags in California. He is calling on legislators to reconsider a ban on single-use plastic bags that they shot down a few months ago. It had seemed like a sure thing until last minute pressure reversed this important measure.

If you live in California, or know someone who does, you can use this link to send your representatives an email asking them to reintroduce a ban on single -use plastic bags at grocery stores. Los Angeles county recently adopted such a ban and San Francisco has had one since 2007. In California 19 billion plastic bags are used each year and many wind up in the ocean, and they float around for 500 years.

You can read more about the effects on the ocean from plastic here. So let’s all do what we can to let California legislators know that we support this ban to clean up our precious planet, that we are ready to take more responsible action and that we expect them to do the same.

On this same note the U.N. Cancun Climate Conference began on Tuesday and many of us are hoping that we see more progress than we saw at Copenhagen. Our friends at Ecoversity have great information on the conference that you will find here. You can also visit the official COP16/CMP 6 website where you will find updates on all of the events as well as a chance to read documents and see press briefings.

I will also have more news over the nest week on events at Cancun. Climate change is something that we all can help to reverse but perhaps most important is letting our political leaders know that this is something we care about deeply and want to see them taking action on – we can no longer afford to let special interests control this debate for their short term profits. We all lose if we do not reverse global warming. Perhaps more than any other issue global warming shows how connected we all are sharing one planet. Unfortunately the countries contributing the least to greenhouse gases are the ones feeling the effects first.

The plastic bag ban in California is a step in the right direction so let’s do what we can to make this happen. Once again here is the link to let California legislators know Californians want this.

A Creative Intervention for Climate Change

With the upcoming U.N. Climate Conference starting in a few days I wanted to follow up on Santa Fe’s Flash Flood, the human art event that I wrote about in my last post. The Flash Flood was one of 18 global events sponsored by Earth.350.org to bring attention to climate change that were filmed by satellite and will be shown at the Climate Conference. In some places the event also brought more attention to a local, climate induced change, in Santa Fe it was the endangered Santa Fe River.

The Flash Flood was in many respects a success, although turnout was not what had been hoped for there still were over a thousand people in the dry river bed creating a human flash flood. This is what it looked like from the ground.

A human flash flood at the 350.org sponsored event organized by the Santa Fe Art Institute

From the satellite photo of the event you can see what the dry river bed would look like blue, as if the river was flowing, at least for part of the river.

Flash Flood Satellite Photo by Digital Global

Here is a link to see more satellite photos of the all the 350.org eARTh Art events.

Climate change is not something that is hypothesized to happen in the future…it is happening now. I don’t know about you but I have noticed a change in the weather and in really significant ways. I lived in Germany for a few years and I had heard for years abut how awful the weather was, especially in the winter. But in fact the weather was quite mild and when I would ask people who had grown up there about it they always would say, oh yes it used to be really horrible but it is better now, maybe global warming is making it less cold and grey.

Not that I am endorsing climate change as a way to improve the weather in some places, but this is significant. We are literally witnessing a major natural phenomenon before our eyes, and not a positive one when we consider the bigger picture. It might be good news for some but for others they are literally losing the ground beneath their feet. It seems we often read or hear about small islands being threatened some time in the future, but right now, in the U.S. people are being directly impacted by rising sea levels. Friday’s New York Times had a cover story about Norfolk, VA and how some locals are having to change their daily routines as the tides rise into their roads and yards, as well as the solutions that the city is trying to find. But if we do not reverse this trend any solutions will only be temporary as tides continue to rise as temperatures do.

As more of us realize how urgent this situation really is we will join forces and be able to make a greater impact for reversing these frightening trends. We are actually changing life on earth as we have known it, as we alter the face of the planet, the atmosphere and the oceans. It is up to each of us to act now to make a difference towards positive change. Businesses and politicians will follow our lead. Each dollar that we spend should be a reminder of the power that we have. Where and how you shop makes a big difference. For example, when enough people let it be known that they did not want milk with growth hormones Walmart actually stopped carrying milk if the cows had been injected with rBGH, the bovine growth hormone. This actually led to Monsanto selling the division that produced this hormone.

Unfortunately a pharmaceutical company bought it and it continues to be used (you can read more about this scary, and a bit crazy, situation where the company who bought the rights to the growth hormone, which has been implicated in causing cancer, also produces drugs to treat cancer). The more we let companies know that we will not buy any products with the hormone, it will be used less and less. It is banned in many countries already. You will find a partial list of products that are still using it if you want to avoid it. I must confess I was really sorry to see Hagen Dazs on the list, but there are lots of delicious alternatives, even some without dairy like Coconut Bliss-trust me you won’t miss the milk and you might even start preferring this delicious, organic, non-cream ice cream.

We do make a difference and getting Walmart to change their buying practices should empower us to speak up more to let businesses know what we want and what we don’t want.

So remember that climate change is something that is happening right now because of the fuels that we use, the way that we generate electricity, the way that we grow food and raise animals, and many other reasons but each of these can be changed and are being changed…we just need to speed these positive changes up to out pace what we have been doing for a long time now in order to reverse things. One organization that is working to bring people and many organizations together is Four Years Go-4YG, founded by the Pachamama Alliance, you can read more about their work here.

So get active and shift what you can in your own life (and the lives of your family and friends). Speak out about what you want to see handled differently.

We can turn this around together so that we are living in a smarter way.

Global Art Show for Climate…Earth 350.org

Creating a Flash Flood in Santa Fe-350.org Earth Art

350.org (If you don’t know about 350.org please take a look-Briefly, they are an organization bringing huge amounts of attention to climate change and creating local solutions) is at it again, this time coordinating a Global Art Event that will be documented via satellite by award winning cinematographer Doug Crawford and from the ground by cameras, video cameras and thousands of cell phones. These events will be broadcast worldwide as part of the U.N Climate Summit, which takes place in Cancun, Mexico Nov 29-Dec 10. Across the globe art events are taking place, you can see if anything is happening near you so that you can participate.

Here in Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Art Institute is coordinating the Flash Flood, for a living river event that will take place tomorrow, November 20. An incredible group of over 40 community partners have come together to create this event. Thousands of people will gather in the dry bed of the Santa Fe River (which has been designated as one of the most endangered rivers in America) holding blue painted signs to show where the river should be running. Here is more information on this event.

Many schools are involved in making this event happen and here are some of the volunteers.

Some of the other events taking place are:

In Mexico City people will create a human hurricane surrounding a 350 that is in the safe “eye of the storm” to show the increase in extreme weather in Mexico and that a “hurricane” of citizen action is needed to solve the climate crises.

in New Delhi 5,000 school children will work with aerial artist Daniel Dancer to form the image of a gigantic elephant to ask world leaders to stop ignoring the “elephant in the room”…climate change.

And in Austin, Texas the largest CSA (community supported agriculture) in the state has planted a giant winter garden in the shape of the number “350” to symbolize the role that local food can have in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Let’s hope, and take action so that this Climate Summit brings more than last years meeting in Copenhagen. Perhaps creating art will bring more people around the globe to recognize that we truly are connected, that climate change is something we all can do something about, and that we have to let our leaders know this is something that we care about. You can find out more about 350 Earth here.

I will be in the dry river tomorrow, imagining a flowing, living Santa Fe River.

This is such a great video from 350.org.  Please share it.

Pretty for the Holidays, but less toxic with Pritti

I decided to post this once again since we are getting very close to the holidays and often people who don’t usually wear nail polish might at this time of the year. Fortunately much is changing in the world of personal care and beauty products; today we have more non-toxic (or less toxic) choices. I will be including more stories on this important subject as I try out different products. Send me your favorites so that I can learn more about what is out there too…we will make this change working together while supporting and demanding safe products and food.

I am learning more and more about the world of toxic beauty products. Who would have thought that many of these products should have warning labels on them, and they should since many contain known carcinogens. Not too long ago I went for a manicure and could not stay because the shop smelled so terrible to me. I felt really badly to have to leave, but I felt much worse for the people who worked there and the children that came with their moms-and the shop promoted themselves to moms with kids, even having a play area. This place was so toxic smelling I wonder how anyone could be inside for more than a few minutes.

It does not have to be this way and we don’t have to forego coloring our nails because there are non-toxic, or maybe far less-toxic is more accurate, options out there. Priti NYC is one of these. The idea behind the company was born when its founder Kim D’amato was pregnant and could not find a nail polish that she was comfortable to use. Launched in 2005 “with one simple mission: to support organic farmers and to decrease the amount of chemicals poisoning the earth- and it’s inhabitants-one manicure at a time.”

Priti in Sanskrit means “out of satisfaction, with love, pleasurable sensation, affection, attraction, happy”. Now you can be Priti without all of those chemicals. Priti NYC polishes are all completely non-toxic and made without toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DHB) and formaldehyde – all known carcinogenic ingredients. They even list their ingredients.

You won’t be at a loss for colors either with almost 200 different shades including metallics, mattes, bright neons, rich darks, classic nudes, and everything in between. The polish lasts as long if not longer than other chemical filled nail polishes too.

Safe and great colors too
Formaldehyde and Toluene Free

Priti also makes a not to be believed nail polish remover-it actually smells good! “The luxury remover is soy and corn based (derived from organic farm crops), and is infused with coconut, soybean esters, and essential lemongrass oils.” There is no acetone and no petroleum. I found that I had to leave it on my nails a little bit longer than usual, but that was not a problem for me. My nails felt much better after using it as well…a bit nourished and there was a sweet citrusy scent. Not only is the remover 100 percent biodegradable, non-toxic, and non-carcinogenic, but it also comes in an apothecary style bottle that is completely recyclable.

Priti even has a nail polish recycling program. Did you know that some cities, including Los Angeles, consider nail polish a hazardous waste -and we have been putting that in our systems. Priti works with a company called Chemwise that recycles and disposes of chemicals in an environmentally sane and safe way.

Since this country could use some jobs I think that it’s time to manifest the myriad of opportunities that exist when we start reusing and recycling materials, and living in a new, more aware way. These new businesses will develop and flourish as we move into the 21st century with more intelligence, and more reflection about what kind of future we are creating.

Products from Priti also include an organic sugar scrub and almond cuticle oil. So for those of us that like to paint our nails, or even better have them painted for us, now we can feel good knowing we can do this without harmful chemicals that are known carcinogens; I won’t even get into how they get to be in them in the first place…..that’s another article.

You can order Priti products at Transcendence Design (as well as the Priti web site). Check out Sherri’s other beautiful products and artwork, and please mention SmartLifeways.

If you haven’t seen Annie Leonard’s The Story of Cosmetics you can see it here and learn more about what you might be putting on your body. Please share this important information.

Green Building Inspired by Rumi

Eco-Dome inspired Green Building that serves humanity tooHad to share this one right away I am so excited about it. In Hesperia, California  at Cal-Earth (The California Institute of Earth Art) you can see and learn how to build Superadobe structures. Here is a short video that I found at ecoideasnet,

To me these homes are absolutely beautiful, I love their harmony in the design and their curves. The structures can easily, and inexpensively, be built in areas where little money is available and where there has been a disaster. Basically all you need is dirt and minimal supplies. They have created small emergency shelters that can easily be built almost anywhere, and have been used at UN Refugee camps in Africa.

There is also an Eco-Dome,  which is a small house, about 400 sq. ft. that has a central area and four niches that can be a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, closet and a wind niche. The design also lends itself for a studio, guest house or a part of a larger colony of Eco-Domes. At Cal-Earth they are working on a prototype three bedroom home that looks incredible-I’d be happy to live in it.

On the Cal-Earth web site they explain that Superadobe is a patented system (patent #5,934,027) at the service of humanity. It is offered free to the owner builder.  To me that is inspired work that serves others.

The institute offers very hands on workshops to learn how to build these intriguing looking structures.  They also sell materials for building and DVD’s on how to use them. I would love to do a workshop. Perhaps that will come when we really hit the road, cameras rolling.

How to build these eco homes is easy to learn..

This is definitely one smart life way that could make a huge difference in how we build, use materials and even relate to one another. There are so many possibilities to do things differently from the way that we have been doing them. It feels as if with all that is happening in the world today we are starting to take a long and serious look at some new options. It’s time to stop making ourselves sick with toxic materials all around us, especially in our homes, and stop pillaging the earth so that she can recover from all that we have done. If we are to have a future that resembles the present our resources need to be used with more wisdom.

There is an even more beautiful part of the story of Cal-Earth. Any web site about building that has an About Rumi option has to be something special. The inspiration for these structures was Nader Khalili’s and today his son Dastan is the the President of the non-profit Institute. “For 25 years, Nader Khalili’s specialty as an architect was skyscrapers. Then at thirty-eight, his turning point in life, he “… bought a motorcycle and went to the desert for five years in Iran to see what the solution was for sheltering the poor in the world and to learn from what already existed. There [he] got to know five personalities: earth, water, air, fire and Rumi, the 800 year old Persian mystic poet….” Rumi taught him the unity of these universal elements, forming his “Archemy” — architecture and alchemy. Water is fire, earth is water, and there is a unity in all elements.”

I would encourage you to read About Khalili and also About Rumi-you will be inspired. It is no wonder that these houses from Cal-Earth show us one way to be wiser.

Expansive interior of these sustainable structures

Tax Dollars Helping to Fund Domino’s Marketing Campaign

A real pizza made from fresh ingredients and not loaded with fat. At Delfina-San Francisco

Over the weekend the New York Times ran a story on how the government is helping to increase cheese sales by promoting a new line of Domino’s pizza with 40 percent more cheese, since more cheese on products has been shown to boost sales.

You might be asking why is the government promoting Dominos’s pizza (and using $12 million to actually pay for marketing their campaign) while at the same time supposedly trying to reverse the growing problem of obesity in America. This is like offering chocolate cake to a friend who is on a diet. Talk about mixed messages.

How is the government involved in this? A marketing creation of the USDA, Dairy Management works to promote greater consumption of dairy products, and cheese is an easy way to accomplish this and use the full fat milk that people are drinking less of. According to the Times article, “Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry, [which you can bet is passed along to consumers in dairy prices]. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.” So make no mistake the USDA is supporting Dairy Management in many ways.

Maybe if we stopped the use of hormones and brought milk production back to healthy levels for the cows we would not have an industry producing more than there is a market for. Why is it the government is so involved in supporting industries (like Big-Ag and the dairy industry) that are contributing to many problems such as obesity that leads to health issues, and then rising health-care costs, or polluting ground water and rivers from the use of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides, that we all then have to pay for?

These are important questions to start asking especially as funding disappears for important programs (how about education, reasonable health care or feeding and sheltering our fellow citizens many of whom have hit hard times from the loss of savings and retirement funds as the banks collapsed and we bailed them out, but not the everyday people effected?) that could create a better future for all of us, not just a small segment of society. How about using USDA funding to promote organics and hormone/antibiotic free products that do not cause health problems and excessive production of food where demand must then be manufactured through more marketing. We are also paying to subsidize the massive production of corn not for eating but for creating sweeteners that further contribute to obesity-you can read more about this here.

Cheese consumption in the US has almost tripled since the 1970’s according the NY Times article. It is no coincidence that mozzarella accounts for nearly a third of US cheese consumption since it is the most commonly used cheese on pizza.  I lived in Europe for many years where they eat a lot of cheese, more than here in the US, but somehow it is not such a problem. My guess is that in general Europeans are enjoying a better quality of cheese, usually without hormones and antibiotics, and they do not consume as much “fast food” that is often loaded with cheese. Unfortunately this is changing too as obesity rates start to rise in Europe as well; I am sure it is no coincidence that this has paralleled the rise in fast-food outlets.

We can see how it is the system itself that is creating many of the problems that we are facing today. Massive, large scale agriculture and raising animals in factory-like settings just doesn’t work (except perhaps for stockholders) and we need to change this system.

How can we do this?

We can write or call our representatives letting them know that we want more funding for health-promoting programs, not ones that encourage eating food that is clearly unhealthy and not meant for regular, habitual consumption…If you eat pizza, and I do, make it a healthy one and really enjoy it. It is up to us to make our government responsible to us the voters, not lobbyists with deep pockets who represent a small segment of society.

We also have an opportunity every time we shop and eat to show what we want on our plates and in our bodies. If enough of us stop buying this sort of food (and other products that are harmful) business will respond-after all they are in business to make money so they will give us what we want, if we let them know.

Remember that you vote with your fork three times a day so make your vote count for something positive.

Bioneers Day Three-Transformation for a Sustainable Future

Dr. Jane Goodall-An inspiration in so many ways. Bioneers 2010

To start, humble apologies for this very delayed post, it has no reflection on the final day at Bioneers. If anything taking it all in was such a wonderful experience that I would encourage all of you to attend a conference or a local beaming Bioneers event one day of you can. This weekend there are five of these events in Boulder, Cleveland, Logan and Salt Lake CIty, and  Vancouver. Madison, WI will have theirs in January so you might still be able attend a conference. You can get more information here.

The speakers on the final day covered a wide range of material from the power of fund raising to higher education’s embrace of sustainability. In spite of this seemingly diverse subject matter for me they all spoke of the power of transformation. Our increasing interconnectedness provides us an incredible opportunity for personal as well as global transformation. Using our collective ability to dream we can transform globalization into a positive and liberating force for all of us on the planet. If nothing else the climate crises shows how connected we truly are and that solutions must come from every part of the globe.

Nina Simons, Bioneers Co-Founder, started the morning with the thought provoking issue of how we reach an agreement when there seem to be two opposing views. This is a most pertinent topic since we see so much divisiveness taking place all around us whether it is on issues of global warming, increased use of renewable energy or our right to buy the food we want to eat. What do we do when it is in everyone’s best interest to come to a resolution, yet we seem so far away from agreement?

Nina raised the possibility of enlarging our view of the issue so that in this bigger picture we can find common ground. If we widen our perspective we find a solution, and we learn that in uniting with those who may seem very different we come to a deeper understanding of the issue and equally important of each other.

This is precisely what Mary Gonzalez spoke about in her talk on day two when she told us of community efforts to stop an offshore natural gas pipeline in Oxnard, California. It was to be off the coast of a community with a large number of farms and farm workers. By uniting their efforts with those living in nearby Malibu a coalition was formed that had much more power…a common interest was found among these very diverse groups.

An equally effective approach is to consider if there is another possibility in resolving whatever differences seem to exist. I am sure that each of us has experienced either taking a break or stepping back a bit from a problem to find that a new solution seems to appear.

Our first speaker Lynne Twist utilizes such a new approach to fund raising. I can’t imagine that there was anyone in the room who was not inspired by her wisdom, enthusiasm and her willingness to be real with all of us. Lynne Twist is an activist, a teacher showing us a new paradigm around money, one of the most successful fund raisers for important causes (and we got a taste of her talent in this area mid-way through the morning session when she made an appeal for supporting Bioneers with a donation) and one of the “founded” of The Pachamama Alliance.

Lynne Twist doing what she does so well...fundraising. At Bionners 2010 with Nina Simons and Kenny Ausubel

When her talk began and she said that she was grateful to be here, you knew that was really her truth. I love that she allows her emotions full expression…her enthusiasm, her sadness and her hope. Rather than an appeal for money Lynne approaches fund raising as providing each of us an opportunity to be transformed and to be a part of transformation. She too is part of this transformation, in speaking of The Pachamama Alliance she calls herself one of the “founded” people, not one of the founders.

The mission of The Pachamama Alliance “is to preserve the earth’s tropical rainforests by empowering the indigenous people who are its natural custodians and to contribute to the creation of a new global vision of equity and sustainability for all.” She spoke of the wisdom of the elders and asked us if our arrogance would doom us, preventing us from asking for help from the indigenous people around the world who have more answers to our modern-day problems than we might imagine. She reminded us that our liberation is bound with the liberation of others, that preserving the Amazon will preserve us as well.

There are many solutions out there but we have only a small window of time to make the needed changes before we are faced with a new reality that we will not be able to reverse. ”The tide is turning but the status quo is moving faster than the tide is turning.”  Teaming with other organizations, Lynne and The Pachamama Alliance have created a global media campaign called Four Years. Go.  This campaign is “creating a global rallying cry to inspire an awareness of the urgency to shift humanity’s trajectory by 2014, before our destructive trends make that shift impossible. We are empowering individuals and organizations to set and reach goals that will cause a positive global tipping point by 2014, setting humanity on a new path toward a socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling future.” This is not one organization but an opportunity for many organizations, already 990 have signed on, to work together to create the changes required for a sustainable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants. There are lots of ways to get involved, you can check out how right here.

The next four years are critical to the future of mankind and the earth. Many future scenario planners just see chaos ahead but we can transform this. Lynne reminded us that the Renaissance was only 25 years long and was guided by about 200 people, and created a revolutionary change. That was the time of Gutenberg and what an interesting parallel today with the potential for communication on a global scale. 1.7 billion people have access to computers and 4.1 billion can access a smartphone.  We have an opportunity to create a new future and our choices in the next few years will decide what that future looks like. It is time to start imagining a positive future together, to start dreaming again what we would like the future to look like.

Expanding on the significance of how we are connected Dr. john a. powell (this is not a typo but how he writes his name), Executive Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, spoke of the many ways that we are connected, both our inter-connections as well as intra-connections. When we join together, or merely casually interact, we change based on this contact. Everything that we come into contact with effects us from the buildings around us, to the food that we eat. We are beginning to experience just how much we are connected by larger actions, the labor market, the credit market, climate change…there is no getting away from feeling our interconnectedness, this is no longer just an abstract concept. Relationships are dynamic and multi-dimensional. In this dance of a fluctuating world all relationships matter and this is why social justice issues cannot be separated from other issues especially environmental ones…we need to consider what is our proper relationship with the “other” whether it is other people or the forest.

We need to acknowledge, and I would add even embrace, our diversity because otherwise the tendency is to pull back and isolate, rather than looking at the larger picture (one of the ways to resolve differences). When we narrow our groups be they social, political, racial or ethnic it is more difficult to see our commonality and the differences can seem insurmountable. There is a greater need today to realize that right relationship is crucial for us to forge ahead with a society that is fair and just. This has important implications ethically, morally and socially. We need to turn our institutions around to reflect this right relationship.

Is this not the crucial starting point for transformation, when we are correct with our neighbors on all levels, our communities and the larger global community we behave differently. It is time to acknowledge the importance of this and create a new paradigm recognizing how truly related we are and that we do impact each other, like it or not. The question is are we able to move forward in a fair and just manner or will we continue in a way that will endanger us all.

In looking beyond our institutions and transformation did you know that for every two men who receive bachelor degrees, three women will; yet women represent only 18% of leadership positions in business, government and civic organizations. Gloria Feldt was our next speaker and she is part of that 18%.  Her new book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power was just released and she is no stranger to the challenges of utilizing power as a woman. Education in the US has now become equalized among men and women so what is the lag in leadership positions?

Ms. Feldt’s book examines this issue and the remedies. She spoke to us about one of the cultural differences among men and women that contribute to this discrepancy and that is women’s tendency to avoid controversy. For many women controversy seems scary but in reality what we need to do is embrace controversy, to take the energy that controversy provides and use it to create our desired outcome. This can force us to look at and clarify the issues at hand and what we really believe. Controversy is a way to utilize power and keep a movement going, or bring attention to an important cause. She emphasized that it’s important to stay focused on the goal and to not just get caught up in the controversy. While this is important for all of us to recognize as an effective tool to bring about change it seems for women an internal transformation is needed to be more comfortable in the midst of controversy.

There is a shift going on around us (but as Lynne Twist reminded us not quite fast enough) so maybe it should not be surprising that within higher education itself big steps are being taken to create a sustainable system. I have decided that Dr Tony Cortese is education’s sustainability conscience or at least an influential part of it. His talk gave me hope that even large institutions can change. He spoke of the pivotal time that we are in and that we must move from our exploitative mindset, which we have always had, to one that is healthy and fosters a just society. This shift is in everyone’s long term interests, but we cannot get there without a change in consciousness, and mindset changes begin with education.

Higher education is a critical place to be an example of this shift since this is where most future leaders will come from. What would higher education look like with new goals in mind and how would it change what we have been doing for decades? Universities and the education that students receive must be more practical and experiential. As colleges integrate themselves in the community students gain real life learning, not just theoretical knowledge.

There is tremendous engagement on campuses across the country today. Often students when considering what college or university to attend look at the school’s sustainability policies as part of their selection criteria. Many new majors around sustainability have been created in a myriad of fields from law to the arts. This is our future green work force and students seem to recognize that this is far beyond just an environmental issue but that it is an issue of humanity.

Our final speaker was Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Jane as she refers to herself. If she is an example of what we get by following our dreams and staying committed then we all should jump to action in what thrills our heart. A woman of light and power, of strength and deep compassion. She shared with us her power infusing it in all of us assuring us that “every single one of us makes a difference every single day”.

Most of us know her story and if you don’t you can read about her and the Jane Goodall Institute here. “The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this can’t be accomplished without a holistic approach that addresses the real needs of local people. Our conservation efforts include sustainable development programs that engage communities as true partners.”  I was happy to hear that the institute also addresses the issue of overpopulation, an often taboo subject it seems, recognizing that much of the changing forest in Tanzania and other places is the direct result of population growth.

Dr. Jane spoke of the many things that we are doing to Mother Earth that we know are harmful yet we keep doing them. She also spoke of the importance of protecting our water supplies, reminding us that it might be hard to live without oil, but that we cannot live without water. She offered us some hope telling us that, “with our backs against the wall our brains work better.”

In addition to the Institute Dr. Jane has created a global youth organization called Roots & Shoots. This was started to provide youth around the world an outlet to express themselves and transform their feelings of hopelessness, anger and powerlessness into action. The organization is now in 120 countries, from pre-school to colleges and even in prisons and senior citizen centers. Everyone gets to choose what their project will be, what speaks to them personally, helping animals, people in the community or the environment. Once again we heard about the power of action rather than just learning from books. When we come together our spiritual fuel to continue is found. The power of Roots & Shoots is that if a small seed can break through concrete so can we as the human race breakthrough.

As the final plenary session came to a close I had a feeling that this breakthrough is entirely possible and we are actually in the midst of it. So many projects and organizations creating transformation around the world so that we all can have a better future. Will we make it? Can we make this shift before we allow changes to take place that cannot be undone…it is possible if we join together and take action. As Dr. Jane told us “there is hope as long as the human brain is linked to the heart.” Let’s all remember this and allow our hearts to guide our actions to create a better, just and fair future for all of us who inhabit this beautiful planet called Earth…it is truly in our hands.