Keep it in the ground

Courtesy photo of Sue Dixon
Courtesy photo of Sue Dixon

By Sue Dixon

If you happen to run into Laurie Caswell Burke, be careful because you might find yourself writing her column for the Shelburne News. The other day I saw Laurie walking at Meach Cove Farm with her friend Faith. I stepped on the brakes, tipping over the flower arrangement on my passenger seat.

“What are you doing here?” Laurie chirped, as I shook the water from my car mat.

“I just lead the morning mediation at All Souls,” I replied. “You would have liked it. It focused on caring for the earth.”

I also shared that had just returned from Salt Lake City where I had attended the Parliament of World Religions, an interfaith gathering of 10,000 people from 80 countries representing 50 faith traditions (I didn’t even know there were that many either!). It had been 20 years since the Parliament was held in the United States and climate change was on the agenda. Since my sister lives in Salt Lake, I decided to attend.

“Oh, you’ve got to write about it for my column,” Laurie urged. “I am trying to bring in different voices and perspectives to the environmental issues of our day.”

What I neglected to mention to Laurie was, while in Salt Lake City, an arrow pierced my heart. The climate change plenary facilitated by Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, offered notable speakers including her father Al Gore who joined by teleconference.

Atmospheric scientist and climate expert Katherine Hayhoe stressed that climate change is different from other environmental challenges; it can’t be solved by conservation. “We’re not dealing with scarcity. There is enough carbon-based fuel in the earth to power human needs for the next one thousand years. But we simply must keep it in the ground and transition to renewal sources.”

An indigenous leader from the north walked on stage next, facing the crowd of thousands, and delivered an arrow straight into my heart. “I am a spiritual man,” the stoic giant began, “leader of my people, responsible for the women and children in my community.”

His sad eyes are forever etched in my brain, as he described in vivid detail the heart-wrenching devastation of the rivers and land of the north, upon which his people survive. “Why are you sitting there?” He implored. “Do something: stop the fracking.”

I came to the Parliament knowing that it is urgent that we work to shape a more just and sustainable world. And I believe that people of faith hold tremendous the potential to be a gallivanting force that awakens humankind to our collective responsibility to address the complex climate crisis. But never before have I been so deeply moved, my heart pierced by this distinguished elder’s story. He was talking to me. I knew I had to take action, do something. I just wasn’t sure what.

That evening I opened an email from 350Vermont.org calling for mobilization to stop the pipeline that Vermont Gas is building to bring fracked gas from Alberta, Canada to Vermont. A march in Montpelier was being organized for Saturday. I’ve never been one to protest; in general, I prefer more positive action, but I am moved do something for the people of the north and the climate.

When I returned to Vermont, my friend Marcy Kass ask if I would join her marching in Montpelier. “Yes!” I responded immediately. Neither of us ever protested before. Marcy lives in Williston near the Vermont Gas staging ground for the pipeline. She had started educating herself on the issue and wrote a public letter to galvanize neighbors.

On Saturday the two of us joined hundreds of people following a marching band through the streets of Montpelier. Marcy carried a sign that read, “Another Mom against the Pipeline.”

The march ended blocking of State Street. Marcy and I hung around for a few speeches and then headed to the Montpelier Farmers Market to grab lunch before heading home. I don’t know where this is going, but I can tell you that it feels good to take action.

Marcy called Sunday afternoon, excited to report, “They are still there, Sue.”

A coalition to stop the pipeline has continued occupying the middle of State Street in front of the Vermont state capitol and they plan to stay until the pipeline is stopped. Their tactic is to make a national spectacle, demonstrating first amendment rights and drawing attention to corporate/government dealings that further the climate crisis.

On behalf our children and grandchildren, I applaud the courage and indomitable spirits of these protesters. I feel extremely grateful for the democracy and freedom that we have to express public concern for fossil fuel infrastructure projects. And I know that it is time to keep it in the ground.