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I’m passionately concerned about the environmental catastrophe that is already upon us and only getting worse. We need to reverse climate change as soon as possible, and ending our dependence on fossil fuels is a key step. There seems to be a groundswell for the idea that the best way to do so is to divest from fossil fuels. So I have been reading up on divestment, and finding that no one, least of all Bill McKibben in his article “Divest from Fossil Fuels. Now,” has explained to me yet how this movement would further the goal of reducing fossil fuel use. I’m frustrated, because his organization, 350.org, and Naomi Klein, who’s also working on divestment, have been two bright lights in the environmental movement in recent years. I would love to be convinced that they are not wasting everyone’s time and a whole lot of activist energy on a project that divestment supporter Isaac Lederman, a Princeton student, says ” is attractive primarily because of the symbolic weight it carries.”

Granting that divestment helped end apartheid in South Africa (which is of course debatable, but I think the evidence is strong that it did), is this situation analogous? In one crucial way, it is not: it comes accompanied with no demands. And I fear that that dooms it to being merely symbolic.

In the South African divestment campaign, the message was simple. To corporations:  cease operations in South Africa and we will re-invest in you. To the South African regime: end apartheid and we will support you and the return of corporations’ capital to your country.  I strongly supported this movement, which was at its peak during my college years. I not only urged my university to divest its Shell holdings (on one occasion, by leading the crowd outside a trustees’ meeting in singing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” I cringe to recall), I stopped buying Shell.

But I can’t stop buying fossil fuels and the energy they produce–not yet.  I use them to get to work, to do my laundry, to keep my food cool, to power this computer. (Unlike Mr. McKibben, I can’t afford to convert my home to solar power, though it’s on the list of improvements we’d like to make.) So if I support divestment, I’m asking people to stop funding Exxon’s oil exploration, while I’m pumping its gasoline. While I’m not advocating purity as a moral stance, this is too much cognitive dissonance for me. You scum, stop drilling! And give me that gas!

McKibben argues that these companies have so much political clout because of the value of their stock. That may be true in part. But no matter how low their stock drops, they’ll still drill, because we’re still buying their products, and they’ll still have political clout, because the economy can’t continue without them. Again: yet.

A change movement has to ask, what change are we hoping for and what’s the leverage that will bring it about? In South Africa, the answers were clear. With the Divest from Fossil Fuels campaign, I don’t get it. It seems to just be saying “Fossil fuels companies are horrible” (no argument there) and “If they extract and burn everything they’re trying to extract and burn, the warming of the planet will accelerate” (again, I agree). But as long as we are so dependent on extracting and burning them, nothing will change. A heroin junkie might be completely justified in demanding the arrest of all the heroin dealers, but if it were to happen, he’d be up a creek. He still needs his fix. I still need to get to work, 35 miles away.

The situation is too dire for symbolic gestures. We need to take real action. I love the idea of putting economic pressure on these companies, and the first question to ask–the question their directors and executives will surely ask–is “Pressure them to do what?,” a question that not even McKibben, the man who started the divestment movement, has answered. One colleague of mine has–thank you, Earl Koteen; he suggests that what we are asking fossil fuel companies to do is to switch their operations to sustainable sources and become (alternative) energy companies, as the savvier ones are beginning to do. That sounds promising. Now if only the movement, and not just one of its fans, would make a concrete demand like that, then it might make a difference. Even better, we could do the much more difficult work of funding alternative infrastructures that would allow us to break our fossil fuel addiction.

For all of us who have been following the news of the Boston Marathon bombing and feeling the impact even at thousands of miles’ distance, here is Yehuda Amichai’s great poem “The Diameter of the Bomb”:

 

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

 

I feel very much within the diameter of destruction today.

Reading some more about Emily Dickinson before giving today’s sermon on some of her poetry and its power, I came upon the description of her  “earliest friend,” Benjamin Franklin Newton. He died young, but before he did, he had a great influence on her that she referred to throughout her life. Among other things, he introduced her to Emerson, whose poetry, she wrote in wonder, “has touched the secret Spring.” Hm, I thought. Wonder if he was  a Unitarian. Sure enough, his minister was Edward Everett Hale.

I wrote yesterday about the loss of creative programming for kids under 10 during General Assembly. Other parents have inquired, and the General Assembly Planning Committee has added details to the Child Care section of their pages:

The theme for childcare this year is, It’s Good to be Green:
Alright kids! Ready, Set, GO GREEN! Taking care of each other and the planet is on everyone’s mind these days and being eco-friendly can be fun! From craft projects made with recycled materials to puzzles and games about our planet, we’ll learn about our environment in a fun, playful and creative way. Our nature theme tents and tunnels will give the feeling of playing in the great outdoors. Exploring our surroundings could lead us to a great scavenger hunt. Divided into teams and following clues, let’s see which team finds the most eco-friendly items hidden throughout the room. From using recycled materials to special projects directed at environmental learning, children will leave the program feeling positive about themselves and becoming eco-friendly.

Sounds much better than “child care from 6 months through age 9.” It’s still not clear what ages get this programming (a member of the committee said in an e-mail it was for 8- and 9-year-olds), and all day in one room doesn’t sound great for anyone over about 4, but it’s more appealing than what was on there before. Thank you! Please extend it to 6- and 7-year-olds if at all possible!

The Fahs Lecture, sadly, appears to have no chance of being restored this year, since the Planning Committee, in what was described as a respectful conversation, said there is no such thing as a guaranteed spot at General Assembly. However, there used to be, and I am one GA regular who thinks that that provided a much richer program than the more recent process of confining most program decision-making to a small group. If anyone thinks that our current method is the best way to meet the wonderfully diverse needs and interests of the thousands of GA attendees, I offer the Fahs Lecture decision as a counter-example.

Two developments at this year’s General Assembly make me wonder about our movement’s commitment to children and their teachers and families. The General Assembly Planning Committee, which has had an increasing say over exactly which programs have happened at GA in recent years, has decided not to include the Sophia Lyon Fahs lecture, which usually has an outstanding speaker and attracts hundreds of attendees, nor any program by the Liberal Religious Educators’ Association (LREDA). LREDA submitted the request as usual and were stunned to have it turned down. I have not seen any response from the General Assembly Planning Committee, whose last-published minutes are from 2011. I hope they give a good explanation before thousands of people come to GA wearing “Where’s Sophia?” buttons.

Also, programming for children has been curtailed. In previous years, there was a UU camp for kids 1st grade and up and I heard great things about it. Now it is only for kids entering 5th grade or older. I was thinking that my daughter would be able to go to UU camp next summer at GA, but apparently she will have only the same kind of programming that she had as a toddler. Not appealing.

If there are logistical or funding problems with LREDA’s programs or camp for younger children, I hope the GA Planning  Committee will say so. If LREDA’s proposed speaker wasn’t good and the committee wants them to suggest someone better, I hope they’ll say so. Taking away these programs without explanation or comment tells us that children don’t count. And in ten years, we will be wondering why those teenagers are drifting away.

Correction: I originally wrote that camp kids have to be in fourth grade. I was wrong; they have to have completed fourth grade. That’s five more years before there will be any programming for my child. She can stay home, going to a secular day camp while my wife solo-parents, but I’d hoped she would accompany me to GA now and then and have a great camp experience with other UU kids from around the country.

Ooh was I having fun today. Here are the drawings I like best.

Something I’ve been trying to do is cut down on the range of tones. I can get lost in the jungle of an infinite variety of shades, fussing so much to get each one right that I lose the big picture and the passion. So I’ve been trying to go darker and leave white in places that do have subtle gradations of light and shadow.

2013 04 08 c 7 min2013 04 08 e 10 min detail

On the other hand, when I use a broader range of grays, I can convey more about the light. With the longer poses I have time to do that. The light was so interesting in this one, but the drawing came out kind of messy and indefinite.

2013 04 08 g 20 min

I like the light in this one best, which is probably why it’s my favorite for the day.

           2013 04 08 f 20 min

Faces are so tricky. This one was looking quite a bit like the model until I made just a couple more strokes. Now it doesn’t look like her at all:

2013 04 08 h 30 min

I’ve posted my Easter sermon here on this blog, and also on UUCPA’s blog. It will soon be up at the church website.

In personal news, I did not keep to my Lenten practice of drawing at all. I drew on Monday mornings as usual, and besides that I did only a handful of drawings. I think I should just acknowledge that I’m at my limit for daily practices, between reading my Dickinson poem (today is #220, and next week’s sermon is on the journey so far) and exercising and following the various necessary family routines.

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