Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
A letter from Executive Director, Carolyn Raffensperger
Late last year, around the time of the November election in the U.S., I learned the name of a young man from a North Dakota Tribe. Translated, his name meant “Male Hope”. I was intensely curious about how hope could be gendered. His parents explained to me that hope is nuanced. Men hope to be able to fulfill their unique responsibilities to the family and community. Women have other responsibilities and so Female Hope is the constellation of prayer, duty and action directed at the future that is uniquely in the domain of women.
Women are gathering January 21st to rally and raise their voices in the public square to give voice to that Hope that forms the women’s constellation. We are rallying to show that the incoming government does not have the consent of the governed. We do not consent to have the environment destroyed. We do not consent to having our bodies treated as if they belonged to someone else. We do not consent to having our neighbor’s lives destroyed because of medical debt. We do not consent to privileging oil companies’ plunder of our drinking water and agricultural lands. We do not consent to the theft of the future from our grandchildren.
Consent of the governed is required for legitimate government. The alternatives to consent are anarchy or dictatorship. The basis of consent is respect. Respect is honoring the autonomy and dignity of the person. Taking away our authority over our bodies, taking away our ability to care for our children, our neighborhoods, and the Earth is to deny our autonomy and dignity.
How we treat women is a microcosm of how we treat all that is sacred—children, the Earth, the elderly, the future. Given the threats to what we hold sacred by the incoming administration, we must do two things, block actions that threaten our ability to care for our own bodies, each other and the Earth as well as to invent new legal ideas and policies that further our sacred responsibility to take this kind of care.
The Women’s March will give voice to the “hell no’s” —Hell no you can’t take away the funding for Planned Parenthood. Hell no you can’t give away our climate and water to the fossil fuel industry. Hell no you can’t squander our children’s inheritance of the commons.” But as every mother of a two year old knows, “no” is insufficient. We are also searching for and inventing the big “yeses”. Yes to new legal ideas and policies starting with the basic question of, what is the primary role of government?
Some years ago, several groups came together and convened the Women’s Congress for Future Generations in order to give women a voice in policy and to advance the basic notion that not only did women have a right to be at the policy table, but we were claiming a responsibility to be there since we are the first environment for future generations as well as recognizing that women are fractals of the Earth—we are water. We are earth. We are hosts to living things. This is the basis for the distinctive hopes we bring to the policy table.
Basic policies that emerged from the Women’s Congress assert that government has a primary responsibility to be the trustee of the commons—all the things we share—for present and future generations. All of us have a right to equal access to these commons. Government must care for the commons in such a way that it protects the basic necessities for our survival and well being—air, water, climate, nature, public parks and art, roads and bridges wildlife.
Imagine a world where our federal and state government actually saw itself as the trustee of these things and treated each person and community with dignity, honoring their right to consent. This is the basis of our Women’s Hope and why I will rally with my sisters and brothers on the 21st. We hope for justice. We hope for a caring economy. We hope that our grandmothers and granddaughters will be treated with respect. This is our responsibility. We will not stand down. We are honing the axe.
Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director
2017 Women’s Congress for Future Generations
November 2-5, 2017
Guardianship: A Critical Responsibility for Our Time
This book bears witness to hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America brings together the voices of more than fifty writers exploring the complexities of fracking through first-hand experience, investigative journalism, story-telling, and verse. At a time when politics and profits inhibit our ability to have meaningful discussions about the hazards of fracking, these creative perspectives are needed to ignite the national conversation about how we can live with more compassion toward Earth.
In the tradition of Wallace Stegner’s This is Dinosaur, Terry Tempest Williams and Stephen Trimble’s Testimony, and Rick Bass and David James Duncan’s The Heart of the Monster, Fracture braids together poetry and prose that helps us envision a new course for energy development. Fracking diminishes the habitability of our world. This first-of-its-kind anthology exposes fracking’s effects on local communities as well as its global impacts—flares fueling climate change, oil spills into waterways, earthquakes deep below Earth’s surface. Fracking has changed the national political conversation, and so will this powerful book.
Here are the contributors for the anthology which also includes an introduction by Pam Houston and includes essays by Carolyn Raffensperger and SEHN board member Angie Carter:
Louise A. Blum
Paul Bogard Angie Carter
Alison Hawthorne Deming
Sarah Lyn Eaton
Frederick L. Kirschenmann
Patricia Nelson Limerick
Karla Linn Merrifield
Jeremy J. Miller
Kathleen Dean Moore
Mary Heather Noble
Tyler Priest Carolyn Raffensperger
Susan Truxell Sauter
New Networker on (Mythic)Models for Protecting Environmental Health and Future Generations
SEHN Networker Volume 21 (2) February, 2016
(Mythic)Models for Protecting Environmental Health and Future Generations
“If you could ask Dante where he got the idea of life as a road, or Rilke where he found the notion that time is a destroyer, they might have said the metaphors were hewn from their minds, or drawn from a stock of poetic imagery. Their readers might have said the imagery had origins more divine, perhaps even diabolical. But neither poets nor readers would have said the metaphors were designed…Can metaphors be designed? I’m here to tell you that they can, and are.”
– Michael Erard, author and linguist
An El Niño was first explained to me using a bathtub; the Pacific Ocean basin’s water sloshing back and forth. My professors used a bathtub analogy to communicate climate equilibrium and the Earth’s energy budget.
The word doesn’t have much power in and of itself. It gains power by suggesting one thing belongs to another. An ocean is within our grasp – we can see through a hundred different eyes, from the point of view of a giant, an atom, the oldest tree. Locked up in a word are possibly game-changing ideas.
SEHN has been at the forefront of developing game-changing ideas, and finding words that express those ideas and challenge status quo concepts which are harmful. As Executive Director, Carolyn Raffensperger put it, “When I look for good policy ideas I want them to have a mythic power, a legal hook and an ecological coherence.”
Over the years, SEHN has initiated several policies based on the rights of future generations. One of those policies was that governments at any level could designate a legal guardian for future generations.
The bridge between the metaphor and public policy is the archetype. A word like Guardian carries in it a mythic figure and power, as well as a response contained in the word. The Precautionary Principle recognizes inherent scientific uncertainty and ways of acting in the face of uncertainty to prevent harm. It gains new traction when it can be told through Guardian language.
Other SEHN ideas like ecological medicine or the ecological framework carry truths, that we are what we breathe and drink, and what’s put on our skin; that we are part of a complex system.
These concepts frame more interesting questions: how does oil become more valuable than water? What is the true basis of a healthy system? How does an Owl economy compare to a Bull and Bear economy? In this way an idea can have the power to create new policies and rearrange the way we go about working and living together.
That is why ideas – and the words used to give ideas power – matter. The idea that government prioritizes the economy leads to principles like ‘oil is more valuable than water’. In Flint, MI the decision to switch water supplies was made by people who failed to ask the right questions, and then failed to heed early warnings. The costs of this mistake are huge. We at SEHN would argue that these decisions are unethical and misuse science.
Flint is symptomatic of a larger problem of cumulative neglect of the role that the environment has on public health. SEHN’s role is to counter this neglect with ideas that put public and environmental wellbeing and integrity front and center. In this narrative, the free market, capital and private property are not the primary goals or processes of democracy.
If we decide instead to prioritize clean air, healthy kids, environmental health, biodiversity, we start to think about laws and governance differently. Flint is the tale of so many places.
In this month’s Networker we share some of the ways ideas like Guardian, Sentinel, Elder, and Storyteller – the urge to protect and prevent — are being translated into organizing strategies, research agendas, and principles of law.
Last, we want to give you an update on the SEHN finances as we begin 2016. Over the years our funding was primarily from foundations but our support has gradually shifted to be mostly from individual donors. We are learning as we go and want to thank you for your contributions to SEHN. We are in better shape than we have been in several years heading into 2016, thanks to you. What we pledge to you is that we will do our best to bring SEHN’s unique strengths and contributions to sponsor clean water, a stable climate, environmental justice and health in the coming year.
In good health,
We want to hear from you! We’re hoping you’ll take a couple of minutes. We’re curious how SEHN engages you and what kind of content we can be providing in our newsletter. We’d be grateful and our content will be richer for it.
Iowa Utility Board Deliberations on Dakota Access Bakken Pipeline
Iowa is the last hold-out. The Bakken pipeline is the largest proposed pipeline project in the country and slated to carry 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day. SEHN intervened on behalf of future generations, the first time they have been represented in an administrative proceeding in this country. Follow the Coalition’s activities here.
IOWA UTILITY BOARD HEARINGS – RECENT COVERAGE Bakken pipeline OK looks likely in Iowa, say foes, supporters
“Carolyn Raffensperger…said it appears likely the board will approve the project, but with certain conditions. Her organization has proposed that if the pipeline permit is granted and an oil spill of more than 100 barrels occurs, the pipeline should be shut and its state permit revoked…Right now the company says ‘It can’t spill”.”
SEHN has joined the Keep It In The Ground campaign, a call to the President to stop new federal leasing of fossil fuels and to keep our remaining fossil fuels in the ground.
SEHN’s Program Director, Kaitlin Butler’s statements appear in some of the press coverage. Listen to her interviews with Radio Active and KZMU Moab (archiving soon).
A new movement partnership
SEHN’s program director Kaitlin Butler has been working on behalf of SEHN with Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice on climate justice issues in Utah on actions to withdraw consent to the Bureau of Land Management’s competitive oil and gas lease sales of public land, as part of the national Keep It In the Ground campaign.
National media coverage
Utah actions have gained national media attention. Google reports 140 articles the day after the protest. Read some of SEHN’s statements for the day-of press release and following the auction. In addition to the 100+ community members peacefully protesting the auction, national headlines focused on author and activist Terry Tempest Williams, who purchased over 1,700 acres in parcels (see Democracy Now, TIME). When asked if she was a legitimate bidder, Williams responded, “You cannot define our definition of energy,” Tempest Williams said. The energy development we are interested in is fueling the movement of Keep It in the Ground.”
A Story of Health Wins Excellence in Communications Award by the CDC
Keynote, Becoming Guardians of Future Generations:
How will future generations tell the stories of this generation as we faced dire threats to climate, water and food? Ancient ideas like care for the seventh generation can be forged into new policies that will enable us to become beloved ancestors. This will require innovation, vision and creativity as well as the wisdom of past. We begin that journey now.
Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America
“This book bears witness to hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America brings together the voices of more than fifty writers exploring the complexities of fracking through first-hand experience, investigative journalism, story-telling, and verse. At a time when politics and profits inhibit our ability to have meaningful discussions about the hazards of fracking, these creative perspectives are needed to ignite the national conversation about how we can live with more compassion toward Earth.”
As you read this, dear friend of SEHN, something remarkable is happening in a small town in Iowa. A lawyer and witnesses will present testimony opposing a large, crude oil pipeline that will cross the Heartland.
What makes these witnesses so unique is that they will be representing future generations.
The Science & Environmental Health Network was granted intervener status in the hearing before the Iowa Utility Board that will determine whether Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas-based Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company, receives a permit to site a Bakken crude oil pipeline from North Dakota, across South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois.
The Bakken Pipeline rivals the Keystone XL pipeline and is designed to replace Keystone. If the Bakken pipeline is permitted, all that it will require to carry tar sands from Canada is a short connector from northern North Dakota over the border.
We’re engaging in this struggle in Iowa but it is one that has ramifications far beyond the state. It is our best hope to keep some of the dirtiest oil in the ground and to protect future generations from contaminated water and a chaotic climate.
While some organizations have brought court cases on behalf of children in climate change lawsuits, this is the first time that future generations have been represented in an executive branch hearing. This is the kind of groundbreaking, system changing work that defines SEHN.
But we need your help. SEHN works with communities and coalitions through the exchange of new ideas and points of intervention rather than currency. Every dollar that you give will go to amplify the voice of future generations and help SEHN resist dirty fossil fuels from destroying the future.
As you well know, the Bakken pipeline is not the only environmental threat to our health and wellbeing as individuals and communities. Every day we at SEHN are working to bring new scientific and legal strategies to bear in struggles for environmental health and economic justice and to develop new frameworks that will change the rules of the game.
We’re bringing together coalitions like the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, a collection of diverse interests all committed to stopping environmentally disastrous development in their community.
We’re working with a coalition of groups in the upper Midwest to determine how to use innovative scientific tools like biomonitoring to combat toxic agricultural pesticide use.
Our climate change program is participating in local efforts to foster more dialogue about the impacts from energy extraction, as well as working with local organizers to block the expansion of dirty energy extraction in Utah. (Did you know that the U.S. has its own tar sands project? Environmentalists stopped the Keystone pipeline, which would have carried Canadian tar sand oil into the U.S. Now we have to stop the mining of tar sands in Utah.)
And we’re building on the tremendous work of the 2014 Women’s Congress by bringing together study groups of committed community activists like yourself to test the “Women’s Congress Companion for Political Change”, a community guide to legal principles that reframe the debates on mining, fracking, drilling, and pipelines.
Please. We need your financial contributions to continue doing this work. Whatever you have to share with us, will be used wisely on behalf of environmental sanity.
Thank you. Thank you for two things. Thank you for what you are doing in your own sphere that we might not know about. There is so much good work going on and we know that you are part of it.
And thank you, thank you, thank you for the support and dollars you can share with us.
We have so much to share this month. The Keystone XL pipeline victory was huge. What an incredible moment in the transition away from fossil fuels. We celebrate the groundswell of people who came together to make that happen. Many of us were part of that fight.
But like the mythic Hydra, permits to frack gas, mine tar sands, and build more pipelines just keep coming; for every one proposal stopped, another two spring up in its place. State borders do not bind the impacts from these projects.
The Dakota Access Pipeline Project (the red line on NRDC’s map) would cross four states carrying fracked oil from the Bakken oil reserves to Patoka, Illinois, giving access by rail or pipeline to carry the Bakken crude to the Gulf Coast for refinement and export. The pipeline would be 1,134 miles long, 30 inch in diameter, 24 to 48 inches underground, and would transport 570,000 barrels daily (similar to the now-vetoed Keystone XL pipeline in brown).
The Upland Pipeline (the blue line) would be an extension of the Bakken pipeline and connect it to the tar sands in Canada, thus making the two pipelines essentially a Keystone XL bait and switch. A lot of superb organizing here in the U.S. has focused on stopping the construction of new oil infrastructure for transporting more of Canada’s tar sands crude from Alberta to the U.S.
What many people do not realize is that we have our very own tar sands (and oil shale) right here in the U.S. In fact, the oft overlooked state of Utah has the largest oil shale deposits in the world — with estimated barrels of oil far exceeding Saudi Arabia’s known oil reserves. And the first U.S. tar sands mines are being built right now, making Utah ground zero for the fight against tar sands and oil shale production here.
There is a key difference between the Keystone XL pipeline and projects like the Bakken pipeline or the tar sands mining in Utah. In the battle over Keystone, there was an agency and a President to target. These other projects are more diffuse. Decisions are happening in county and utilities board hearings. Organizers are tasked with navigating a disjointed and broken regulatory system that’s been created out of the tangled web of private, local, and state interests. It’s difficult to create a coordinated and effective defense of the land.
How then do we fight against this fossil fuel beast, with its many bureaucratic heads, fed on antiquated subsidies and carefully tended by corporations and the status quo?
We change the rules of the game.
In the face of such stiff-necked, rubber-stamping officials, the climate justice movement is beginning to organize like the pipelines themselves — locally and also as an interconnected, transnational front with a common agenda to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Recognizing that the game is rigged, communities are looking for different ways to intervene in the decision making process. This is where SEHN comes in.
SEHN is participating in grassroots coalitions from the West Coast to the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest, bringing new strategies and analysis to support local efforts to stop noxious facilities of all sorts. We have developed legal principles and community tools designed to stop climate change at its source – energy extraction. These principles break open points of intervention to better protect public health and the environment, and put civic engagement back into the hands of community members who are the true stakeholders of the land, water, and air they wish to protect.
But we do more than just work out legal frameworks. We are joining the legal frameworks with the grassroots organizing — the principles emerge from those engagements to better serve local needs. Together with the strength of advocates across regions, we are facing the Hydra. And we’re changing the narrative.
These issues are complicated, and they are affecting our environmental and public health. As Science Director Ted Schettler pointed out at SEHN’s recent event in St. Paul on the Ecology of Breast Cancer, “it can result in throwing up your hands and feeling a lot of despair.” But, he says, “there’s a lot of good news [too]…there’s actually reason to think we can take this theoretical complexity and say, “what I can do on the ground, in my community, next week” to try and address this problem.” Advocates like SEHN’s board member Angie Carter are also welcoming the complexity and working with communities to break open the space for activism by finding the shared values across community stories. In our conversation she captures SEHN’s own belief in the power of community: “community is what’s so powerful to me — communities that have the power to help shape their future.” We are not just the consumers of a system, “we are the makers of it”.
We participate in community conversations about environmental health because, as Carolyn Raffensperger put it at the recent event in St. Paul, “the work of SEHN is to prevent suffering…if we can prevent suffering than we will do so.” And we participate in grassroots coalitions with the assumption that if we can stop a multi-state pipeline in one jurisdiction, we can possibly stop the whole pipeline; and if we can stop one pipeline, we are more likely to shut down tar sands and fracking for gas and oil. If we can shut down a tar sands mine or fracking operation, then we are one step closer to avoiding climate catastrophe.
The work is hard. But people are rising up on behalf of their communities, for environmental health, and for future generations; something beautiful is growing.
“The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition (BPRC) and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) celebrate the State Department and President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone Pipeline. This decision demonstrates political courage and environmental wisdom by recognizing that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. There is no safe way to transport these hazardous chemicals, whether it is by rail or by pipeline. For this reason, it is time to reject similar pipelines proposed to transport oil from the region of North Dakota and Alberta Canada.”
SEHN Intervenes on Behalf of Future Generations in Upcoming Evidentiary Hearing
SEHN’s Carolyn Raffensperger will testify at the upcoming evidentiary hearing that begins Nov. 16th with the Iowa Utilities Board. This hearing is important because the Bakken Pipeline is designed to replace Keystone XL (read more). It is also unique because,for the first time, future generations will be represented in an executive branch hearing. SEHN has been granted intervenor status to intervene on behalf of future generations. Read Carolyn’s testimony here. Visit SEHN’s website for more testimonies.
In Utah: Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice
On Tuesday November 17, the Bureau of Land Management is planning to auction leases on over 74,000 acres of Utah lands to oil and gas exploration – at a time when we desperately need to keep oil and gas reserves in the ground to prevent catastrophic climate change. Elders Rising is a informal group of seniors who are concerned about the future for their children and grandchildren. Vaughn Lovejoy from Elders Rising explained “We will be there to call upon our generation, who came of age in the sixties, to reawaken and fulfill the dreams we had to create a better world. It is time for us to become true elders in its traditional and deepest sense and act as visionaries and guardians on behalf of the coming generations.” Elders Rising will be joined by the Rainforest Action Network, and WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity.
Visit the FB event page for more information.
Read one organizer’s call to the older generation to stand for a brighter future — for intergenerational justice.
For further information on why it’s so important to keep fossil fuels in the ground visit: http://www.ran.org/
Mind the (COP21) Gap: Introducing Climate Countdown
“2015 is the big year for climate change and this web-series is our way of joining the fight”
– Climate Countdown team
This December, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Paris for their 21st annual meeting. This conference is pivotal in making global agreements to avoid dangerous climate change. Yet many people do not know what the COP is or why this 21st meeting is so important.
SEHN celebrates actions that aim to bridge science with law, policy and ethics for the public. That is why we are excited to share this work from some of our allies in the climate justice movement. Visit our website to learn more.
Defending the Land, Changing the Narrative
Iowa’s Heart in the Fight to Protect the Land: A Conversation with Angie Carter
In a conversation with Kaitlin Butler, SEHN’s board member and co-founder of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, Angie Carter, speaks about what it was like growing up during the 1980s Farm Crisis in Iowa, the impact it had on her work to capture more representative narratives, the power of story, and how she found herself helping to build a movement. Read our conversation here.
Utah’s Oil Shale Bonanza
Utah is home to the largest oil shale deposits in the world. The oil locked away in the Green River Formation is three-times Saudi Arabia’s known reserves.
SEHN’s Kaitlin Butler recently attended the 35th Oil Shale Symposium in Utah. Read her article published for DeSmog Blog on Utah’s Oil Shale hopes and the industry’s “PR Problem”.
Board Member Tom Goldtooth receives Gandhi Peace Award
Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network has been awarded the Gandhi Peace Award for his incredible work in environmental and economic justice and the many environmental actions to protest destructive projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, Oak Flat, and the toxic goldmine spill earlier this year.
On October 21st Carolyn Raffensperger and Ted Schettler spoke to a crowd of 50+ people in St. Paul on breast cancer, scientific uncertainty, and the rise of women’s activism. The Ecology of Breast Cancer, written by Dr. Schettler, is a book exploring the origins of breast cancer and improvements in treatment outcomes using SEHN’s ecological framework of health and disease. The evening ended by talking about the idea from Wendell Berry that “health is wholeness” and that our membership in a particular community is a key determinant of our health. Conversations like these are just the beginning of our work to integrate action on climate change, the transition away from fossil fuels and creating healthy, toxic-free communities all over this country.
The origins of many common diseases and disorders are complex. An ecologic or eco-social framework recognizes that individuals are progressively nested within families, communities, ecosystems, and societies. This framework is not only useful as an aid to understanding the origins of complex diseases but also helps point the way toward treatment and prevention.
Join SEHN’s Science Director, Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, and Michael Lerner, PhD, President of Commonweal, as they explore the implications of the ecological framework of health as it relates to several diseases that are common in our families and communities today.
Thanks for sharing in our excitement around this challenging, important work. We welcome any comments or suggestions for future Networkers at .