Earth Day 2020

I’ve always felt uncomfortable with the idea of an Earth Day. As others have pointed out for other holidays, what usually happens is one day of attention, and then people return to their daily lives and the holiday fades away.

I’m thinking about how my relation with Mother Earth and attempts to protect her have changed over the coarse of my life. That sentence signifies one of the changes, using the term Mother Earth.

Being born into and raised in Quaker communities, I was blessed with opportunities to see examples of how people can base their lives on faith. I saw Quaker families refuse to participate with military conscription, knowing the consequences were usually prison sentences. Their example made it possible for me to become a draft resister. I’m fairly certain I would not have done so had it not been for their example.

The decision to refuse to participate in the military was about much more than that specific decision. It was the first time I was forced to make a choice that tested my faith. That had significant consequences. The choice was very clear. I could take the easy way out. I didn’t even have to participate directly in the military. I had the option of becoming a conscientious objector. But it was also clear that doing so would compromise my faith. That would set the precedent for compromise. The other choice would be to seek spiritual guidance, and follow it, regardless of the consequences. That didn’t mean I might not compromise in the future, but I hoped I would not.

The next significant choice was about my carbon footprint. In the early 1960s about the only attention related to our environment was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the dangers of pesticides. Greenhouse gases, CO2 concentrations, global warming, etc, were not topics of discussion. But as a farm boy moving to the big city (Indianapolis) I was horrified by the dense clouds of smog (this before catalytic converters). I did own a couple of cars but was increasingly uncomfortable using them. When one was involved in an accident, I decided to see if I could live without a car. Between running and city buses, I was able to do so. And haven’t had a car since then (mid 1970s). That decision had so many unexpected consequences for the rest of my life.

The next forty years included totally unsuccessful attempts to convince others to give up their cars. This was frustrating for so many reasons. I had been taught in my Quaker upbringing that our lives should be examples, and people might change based upon what they saw us doing. Not this time. I had so many conversations that went like, “I know I should get rid of my car. But…”

The fossil fuel industry was so huge, profitable and sprawled all over the globe. We didn’t know how to fight against it. Then, when I learned about the Keystone Pledge of Resistance in 2013, I was all in. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would cross the US-Canadian border to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the US Gulf coast, where it would be refined and shipped overseas. Crossing the US border required Presidential approval. The environmental movement recognized this as a way, finally, to have an impact on the fossil fuel industry. We focused on the Obama administration’s need to approve the pipeline. Over 90,000 people signed the Keystone Pledge of Resistance which said they would participate in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience if the plan was approved. During the summer of 2013 activists from the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) traveled to 25 cities in the US, and held training sessions for local leaders to design and execute nonviolent direct actions. 400 Action Leads provided local planning, and training of some 4,000 people in their local communities. Over the next couple of years these training sessions were held, and people demonstrated in public to call attention to the pipeline. Secretary of State John Kerry recommended the permit to be denied, and that’s what President Obama did. When the current president took office, one of his first acts was to approve the pipeline. Since then numerous court battles have nearly all be won by environmental groups, and the pipeline has yet to be finished, and might never.

The next battle began in 2016 over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The pipeline was to take oil from the Baaken oil fields in North Dakota, and across parts of South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois to be shipped to the Gulf for refinement. The original path of the pipeline was to cross the Missouri river just north of Bismarck, North Dakota. When the people of that city learned about that, they forced to Missouri river crossing to be further downriver, to just a mile upriver of the Standing Rock Reservation. Many Native Nations from around the world, and nearly 15,000 people came to protect the water.

Water Protector represents a significant change for the environment movement. Indigenous peoples recognize relationships with everyone and everything on Mother Earth. All my relations. Water protectors are not protestors. We are protecting water, which is a living relative. Mni Wiconi, water is life. As I mentioned at the beginning of this, what I have learned from Indigenous peoples has significantly changed how I look at the world.

“In Native American culture, by contrast, they study the interconnections of the entire ecosystem.  ‘Seeing in a sacred manner’ means perceiving interspecies links. The word for ‘prayer’ in Lakota is wacekiye, which means ‘to  claim relationship with’ or ‘to seek connection to.’ To the Lakota people, the cosmos is one family. To live well within the cosmos, one must assume responsibility for everything with which one shares the universe. There are familial obligations toward water, plants, minerals. Any harm done to the slightest of these relatives has devastating consequences for the whole ecosystem. The merest hint suffices as a warning of eco-cataclysm.

We are blinded to these subtle signs by having been taught that matter is dead and inert. Considering it inanimate makes it available for exploitation as a resource. Lame Deer insists that ‘the earth, the rocks, the minerals, all of which you call ‘dead’ are very much alive.’ He implores us to ‘talk to the rivers, to the lakes, to the winds as to our relatives.’” 

Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes.

I began to get an understanding of these ideas. For example, I attended the first National Network Assembly, where Lance Foster asked us to do one thing during our time at the assembly. He asked us to make friends with a tree, which I did. My Tree Friend https://jeffkisling.com/2019/08/26/my-tree-friend/

The first week of September, 2018, I was blessed to join a small group of Native and non-native people as we walked and camped together for 8 days on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. We walked along the path of the Dakota Access pipeline, 94 miles from Des Moines to Fort Dodge, Iowa. The purpose of this March was to call attention to the abuse of eminent domain to force landowners to allow the pipeline to be built on their land. But the other intention was the opportunity for the people on the March to share their stories and begin to build trust that will allow us to work together on issues of common concern going forward. Many blog posts, videos and photos of the March are here: https://firstnationfarmer.com/

I am so grateful to have friends now that can help me learn more about Indigenous peoples. I recently wrote about how essential it is for use to look beyond our own culture. https://jeffkisling.com/2020/04/20/look-beyond-your-culture/ The experiences and friendships of the March have given me opportunities to do that.

For the past several months I’ve been learning as much as I can about the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en peoples to prevent the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline through their beautiful lands. Which are unceded lands. I’ve been writing a lot about this in part because the Wet’suwet’en people have asked for us to spread stories about what is going on there. Because there is little mainstream media reporting, or what there is is slanted against them. They were very successful in gathering attention for a while as supporters blocked rail lines all over Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en. Many miles of railways go through Indigenous lands.

One way people were asked to express solidarity was a call to submit solidarity art. My entry shows different water protector projects I’ve been involved in.

This summarizes how my thinking and actions have evolved over the coarse of my life thus far.


This video is of photos I took, and interviews recorded during the Earth Walk from Scattergood Friends School to Iowa City, about a 15 mile trip. This was part of a Climate Conference in 2013.


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