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Grow Your Own Green Future

green visions in bostonMy Boston neighborhood’s spring festival celebrates the victory of a Green vision of the future over a vision of doom. In 1972 local activists defeated plans for an elevated highway that would have decimated the community. Instead of six lanes bisecting the neighborhood, we now have the Southwest Corridor Park: a five-mile long greenspace with a new subway line, community gardens, and a bike path to downtown. The Wake Up the Earth! festival affirms this victory every year, beginning with a parade of latino dance troupes, ironic New Orleans brass bands, Zairean drum corps, and more, winding through city streets then entering the park to join the festival. Now in it’s 33rd year, Wake Up the Earth! has solar-powered music stages, face painting for the kids, and booths and tables hawking food, politics, and everything organic. The community, the park, and the festival are real-time examples of urban sustainability, founded on the activists’ vision of the kind of place they wanted to live in.

This year at Wake Up! the Boston Climate Action Network (where I volunteer) staged “Hot Sox”, a play that follows Johnny Rookie, an up-and-coming baseball talent, as he encounters climate change from the Caribbean to Boston. Beset by his hectoring mother, pompous teammate, and impudent daughter -- artfully played by my own fifth-grader -- hapless Johnny bumbles through a thicket of attitudes about the climate crisis. In an early script meeting, someone asked whether I was ok with my daughter knowing the facts about climate change. “Oh yeah,” I said offhandedly. “She knows about that stuff.”

But really, what do we tell kids about climate change? In schools, nature centers, and even at home the parental party line seems to be, “yes there’s pollution, but the grownups are working on it.” Well, that’s true only if you define “working on it” as “dithering.” We burn more carbon fuels each year, we lavishly subsidize oil and coal, and... you know the song. The news is bad and has been for a while(1, 2), yet almost nothing is being done to stop this train wreck. Perhaps we’d get serious about climate change if we faced a real-time vision of doom.
Residents of my neighborhood lived in a vision of doom during the sixties after bulldozers cleared a five mile-long corridor through houses, public squares, and urban centers to make way for the highway. While activists fought the state’s construction plans, residents lived for more than a decade amid weedy lots, rubble, and miles of nasty chain-link fencing. The neighborhood is so vibrant today because people deployed the politics of survival. Only after lying down in front of bulldozers could residents map out their own Green vision for the neighborhood -- with the help of chastened city planners.

If we want to survive climate change then all American neighborhoods need to become sustainable -- this isn’t news. With luck, each community will develop it’s own Green vision, using common elements like clean transit, re-localized economies, and vibrant connections with cities and farmland. Profoundly changing our energy regimen will be a huge collective endeavor -- there will be politics and a long fight. Long, because repairing the earth’s ecosystems will take decades or centuries of concerted action. And a fight, because carbon pollution is extremely profitable for a few powerful people; and they won’t give it up without a fight (3). There’s no decent option other than to join this struggle that spans generations and, as Tea Partiers know, voting is only a minimum. So, as long as this will be a lifelong endeavor, we should have some fun along the way (4, 5).

At a family-oriented festival like Wake Up the Earth! it’s fun watching kids learning the customs of their culture. Junior-high girls strutting their dance routines, jocular packs of teenage boys navigating hormones and hierarchy, and kids of all ages doing eco-things -- wearing animal costumes, handing out leaflets, or performing in plays. This Green vision includes politics as a part of everyday life, where grownups do the mundane stuff like making phone calls and pestering representatives, and kids do kid things -- until it’s their time to step up. A Green future vision that mandates the politics of survival may seem more foreboding than others, but at least it’s a future.