March 3, 2015 – “Climate Change & Community Rights” (Part One of Two)

Paul Cienfuegos’ March 3rd, 2015 Commentary on KBOO Evening News

(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at,, or subscribe via ITunes.)

Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.

As I mentioned last week, I just returned from another teaching trip to the Midwest. On my final night there, I gave a speech in Minneapolis on how the Community Rights strategy of local law-making might be the perfect complimentary movement to help the climate protection movement to become a lot more effective than it is currently.

On my commentaries today and again next Tuesday, I’m going to share some thoughts about climate change and Community Rights.

Climate activism continues to build in numbers across the country, but in my opinion it continues to be ineffective because it continues to assume that if we just build a large enough group of people willing to pressure our so-called leaders to do the right thing at the state and federal level, and if we all buy more and more green products, we’ll solve this serious problem before it’s too late. I think we need to be a lot bolder than that, and soon.

In my speech I recommended a rapid revving up of local communities passing enforceable Community Rights ordinances that would, for example, ban coal and oil trains from passing through their towns (as Columbia County, Oregon hopes to do later this year through the ballot box), or prohibiting any future increases in the number of flights at local airports, or prohibiting local banks from making any more investments or loans for new fossil-fuel-related developments. We need to start understanding that we are the leaders we’ve been waiting for, and what we can already successfully accomplish locally with a Community Rights strategy could crack this movement wide open, so let’s get cracking!

In preparation for my speech, I recently read Naomi Klein’s breathtaking new book, This Changes Everything, which I urge everyone to read. Here’s a lengthy quote from her book, that I included in my speech.

“I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure. Not like Donald Trump and the Tea Partiers going on about how the continued existence of winter proves it’s all a hoax. But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most of the news stories, especially the really scary ones. I told myself the science was too complicated and that the environmentalists were dealing with it. And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my ‘elite’ frequent flyer status.

A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look but then turn it into a joke (‘more signs of the apocalypse!’). Which is another way of looking away.

Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat of the sun. Which…is yet another way of looking away.

Or we look but try to be hyper-rational about it (‘dollar for dollar it’s more efficient to focus on economic development than climate change, since wealth is the best protection from weather extremes’) – as if having a few more dollars will make much difference when your city is underwater. Which is a way of looking away if you happen to be a policy wonk.

Or we look but tell ourselves we are too busy to care about something so distant and abstract – even though we saw the water in the subways in New York City, and the people on their rooftops in New Orleans, and know that no one is safe, the most vulnerable least of all. And though perfectly understandable, this too is a way of looking away.

Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers’ markets and stop driving – but forget trying to actually change the systems that are making the crisis inevitable because that’s too much ‘bad energy’ and it will never work. And at first it may appear as if we are looking, because many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.

Or maybe we do look – really look – but then, inevitably – we seem to forget. Remember and then forget again. Climate change is like that; it’s hard to keep it in your head for very long. We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.

We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. … And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing. Just continue to do what we are doing now, whether it’s counting on a techno-fix or tending to our gardens or telling ourselves we’re unfortunately too busy to deal with it.

All we have to do is not react as if this is a full-blown crisis. All we have to do is keep on denying how frightened we actually are. And then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which we have been averting our eyes. No additional effort required.

There are ways of preventing this grim future, or at least making it a lot less dire. But the catch is that these also involve changing everything.”

Next week, I’ll share some more thoughts about climate change and community rights. And I’ll be presenting my full speech again on the evening of May 14th at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Portland, so please hold that date!

You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News in Portland, Oregon, and now also in Viroqua, Wisconsin on WDRT, every Tuesday at 7pm. I welcome your feedback.

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