Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Hills Were Alive with the Sound of Music

 by Hattie Nestel

The hills were alive with the sound of music at Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, but now it's a silent spring.

Well, so to speak. The birds and bees and animals are surely silent even as the machines and saws and chains whir and buzz and clank to make way for an unnecessary natural gas pipeline.

Despite the fact that:
  • The State Department of Conservation and Recreation bought the Otis State forest ten years ago for $5.2 million and put it into Article 97 conserved land.
  • DCR identified the area as one of the most significant land protections for the state. The acquisition was to protect land that contains some 400-year-old Eastern Hemlock forest, rare plant and animal species, historical sites, rolling meadows, and the stunning 62-acre lower Spectacle Pond.
  • Sandisfield residents, environmental groups, and the Massachusetts Attorney General all fought the pipeline, arguing that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had failed to comply with legal requirements to permit the Connecticut Expansion pipeline being put through the Conservation land of the Otis State Forest by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline company’s new storage loop for the Connecticut Gas Expansion for gas for their Connecticut customers. 
  • Although FERC statutorily consists of five voting commissioners, only two are sitting presently. However, Kinder Morgan was given permission to proceed by FERC in early April, and on Sunday, April 30, the company began cutting trees on the conserved land. The Massachusetts loop of the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline will run a 36-inch pipeline almost four miles near Sandisfield and through Otis State Forest. An additional eight miles of 24-inch pipe will go from Agawam to East Granby, Connecticut.
  • To no avail, US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, both D-MA, immediately urged FERC to rescind FERC authorization to proceed with preparations to construct the pipeline. US Representative Richard Neal, D-MA, whose district includes Otis State Forest, sent a letter with a similar request, but also received no response from FERC.
  • Otis State Forest was protected with a conservation restriction under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution enacted in 1972. The constitutional provision was intended to be a governmental check to ensure that lands acquired for conservation purposes were not converted to inconsistent uses, otherwise defined as “development.” Lands and easements taken or acquired for such purposes shall not be used for other purposes or otherwise disposed of except by laws enacted by a two thirds vote of each branch of the Massachusetts legislature, according to the law. Despite the provisions of Article 97, the state legislature has never voted to authorize construction of the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline through Otis State Forest.
  • A letter from the Narragansett Indian Tribal Office to the FERC accuses FERC of “likely” destruction of “ancient ceremonial stone landscape feature” along the path of the Tennessee Gas pipeline company’s proposed new storage loop through Otis state forest.
  • The Stockbridge–Munsee Band of Mohican Indians were not consulted about the route of the Connecticut Expansion Pipeline, despite concerns of the Indian community. Their nation will be the most “culturally affiliated” by the pipeline, said Bonnie Hartley, the nation’s tribal preservationist. “Kinder Morgan didn’t respect a different cultural viewpoint to work around or over stone features,” Hartley added.
  • Kathryn Eiseman director of Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network and president of Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast, Inc., said, “Under federal law, tribal consultations are supposed to be included early on in the process to avoid locking into a route that is problematic to the tribes.”
  • Jane Winn, executive director of Berkshire Environmental Action Team, said a settlement between the state of Massachusetts and Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company allowing the pipeline project to proceed through Otis State Forest “violates completely” Article 97.
  • Especially concerning are destructions of habitats during nesting season of mallards, wood ducks, heron, American bittern, bobcats, moose, and beavers.
  • The need for natural gas was based on 2013 numbers and is now way down.
  • Massachusetts Health Care Providers Against Fracked Gas called for a moratorium on new gas pipeline infrastructure due to its public health risks. Gas drilling and pipelines release toxic, carcinogenic, and radioactive pollutants which adversely affect our health.
  • Although Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini ruled that the 1938 natural gas act trumps Massachusetts Article 97, he did not take into account what is now the knowledge that climate change is exacerbated by cutting trees nor that burning natural gas, including fracked gas, releases methane into the atmosphere.
Rema Loeb, left, aged 84, and Hattie, right, aged 78, 
were 2 of the 18 activists arrested on Otis State Forest land on May 2, 2017.
One way to stop pipelines is by boycotting banks and financial institutions that invest in pipelines. If you use local banks and credit unions, you are probably not supporting pipelines. Check out where your pensions are invested and which banks and investment companies your towns and various organizations use.

Historically, boycotts work! Now is the time to get on board so we prevent any more Otis forests here or anywhere from being destroyed.

The hills were alive with the sound of music at Otis State Forest in Sandisfield, but now they echo with the sounds of silence.

Hattie Nestel is an activist living in Athol, MA.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Reflections on People's Climate March and Shabbat, April 29, 2017

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

 “You know things are serious when the introverts arrive” is my favorite protest sign. I love this sign because I’m an introvert. I hate crowds, and protests are near the bottom of my list of what to do for fun.

I also hate hot weather. I hate it because my body hates it and lets me know in no uncertain terms. And on the day of the People’s Climate March in Washington at the end of April, temperatures soared to a record in the low 90s.

Yet despite the crowds and despite the heat, I went to Washington this past Shabbat. I went because I had to. I went because I had to put my body in that space in order to say, to myself and to others, “I care about what is happening to our planet and its inhabitants.”

I didn’t experience the march in the way I anticipated. A few days beforehand, I was invited represent the faith contingent and to help hold the CLIMATE, JOBS, JUSTICE banner during the press conference before the march and then to help carry it through the march. I was overwhelmed by what felt like both a huge honor and a wonderful opportunity. The major downside was that I wouldn’t be able to march with my friends in the faith group. But again, despite the anticipated discomfort, I said "yes".

Thus it was that I arrived at the Reflecting Pool hours before the march was scheduled to start and was given a Press Conference pass. And thus it was that I stood between a woman from Standing Rock, representing the Indigenous Peoples contingent, and a Hindu woman, also representing the Faith contingent, and helped hold one of the official Peoples Climate Movement banners. Thus it was that I appeared in pictures, along with all the others holding the banner, on the official PCM site and on many other sites.

And, thus it was that my experience of the march began with hearing, up close and clearly, the words of all the speakers at the press conference.
by People's Climate March; KZA on far right

Ten people spoke, each for a few short minutes. The speakers were not movie stars. They were not politicians. They were not scientists. Thespeakers were all activists. They were people working in the trenches. They were men, women, and children feeling the impact of climate change in their lives and in the lives of their communities. They ranged from a Black Lives Matters activist to a member of Iraq Veterans against the War, from a member of the New York State Nurses Union to a Muslim climate activist from Green Faith, from a volunteer for the League of Conservation Voters to a Native American woman and her two daughters who are part of Our Children's Trust law suit against the federal government for ignoring climate change. They were from many states and were of many colors.

by People's Climate March; KZA fourth from right

This rainbow collection of speakers spoke passionately about the work they are doing. They spoke passionately about the ways that people are already being impacted by climate change. They spoke passionately about their concerns for the future and the need for action. It was a powerful way to begin the day.

After the press conference – accompanied by my amazing friend David, at whose home I stayed while in DC – I went to the starting point of the march to meet up with the banner and the others who would carry it. The day was already hot, and my body was feeling the heat. I did my best to stay out of the sun and hydrated.

We found the banner, and I sat with others I’d met earlier, waiting for the march to begin. Also in the front of the march were the Indigenous Peoples and youth contingents. Those of us waiting together gathered from conversations going on nearby that negotiating was taking place related to the order of the marchers at the front of the march.

Eventually, we were asked to hold the banner, now on poles so it could be held up high. A sense of anticipation that the march would begin soon filled the air. Then we were asked to move the banner, and we were now in the sun. I could feel myself getting hotter, and I began to worry that I was over doing it. I wanted to start, to walk at least part of the march, but I began to realize I couldn’t last much longer.

David had told me that we could go to his office, located on the route of the march, to cool off when I got too hot. Finally, I realized that I was pushing myself too far, and I said to him, “Let’s go.” I knew that I had to be careful. I’ve had heat exhaustion too many times, and it is really miserable, as well as potentially dangerous. I was grateful for my friend’s support.

by People's Climate March

As I had made my plans to go to the march, I had known that I would be breaking many of my personal boundaries for keeping Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. At services the night before the march at Adas Israel in DC, I felt myself entering into a different kind of Shabbat, one that would encompass the entirety of my experience of the march. My colleague Rabbi Judy Kummer expressed the tension so well in her d’var Torah at the interfaith service at the Boston climate march – “On this day of rest, we cannot rest.” It was Shabbat, Saturday, the day of rest, but I needed to be at this protest. I needed to not rest.

And yet, I also had to rest. I had to rest because it was hot. I had to rest in order to be OK. And so I left the march, and I rested. Later, somewhat refreshed, I rejoined the march near the end, and to my delight met up with other Boston and New York Jewish Climate Action Network activists who had marched with the faith contingent, some of them holding our stunning new JCAN banner. I was so very glad to see them.

And then, before the events of the day ended, I had to leave. I had to leave because it was hot. I had to leave so that I wouldn’t get sick.

Back at my friends’ home, I had the luxury of being able to care for myself the way I needed to, to rest and take care of my body. And because of this, hot and tired though I was, I managed to avoid being overcome by intense symptoms of heat exhaustion.

For me, it was both difficult to be at the march and difficult not to be with my friends. But I am glad I went, and I am glad I said “yes” to holding the banner. I am glad I heard all those voices speaking passionately about climate change impact. I’m glad I experienced awareness of last-minute discussions at the start of the march.

I’m glad about all of these things because they broke my heart open a little bit more. Reading the news the next day about layoffs and closings of departments at hospitals large and small across the country, about another black youth shot and killed by police, about white power groups building alliances, about fighting and starvation in South Sudan, and so much more chaos around the globe, I envisioned the global picture of climate change in my mind with renewed clarity. I saw, and I continue to see, a future with tensions rising higher and higher and with vulnerable people ever more vulnerable. The day of the march, I experienced the impact of heat on my body, and I was able to keep myself safe. Due to my economic, social, racial, and geographic status, I have the opportunity and the option to take care of myself. So many others have neither the opportunity nor the option. As the months and years roll by, opportunities and options to take care of ourselves will grow ever fewer, and more and more, they will be available only to those who are privileged.

Like me.

And so, despite the heat, despite my dislike of crowds, despite the fact that is was Shabbat, I showed up, and I will show up again. On this day of rest, we could not rest. And yet we must rest. For only by resting, can we again not rest on a day of rest. That is the paradox with which we must live as we take the moral stand of being present for our planet and all its inhabitants.

May the day come once again that on every day of rest, we may rest.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spiritand is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA.

Monday, May 1, 2017

We Cannot Rest

by Rabbi Judy Kummer
[Delivered at the Interfaith Service sponsored by the Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action Interfaith Service at the Boston People's Climate March, April 29, 2017]

Ribono shel olam,
Creator of the universe,
We come before you today
To ask your help, to ask your guidance, to ask your blessing.

Help us remember the fragility of our world. 
Help us remember our dependence on each other, and
Help us remember our dependence on you, Source of all life.

Guide us to love your creations and to treasure them. 
Guide us to know always their sanctity 
For they and we have been created by You.

And Bless us to be the best possible stewards,
able to preserve this precious inheritance we have received – our beautiful gem-like world -- and to pass it on, 
intact and beautiful, 
 to future generations.  **

We read in the book of Isaiah, “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”  
From the cathedrals of pine trees that inspired the building of glorious stone cathedrals,
From the immense beauty of mountains and deserts that inspired sacred poetry in the hearts  of our ancient ancestors, some of which we read today in the book of Psalms, 
May we remember always that our environment is sacred – it is hallowed ground, 
is a  house of prayer
place of prayer              For all peoples. ***

Our theme today:
“Because we love, we cannot rest.”    We must take action, we must act on our love for our world.
We cannot rest!

And yet, For those of us living in Jewish time, 
we mark today, Saturday, as the Jewish Sabbath, as shabbat, 
a day renewal and of rest. 

But Out of deep love for our earth and for our creator, on this day of rest, we cannot rest.  

Out of deep love for the miracles taking place in the world around us --and within us—
on this day of rest, we cannot rest. 

Out of deep love for our fellow members of the human race, for those whom we know and those we can't yet count as friends and members of our families, 
on this day of rest, we cannot rest. 

We cannot rest because action is called for.  
We cannot rest because our love for our world must be acted on.  
We cannot rest because so much remains to be perfected and protected in our world.

Y’hi ratzon milfanecha, Adonai elohaynyu v’elohay avotaynu v’imotaynu,
May it be your will, Adonai, our God and God of our ancestors,
That this gathering today bring us 
the strength and the unity, 
the guidance, the help and the blessing we need to  preserve and protect our planet.
May we be sustained in our work    to keep our beautiful planet
a house of prayer,
A place of prayer – sanctified and holy -- for all. 
And let us say Amen. 

Rabbi Judith Kummer is the Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts.  A Boston native, she earned a BA from Barnard College in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Kummer is an avid organic gardener, potter, hiker and social activist.