Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A letter to my students

Greetings from Washington D.C.
I am surrounded here by a group of inspiring conservationists at my conference - my fellow Audubon TogetherGreen Fellows.  (For information on the program, see  You can learn more about my cohort at - the 2010 class.)  

Outside the National Museum of the American Indian where we are meeting, the Occupy D.C. protests are getting more unruly and the police are becoming less tolerant.  Over 12,000 people attended the protests on Sunday about the Keystone XL pipeline, joined by a lot of anti-fracking activists.  

I learned yesterday that of the $290 billion in philanthropy in America last year, more than half came from the middle class, working class, and poor people.  About 70% of households contribute tot 5 to 10 organizations per year.  The median amount contributed per household is $1300 to $2000 per year.  [Source:]  Only 5% comes from corporations.  Bequests led to 7% of the donated money; in other words, dead people donated more than the rich corporations!  Will we ever be able to redistribute the wealth when poor people donate more of their money as a percentage of their income than the rich?

The docent at the museum gave us a wonderful tour and we had a rather emotional conversation about the ongoing misconceptions (and ignorance) about native peoples, the distortions of history that many of us have been taught, and the ongoing impact of discrimination and flawed policy on the lives of native peoples today -- so many examples of social and environmental justice.  I can't even begin to do the stories justice in trying to retell them.  The docent, probably in his early 30's, spoke honestly about his anger that people in his country from previous generations had done what they did - essentially genocide - and how difficult it can be to have no one alive to direct this anger at.  So instead, he has devoted his life to trying to educate the public, show the multiple "truths" about history (he had a great example of how native people view Presidents Lincoln and Nixon differently than whites), and dispel stereotypes.

I was part of wonderful discussion late into the night about the impact that these current activist movements will have (if any), how they compare to the civil rights movements and anti-war protests in the 1960's and 70's, and whether or not large conservation groups have also been bought out by corporate America.  One in our group has been a National Geographic photographer documenting impact on wildlife and landscapes across the globe.  He has documentation that despite all the environmental efforts since 1970, things are not improving overall.  We had a long discussion about whether sustainable development, or balance, are even possible given the ever-growing population.

From the news this week:

There are reports that the earthquakes in Oklahoma may be a result of fracking operations there, similar to claims that have come from Texas.  The state also was hit by tornadoes yesterday, after record-breaking heat this summer.

The National Climatic Data Center reports that Hurricane Irene killed 45 people and caused at least $7 billion in damage.  Tropical Storm Lee killed 13 and lead to at least $1 billion in damage.  This  makes 2011 quite a costly and deadly year for hurricanes and tropical storms, the 7th busiest for named storms since record-keeping began in 1851. And this added to the fact that by June that we had the record for extreme weather events.

The droughts in Texas continue.

Just a freak year?  Or part of a "new normal"?

Things are not looking good for the upcoming U.N. climate negotiations (COP17):

One difference that came up in our late night conversation is that in the late 1960's, people protested to save their lives (they had a draft card and didn't want to go to Vietnam).  Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Bomb" had come out warning about the perilous impact of growing population back then, but many didn't believe they would live long enough to see that doom and gloom if they went to war.  Not surprisingly, if you are from that generation, you look at the Occupy Movement a bit differently than young people today since you, my students, haven't seen major activist movements and have grown up in calmer times.

I don't have the answers, but hope that we can continue to ponder these issues and collectively discuss our options for the future.  I would love to hear your thoughts on some of these issues.



  1. I am glad your TG retreat is having such an impact on you. See you soon. Dan

  2. As you know Dan, it is inspirational to be around the TogetherGreen Fellows. Such great people doing great things.

  3. You mention your generation sees the Occupy movement differently than our generation - I'm very interested to hear more detail on this. I have often wondered about this.