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2014 Women’s Congress for Future Generations

“We are the first generation to see climate change, and we are the last generation that can make a difference and change it.”

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Cover of Conference Booklet

On November 6-9, “a mix of old and young, urban and rural, every color” of both genders, primarily women gathered for the opportunity to talk and learn with others the environmental issues in our time. There was a common ground and goal many of these women held was to take action to protect the planet for future generations and network with others who care.

Carolyn Raffensperger, Founder of the Women’s Congress for Future Generations and Executive Director of Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN) quoted her dream that inspired the artwork for the conference. “I dreamed that I was standing before the Tree of Life, charged with keeping it alive. One branch was already dead. I scanned the horizon for those I knew who were coming to tend it with me.” As described in the booklet for the conference shown to the right, Carolyn is an environmental lawyer that specializes in law and policy necessary for our generation to step fully into our moral and ethical responsibility to help protect the planet for children today and other future generations. “I dreamed once that the scales of Justice were being held by the Tree of Life. I do this work with the Women’s Congress and Future First because I hope to look future generations in the eye and say we did everything we could to give you a sporting change. We did everything to tend the Tree of Life on your behalf.”

On Friday, one of the workshops was called, “The State of Our Planet”. A description of the workshop from the conference booklet follows : “Let’s put together our green glasses and look at the state of our planet, our own cities and our very own kitchens. This incredible interactive workshop will engage and enthrall with the latest thinking about the state of our home. Hear from urban activist and winner of the 2014 Goldman prize for environment, Kim Wasserman, J. Drake Hamilton, the Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy, and Karen Olson Johnson, co-host of the lively and informative show, Food Freedom Radio. If you are new to the movement, really want to know the realities of our world, and how ordinary people just like you have taken back their right to a clean and healthy environment- and then be able to take all of this home to our communities, our kitchens, and our children, this experience is for you.”

This workshop was a great example and demonstration of the action that has already been put into place. At every scale, there needs to be changes from local to global, kitchen table to global stage. Each state can truly make a difference. We need to access clean energy resources that source jobs which in return will build local economy and become a sustainable system for our future. There needs to be a ripple effect of these scales. If we start small, as you throw a small pebble into the water, it will have ripple effects – to individual action, local climate pledges, state and regional, and beyond.

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Coal Burning Plant

J. Drake Hamilton, Climatologist and the Science Policy Director for Fresh Energy, started off the conversation of “The State of our Planet.” Fresh Energy is a non-profit, dedicated to creating more clean energy efforts and building strong laws and standards. “Our efforts focus on energy efficiency, clean energy, transportation and land use, and carbon reduction.” J. Drake Hamilton opened up the conversation to how our planet is effected by these climate changes. “In Sao Paulo, Brazil – if it doesn’t rain soon, by mid-November they will run out of drinking water.  The drinking water in Lima, Peru from a glacier will not exist in 30 years.”  Public policy changes need to be made that govern our energy system. Our generations need to put together our expertise and support to change how our system is currently working. Hamilton stated a statistic that shocked me a considerable amount, “Those of us 30 and younger have never lived on a planet without global warming.” Heat trapping air-pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2) are changing the climate. “The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased by 41 percent since the beginning of the industrial era, primarily due to burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.” Reductions in burning fossil fuels are trying to be made, Hamilton gives us this example, “By 2025, the average gas milage will be 50.4 MPG, reduction by half.” She also describes the ongoing fight of eliminating coal burning plants in Minnesota. “Sherco Units 1 and 2 were built in the 1970s to meet the growing demand for electricity and to reduce the use of older, less efficient plants.” Unfortunately, this plant in Becker, Minnesota burns 30,000 tons of coal everyday (three trainloads) and more than nine million tons a year! J. Drake Hamilton is hoping to have Sherco 1 and 2 shutdown by 2020. “One where pollution is a thing of the past, where the energy we need doesn’t harm the people we love. And one that reflects Midwesterners’ love and respect for environment and communities,” states the Fresh Energy website.

Next to speak was Kim Wasserman, Director of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. She is an urban activist and winner of the 2014 Goldman prize for environment. In the description in the conference booklet, “Kim Wasserman organized her neighbors to lead the fight that closed down two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants on Chicago’s southwest side- the Fisk and Crawford plants, owned by Midwest Generation.” They spent 12 years fighting to get these coal plants down. Through 15 years of people not listening and through 40 deaths – this truly inspired Kim to make a change in her community. “Just a few hundred feet away from the Crawford plant is the vibrant and diverse community of Little Village, a small but densely populated neighborhood of some 100,000 residents, mostly Latino families and children. She worked with local community-based organizations to form a strategic alliance of faith, health, labor, and environmental groups.” Kim described briefly the issues on privilege, race, equality, etc. Why would a community with no say in politics, and the way things are run in the city want to vote? “With limited resources, they mounted a formidable campaign, including ‘Toxic Tours’ of industrial sites and a ‘Coal Olympics’ timed around the city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.” As she described, the winners of these ‘olympics’ would win a Gold Inhaler, Silver Inhaler, or a Bronze Inhaler. She ended her presentation with pointing out that we need to change the conversation for environmental justice.

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Google Images Example of Late 1800’s Norwegian Handmade Lunchbox

Finally, Karen Olson Johnson, author, educator, and radio host presented an interactive discussion. We all organized ourselves into three age ranges, young, middle age, and elders – 20’s-40’s, 40’s to 60’s, 60’s+. She then asked a volunteer from each age group to come up to the front. She told a story between all three of the participants, each being five years old in the different generations, including Ole from Norway in the late 1800’s, Karen from the 50’s, and Emma in 2014. She gave them each a separate lunch box, and as a collective group, we examined what each ‘girl’ had, words that were used to describe their lunches, and differences in how the food is prepared.

‘Ole’ had a hand made wooden lunchbox, lefse, apple, and homemade molasses cookies all wrapped in cloth with string that would be returned home. The words used to describe her lunch included family, community-centered, reuse, local food, handmade, tradition, no chemical, and seasonal.  ‘Karen’ had a paper lunch bag, peanut butter and jelly, and apple all wrapped in wax paper. The words used to describe her lunch included mother at home, transition, beginning of convenience, less reuse and paper bag. Emma’ had a metal box with a popular character from a cartoon, a lunchable, bottled water, and capris sun. The words used to describe her lunch included processed, convenience, disposable, plastic, and commercial. We discussed the differences in how food was prepared from griddle to all non-stick pans, to no antibiotics in milk to antibiotics in everything. It was an interesting visual and story telling to see how the world has truly changed throughout the evolution of lunch boxes.

Stay tuned for blog post Part 2 of the 2014 Women’s Congress for Future Generations.