OK, let’s start by defining the alphabet soup title… MEQB = Minnesota Environmental Quality Board & ERIS = Environmental Review Implementation Subcommittee This MEQB ERIS subcommittee was recently formed as a way to fix our failing environmental review in Minnesota.
On September 18, 2019 the Board established the Subcomittee [sic] for the purpose of providing a forum for transparent deliberation and public input on important issues related to the State Environmental Review Program and making recommendations for improving effectiveness.
Their own description seems to indicate more talk and ideas… Will there be action resulting? Only time will tell. And we’re running out of that.
A bit of background…
Chuck Dayton, long instrumental in Minnesota environmental law, reported in May that the work of the MEQB is failing. It was recognized at the 5/1/19 meeting that the process we now use is outdated and does not account for the world we find ourselves in today with the rapidly increasing climate change. We currently fail to look at climate implications and we fail to look at alternatives to proposed projects. MERA and MEPA are not being upheld with current practices.
“The EQB chair shall develop an EAW form to be used by the RGU. The EQB chair may approve the use of an alternative EAW form if an RGU demonstrates the alternative form will better accommodate the RGU’s function or better address a particular type of project and the alternative form will provide more complete, more accurate, or more relevant information”
Chuck Dayton recommendation to the MEQB Chair 5-1-19
The first meeting of the subcommittee in October consisted of a lot of talk and presentations with one Commissioner actually pushing for the administrative items to be completed to get to something substantive. Citizens too were frustrated by this business-as-usual interaction, which left only about 20 minutes for their input – all monologue to the committee, no helpful dialogue. As a citizen doing what we all say we want – staying home and not driving my car all the way to the cities for a 3 hour meeting – I was restricted from providing my input verbally. [Though I did hear that my typed comments were being displayed during the meeting… guess there are many ways to skin the cat… As such, Will Sueffert did end up reading my main concern as a closing to the meeting’s public comments: How do we assure RGUs have expertise to review the submissions by project proposers?]
With redress seeming slower and less effective than hoped and expected, some pushed for and got a Listening Session in December with a few members of the MEQB ERIS. Will Seuffert, Laura Bishop, Sarah Strommen, and Gerald Van Amberg and the meeting was attended by many of the departmental tech reps – these are the “make it happen, find the person needed” liaisons that link the MEQB and their home department. [This liaising is only a small part of their regular jobs from what I gathered in discussion with one of the tech reps.]
I’ll leave it to you to decide if you think the meeting went well or not. You can determine if you think the MEQB ERIS members present adequately expressed and demonstrated their commitment to the needed urgency of this work. I, for one, was not satisfied. Perhaps my satisfaction would only be achieved if everyone on the team cut all the BS and truly began to work to make the changes that might allow us to address our climate emergency and what it portends… near term human extinction. But clearly, a 2:30 hard stop prevented that from happening on December 18th when we met.
One good change that happened at the meeting was that we started to break through the business-as-usual format and actually got into a circle for sharing face-to-face. This would have been better done if it had included all the members present but the circle was mainly speakers and the few ERIS members present, with tech reps and others sitting outside the circle.
However, in this unexpected format, and with my hopes to start the conversation on the topic of urgency, I led but failed to share all my points and details. My solution was to share the written document via email with all I could determine were in attendance (see below). I got a couple bounce backs – Megan Kelly and Mike Coons were two – the first bounced back and the second I couldn’t locate in the MN Gov websites. Hopefully someone will share my email with them. Not sure how many will read it, but I can at least note another attempt at working to make MN Government better.
Hi, all. With the modified format of the 12/18/19 MEQB ERIS Listening Session, in trying to assure time for all to speak, I failed to deliver my entire commentary. I am sharing these comments with you below, along with a video link that highlights my main concerns, in hopes that it will bring further understanding and insight. I do want to thank each and every one of you who attended. It was nice to put names with faces and have some time to thank and connect with several familiar ones. I especially appreciated the presence of MN State Agency Tech Reps and wish we’d had more time to interact and get to know each other. And a big thanks to Giuseppe Tumminello who did a great job with tech, both during the meeting and to capture it. Will & Laura – Giuseppe continues to be a responsive and attentive resource for my engagement. Below are my comments and I appreciate any feedback you may have. Thank you for your consideration.
I’d like to begin by speaking to the urgency of our situation. Until we agree we are in a dire climate emergency, we will not act with the necessary immediacy to implement Environmental Review practices that allow Minnesotans continued confidence in our state government to protect us and our environment for a secure future. This is the foundation on which all further action must be built.
436 days ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued their 1.5 Report, which noted that “Limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels would require transformative systemic change, integrated with sustainable development, … implementation of far- reaching, multilevel and cross-sectoral climate mitigation, … linked to complementary adaptation actions.”
The IPCC basically gave humanity a decade to take strong action in order to meet goals, goals which we now know are insufficient to meet the 1.5°C target.
A report tracking progress on Human Health and Climate Change, perhaps appropriately titled the “Lancet Countdown”, has a video which begins at present portraying the dismal state of our planet noting children today will experience, as adults, “more heat waves, stronger storms, the spread of infectious disease and see climate change intensify mass migration, extreme poverty, and mental illness”. The video for the report goes on to visualize the world where children born today will celebrate their 31st birthdays as the world reaches net-zero emissions.
Yet the global response to the climate emergency has been abysmal. Just this past weekend we watched as the global community failed to find agreement at the COP25, yet again kicking the can down the road to next year in Glasgow. At what point will humanity see the real and unified efforts it will take for us to provide for continued human existence? At what point will our actions match the needed urgency?
Whether through their fear of retaliation or criticism, a need for consensus on what is reported as “agreed-upon” science, or simply a lack of an ability to fully comprehend the workings of our complex planetary systems, our scientific community has struggled to give an effective message that brings action and we continue to see reports revealing that we have and continue to underestimate the dangers. Humanity is only now realizing that our window of time to act is closing quickly as scientists have begun to more loudly express concerns.
And citizens are speaking up too, begging for action. For many of us, it seems our only option to stop the devastation is to literally lie in the way of the bulldozers. We’ve changed our buying patterns and our ways of life, written letters to the editor, contacted our government representatives (from local city councils to the President of the United States), met with government agencies, and done all we can to address climate concerns via the “appropriate” channels. Now we are taking to the streets to voice our concern, and locking down to equipment when we are not heard. We’ve even had multiple attempts to involve the judicial system for redress to no avail as the Necessity Defense for climate action continues to wait for its day in court. This is not what climate justice activists like me want to do. We are forced to these last resorts by both the ineffective action and inaction of government and corporations.
MEPA requires state agencies to “use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which human beings and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of the state’s people.” The Environmental Quality Board is charged with providing leadership and coordination across agencies on priority environmental issues and providing for opportunities for public access and engagement.
MEPA requires firm, clear guidance for RGUs (Responsible Governmental Units) and adequate EAW forms that request ecologically and climatologically relevant and accurate information. What we have seen throughout this year’s EQB meetings is that our current environmental review tools and practices are failing to protect either citizens or our environment.
Today, we citizens and scientists are offering our help so Minnesota can continue to lead. We offer solutions to bring climate justice and find our way to a more secure future. We hope today’s meeting represents the beginning, not the end of this citizen/ scientist/ government partnership where we all recognize the gravity and the urgency of the situation and commit to make the environmental review process provide a clear pathway to our clean energy and stable climate future.
So, here we are! Hearing more and more every day how fucked we are with regard to climate and our geopolitical situation. And seeing evidence of it all around us. Sadly, it seems there is little we can do to stop any of it.
We are left to watch as humans race towards their own extinction. Whether we have a decade or five, based on what’s happening now, I believe I’ll be lucky to not see it all end in my own lifetime. [I’m pretty certain my son will see it in his.] Perhaps some of us will survive. But it will not likely be easy, whatever is to come for us. Things are failing fast. Unless, of course… METEOR!
I have had a pretty crazy past week with the MEQB ERIS session, which left me feeling like I better understand those people who set themselves on fire in the town square… and the PUC’s EIS ALJ Hearing (believe me, if you don’t know the acronyms, you don’t want to know) on Line 3. While the comments are probably not even going to be read by many but us Climate Justice junkies, it sure helped buoy us to hear each other share on the science that says this EIS is NOT Adequate and this tar sands pipeline should not be built. It was good to share a day with friends and confer on what we’d seen in the EIS and how we were going to try to emphasize to the PUC that we desperately need to stop Line 3. Matt Schuerger was the only PUC Commissioner I saw there. [Maybe he drew the short straw…] I’m not sure if he will listen, but I’m hopeful he at least heard us. We even had a testifier named Mary Caroling who started off the evening session and had a dozen folks singing a modified version of Joy to the World, just for the EIS hearing.
But it was disheartening to see the continued division that a Canadian Oil Company has wrought on Minnesota, pitting neighbor against neighbor in a place that needs jobs but shouldn’t have to settle for dead industry dirty jobs and instead should be given green energy jobs to build our future.
So, yeah. I’m feeling pretty crazy about all this climate stuff. I make few plans, instead just getting up each day and figuring out what seems most pressing to do – blog, email, make cookies (try for once a week on this… fail regularly), read articles on climate, eat something, write cards for friends and those I admire, shower (this only makes the list some days), do public comments, feed the birds (a daily must), plan something for dinner maybe, decide if I need to do laundry. I spend most days writing and researching, and continuing to struggle with how to process my grief that continues to bubble up as I wonder if we will save ourselves in time or become another species that goes to extinction in this epoch on planet Earth.
The math — ten years left at current emissions — is actually bleaker than it might seem at first, since running through ten years at the current rate would only land us at 1.5 degrees if, immediately thereafter, we went all the way to zero, never again emitting another ounce of carbon, let alone a gigaton, of which we are today producing, from industrial processes and fossil-fuel burning, 37 each year. A gigaton is, keep in mind, a billion tons. Which makes not just 1.5 degrees but, I think, 2 degrees, for all practical purposes out of reach. As a reminder, this is a level of warming that the IPCC has called “catastrophic” and the island nations of the world have described as “genocide.”
I am feeling lucky to be learning life skills like butchering wild game for meat, foraging for wild foods, living without indoor toilets. I worry that, if my life is as magical as it always seems to be, there will likely soon be more of a call for these skills…
So what do we do?
Enjoy every minute.
Live to the fullest.
Be sad when you must.
Share your abundance.
Be as kind as you can.
Make the most of what we have and do all we can to make this good time last as long as possible.
Earlier this month, I attended the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board’s Environmental Congress. I signed up to attend not realizing there would be livestreaming of the event but I am so glad I attended in person as I was able to make so much of the trip.
I found lodging with a friend in the area and enjoyed a wonderful room full of delight. [Fran, you’d have loved the whole place!] I ended up staying two nights and really enjoying not only getting to know this lovely family but also their terrific town. I got the $10 tour of Owatonna and will blog it soon!
OK, back to the Congress. We had a full day ahead of us! Fermata Sol, an up and coming U of M Mankato a cappella group, opened the day with a nice selection of melodies. After this number, I noted they might yet make me like Taylor Swift!! (A high compliment per Jacob, their beatboxer. As I enjoyed the music, Jeffrey Broberg joined me and told me a bit about MN Well Owners Organization, who are seeking board statewide members. The Plenary speakers were terrific. As Grace Goldtooth ended up falling ill, we had plenty of time to hear Kate A Brauman, PhD (Lead Scientist, Global Water Initiative, Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota) explain how Minnesota is getting hotter and wetter and no matter how sexy that sounds, it is not a good thing. EVERY Minnesotan will feel the effects of climate change. Sydney Bauer, recent graduate and member of the Emerging Environmental Leaders Program, challenged and encouraged us to try some new things today, to reach out to a young person, and to understand that they are ready to take on the challenges before us. I am still amazed at the patience of our young people…
Then it was time for breakouts (details at the bottom of this link), which covered quite a lot of ground.
Climate Justice, Energy, and Equity (Room 245) *
The Future of Minnesota’s Clean Water in a Changing Climate (Room 253-255)
Food, Fiber, and Fuel: Providing Society’s Needs While Addressing Climate Change (Ostrander Auditorium)
Adapting to Climate Change: Innovative Strategies from around Minnesota (Room 201) *
Pathways to Decarbonizing Transportation (Room 202)
Climate Change and Biodiversity: Building Resiliency of Our Lands and Wildlife (Room 204)
How to Talk Climate by Developing Your Personal Climate Story (90 minute session – Rooms 203 & 238)
I selected the Innovative Strategy one and heard from Alison Zelms, Deputy City Manager, City of Mankato who spoke on the water systems and risks to wells along the river requiring multi-million dollar projects to secure the water infrastructure. One thing we often don’t consider is all the infrastructure that we will need to replace, repair, or abandon as climate changes our spaces. Jeff Meek, Sustainability Coordinator, MN Department of Transportation spoke about how current flooding changes require new thinking for resolving culvert and bridge concerns. Hilarie Sorenson, Climate Specialist, 1854 Treaty Authority spoke about the work being done with Mille Lacs on walleye populations. When asked what one thing might need to be abandoned to improve going forward, here were the answers: Alison says to not mow to the edge of retention ponds, Jeff notes that we might need to consider what 1% of infrastructure we might abandon rather than continue to support, and Hilarie noted that sometimes problems are not in need of an immediate human fix and that a wait and watch approach can often allow situations to resolve naturally.
My second workshop I did not realize focused on energy as I was focused on the first and third topics in the list: Climate Justice & Equity. This was a panel presentation with 5 members expressing their experience and ideas regarding equitable energy strategies and why they are important. Presenters offered diverse perspectives on difficulties faced by people of color and the policies, programs, and resources available to mitigate them. Presenters included: Briana Baker, Weatherization Auditor, Minnesota Valley Action Council; Carmen Carruthers, Outreach Director, Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota; Ben Passer, Director of Energy Access and Equity, Fresh Energy; Janiece Watts, Policy Associate for Energy Access and Equity, Fresh Energy; and Ansha Zaman, Policy Coordinator, Center for Earth Energy and Democracy. At the end of the session, the panelists joined audience members to answer questions and share ideas. Overall, it was a really good session to bring understanding to the needs and what Minnesota government and NGOs are doing to meet the needs.
Side note for my fellow environmental geeks: I was uber impressed with Janiece Watts from Fresh Energy in that last breakout. Then, I sat down to lunch with J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy!! And she raved with me about how great Janiece and Ben both are. [We’d been talking for several minutes before I finally realized who she was… and then we had an awesome discussion about TBIs! 🙂 She is a real gem. I now understand the amazing outpouring of love and prayer and good energy I witnessed earlier this year, from the entire environmental movement, when she took her tumble on the ice and hit her head. SO glad she’s back in action. And I turned her on to Annie Humphrey’s new song on this topic… The Boy Who Lived. Listen to the whole album though – it’s terrific. And buy it. 🙂 ]
Just a little ramble on how magical my life is…
Lunch followed and Governor Walz gave an address (start at 49 minutes in as apparently no one knew how to edit the video which recorded the lunch background noise for almost an hour before getting to the presentation…) before turning us over to a panel of his Commissioners and others involved with the new Subcabinet on Climate Change (they start at 1:12 into the video). Steve Kelly did a nice job of specifically saying that the Department of Commerce is an “advocate for the public interest before the Public Utilities Commission” (PUC) for regulated utilities. [Let’s hope they continue to stand with their statement that there is NO PUBLIC NEED for Enbridge’s proposed Line 3, currently being considered by the PUC.] He also mentioned they are working with the insurance and banking aspects of climate justice. (I got a chance to shake his hand and thank him for this at the end of the event.) The announcement of the Climate Change Subcabinet, announced with the signing of Executive Order 19-37, seemed to be the precursor to the Environmental Congress – excellent planning. While I had some expectation that the Congress would be a watered down, “Hey, look how great Minnesota is doing on climate change! Tech is going to save us! No worries!” thing, instead the presentation was a pretty honest assessment of the dire straits in which we find ourselves. There was some talk of things we hope to do and some that we’ve implemented already, but mostly it was a recognition that we have a long way to go. Even here in progressive Minnesota.
The most participant-driven part of the day was the Open Space time. If you’re not familiar with Open Space, the way it worked at the Congress was that any participant could create a room to discuss any topic they want to deep dive. Once the rooms were assigned, we all went off to our topics and, if we wanted, at any time, we could transfer to a different topic. The requirement was that each room have a note-taker to capture the conversations. These notes will reportedly be compiled and presented by the MEQB at the Environmental Congress website.
Our topics were quite varied: Greenhouse gas emissions accounting (data, methods); How to encourage inter-generational action on climate change; Diversity in MN Resilience Planning; How to make mass transit cool; How do we elect bold champions for a livable planet; Natural climate solutions to reach MN’s emission reduction goals! (2% to 33%!); Having meaningful discussions with people you disagree with; one on carbon fee and dividend (CCL was there), a few others and the one I attended, Implications of Line 3 on climate.
The Line 3 Open Space had about a dozen people and was pretty evenly divided between MN agency reps and citizens. Julie Goehring, MEQB Congressional District 7 Representative; Mary Otto, DOC Tribal Liaison; Helen Waquiu, MPCA Tribal Liaison; Steve Colvin, MN DNR Ecological and Water Resources Division Director; DNR Planner Nora (?); Laura Bishop, MPCA Commissioner; MPCA Educator (missed her name!), Sara Wolff, Minnesota Environmental Partnership Advocacy Director; Matteo, Sierra Club/MN350 Videographer; Robert Red Thunder, Red Lake Tribal Member; Jackie (didn’t catch her info); Lindsay Anderson, Green Corps Member; and me!
Sara Wolff began the discussion with a presentation of some data she had on Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) for MN. In 2005, we were at about 130 MMT CO2/year and we’ve reduced this to about 110 MMT CO2/year. Out 2007 goal for 2025 was to reduce by 30% – to about 90 MMT CO2/year – and by 2030, we hoped to reduce by 45% below 2010 levels to about 65 MMT CO2/year. Our old 2050 goal was to reduce to 80% of 2005 levels. But Walz’ new Climate Change Subcabinet calls for 100% reduction by 2050, at least for our electrical production. It will be interesting to see how the group proceeds. [I’ve applied for a seat at the table. Put out the good energy for it!!]
Sara noted that, while we started out strong, Minnesota is no longer on track to meet goals for GHG reductions. We need to further reduce by about 7 MMT CO2/year to hit our old 2025 goal or 13 MMT to meet our new 2025 goal of 30% reduction. That means a 40 MMT reduction by 2030 to meet the goal. She then noted that the GHG emissions for Line 3 will be 200 MMT CO2/year. I mentioned McKibben’s 2012 Do the Math article – where we learned that much of the remaining fossil fuels must remain in the ground.
I mentioned also that the only spill since 1989 on current Line 3 happened during a repair. When we look at the new lines for Keystone and DAPL, we’re seeing spill after spill negating the “improvement” that new pipelines bring. Instead of the jobs for putting in a NEW Line 3, we can create ongoing employment via maintaining our currently safely operating Line 3. Safer AND more jobs.
Lindsey asked about what our current state is and Steve Colvin pointed to Laura Bishop who noted that the permits are on hold at the MPCA. The updated EIS is needed for those permits to be reconsidered. I gave a summary of the court cases where the Court of Appeals required an updated EIS. Steve Colvin noted that Enbridge has to do the analysis but the Department of Commerce does the EIS and presents it to the PUC. He also denoted the open DNR approvals pending: water appropriation permits for different purposes, utility license to cross public lands, utility license to cross public waters, listed species taking permit, a calcareous fen management program, and a public waters work permit (an oddity for public water crossing permits). I summarized that there is currently NO Certificate of Need or Route Permit and, until the EIS is issued and re-approved as adequate, no EIS.
Someone asked about green jobs and a brief discussion ensued about the need. Someone asked about pre-construction work status and I mentioned the difficulty with understanding WHAT you are seeing in the landscape – is it Enbridge pre-construction or high line construction? Is it Enbridge pre-construction or Charlie clearing his timber to pay for his kid’s college?
Current state of the EIS and when and how it will be deemed adequate were unclear. The EIS due date of the 9th (or 10th?) noted by the agency reps. Whether it was supplemental was denied – it is an “update”. I noted that this is all potentially new territory as we have never done an EIS for a pipeline prior to this in Minnesota. Sara noted that the rationale from the PUC for approving Line 3 was to protect the people from disaster; building the pipeline would be a means to that end. [I’d argue now, after all the spills on new pipelines, that the current Line 3 is safer…] However, that decision was made in summer 2018 and, in October 2018, the IPCC released a report that noted an increased urgency for addressing climate, reducing to 45% of 2010 emissions by 2030. In November 2018, the US report on how climate is affecting us was a second major notice on the urgent need for considering how we make decisions in light of the climate crisis. None of this information was available when the PUC made the decision to approve Line 3.
Lindsey noted that we may need to include other states or governments to work on emissions reductions in a more global way. The health of the citizens where the oil will be burned might help involve more people in understanding the risks. She lost enthusiasm when it was mentioned that much of this oil will be exported to offshore users… noting, “China’s not a democracy.” [I’d argue that we’re doing nothing and we supposedly have a democracy…] Colvin noted that this brings us to considering the cumulative effects of these GHG emissions. Matteo noted the argument from Canada could be that we’re impeding their national interests to use their natural resources.
This led to a discussion on lobbying and a note that Enbridge accounted for more than twice the amount of the second largest lobbying source for Minnesota. I asked Steve Colvin about his comment that, “Minnesota is a pass through state” for Line 3. I asked on what basis the PUC made the decision when so many groups opposed, from the DOC to the Tribes to other intervening parties. While Steve didn’t want to speak to the actions of other agencies, he noted the rationale must be noted.* Sara also noted that the laws in the US were developed long ago to give allowances to the fossil fuel industry, for example, allowance to use eminent domain to take land needed for pipelines, to create the growth of the country. We’ve given deference to the free flow of fossil fuels and now we are swimming upstream with a change in our circumstances. The money supporting the fossil fuel industry is also a factor for consideration.
Sara also noted that the ads being placed by Enbridge – full page ads in the Star Tribune run ~$30K – are wrapped into the costs of getting the pipeline built!! This is assessed to the people in the area where the pipeline traverses. Per Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), these people are assessed a rate that includes the costs of these ads. So every time you see an Enbridge ad, you should be seeing it as more money you’ll be paying for these fuels. This explains why they advertise so heavily – it’s on our dime in the end anyway – but what about the risks of them going out of business? Globally we are discussing divestment from and an end to dependence on fossil fuels. Could not getting Line 3 bring bankruptcy leaving Minnesota on the hook for it all? Also noted, regarding ads, Enbridge markets as a “renewable” energy supporter… but they sold off all their wind assets!!
Lindsey noted that when she Googles Line 3, Enbridge pays to be sure their link is the top site listed. This is what money can do. I noted that this same thing happened as Exxon faced court challenges recently in New York.
The discussion turned next to jobs. Julie noted the county commissioners in her part of Minnesota are focused on jobs. This is their focus for Line 3. “Safer and brings more jobs” is the message from them. We hear this all the time in Greater MN. One of the agency people talked about how government jobs are great because of the mobility and possibility. But they’re in the Cities… Jobs are really in need in Greater MN.
I noted that the road to people ratio in Northern MN offers a lot of potential to capitalize on the new green economy coming my way. Julie noted that Paul Douglas recently noted he couldn’t take his electric vehicle for an outstate event because he didn’t have the charging possibility there. Lindsey noted that no car in her price range has the mileage range needed for her to get from where she lives to her parent’s house which makes an EV an impossibility for her. Everyone else in America is dealing with these same issues.
Sara asked us to all consider what the world would look like if it was the way we imagined it to be. A world where no matter what part of the state you lived in, you could have a job that is meaningful for you and provides for your family, and no one has to breath the fumes of pollution and our waters are clean. AOC did it. [Seriously, watch this – it gives hope.]
I talked about the question from the earlier session on what we need to let go of moving forward. I noted that the decision to stop mowing to the edge of the retention ponds also brings a solution to the goose problem because they fear predators in the foliage. And these solutions can become the snowball that we see rolling forward, leading to more and more solutions.
What’s the future for Line 3? Stick more people on repairs, eventually rid ourselves of it? Sara noted that the DOC report advised no need for Line 3 and that we could even NOT build a new Line 3 AND close the existing Line 3 and STILL meet all Minnesota’s needs. I noted that a bigger question is whether Enbridge is looking at bankruptcy near term as the Fossil Fuel industry dies. Will we have to clean up their mess of old and dead pipelines? If we want to talk JOBS, there are 3-5X more jobs in pipeline removal than pipeline construction. MN Taxpayers will be paying for the cleanup if we don’t get our ducks in a row to hold them accountable. Why not let Enbridge pay for their own removal? Starting NOW.
Steve Colvin noted that he’s not sure what financial assurance requirements are embedded in the regulations. For metallic mining, there are financial assurance requirements (though the figures are debated!). This protects against common mining bankruptcy.
Have we talked with the province from Canada that is likely also looking at their own GHG emission reduction programs? No one was familiar with their requirements but the idea of working together on these issues is a good one.
I mentioned the David Dybdahl report from Michigan on Enbridge’s financial liability. I noted there are programs for Line 3 but that the details are not public as Enbridge claims they are “trade secret”. One suggestion was to find whose oil they are transporting and stop supporting those businesses. Enbridge is only the mover, not the one selling the product, so we are largely unable to impact Enbridge as a company.
Laura noted timelines and said that MPCA has a responsibility and she is working with her staff on this work. MPCA’s is determining timing with USACE and they need to provide a schedule to the USACE as their default is 60 days. This consultation work is in progress. Nothing final on EIS as of yet. Route permitting was noted as “not done”.
One final question was to ask about carbon taxes which was a bit outside this group’s balliwick. Most agreed that all costs will eventually come back to consumers. I tried to give the CCL spin on this idea that those who spend a lot will pay more and those who spend less will gain with the standard refunds to all citizens. Had a bit of a discussion on where this would fall with MN being a pass-through state.
And finally, the feed lot that was questioned for GHG emissions was brought forward. There was speculation that this could affect the pipeline discussion as well. Laura addressed the MEQB factoring in of climate. This will be factored in on the EAW/ER. There is a larger idea of how we tackle this as climate as well, including what rule changes may be needed. This and health too will factor into the work being done by the MEQB.
This was a really interesting and diverse conversation and I was excited afterward to meet the other Northern MN person in the room and ended up finding that she’s a cousin to a friend of my parents! Small world. This was a perfect lead in to the closing for the Congress which included some beautiful closing comments and blessings. I wish I had caught the names and more information but it was moving quick and I was enthralled by the commentary and words of blessing. Just beautiful. I was just too in the moment taking it all in…
All in all it was a pretty inspiring conference. There were real conversations and challenges. I don’t know if we’ll end up doing enough but we’re talking a good game so far.
I’m glad I attended. I had an opportunity to meet some amazing people, deepen some relationships, and learn a lot about the state agencies and NGOs working for climate justice.
* For those who have made it this far, below are further details on the PUC decision and it’s avoidance of recognizing GHG emissions from Line 3.
In their Certificate of Need order, the PUC note: The lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from the Project are a significant consequence. However, the lifecycle environmental costs include emissions from ultimate consumption of the oil transported over the Project. These costs do not result directly from the Project, but instead result from the continued demand for crude oil to produce refined products used by consumers.
This contradicts the Department of Commerce assertion that both direct and indirect effects must be considered, which itself is supported by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines, and which the DOC quotes: As noted in the Council on Environmental Quality’s 2016 Final Guidance on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change (Executive Office of the President, Council on Environmental Quality 2016), all greenhouse gas emissions contribute to cumulative climate change impacts.
The DOC laid out the climate impacts of Line 3 to the PUC. The PUC had a chance to take a major stand on climate, and they punted instead. If they wanted to deny the CN based on climate impacts (as well as other environmental and indigenous cultural impacts) they had the regulatory cover to do so as the Council on Environmental Quality (2019 version) itself says: A projection of a proposed action’s direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect GHG emissions may be used as a proxy for assessing potential climate effects. Direct effects are caused by the action and occur at the same time or place. 40 CFR 1508.8(a). Indirect effects are caused by the action and are later in time or farther removed in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable. 40 CFR 1508.8(b). Following the rule of reason, agencies should assess effects when a sufficiently close causal relationship exists between the proposed action and the effect. A ‘‘but for’’ causal relationship is not sufficient. Agencies should attempt to quantify a proposed action’s projected direct and reasonably foreseeable indirect GHG emissions when the amount of those emissions is substantial enough to warrant quantification, and when it is practicable to quantify them using available data and GHG quantification tools.
Where GHG inventory information is available, an agency may also reference local, regional, national, or sector-wide emission estimates to provide context for understanding the relative magnitude of a proposed action’s GHG emissions. This approach, together with a qualitative summary discussion of the effects of GHG emissions based on an appropriate literature review, allows an agency to present the environmental impacts of a proposed action in clear terms and with sufficient information to make a reasoned choice among the alternatives. Such a discussion satisfies NEPA’s requirement that agencies analyze the cumulative effects of a proposed action because the potential effects of GHG emissions are inherently a global cumulative effect. Therefore, a separate cumulative effects analysis is not required.
[Thanks to my buddies for these links – the emphasis is ours.]
The Administrative Law Judge, Ann O’Reilly, noted in her findings on the proposed Line 3 what appear to be clearly reasonable conclusions:
676. The ALJ accepts these calculations as established in fact and adopts the finding of the incremental life-cycle GHG emissions (GHGe) for the Project will be 193 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions (CO2e), totaling $287 billion in social costs.
677. The adoption of these figures by the ALJ is based upon Applicant’s testimony that: (1) the Project, with a 760 kbpd capacity, will predominantly transport heavy crude; (2) the 390 kbpd of light crude currently transported through the line will be displaced by heavy crude; (3) the 390 kbpd light crude currently transported on the line will transferred to other lines (and, therefore, does not “disappear”); and (4) the new line will add an additional 370 kbpd of (new) predominantly heavy crude on the Mainline System to eliminate apportionment.
678. Consequently, reducing the annual life-cycle GHG emission of non-displacement (273.5 million tons CO2e) by the annual life-cycle GHG emissions from 390 kbpd light crude (80.5 million tons CO2e), equals the “incremental” (i.e., increased) annual life-cycle emissions of the Project (193 million tons CO2e). The calculation is as follows: 273.5 million tons CO2e (the estimated annual emissions from a new project bringing 760 kbpd of “new” heavy crude into the environment) minus 80.5 million tons CO2e (the annual emissions from the Existing Line 3), equals 193 million tons CO2e (the annual increased amount of emissions anticipated by the Project).
679. Sierra Club witness Andrew Twite maintains that approving the Project will make it difficult for Minnesota to meet the GHG emission goals set forth in the U.S. Climate Alliance, which affirms states’ support the objectives of the Paris Accord. The U.S. Climate Alliance is bipartisan coalition of governors committed to reducing GHG emissions by at least 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, consistent with the Paris Accord. Minnesota is part of this coalition.
Sadly, the PUC is under no obligation to heed ANY of the ALJ’s recommendations.
Something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot of late is how we’re all dealing with the current state of our planet. [In case you haven’t noticed, ever since the IPCC report came out in October, 2018, the world news has filled with daily reports of climate catastrophe, civil disobedience speaking out against governments that are not acting with enough urgency, and studies on various aspects of weather, insect population, and causes of conflict.]
Stress is felt by everyone in the mix. People are finding themselves overwhelmed by the power of nature: flood and drought; a lack of pollinators and changing pests in garden and field; rising sea levels; unexpected tornados and storms; temperatures that confuse; and resulting psychological unrest, including societal collapse. Animals to insects are feeling the pressures of habitat destruction and ecosystem modifications that change food and shelter availability, temperatures that confuse and kill, and climate that conflicts with expectations. Plants, water, and air too are overwhelmed with pollution and changes to temperature, humidity, and pressures that make unclear how their ecosystems will continue to change.
I’ve been wondering if all the stress being felt in nature isn’t bleeding into what we’re feeling as humans. Everything is interconnected so why wouldn’t the energy of chaos and change in nature result in stress for humans? Of course, as we cannot isolate humans from nature in controlled experiments, we’ll likely never know. But whether we realize it or not, I do believe we’re all feeling repercussions of the stresses being felt in nature and in the other creatures and humans all around us.
Dan and I were recently talking about this and there is much being written on the topic , whether from the perspective of accepting the emerging reality of climate catastrophe or dealing with its aftermath. I get concerned when I see him seeming despondent or sleeping longer in a way that feels like avoidance of life in general. He said to me the other day, “It’s not depression. It’s more like…” “Apathy?” I suggested. While he agreed that sounded better, it took another day for someone else to suggest a better word. Resigned.
The changing environment is a legitimate source of distress already affecting many people, the report emphasized, and it has the potential to be psychologically destabilizing. “To compound the issue, the psychological responses to climate change, such as conflict avoidance, fatalism, fear, helplessness, and resignation are growing,” the APA wrote at the time. “These responses are keeping us, and our nation, from properly addressing the core causes of and solutions for our changing climate, and from building and supporting psychological resiliency.”
There is a level of resignation as we realize that there is so little over which we have control and so much that is becoming chaotic and unfamiliar in the world around us. But for most of us, we’re oblivious to even this. There has been a lot more talk about climate change in the last 420 and some days since the IPCC report was issued. Here’s some interesting tidbits.
A large and growing empirical literature is exploring what drives denial. Personality is a factor: people are more likely to deny climate change if they’re inclined toward hierarchy and against changes to the status quo.
Demographic factors also show an effect. Internationally, people who are less educated, older and more religious tend to discount climate change, with sex and income having a smaller effect.
But the strongest predictor is one’s politics. An international synthesis of existing studies found that values, ideologies and political allegiances overshadowed other factors.
“…climate anxiety – like climate depression or climate rage – isn’t a pathology. It’s a reasonable and healthy response to an existential threat.”
One reason we can remain so oblivious to the pending existential crisis is that our minds cannot comprehend our own pending extinction – there is a mechanism in the brain that prevents it.
“the disintegrated nature of the human mind… now prevents virtually everyone from thinking, feeling, planning and behaving functionally in response to the multifaceted threats to humanity and the biosphere. …various parts of the human mind are no longer capable of working as an integrated unit. That is, each part of the mind – such as memory, thoughts, feelings, sensing capacities (sight, hearing…), ‘truth register’, conscience – function largely independently of each other, rather than as an integrated whole. The immediate outcome of this dysfunction is that human behavior lacks consideration, conviction, courage, and strategy, and is simply driven compulsively by the predominant fear in each context. … I observed individuals (ranging from people I knew, to politicians) behaving in ways that seemed outrageous but it was also immediately apparent that the individual was completely unaware of the outrageous nature of their behavior. On the contrary, it seemed perfectly appropriate to them. With the passage of time, however, I have observed this dysfunctionality in an enormously wide variety of more subtle and common forms, making me realize just how widespread it is even if it goes largely unrecognized.”
While we are often unable to discern the dangers to humanity because of this mental disintegration and cognitive dissonance, there is also a new occurrence I’m noticing in my life and I found a term for it recently:
Blissonanceis the state when a blissful experience in nature is concurrently recognized as a sign of impending doom.
It is my recognition of the cognitive dissonance of our climate catastrophe reality where a spectrum of perspectives arises. Some can see the beautiful 70-degree sunny day in mid-winter Minnesota as a blessed opportunity for some vitamin-D. So they get the gas-burning machines out and ride around in them to “enjoy nature”. [Yep. I’ve done that.] Some can see the beautiful rays of sunshine and bask in their warmth and simply enjoy the moment that is. [Done that too…] But many of us enjoy the loveliness but cringe at the realization that this is a new world that is no longer familiar.
I had this realization as I was outside peeing and looking at the grass peeking from the snow and feeling the warm day. It was lovely, yes. But I realized it was an early winter day that felt like spring. You could almost hear all the trees yawning as if this short nap had been winter and now spring was coming. It should be colder and snowier by this time of year, based on the last couple winters. But the weather is so wacky some days it’s hard to know what time of year it is. And the intensity of our weather is getting scary: 2”+ rainfalls, 70 MPH winds, 50-degree+ temperature swings in a single day. It’s almost as if Gaia IS INDEED kicking us to the curb. The environment is rapidly changing to the point that we may not be able to evolve to live within the changing parameters.
And mankind will work to change or mitigate – at least for the wealthy few. We make fertilizers at plants in poor neighborhoods so rich people’s lawn’s can be coaxed to a lush green. We extract in poor areas – or are areas poor because we extract there? – and then leave behind the polluted mess once all the resources have been stripped. We care little for those who live in these extractive economy areas. Or we must because so little is done to change our ways of being with each other. And we care little for those neighborhoods where we site our refineries, bringing a legacy of health concerns and cancers to the air, land and water nearby. And we grow food for all these people in pesticide and herbicide drenched fields – so sure the poisons on the fields won’t have an impact on the poor souls who survive on the produce. Meanwhile the wealthy shop at Whole Foods and Costco and Trader Joe’s to obtain health-inducing foods.
Because we live in a closed system, we’re generating waste and carcinogens in a closed-loop system in which we live. What we do to our environment, we do to ourselves. And we can think we’re doing it in neighborhoods far, far away but the ecosystem is all connected. Sooner or later we all will pay the piper for the impacts.
Humans have become like a cancerous growth on the face of the planet. We consume and extract at rates that are not sustainable as we careen toward our doom. Many are already experiencing the doom, some have been for quite some time. But now that white colonizer world is feeling the stings… perhaps we’ll see some real action.
I look around and feel little hope for it. Most of us are too comfortable living our air-conditioned lives, driving here and there, flying around the world, eating food from across the continent. We cannot be bothered to engage any change that might bring discomfort to our status quo, no matter how happy it might make us if we do…
Some argue that we’ll find refuge in space. But even if we go to space, we will still be living in closed loop systems. And in space, all of it will be man-made. Perhaps a few will find a way but most of us are resigned to remaining here on our home planet, our Mother Earth.
The wonderful thing about Earth is that She and humans have co-evolved and thus we have the power to exist quite cooperatively. But mankind has removed himself so much from nature that today many children have no notion of the source of their food. They do not see carrots as growing in the garden but instead as coming in a plastic bag from the grocery store. They do not comprehend that macadamia nuts come from so far away (for us here in the Midwest, anyway) or that the meat we eat requires a whole system of slaughter and preparation. They have no connection to the lives that give them life. Some are horrified as the lion captures the gazelle on TV but how different is that from our own eating? Our methods may differ but it is still a life taking a life whether carrots or cattle. We just tend to use a lot more middlemen.
Everything is interconnected. Here at the Harn, we try to work within the system for simplicity and synergy. We are FAR from sustainable and still rely on the outside world food system for much of our food. But we work each year to increase the amount we can produce for ourselves. This past few weeks we’ve spent several days processing deer (and one goat). We’ve helped our friends and we’ve secured some new meat for our larder. In addition to feeling responsible and accountable for our food, we have the added benefit to know exactly WHAT our food is. We don’t have to eat the thousand cow hamburger. And that is a step toward saner eating.
And all this is a big circle back to being more in touch with the land upon which you live. This circle is like so much of life in that it can bring bigger and bigger returns. Nature doesn’t need all the tilling and fertilizers to grow food – why don’t we learn from Her? We are doing that at the Harn and finding that solutions beget solutions, we see better and more circular systems that feed each other. I think maybe we’re learning to live like Nature. When we have abundance, we share. When we need, we ask, and others share with us. More often than not, we don’t even have to ask! I’m learning to walk in some new way where life leads me a bit more than the other way around (although I do plenty of that too). And I am learning to trust. This discovery that each solution brings others and this realization gives some level of hope.
I heard someone say they are longing for the collapse of industry as it will bring a new green future when we are forced to stop our current ways. A friend who loves word play (actually I love that she plays in ALL aspects of life) who shared this with me today:
A-pa-collapse, our-ma-get-in (the end of the world as we know it)
I’ve begun to live quite a bit more daily of late and am finding it brings an interesting peace and abundance. I am finding the most magical of paths as I move through each day, gifts of fellowship and storytelling, music and food, happiness and peace. I find new ideas, hugs, smiles, songs, friends, and new friends!! And this joy and beauty makes the hopelessness of the planetary situation a bit more palatable.
If we’re in the end game, perhaps we can at least enjoy each other’s company while we have time. And share joy and abundance wherever and whenever we can. I’m personally finding that the best thing I can do is provide kindness to all my fellow travelers. I hope you find some kindness today. Sharing some will surely bring it your way.
I am so glad to have stumbled upon this book So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo as I prepared to attend the Overcoming Racism event at BSU. I didn’t read it until after the event but I checked out some of Ijeoma’s online interviews and she is a thoughtful speaker on the topic of race. If you don’t have time to read the book, you might want to check out this Google Talk she did which was very informative. [Who knew African Americans and Indigenous People struggle with lactose intolerance!?!? Now I do.] And here is a short WHY we need to talk about race (listen at 1:04 for the best part). And a quick local interview which discusses the book. (Note some of the comments on Ijeoma’s video links, which are horrifying… yet explain exactly WHY this book is so necessary. The expressed ignorance and intended dismissal of Ijeoma and her ideas are truly astounding.) OK, here we go…
The introduction to the book can be heard in the above Google Talk, with which Ijeoma opens. In 6 and a half pages, Ijeoma gives a peek into her world, the world of a black woman, explaining how her skin tone permeates every aspect of her life, colors every decision made, is a constant stress in this white supremacy country, and “one of the most defining forces” in her life. She opes up in a vulnerable way about how race has affected her, shaped her life experience, and guided her to the point of writing this book. She briefly tells us why this book is so necessary to these times and how she hopes it will be helpful, a topic that she will continue to highlight throughout the book. While race can be a “grueling, heart-wrenching” topic, she lightens the discussion with humor and curiosity and she stresses that this work will not be easy for any but will be especially hard for people of color. She warns that, while “racism and racial oppression in America are horrible and terrifying”, we must “let go of some of that fear” and “look racism in the eye wherever we encounter it.”
So you want to talk about race begins with a chapter to explain why this is about race and not class, as the argument oft made by many is that we can address race by dealing with class. She explains that the idea that fixing things for the lower classes will not fix the problems faced by people of color. She asks a friend:
“Why do you think black people are poor? Do you think it’s for the same reasons that white people are?”
So you want to talk about race, page 9
In the exemplary conversation with her friend, Ijeoma makes clear how fixing class will make things better for blacks but will not fix the problems of racism. Raising the minimum wage does little to help people of color (POC) secure equal consideration for jobs in the first place. Home ownership is not a matter of simply having a wage that allows the purchase but also about the ability to secure fair and equal financing. Getting a job is predicated by first being able to get through an educational system that is stacked against POC while the inequality of our justice system can make simply driving to work a hazardous experience.
Ijeoma goes on in the first chapter to explain how race is integrated with the U.S. economic system and that it is enmeshed in all aspects of our lives. “The system of racism functioned primarily as a justification for the barbaric act of chattel slavery and the genocide of Indigenous peoples.” She notes that slavery cannot exist if we maintain social rules that prohibit putting “putting chains around the necks of other human beings”. But these ideas that POC are somehow different from white people allow the continuation of the racial constructs that divide us and oppress POC in everything from politics to education to infrastructure – “anywhere there is a finite amount of power, influence, visibility, wealth, or opportunity.”
She further explains the three easy ways to distinguish if something is about race or not.
It is about race if a person of color thinks its about race. (It may be about other things as well, but it is about race if the person of color thinks it is. And, White People, we are usually the ones making things about race by the very systems we perpetuate as ‘white-normal’. So quit bitching about everything being about race because, in the system where we live, by default, it is.)
It is about race if it disproportionately or differently affects people of color. (See above… and note, just because Oprah and Beyonce made it big does not mean that there is a level playing field for POC.)
It is about race if it fits into a broader pattern of events that disproportionately or differently affects people of color. Ijeoma uses the example of an abusive relationship as an effective analogy to describe how racism can feel. She reiterates that while something can be about race, it may also be about other things. But without looking at race as a factor, we cannot fix the political, socioeconomic, and relational problems we face.
Chapter two defines racism as a system, not just as behavior between people. It is “a prejudice against someone based on race, when those prejudices are reinforced by systems of power.” As long as we see it as white people having “good” or “bad” hearts, something that can be fixed by changing opinions, we will not address the systemic nature of racism in America. Many of us perpetuating the racist system are not “racist” in the sense of wanting to cause harm to someone of a different race. But we are all programmed by the culture around us which predicates ‘white’ as ‘normal’, ‘acceptable’, and ‘superior’. And that includes POC. In order to mitigate racism, will will need to literally “dismantle the machine”. And in doing so, we need to prioritize the safety of POC over the discomfort of whites.
One great summarizing statement was this: “Getting my neighbor to love people of color might make it easier to hang around with him, but it won’t do anything to combat police brutality, racial income inequality, food deserts, or the prison industrial complex.” This chapter also digs into “reverse racism” effectively.
Ijeoma goes on from here to share how we can talk about racism effectively – which can be done, even if we “talk about race wrong”, which we all will do at some point, but which we need to continue to practice if we hope to find a way forward. It is in chapter three that we meet Ijeoma’s mother – a white woman who sounds an awful lot like me… Ijeoma opens with a story about a turning-point conversation with her mother that made me cringe in recognition. Giving me insight that helped me better see how ignorant I have been, can be, and likely will continue to be until I have put much more work into this area, I appreciated it.
I should note that, since starting this book, I believe I am perhaps running a particular friend ragged with my random interjections on the philosophy of race relations, and while she is a patient sounding board, I am realizing I need to make a formal apology for discomfort I’ve caused and to ask more openly if she is comfortable with participating in these “conversations” (they usually just begin with me raving about injustice that I find unacceptable). She is one of the bravest women I know and has shared her insights, which I am honored to hear, especially when they are a reminder of my limited views. [As perhaps all POC can do (dealing with white people shit (WPS) on a daily must give a kind of superpower, no?), she has a subtle way of making clear to me certain ideas that lightly press my understanding. I personally think she has developed this ability to a fine skill, which makes me wonder how much horrible she has endured to allow her to do this so well.] But I would rather we had more intention to these talks at times, which is where Ijeoma starts in her nine tips for how to increase success in race conversations.
State your intentions. [Any two people conversing compassionately about race can fail to find success when the goals of each in the discussion is not clearly understood.]
Remember what your top priority in the conversation is, and don’t let your emotions override that. [If understanding is my goal, I will check my ego when it feels like I’m becoming defensive.]
Do your research. [Google has answers on most everything. I can spend time learning terminology, history, and reading the commentary and studies available, to better understand so that I don’t put all the onus on explanation on my conversation mate… especially if I will be talking with a person of color.]
Don’t make your anti-racism argument oppressive against other groups. While it’s fine to express anger, “it is never okay to battle racism with sexism, transphobia, ableism, or other oppressive language and actions”.
When you start to feel defensive, stop and ask yourself why. Ijeoma suggests that, if you can’t understand the source of defensiveness by questioning yourself, that you can “at least try to take a few minutes away to catch your breath and lower your heart rate so that you can.” [This is a favorite as lately I’ve been fascinated to examine the subtle ways defensiveness and aggression arise in me and how I can better understand the fear and other motivators behind these feelings.]
Do not tone police. While Ijeoma goes into more detail in chapter 15, the idea here is that you don’t make POC talk in ways that assure you can feel comfortable.
If you are white, watch how many times you say “I” and “me”. Because racism is a systemic issue, it’s not just all about you.
Ask yourself: Am I trying to be right, or am I trying to be better? Coming off a recent FB interaction, I think we can all apply this in most ANY conversation we have for improved success. I struggle with my own self-righteousness and often have to remember, the goal of any discussion is not being right, but finding understanding. And why is this important in talking about race? “Because your opponent isn’t a person, it’s the system of racism that often shows up in the words and actions of other people.”
Do not force people of color into discussions of race. Because race is a daily and exhaustive concept for POC, white people must understand that our urgency to find a way forward should always recognize the POC who graciously do talk with us, and respect their needs and wishes to NOT engage on the topic.
And if you fuck up in your attempt? Six tips are offered by Ijeoma, including my favorite: 2) Apologize. Sincerely. White people must remember that ANY attempts by a POC to engage you on race is a risk for them much more than for us. And this work, when done effectively, will always be emotional.
Why am I always being told to “check my privilege”? discusses the importance of each of us understanding our privilege. [Yes, do the exercise! It is highly enlightening!] We all have some “advantage or a set of advantages that” others do not, which is basically all privilege is. [And yes, White People, we all have disadvantages as well. “It is natural to feel like focusing on your advantages invalidates your disadvantages and your struggles in life”. But the reality is, for most white people, we are largely clueless about our advantages, especially when compared with those for POC. We find it much easier to discuss where we struggle than to admit where we are given a leg up on others.] Looking at privilege helped me understand I am advantaged by much: white, car owner, cute, straight, tall, had maternity leave, working arms and legs, homeowner, middle class, two-parent upbringing, big boobs, good teeth, college education, cisgender, neuro-typical, member of management. I must remember, that by asking myself who doesn’t share the same freedoms that I do, is exactly how I address the system of racism and dismantle it. And I am grateful for every Black/Indigenous/Person of Color (BIPOC) that helps me find awareness, no matter how it comes my way.
Ijeoma moves on to “Intersectionality, the belief that our social justice movements must consider all of the intersections of identity, privilege, and oppression that people face in order to be just and effective” and how it can provide “a more inclusive alternative to the status quo.” From the work of Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality can help us address problems in a more holistic way, understanding the many complexities of each human and assuring that we address issues not simply from a white/male/power perspective. Prioritizing a focus on intersectionality can help assure we include marginalized people, giving voice to their perspectives and focusing on their concerns first. [As Dan says, “It’s time for old white men to sit down and shut up.”]
Ijeoma’s chapter on police brutality makes clear the distinct experience of POC and the reality that each lives knowing a police officer “could take your freedom or even your life at any time, with no recourse.” Imagine living with that in every moment. Ijeoma offers a great history of policing in America. As a Water Protector, I have watched as law enforcement shows their true loyalty… to those in power.
As with Police Brutality, Ijeoma also covers the history Affirmative Action. And she includes a heartbreaking story of her brother’s experience that brings the plight of black school children to light. The abuse his teacher inflicted upon him was unacceptable. It makes me wonder how many stories of trauma go unaddressed every day as this systemic racism prevents us from even seeing gross inequality, let alone addressing it. Ijeoma’s own work experience is full of stories that inform on this topic. She addresses many arguments against affirmative action, including this well-reasoned example:
She makes good points, eh? Seriously, read this book. It’s full of this kind of clear and logical examples, many of them based on her personal experience.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline is a reality made clear in chapter 8. Her story of a black kindergartener (that one school board member argued should have assault charged filed against) was especially poignant… and filled with examples of how the white-normalized educational system can be blind and especially cruel to children of color. The rules/culture (written/formed to favor whites) inherently disadvantages non-whites. This chapter also points to the exacerbation brought by zero-tolerance policies and School Resource Officers. It should be clear that a need for police officers in our schools is a sign of bigger problems in our society. Perhaps these concerns would be alleviated if we could dismantle the racist culture in America.
A short chapter on Why can’t I say the “N” word? gives insight to the power of words and clarifies the answers on this question. [I have a personal example that I will perhaps share one day soon – it’s a blog I’ve been hammering on for quite some time.]
Ijeoma also has a similarly enlightening chapter called Why can’t I touch your hair? Definitely read it.
Ijeoma’s chapter on cultural appropriation was helpful to me. The adoption and exploitation of other cultures by the dominant white culture in America is all too common. And I’m grateful we’re talking about it. This is perhaps one of the most complicated aspects of the book. “The problem with cultural appropriation is not in the desire to participate in aspects of a different culture that you admire. The problem of cultural appropriation is primarily linked to the power imbalance between the culture doing the appropriating and he culture being appropriated.” The problems arise when the dominant culture distorts or redefines the appropriated culture and/or makes some financial gain from said appropriation. I was tickled at how Ijeoma made no hard fast rule on rap.
However, she again points at the white-centric reality of America. The very fact that white is the dominant culture presumes that other cultural practices are not ‘normal’. They are classed as primitive, exotic, strange, or simply less acceptable. Because there is no equal playing field, there is no equal exposure to all racial cultures, and there is no equality. Thus, the taking of aspects of a non-dominant culture by a dominant culture person will always run the risk of being harmful.
Because there is no one authority to define what specifically is sacred, and because what is sacred is different for each of us, depending on our own individual perspectives, a given behavior can be a non-issue for one person and harmful to another. Ijeoma suggests we will find more success if we “start with enough respect for the marginalized culture in question to listen when somebody says ‘this hurts me’.”
As the U.S. was founded on the genocide of one race and enslavement of another, and included a resulting forced assimilation to the dominant culture, I’d argue that many aspects of the white supremacy culture – the religion, language, food, practices, beliefs and behaviors themselves – can themselves create microagressions toward non-whites. Which takes us to chapter 12.
The whole idea of microaggressions if often written off by white people saying things like, “folks shouldn’t be so sensitive.” When I consider my own trauma, specifically that experienced in the Christian churches of my youth, I note that the sight of a cross around someone’s neck can set my hair on edge. While this minor discomfort or unease I experience is not nice, I comprehend that it in no way is equivalent to the experiences of microaggressions by people of color. I can see that my experience, with it’s minor potential repercussions, can lead me to simply think, “we all need to take our sensitivities less seriously.” But in that attitude I am not comprehending that this is an occasional, minor discomfort, and not one that threatens my real safety and well-being. For people of color, the discomfort experienced with microaggressions is accompanied by very real potential threats to their safety, including the possible risk of death. While it is in no way comparable, realizing my own discomfort at the sight of a cross at least helps me begin to understand how these feelings that result from microaggressions can be debilitating.
The opening pages of this chapter give a much better explanation as Ijeoma shares her own experiences with microaggressions.
Besides being hard to see, they are often made unconsciously by perpetrators. This chapter, perhaps more than most, made it very clear to me why it is so important to talk with each other, get to know each other, and share experiences with each other, so that we can better address our concerns around race. I know better now why it is so important for me to ask more questions, be more thoughtful, and talk less.
We cannot hope to cease harming each other when we are so ignorant to the ways in which we cause harm. And it’s my responsibility as one from the dominant culture, to educate myself on the people around me and their cultural norms. It’s my responsibility to be more thoughtful about how the questions I ask, based in white supremacy culture, can create discomfort. And, while it’s not their job to educate me, having people of color around me providing perspective really helps.
Ijeoma shares some of her own techniques for addressing some microaggressions and they are quite brilliant! Sometimes it is a simple as stating “what actually happened” (“You just assumed that I don’t speak English.”) but it can mean asking some clarifying questions. “Why did you say that to me?” or “Can you help me understand your joke?” can give someone pause to truly consider what they said and how it might have affected a person of color. She also notes that it’s not about the intentions of the person making the statement but instead it is about educating them to the harms they are causing, intentional or not. “You may not have meant to offend me, but you did. And this happens to people of color all the time. If you do not mean to offend, you will stop doing this.” Bottom line: we need to address these issues, regardless of the discomfort they can bring, if we hope to find progress.
So, what if you’re the one being called out for microaggressions? She has tips for us too! And since they are the things I need to remember best, here they are:
Pause. [I know the surprise and emotion that arises when being accused of racism. Taking a pause allows me to remember that this is not about my feelings, but about understanding the effects of my words and actions and working to be a better person to the one who is calling me out.]
Ask yourself: “Do I really know why I said/did that?” [This is a big one. And one that can take time to truly comprehend. There are many common actions or questions that white people should have long ago stopped. And, had we made progress on dismantling the racism machine in America, perhaps we would have. But as we largely lack an ability to talk about race, it will take time until we phase out these things. When confronted with our words/actions by a person of color it is clear that some ruminating is in order.]
Ask yourself: “Would I have said this to somebody of any race? Is this something I say to people of my race? [Another good question to ask as it can give additional insight to my assumptions.]
Ask yourself if you were feeling threatened or uncomfortable in the situation, and then ask yourself why. [I had an experience this past summer where I was publicly accused of racist statements. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I ended up spending a great deal of time and energy on trying to understand. It gave me much pause to consider all aspects of the situation and my accountability for what transpired. I talked with many people about the experience and came to understand that my discomfort with the accusations caused me to default to defensiveness when I should have simply stayed silent. It led me to better understand how my actions, regardless of intention, caused harm. Understanding that my emotions need to be checked will hopefully cause me to better respond in similar situations going forward.]
Don’t force people to acknowledge your good intentions. [There was much about the summer situation that made me want to assure my good intentions were recognized. Of course I don’t want my colleagues and peers – many of whom barely knew me as this was a nationwide conference call – to think ill of me! In hindsight, I see how meaningless this recognition of my intentions was for the people of color in the group who were triggered as it was based solely in soothing my ego.]
Remember: it’s not just this one incident. For people of color, microaggressions are an everyday occurrence and the continued and cumulative effects can be overwhelming. [What I said in the summer call may very well have been ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. Regardless, I needed to acknowledge responsibility for the words I said and work to ease the resulting harms.]
Research further on your own time. Ijeoma assures that whatever we do, it’s been done before and “a quick Google search will help you understand further”. [Indeed, I have had multiple conversations with people I felt could help me better understand that summer situation. I selected white people who I felt modeled thoughtful and respectful behaviors regarding race, people I thought would have insight to what I said from a local perspective, and Indigenous friends who could help me better understand from their perspective. I continue to seek out better understanding and most recently attended an Overcoming Racism workshop that gave more food for thought.]
Apologize. When we do something to harm another, even if we do not understand, an apology is in order. [While I did make amends to most of the people I knew I’d affected on that call, there was one that felt as if my approach would create more adversity. I am hopeful that one day, this amends can be made in a good way. But I’m pretty sure I need a lot more work first!!]
Chapter 13 asks Why are our students so angry? Ijeoma’s sharing of her son’s stand on the pledge of allegiance was familiar to me. We may have different experiences that led to our stance of non-participation, but I find big truth in his words as shared by his mother. [In fact, reading this section thrilled me, in part because it reminded me so much of conversations I had with Tommy. This woman was being real with her son, like I was with mine and she was finding her son to be as thoughtful and powerful as I remember finding Tom. That is a joy. But it also broke my heart as I realized the reality of her son’s childhood was riddled with trauma that my son never even had to consider.] The remainder of the chapter gives a quick run through of what’s happened since she was born in the 80s and finishes with explaining our role as adults going forward – basically “to not fuck things up so badly that our kids will be too busy correcting the past to focus on the future.” [The climate crisis is a good example of how we’re failing.] This page says so much and talks about what happened Just after the election of Donald Trump:
Chapter 14 asks What is the model minority myth? This 1966 idea stereotypes Asian Americans as an “ideal minority group”, creating high expectations for individuals and ignoring the amazing diversity of Asian Peoples. Ijeoma talks here about growing up in poverty and reaching out to brown and black kids for their likely economic connection; poverty was a commonality that allowed a pretense of normalcy. Nonetheless, she faced her own blindness to racism of a different sort.
This ‘model minority’ idea sees Asian Americans as one invariable group, regardless of the fact that Asian Americans are from such a wide swath of countries, religions, and languages. Like all stereotypes, this idea of “all are alike” is a way of ignoring individuals and dismissing any need to treat them as such. While some may see this is a good thing, to be seen as the ‘model’, and much of the assumptions about this group are ‘positive’, it allows those who do not fit the stereotype to remain unseen and creates unacknowledged barriers. As Ijeoma clarifies, there is much diversity within this ‘model minority’. And some of the assumptions about Asian Americans (that they are meek, hard-working, docile) leads to unfair contrasts with other racial groups. In the end, this system of stereotyped racial ideas is simply another tool that serves the white supremacy culture.
In What if I don’t like Al Sharpton? we get to the idea of tone. Ijeoma discusses the idea of the Martin Luther King, Jr./Malcolm X dichotomy. Martins are black people who comfortably challenge white people without making them feel too uncomfortable while Malcolms are angry blacks “who shout, who inconvenience your day, who will call out your specific behaviors”. Sharpton is a Malcolm. And so is Ijeoma. Though she’s also a Martin. 🙂 In his time, MLK was seen as “the most dangerous man in America” because asking for equality for blacks threatened White Supremacy. [Amazing what some time can do for a guy. And being dead is surely a big help too. No longer a threat to white supremacy, Martin can now be a hero for all the progress America has made!]
Ijeoma argues that, if you believe in justice and equality, then you believe in it for all time and for all people. There is nothing that can be said or done to ‘earn’ a right to justice and equality. These should be basic human rights. But many having conversations about race point to HOW the discussion is happening as opposed to what is being discussed. They are not comfortable with any expressions of anger or accusation. This is simply another tactic for allowing the issues to go unaddressed. And, like all of white supremacy culture, it is based in keeping white people comfortable. It “places prerequisites on being heard and being helped”.
White people need to remember that, for people of color, the discussion is always about the SYSTEM of racism and includes for them a lifetime of lived abuses, dismissals, and harms. The way things are discussed may not be comfortable, but this work is not about the comfort of white people. It is about the responsibility of white people to dismantle a system that gives them unfair and unearned advantage over other human beings.
I just got called racist, what do I do now? is a chapter for white people. I get that I have racist tendencies. We are ALL programmed by the culture in which we live. And we all live in a White Supremacy world here in America. Anyone who thinks they are not biased is delusional. But examples of people who insist that racism doesn’t exist or that they personally are not racist are ubiquitous.
Here are some things for white people to remember (And hopefully I didn’t fuck up this list in ways that make it different from what Ijeoma intended. The first sentence is her tip and those following are my understanding of what she is suggesting.):
Listen. if someone is telling you something about yourself and your actions… just try to actually hear what they are trying to communicate to you without jumping to conclusions, interrupting, or getting too defensive to hear them.
Set your intentions aside. Whether or not you caused harm has nothing to do with intention. I think there is some saying about the road to hell on this idea…
Try to hear the impact of what you have done. Regardless of your action, the result on this person is the current concern. Hear what they are expressing and consider how you can ease the harm you are having on this individual.
Remember that you do not have all the pieces. As a white person, you can never fully grasp the perspective of the person of color. You can never comprehend the way your action fits into her larger experience and it is best to trust that she is sharing with you her truth, regardless of your ability to grok it.
Nobody owes you a debate. The emotional toll of simply discussing race is enormous for people of color. When you are confronted with an accusation of racist behavior, while you may want to deep dive, the person talking with you may only have enough to tell you what was done and perhaps how it affected them. There’s always Google… [Or perhaps you can deep dive with another white person who may have a better understanding and can give you further insights.]
Nobody owes you a relationship. If you have harmed someone, they have every right to decide to cut ties with you. No matter how much progress you’ve made.
Remember you are not the only one hurt. It hurts to be called racist but it can never hurt more than the hurt that forced this person to address you. This is not about your pain. It’s about theirs and it’s your responsibility as a white person to listen. (See first bullet.)
If you can see where you have been racist, or if you can see where your actions have caused harm, apologize and mean it. If you can’t see these things, take time to deeply consider the comments and perhaps later you will see more clearly. Also consider how you can make amends and avoid recurrence of this behavior.
Last one is below as Ijeoma really says it best.
Ijeoma’s final chapter offers insight to what more you can do, besides talk. Talk will help but it will take so much more to truly dismantle the white supremacy machine.
Vote local. And demand that anyone asking for your vote make racial justice a top priority.
Get in schools. Let officials know that an inclusive education meeting the needs of ALL students. Ask what is being done to close the racial achievement gaps and if the history and accomplishments of people of color are represented in the textbooks used in your school.
Bear witness. If you see a person of color stopped by the police or being harassed, bear witness… offer to help is that is safe. “Sometimes just the watchful presence of another white person will make others stop and consider their actions more carefully.”
Speak up in your unions. Ask “about the union’s goals to promote diversity and inclusivity.” Unions can bring power but only if members insist on racial justice as a priority.
Support POC-owned businesses. Fight economic exploitation by supporting local POC businesses with your dollars.
Boycott banks that prey on people of color. Boycott banks that sell bad loans to, hike interest rates for, or descriminate against POC.
Give money to organizations working to fight racial suppression and support communities of color. ACLU, SPLC, Planned Parenthood, NAACP, National Immigrant Justice Center, National Council of La Raza, Native American Rights Fund, Mative American Disability Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Equal Justice Initiative, and others. Ask local people of color for leads to groups that need financial support.
Boycott businesses that exploit workers of color. Assure you buy from employers that respect their workers with living wages.
Support music, film, television, art, and books created by people of color. With white as the default, supporting workers creating media and art from a POC perspective helps normalize the available works.
Support increases in the minimum wage. More POC work in lower wage jobs. Raising minimum wage helps POC disproportionately and can help redress the vast wealth gap in America.
Push your mayor and city council for police reform. Ask what is being done to address racial bias in policing. Ask about training, body cams and what civilian oversight is allowed in complaints of bias, discrimination, or abuse. Don’t allow police unions to maintain an unfair status quo.
Demand college diversity. Let your college know that inclusiveness and diversity are priorities in students, curriculum, and staff.
Vote for diverse government representatives. “Help put people of color into the positions of power where they can self-advocate for the change their communities need. Support candidates of color and support platforms that make diversity, inclusion, and racial justice a priority.”
I highly encourage you to read this book in its entirety. it is full of personal stories, inspiring and heartbreaking, that clarify why this work is so important. Even the acknowledgements are good, which for me is often a sign of a good book. I absolutely love this woman. I have watched videos, listened to interviews, and now finished her book. I hope you will give her a chance to reach you with her message, in whatever way you can. I’ve given you a few links but there is so much more to explore.
As a Water Protector, I have focused on Line 3. If we ever defeat this pipeline, I believe my next task may be to focus on racial justice, which I do with as much time as I can these days. It is hard work. It is full of tears and sadness and horror. And I’m sure I fail EVERY DAY in some way shape or form. But it is important and fulfilling work to discover shortcomings that can be remedied in yourself and to discover the treasure of perspective that is available in human beings of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, and personalities.