Be The Change

Welcome to Week 41 of Be the Change!

The heart breaks for the plight of Ukraine. But of course, these tragedies have been occurring right before our eyes for decades: in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere. It is a sad but indisputable fact that had Russia invaded a predominantly non-white country, the same attention would not have been paid to the injustice. Just consider how when it came to Syrian refugees, Europe bent over backwards to keep them out; and yet now, when it comes to Ukrainians, they are opening their arms in a warm welcome. Imagine if we did the same for all people?

This is an inflection point in history. We are seeing that so much of what we told was impossible is possible after all: seizing the assets of oligarchs, welcoming refugees, cutting off the flows of money to despots. In this week's newsletter, I talk about what it means when everything is connected to everything else, and share two poems about Russia's most recent war crime: the bombing of a hospital.

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- Andy

Everything Is an Everything Story

Everything Is an Everything Story
A frequent refrain in the environmental world is that "everything is a climate story": Russia's invasion of Ukraine and our dependence on the fossil fuels heating up the planet, for example, are inextricably linked. But in our hyper-connected, global economy--one in which fires and mountain pine beetles in Canada make the cost of lumber nearly triple; a ship getting stuck in a canal wreaks havoc on global shipping, driving inflation; and war in Eastern Europe causes the price of nickel, a key ingredient in batteries, to surge 90%--it's clear that everything is an everything story.

Today there are two primary forces in the world. One is authoritarian, xenophobic, intolerant, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBTQ, driven by profits above all else, and climate-destroying. The other is democratic, messy, tolerant, open, highly imperfect, and attempting to reduce emissions while protecting people and the planet (with mixed success, to be sure). Look at one of those traits, and you will likely find the others co-existing with them: anti-vaxxers are often also anti-choice and opposed to climate action, affirmative action and other policies to support marginalized groups. It's almost as if there is a global, far-right playbook that greedy and power-hungry people call upon and then tailor to their local context, whether it's Victor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India, or Jair Balsonaro in Brazil.

In America, look at what is happening in GOP-led states. Florida just passed a so-called Don't Say Gay bill; Texas and a number of states are effectively banning abortions; Missouri has proposed to prevent women from seeking abortions in other states, echoing the Fugitive Slave Law, and others are following suit; Texas is attempting to investigate the parents of trans children for child abuse; and all of this is layered on top of gerrymandering, voter restrictions, an obsession with non-issues like Critical Race Theory, and a total willingness to engage in bald-faced lies. This leaning into autocracy, while not yet as severe at Putin's fascist state, is of a piece with it (let us not forget that the previous administration ended with an attempted coup, on January 6, 2021). We should be profoundly concerned by this anti-democratic trend, in America, Brazil, India, China, and elsewhere.

At the same time, we are seeing a countervailing force, perhaps best encapsulated by the bravery of the Ukrainian people, who, in 2014, deposed a despot and now are quite literally dying for freedom. Russia's invasion might just well wake up the world, not only to the imperative to free ourselves from the grip of petro-state despots, not only to rapidly green our energy systems, but also to protect and become more invested in democracy and democratic values.

The thing with the pro-democracy force is that it requires bravery, sacrifice, vision, and an inspiring mission. President Zelensky has galvanized an overnight change in decades of post-Cold-war policy by virtue of his profound loyalty to ideals; imagine what would happen if we did the same in the spheres of voting rights, women's rights, criminal justice reform, and climate change? So much that seemed impossible several weeks ago--Germany increasing its defense spending and cancelling the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the UK freezing the assets of oligarchs and seizing their yachts, or Europe accepting millions of refugees with open arms--turns out to have always been very possible.

In the chaos of this moment, pushing through the pain and anguish, we have an opportunity to turn decisively toward a bright future. It won't be easy. It will be messy and chaotic, too. But it will also be inspiring, hopeful, and exciting. Think of all the work there is to be done, like solar panels to be installed and healthier farming practices to be implemented: if the money flows to these projects from governments, philanthropy, and impact investors, then the sky truly is the limit. When everything is an everything story, the narrative we tell, and what we do with and about it, can forge the future.

If you want to help Ukraine, don't just donate to groups aiding refugees. Fight for voting rights. Run for your local school board or city council. Install solar panels on your home and call on Congress to take action on climate. Push back against the assault on the rights of women and LGBTq folks. Call out the banks funding the climate crisis and Putin's regime. Now's the time to tip the world in the direction of the forces of light and justice!

Paper Plane

Paper Plane
"A children's hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol has been destroyed by Russian air strikes...” - Reuters

I’ve spent the Annus Horribilis by my Hibiscus
and birdfeeder, sniffing for nectar, growing old.

Some days the clouds have been shaped like the paper
planes I flung as a boy: in my naïveté, I expected

each to reach the moon, to transmute into
aluminum and steel, cross oceans, fly forever.

And as a boy, no matter how many times the paper
crumpled, I’d smooth the edges, try again, again,

flinging so often that even now my arm aches, all year
I’ve massaged it: on days when smoke swallows the

paper-plane-clouds, on nights when coyotes growl
like nightmares and many-legged critters laugh at

me, dressed in pajamas, wielding a stick like a shield
against death. But death is advancing like something

immovable, lifeless. I may as well pour water on the
sun as extinguish this sadness. War breaks out at lunch.

Bad news blares from every stamen, every mouth, every
passing car and leaf blower. I am coated in dust. It has

been too long since I left this spot. How do trees do it?
Do they too grow stiff and restless? Do they too long

for the grand gesture: to sink an oligarch’s yacht,
shoot down a plane, staunch all this bleeding?

The coffins are stacked so high now, they’ve blotted out
the sun. Little boy, you’ve grown up. Your arm aches and

your heart hurts. Yet you well know that all things are
possible. After a year, a ream of paper crashes but does

not explode. Bloodied families gather around the wreckage,
fold page after page and point at the sky, laughing, relieved...




Of War and War and War

Of War and War and War
When you attack us, you will see our faces. Not our backs, but our faces.

- President Volodymyr Zelensky

a Bougainvillea-laced trellis
I read of war and war and war
when I am startled by a sound
deep and insistent
like an omen or a warning.

But looking up
all I spy
is a hummingbird
drinking nectar.

I unclench my fist
and give up the Molotov cocktail
I had begun to conjure there.

What a shame to read
of war and war and war.

March 1, 2022
If you want to help Ukraine, NPR has a list of suggested ways to do so.

- Andy