Shel’s “I HATE to Write Handwritten Thank-Yous” Networking Guide

Shel made friends with these three Australians while traveling in Turkey

Shel made friends with these three Australians while traveling in Turkey

Pretty much every networking guru agrees: sending handwritten notes, especially thank-you notes, is one of the best ways to grow your importance in the minds of the people who receive them.

And I know that the hand-written thank-you notes I’ve received stay in my own mind for years, even decades.

But maybe, like me, you have terrible handwriting. And maybe you also get very bad writers cramp. So I hereby give you permission to build your network through other tools. Here are a few of the ways I do that:

  • If I don’t recognize the caller ID: “Good morning/afternoon/evening, this is Shel. How may I make your day special? This starts a lot of great conversations.
  • On the discussion lists I participate in, I do my best to answer people’s questions with friendly, helpful, useful advice—and to answer a lot more questions than I ask. For about ten years, this was the biggest source of new clients in my business, and all it cost was my time.
  • Of course, I add value when possible. On social media, this is so easy: retweet, Like, and share good posts, sometimes engaging in dialog or bringing others directly into the conversation (tagging them). But outside of social media, you can add lots more value without a whole lot of work. Make e-mail introductions to people who could benefit from knowing each other, even if you have nothing to gain from their connection. Send an article or video link you think will interest your contact. Be of service as a volunteer. Interview movers and shakers for your blog, your telesummit, or the book you’re writing.
  • Each year, I select a cool oddball birthday greeting (this year, it’s space aliens singing Happy Birthday). Whenever a Facebook connection’s birthday comes up, my assistant sends them the greeting. When they thank me, I often ask how they’re doing,w hat they’re up to, and when they respond to that, I fill them in on my own very exciting work turning hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance. NOTE: since many of my FB friends know each other, I typically do these as private messages rather than wall posts.
  • I’m always ready to start or join conversations with strangers—such as the three young Australian women in the picture, whom I met while hiking in Turkey. I’ve actually formed lasting relationships on public transit, at conferences, and yes, even at business networking events.
  • Thank people publicly. When you make people look good in front of others, they remember.


Posted in Branding, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Networking, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , ,

Disagreeing with Seth Godin on Cars vs. Bikes

Urban bicyclists taking a break

Urban bicyclists taking a break

What surprised me about Seth Godin’s blog post today on cars vs bicycles was the way he based his pro-bike arguments in classic liberal altruism: protect the underdog, ensure the safety of the less powerful. This is even more remarkable because he lives in New York City, whre bikes have clear superiority over cars for many purposes. (His tounge-in-cheek pro-car arguments, on the other hand, were like the modern Republican Party: I have more power than you, so get out of my way.)

I’m a big believer in convincing by harnessing the reader/listener/viewer’s enlightened self-interest. So I’d rewrite his pro-bike list with these eight positive reasons:

  • In dense urban areas, you’ll get there much faster on a bike than in a car, for trips of up to five and maybe as much as seven miles, especially in rush hour
  • You can park within a few feet of your destination (in big cities, I often start looking for a parking space half a mile/one kilometer ahead, and sometimes don’t find a space until a mile/2KM on the other side)
  • In less populated areas, the bike provides a healthy, fun workout
  • You notice more on a bike: stores and restaurants to check out, architectural details, big scenic vista, some ripe and yummy fruit to pick on a wild raspberry vine, that gorgeous hawk soaring above you
  • You enjoy that wonderful feeling of being outside with the breeze and sun
  • Your carbon footprint during your trip is reduced by orders of magnitude
  • You get to smile and be smiled upon by other people; positive human connection, no matter how fleeting, is a good thing, and hard to achieve encased in a ton or two of steel and plastic
  • Bikes are waaay cheaper—bike economics: outright purchase of something between $200 for a decent used street bike on up to, say, $600 for a new one of better quality, maintenance costs of $50-$100 per year, fuel cost of zero; car economics: at minimum, $5000 plus hundreds or thousands in annual maintenance for a functional used car with a remaining lifespan of three years or more, plus costs of fuel and insurance, on up to several tens of thousands for a new one.

Of course, Seth is using the bike vs. car argument as a metaphor for the caring vs. selfish economy. But as an avid biker (going back to commuting to high school in New York City, and continuing through my current rural lifestyle)—and a benefit-focused marketer, I had to point out that bikes do actually offer a number of real advantages.

Posted in Copywriting, Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Frugality/Frugal Fun, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, propaganda, Psychology, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Climate Change is Our Opportunity to Remake Society, Says Naomi Klein

Photo of debris after Hurricane Katrina
Photo of debris after Hurricane Katrina

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Palmer W. Cook

It’s not often you hear a self-professed liberal Jewish feminist open her talk with ten minutes praising the Pope. But that’s how Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine, and several other groundbreaking books, began her talk at Mount Holyoke College last night. While acknowledging a litany of areas where she and Francis have profound disagreements—among them same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to control her own body—she thanked him publicly for his attention to the planet in peril and its dispossessed people, saying he was a great example of what environmental leadership looks like right now.

And for Klein, those two areas—helping the planet and replacing poverty with abundance—are forever braided together. “Climate change is an accelerant to all the other issues going wrong…It’s not about saying climate change is so big that it trumps everything else. All are equally urgent, and we don’t win by pitting these issues against each other.” We win, she says, by joining forces to demand holistic approaches that simultaneously solve climate heating, create jobs and economic opportunity, and remediate ism-based oppression—by “connecting climate change with a broken economic model”—a concept she calls “intersectionality.”

(This is a message particularly dear to my own heart, and thoroughly integrated into my forthcoming 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World as well as my own talk, “‘Impossible’ is a Dare.”)

The impacts of climate change, she notes, often fall most heavily among the very poor countries, and the very poor residents of rich countries. Oil refineries, coal plants, and high asthma rates tend to be found in low-income communities, often with high concentrations of people of color. Rising floodwaters will inundate poor, tiny island nations first. “It’s not just about things getting hotter, but about things getting meaner. More militarized, more racist,” as we see in the response of countries like Hungary to the Syrian refugee crisis. Which she sees as climate-related, noting that the Syrian civl war followed the worst drought in Syria’s history. Climate change, she says, is also a women’s and a feminist issue; the impacts hit women disproportionately as well.

So her challenge to climate activists is to turn “disaster apartheid” (e.g., the detestable official response to Hurricane Katrina) into “energy democracy.” And that includes making sure that the communities hit hardest are first in line for improvements that meet their needs.

Hurricane Katrina, which inspired Klein to write The Shock Doctrine and begin her climate study that led to This Changes Everything, was a perfect storm combining “heavy weather and a weak and neglected public sphere.” She points out that by the time Katrina made landfall, it had been downgraded from a Category 5 hurricane to a mere tropical storm. The levees should have withstood the onslaught, if they hadn’t been allowed to fall into disrepair.

While the world looked on with horror as “FEMA couldn’t find New Orleans,” and “prisoners were abandoned, locked in their cells as the waters were rising,” evacuees were given one-way tickets out, and the elites seized an opportunity to remake the city as a wealthier place, with 100,000 fewer poor blacks, even tearing down public housing projects undamaged by the storm, to replace them with high-end condominiums.

Quoting Black Lives Matter leader Alicia Garza, Klein says it’s time to “‘make new mistakes’…we can’t demand perfection but we can demand evolution.”

Examples of the old mistakes we shouldn’t keep making:

  • “Projecting messianic fantasies onto politicians” and becoming disappointed when they fail to save us
  • Believing we can solve all our problems with market forces (she cites the recent Volkswagen fuel emissions tampering scandal as an example of why that doesn’t work)—or with technological fixes, which include not only wonderful new green energy systems but also environmentally catastrophic technologies like fracking (“the oil companies have figured out how to screw us sideways”), tar-sands oil, and massive pipelines such as the Keystone XL
  • “Building a movement entirely of upper-middle-class white people and wondering why people of color don’t join”
  • “Tearing other people to shreds” in bouts of anger disguised as political purity
  • Thinking that any one of us can do it all ourselves

Noting that fossil fuel companies will work extremely hard to protect their enormous profits and will try to win the public by pointing out the lifestyles of luxury fossil fuels have allowed us, Klein says we won’t win by trying to educate fossil-fuel billionaires like the Koch brothers. Furthermore, “we cannot look at this without looking at who burned what, when. Fossil fuels have allowed us to live the fantasy of a life apart from nature. But the response from the earth, though slow in coming, says there’s no such thing as a one-way relationship, and you were never the boss! We could see this as a cosmic demotion—or as a gift.”

But we do have many victories to celebrate, including Shell’s decision this week in the face of strong opposition from environmentalists to withdraw from arctic drilling…China’s major reduction in coal development and initiation of carbon cap-and-trade—due to public pressure even in that repressive society—when only a few years ago a new coal plant was opening every week…the 400,000 new jobs Germany has created in shifting 30 percent of its energy from fossil and nuclear to solar and wind (to name a few). “As I talk to people, the biggest problem is that they think they can’t win. But we are winning, as part of a global movement.

And just as the shock of the Great Depression economic collapse created space for New Deal social reforms, so the climate catastrophe, coupled with the current collapse of fossil fuel prices, with the price of a barrel of oil plummeting from $100 to $50 in three months,  could catalyze transformation: “integrated holistic solutions and a road map. There’s a progressive tradition of using these shocks to build….a moment where we can do things that weren’t possible before. We can shut down bad projects and bad policy. We can win a moratorium on all arctic drilling. It’s easier to bring in a bold progressive carbon tax…the political goal has to be a polluter-pays principle…the mostr sustainable route is weaving together the yes and the no.” She delighted in recent progressive electoral victories in Alberta (long controlled by tar-sands-loving right-wingers) and in the UK, where the Bernie Sanders-like Jeremy Corbyn has just become head of the Labour Party. Also in Alberta, she took hope from a conference that brought together union miners from the tar sands, environmentalists, and many other sectors and emerged with a progressive manifesto.

Before a brief Q&A, she closed her formal presentation with a clarion call to optimism AND action:

We need to move from a society based on extraction to one based on caring, including a guaranteed annual income. Caregiving jobs are climate change jobs. We must expand the caring economy and contract the careless economy. 2016 is a leap year; we add a human-created day in deference to the earth’s rotation. That’s an increased opportunity to build a much better world. We will be told it’s impractical. But $2.6 trillion has been divested from fossil fuel.

Quoting a woman leader in Nauru, a tiny Pacific Island being lost to climate change after a catastrophic history of exploitation by First World economies (Klein chronicles the sad tale in This Changes Everything), she continued,

“If politics are immovable, let’s change the politics.” Now is not the time for small steps. Now is the time to leap!

Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Activism, Business-general, Democracy, Demographics/Psychographics, Diversity, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Ethics in Government, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, language, People Helping People, Politics, poverty, propaganda, Protests and Crackdowns, Social and Economic Justice, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Time for a Boycott! Volkswagen’s Fraud Should Shock Even the Cynics

corroded tailpipe (not a VW; for illustration purposes only)

corroded tailpipe (not a VW; for illustration purposes only)

This may be a new low in business ethics: Volkswagen got caught fitting more than 500,000 diesel vehicles with a device that senses emissions checks, and only fully enables its pollution control systems when the emissions check is being done!

What does that mean? Hundreds of thousands of vehicles “partying like it’s 1959,” belching unmitigated particulates into the air that you and I breathe. There were no emissions requirements at all in 1959, in case you were wondering.

This is outrageous! In addition to the recall and the fines, I think this is grounds for a widespread boycott. Being not just lied to but poisoned by a major company that pretends to care about the environment is not acceptable behavior. We as consumers need to stand up and say, ‘ENOUGH!”

And we consumers have power. There’s a long and honorable history of boycotts sparking change in corporate behavior. Just ask Nestlé.

The above link is to the New York Times article, but this act of deeply purposeful criminal fraud is all over the news media. This link goes to a Google search for “volkswagen defeat device emissions.” As of 6:09 p.m. Eastern on Friday, September 18, Page One results include stories in NPR, the Washington Post, and USA Today in addition to the Times.

Posted in Activism, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Greenwashing, Technology, Transparency vs. Secrecy Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Social Change Comes When Ordinary People do Extraordinary Things

Brilliant article in Yes Magazine by Mistinguette Smith: “6 Strategies to Make Powerful Social Change—Starting With “Stay Woke.””

One of the points I make when I give my “‘Impossible” is a Dare (NOT a Fact)” talks is that every one of us has the power to be an agent of change. For every Count Leo Tolstoy (born into wealth and privilege and used his position to work for social change), there are dozens if not hundreds of Martin Luther Kings, Gandhis, and Mother Teresas: ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most meaningful social change gets accomplished by ordinary people, especially when they organize and work together. I personally started the movement that saved our local mountain. Bree’s courage and power are the norm, not the exception.

I’ve often heard very successful people get asked, “How did you do _____ before you were _______ (the successful person’s name, emphasized)? Even with my own rather limited fame, I’ve been asked “How did you save the mountain before you were Shel Horowitz?”

Here’s what they’re missing. What turned me from Shel Horowitz, self-employed marketing consultant working out of a farmhouse, to Shel Horowitz, locally famous saver of mountains, was going out and starting the movement to save the mountain. It was the doing that created the fame.

Yes, I did have the marketing skills to leverage that and eventually build a brand around profitability consulting for green and socially conscious businesses. Yes, I had the writing and research skills to create a body of work that attracted a major publisher and a celebrity co-author for my eighth book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. Yes, I created enough leverage from that book to be able to do my 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, comes out in March, with endorsements by Jack Canfield, Seth Godin, the founders of BNI and, the author of The New Rules of Green Marketing (among others), and essays from the authors of Unstoppable/Unstoppable Women and Diet for a Small Planet. I grabbed the opportunities to make more of a difference in the wider world, and not just my own community. But just because I made those opportunities happen doesn’t mean they weren’t available to others.

Social change can be based in very small actions. The backstory about Mistinguette Smith’s article is that her editor wanted to ditch the phrase in the title, “Stay Woke.” Mistinguette brought that discussion to Facebook, and that may have been why she eventually won the argument. But the key element to making the change is mindset. This is how I heard about her article before it was published, and how I knew it was published and could read it.

To accomplish positive social change, I think we need two things: one is the sense that we can make a difference and the willingness to try—something any of us can achieve.

The other is the motivation to achieve a higher good than simply obtaining power or profit.I’d even go so far as to say the need to make the world better is a basic human drive, just like food or shelter or sex. If we’re not doing this in some small way, we don’t feel complete.

Let’s look at the difference between two ordinary men who led their countries out of apartheid: Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (formerly called Rhodesia). Both were hailed as liberators originally. Mugabe, a teacher and prison-educated lawyer, turned out to be a brutal thug, a dictator motivated by the desire for power and wealth.

But Mandela was clearly motivated by a desire to heal his suffering country. His actions were all about unity and reconciliation. He will be remembered as a hero to the end of time.

Posted in Activism, People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Never Give Up Hope

Justice Sonia Sotomayor works the crowd (Photo by Shel Horowitz.

By Shel Horowitz

Justice Sonia Sotomayor works the crowd (Photo by Shel Horowitz.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor works the crowd (Photo by Shel Horowitz.

Yes, you can be a United States Supreme Court Justice and still keep your humanity. In an hour and a half of Q&A at the Springfield Public Forum in Springfield, Massachusetts, Justice Sonia Sotomayor not only kept her content humble and hopeful, but did her best to make herself one with the audience.

She answered the first question from the stage, but then left her comfortable armchair, announced that she wanted to make herself more accessible to the people at the far corners of the room, pleaded with the audience not to do anything that would make the Secret Service agents too nervous to let her wander, and then answered all remaining questions while walking around the room shaking hands and getting photographed—and leaving the moderator (another female judge) gaping and wondering where her speaker was at times. I’ve certainly seen speakers mingle, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one who spent virtually the entire speech mingling. It’s especially remarkable in a government official; most of them stay firmly behind their podiums, clinging tightly. I can’t imagine Hillary Clinton doing that. But Sotomayor is like that; she spent her first weeks at the Supreme Court not just boning up on the then-upcoming Citizens United case but also visiting the far corners of the building and greeting the staff. She claims to be the first Supreme Court Justice to visit the telephone operators up on the third floor.

Hillary also probably has help writing her books. Sotomayor–like President Obama–writes her own, even as she acknowledged that writing didn’t come easily to her until a college mentor observed that she was thinking in Spanish (her first language) and translating.

Like Sotomayor, I grew up poor in the Bronx (and actually fantasized about becoming a social justice lawyer and eventually, a Supreme Court Justice—though I love the career I chose instead). And I was thrilled to hear her say things like:

  • “I wanted to write a book that would give people hope…if I [the child of an immigrant alcoholic, raised in the tough housing projects of New York] can do it, so can you.”
  • “Squeeze as much as you can out of every day. Give to others. Don’t take a moment to not live life at its fullest.”
  • “Affirmative Action was a door opener for a door that had been closed to people of my background. Many institutions like to do the same thing over and over. But that success formula excludes certain people. The question is, what did I do with that opportunity? I wanted my career to be a bridge between my community and the wider society.” She noted that others had been given similar opportunity but chose not to make the most of it.
  • “As a prosecutor, I learned how to seek justice not just for society but for the defendant.
  • “Every mentor has made a positive mark on my life, and I hope that I have for them.”
  • “Accept your limitations and your strengths.”

Surprisingly, when asked where in her career she had the most fun, she didn’t hesitate to respond “as a trial judge. Every day, you’re surprised! When I retire from the Supreme Court, I want to go back to it.” She misses the human contact with the plaintiffs and defendants, who are generally not present in appeals or Supreme courtrooms.

When asked why the greatest legal minds in the country have so many split decisions, Sotomayor pointed out that this is part of the Supremes’ mandate. “The case wouldn’t come before the Supreme Court if the answer was clear. We don’t take cases unless there are disagreements in the Circuit Court decisions. That’s why we have 5-4 decisions. It doesn’t mean that the four are wrong, but that the five thought another way. Some people say [the split decisions lessen their faith in government]. I hope the split means you have more faith in the government, because if everything is 9-0, we’re not taking the care we need to. And if there’s a [written] dissent, at least somebody heard you.”

Dissents, for her, are also cause for optimism. “We can write our dissents and hope to influence Congress or a future Supreme Court decision. You have to feel optimistic that things can change. You have to hold that hope, so you can let go” and accept being on the losing side. “I remain optimistic, despite what’s happening in Congress right now.

And she asks each of us to take responsibility, to do our part for a better world, even if it’s as simple as casting a vote or calling a loved one. “Whatever you do, do it with passion and caring. Not voting is the greatest act of being a traitor. What counts is caring enough to make your voice heard. Every day, I try to become a better person, a better Justice. How many of us forget to call a friend who’s sick or suffered a loss? Every day I try to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Every night before you go to sleep, ask yourself these two questions:

  • What have I learned that’s new today?
  • What good have I done today?

“If you can’t answer those two questions, don’t go to sleep. Send someone a [‘thinking-of-you’] email. Go on Google and learn about something.

Known as a Justice who asks a lot of questions during oral argument, Sotomayor was asked if she often changed her mind based on the lawyers’ responses to the Justices’ questions.  And she said that she changes her thinking based on the oral argument, though not necessarily her vote, about 20 percent of the time. To future lawyers in the largely student audience, she advised, “Be happy when we ask questions. We engage you in engaging us.” But she said often, the real benefit to her in oral arguments is from listening to the questions of her colleagues. “I see what road they’re going down, what they’re thinking.” The Justices don’t discuss cases before oral arguments, so these are the first insights she gets about a case’s direction.

In the past, the Court was a very contentious place, with some Justices not speaking to each other for years. That changed, she said, when Sandra Day O’Connor (the first woman Justice, appointed by President Reagan) came onboard. She insisted on building collegial relationships, through instituting several changes including a weekly lunch. “She made a huge difference. There’s an ethos now that if someone says something they shouldn’t have, they call and apologize.”

She chose law, she said, because “I wanted to guide people into making decisions that were fair to themselves and to other people.” It was a way to help people solve problems, and it did not require singing, dancing, or drawing, didn’t require the patience of a teacher, and did not involve medicine; as a diabetic since age 7, she felt she’d spent far too much time in hospitals to want to work in one. When the moderator shot back that Sotomayor was the best salsa dancer she knew, the 61-year-old Justice said she’d taken lessons at 50, when she got tired of being the only Latina she knew who didn’t dance. She asked her mother why she’d never been taught to dance as a child, and her mom replied, “You were always outside chasing fireflies. We could never get you to be still long enough.”

Her final advice was to remember the people who helped you and to overcome your fears. “Every job I’ve had, every obstacle I’ve overcome, I’ve been afraid. None of us gets anywhere in life without the help of others. Nobody accomplishes alone. We are each of us blessed with the good and the bad I hope each of you can appreciate the blessings in your world.”

Note: material in quote marks and not in brackets are as accurate as my notes, memories, and ability to decipher my scrunched handwriting allow (I had no paper so I was writing on the backs of business cards). I apologize for any transcription errors I may have made. Material within square brackets is paraphrased.

Posted in Activism, Diversity, Ethics in Government, General Commentary, language, People Helping People, Politics, poverty, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , ,

Why I NEVER Want to be “Killing It”

Peace, in many languages

Peace, in many languages

I do not use “killing it” or “crushing it” to mean “successful.” Successful does not have to be about dominance and submission, winners and losers. I believe in an abundant, win-win world where we have the power to turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance—while making a nice profit. The words we choose help determine where we (individually and as a society) are going, and how we get there.

In fact, I set up a whole new website,, to bring this message home. Somehow, I don’t think it would have the right tone if I had called this website “”.

Language matters. A lot. I just told a client yesterday to remove the word “dumb” from her vocabulary; she’s building a brand around smart, sexy, socially conscious blondes, and the “dumb blonde” stereotype is the exact opposite of that.

I don’t use the term, “senior moment.” I see elders as more often wise than confused. I’m 58 and I expect to be doing good work for the rest of my life, whether that turns out to be another 50 years, or whether my time turns out to be much more limited. I avoid gender-specific language; it’s almost always possible to find a gender-inclusive way to say something. “Firefighter” rather than “fireman,” “chair” (or the more cumbersome “chairperson”) instead of “chairman.” Since “s/he” or “co” or any other quick substitute for “he or she” hasn’t become common language, I do say “he or she” or “his and her.” Even though it’s clunky, it is less clunky to my eyes and ears than switching gender every paragraph.

Yes, I know that the word “niggardly” (meaning stingy) has nothing to do entomologically with a certain slur-word directed at black people. The root is different. But because the sounds of the words are so close, I would never use it. I don’t want to reinforce any association with the n-word. I’m also careful about words like “savages” or “primitive” or “cripple.” And I even avoid “sucks,” which was introduced as a slur against gay men. So many words are so loaded up with negative baggage that it’s a whole lot easier just not to use them.

Marketers should pay attention, too. Chevrolet made a huge mistake decades ago when it tried to introduce its popular Nova line into Latin America. Nobody bothered to check what that name meant locally. Oddly enough, it turned out that the locals weren’t exactly breaking down the doors to buy a car whose name is Spanish for “it doesn’t go.”

There is one military metaphor that doesn’t bother me at all, however. I use the word “target” to describe a tightly defined market niche. I like the precision of that. And because I’m a Guerrilla Marketing co-author, I use the phrase “guerrilla marketing.” But if I had been naming the brand, I’d have chosen something less grounded in war (and maybe easier to spell).

Posted in Branding, Business-general, Demographics/Psychographics, Diversity, language, Politics, Psychology Tagged with: , , ,

Koch and EDF on the same side? Fishery “land grabs” should concern us all

Independent-owned boats like these on the Spanish Costa Brava could be forced out by Big Fish. Photo by Shel Horowitz

Independent-owned boats like these on the Spanish Costa Brava could be forced out by Big Fish. Photo by Shel Horowitz

Independent-owned boats like these on the Spanish Costa Brava could be forced out by Big Fishing. Photo by Shel Horowitz

As a vegetarian for the past 42 years, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about fish. But I went to a talk, “Food Grabs vs. Climate Justice: How capitalists and climate deniers are locking up access to land and sea, and how Food Sovereignty movements are creating real climate solutions,” part of the Center for Popular Economics’ annual summer institute in Western Massachusetts.

Moderated by Sara Mersha (Grassroots International), panelists included Michele Mesmain (Slow Food International), Betsy Garrold (Food for Maine’s Future), and Seth Macinko (Department of Marine Affairs, University of Rhode Island). Both Macinko and Mesmain focused on fish and fisheries.

Both experts agreed on the need to control overfishing–and both said there’s a better way than the current widely embraced privitization “solution”: taking the public resource of the sea held in common, and giving it, for free and in perpetuity, to large corporations who are already catching the most fish. These corporations then can lease fishing rights back to the local fisherfolks, who used to be able to fish them for free–or simply force them out of business.

Macinko said you can manage a resource to prevent overfishing without savaging the historic commons rights, and noted the unholy alliance of environmental groups (including Environmental Defense Fund), academics, corporate-oriented major foundations such as Pew, government and trans-government authorities including the World Bank, the Big Fishing lobby, and, lo and behold, the Koch Brothers’ foundation pushing for this rights grab. Then Mesmain showed three models of successful fisheries management without privitization: a 1000-year-old guild governing France’s Mediterranean coast, a much more recent initiative in the Basque region of Spain–both involving open-sea fisheries, and one through the Okanagan Nations Alliance (8 nations/tribes in Washington State and British Columbia) covering inland river salmon fisheries.

Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, Diversity, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Business, Greenwashing, localism/locavore, propaganda, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Klein’s “Blockadia” Turns Out to be About Protecting our Water

I’m up to the part of Naomi Klein?‘s This Changes Everything where she talks about the interconnectedness of geolocalized people’s movements opposing “extreme/reckless resource extraction” (e.g., tar-sands oil, fracked gas and oil, mountaintop removal for coal). She dubs the movement “Blockadia.” She also casts very appropriate darts, just before this section, at the crazy idea that we should avoid climate catastrophe by throwing so much pollution into the sky that the sun can’t get through. Talk about a cure worse than the disease! Hard to believe some scientists are actually serious about this.

She points out that these technologies are far more intrusive and polluting and resource-intensive than the old-style mines and wells—and that the opposition often parses out as saving our water from destruction, modeling around the Precautionary Principle of not unleashing technologies we can’t control, and using the positive framing of protecting our water (very similar to the way I framed Save the Mountain 15 years ago—the successful movement to keep a nasty housing development off the Mount Holyoke Range in my town of Hadley, Massachusetts, US). I have said for many years that we have plenty of substitutes for oil, but if the water is gone (or unusable), so are we.

Like everything I’ve ever read by Klein, the book is impeccably researched—including interviewing primary sources directly and even suffering through climate-denier conferences and similar events in person; pursuit of the truth can be painful, sometimes.

And she isn’t afraid to go after the movement’s sacred cows. She scolds some very prominent environmental groups including The Nature Conservancy for betraying their core mission in the service of their large extraction-industry funders—even putting an oil well into one of its nature preserves, where the bird it was set up to protect can no longer be found. And she finds Sir Richard Branson’s proclamations of concern for the planet to be at odds with his actions. (I’m hoping she’s wrong about him. Even if she turns out to be right—and she might well be—he has certainly used his considerable charisma to educate the public on climate change.)

Environmentalists need to take these accusations very seriously. We need to know who we fund, and what they do with the money. And we definitely need to build the movement that insists upon meaningful action to stave off catastrophic climate change—which would have been much easier 20 or 30 years ago, but, I believe, is still possible now.

However, I break with Klein over solutions. She has essentially no faith in the business community or in technology, and she seems to think that any time an environmental group partners with a polluter, that group is sullied. Maybe I’m less of a purist than she is. But I’ve just finished another wonderful book, The Necessary Revolution, by Peter Senge et al. Reading the two together was very interesting, because Senge’s book is full of great examples of NGOs and corporations working together to tackle problems in a very meaningful way, while Klein’s is the counterpoint of these partnerships leading to a failure to address the deeper issues.

I also read almost daily reports in the sustainability press (GreenBiz, Sustainable Brands, Triple Pundit, 3BL Media, Rocky Mountain Institute’s Solutions Journal, and Guardian Sustainable Business, to name a few) of the amazing small-scale, eco-friendly technology innovations that give me hope. And I’m painfully aware that we knew all the way back in 1983-84 how to build a beautiful, modern, net-zero-energy home even in extreme environments, and that our failure to make this the norm is inexcusable.

Technology doesn’t have to be about extreme extraction, GMOs designed to absorb more pesticides, nuclear power, or blocking the sun. Science and engineering can actually be the climate movement’s friends. Unlike the crazy unproven schemes requiring billions or trillions of dollars and dozens of years to ramp up, these innovations often combine deep conservation, greater efficiency in harnessing clean renewable energy, and even the fascinating science of biomimcry to slash energy use, carbon footprint, and waste—right now.

Posted in Activism, Corporate Social Responsibility, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Ethics: General, Green Business, localism/locavore, media-general, People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Social and Economic Justice, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Putting Your Trust in Fracked Shale Gas? Not So Fast!

Like many environmentalists, I have serious issues with fracking: injecting a highly pressurized toxic sew of chemicals and water into shale rock, to blow it apart and release the gas trapped inside. This technology has spread widely in the last 15 years or so, and has been a lot of why fossil fuel prices have actually fallen.

In my mind, the big problem was always the risk to our water. We can live without oil, gas, coal and nuclear; there are plenty of alternatives. But we can’t live without clean, usable water, and fracking puts that at risk. There also seems to be a correlation between fracking and earthquakes, which should make anyone a bit nervous.

Now comes a new report that makes me further question the “wisdom” of fracking. Apparently, the gas is going to run out anyway. According to this article posted on the World Economic Forum website, the US, Norway, and Poland are among the countries where the much-ballyhooed potential for shale gas has turned out to be not so sweet and rosy after all. Norway dropped its estimate from 83 trillion cubic feet in 2011 all the way down to zero two years later. Poland reduced its estimate by 80%. And a new University of Texas study has the US shale boom pretty much ending in just five years.

So why are we investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and putting our water at risk? Why not use that money to push our economy further toward renewables like solar, wind, and small hydro? Why not retrofit every building with deep-conservation insulation, thus reducing the demand?

No wonder people around the country and around the world–including my own area of Western Massachusetts, where a proposal to pipe fracked gas has encountered fierce opposition despite gas company dirty tricks that extend to imposing a moratorium on new gas connections

Ask your utility company these sorts of questions. It’s your right to know.

Posted in Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Greenwashing, propaganda, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , ,

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