Feature Friday: Imagine a New Story

I have talked a lot about creativity in problem solving and about the visual arts this month, but ART, the capital “A” art, isn’t just limited to painting or sculpture or photography. Art can be anything that we make, build, or dream. It is in dreaming that we lay the foundations for our future. It is in creating that we bring that dream into the world. We each have the power to write our own story, even rewrite the stories we’ve been told we need to conform to. So many of those old stories aren’t working anymore. It’s time to find a new way. Imagine the stories we can write together. Imagine the kind of world we could build.

And although I have shared this before, it is worth repeating.

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and who can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.”

Prepping for the B.A.S Big Three Part 2

The second major threat on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists‘ list is nuclear. The Bulletin breaks it down into two pieces:

Nuclear modernization programs threaten to create a new arms race… [and] leadership failure on nuclear power.

Nuclear Weapons

Not only has the pace of disarmament slowed in both the US and Russia, all “nuclear weapons states” are currently pursuing large scale modernization of nuclear armaments, including the US, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea.

Keeping in mind that relations between the US and Russia and the US and North Korea have been strained and South Asia is far from stable, we find ourselves in a situation where, not only are there more warheads deployed, but the political climate seems more volatile and therefore potentially more predisposed to their use.

Nuclear Power

Although nuclear power can seem a sensible alternative to the carbon emissions associated with the use of fossil fuels, and thus a sensible way to help alleviate some of the problems associated with climate change (threat number 1 on the B.A.S. list), it carries with it a number of serious challenges, including “cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation risk.” And to date, we haven’t had such a great track record with any of it.

Nuclear power plants at Chalk River, Windscale Piles, Kyshtym, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima all had serious accidents.There have also been issues with waste management, at Los Alamos National Labs (LANL) in 2011 when the Las Conchas fire threatened both nearby waste storage and the lab itself, and again in 2014 when one drum from a batch of waste that was unsafe for shipping to their Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the Southern New Mexico desert was hastily treated and subsequently cracked open, leaking radiation into the air, putting the entire storage at risk of explosion, and stranding thousands of containers of nuclear waste at labs across the country.

Which brings us to the question at hand: Given the current threats, what, if anything, can we do to prepare for nuclear disaster?

Ready.gov has the usual prepping lists for what to do before a nuclear event.

  • Build an emergency supply kit
  • Make a Family Emergency plan
  • Ask local officials if there are any blast or fallout shelters in your community
  • Research alternative shelter options in the event that none exist locally, they are too distant, or as a backup in case you are unable to reach on in the event of an emergency

It also has information about what to do during and after, including the note that depending on the proximity and size of the blast or leak, survivors “in areas with highest radiation levels [may need] to shelter [in place] for up to a month.” What it doesn’t mention is what happens to animals, crops, local food supplies, water supplies or other important resources.

So even if we survive the blast and the immediate radiation threat to our health, our prospects could still be grim. Which means our best bet, as with climate change, is to do everything we can to cajole, beg, or otherwise inspire our governments–local, national, and global–to disarm all of our nuclear investments, both weapons and power.

Prepping for the B.A.S. Big Three Part 1

Let’s take a closer look at the recent announcement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that the Doomsday Clock was moved from five to three minutes to midnight.

The BAS broke their decision down to three main categories:

  1. Looming climate catastrophe
  2. Nuclear modernization (weapons and power)
  3. Emerging technological threat (biotech and cyber attacks)

Which brings us the the question their analysis doesn’t really answer: How do we prepare for these threats?

First Up: Looming Climate Catastrophe

Average global temperatures are rising, playing havoc with world weather patterns, the integrity of the polar ice cap, and habitats–all recipes for disaster. And while they claim climate catastrophe is not “inevitable,” the actions needed to keep the world habitable for humans are not only urgent, but will require changes in behavior, economics, and politics that world leaders, corporations, and citizens have, to date, been unwilling to embrace.

What This Means to Us

Basically, we have two choices:

  • Find a way to get our governments to act–committing to (and following through with) regulations, restrictions, incentives, punishments, ending subsidies, and whatever else it might take to decrease, or, ideally, end, world reliance on fossil fuels


  • Prepare for ever-worsening weather-related disasters, food shortages, drought, and other events that could eventually result in a planet that will no longer support human life

The prepping part is easy. We already know how to do that (and if you don’t, check out TheSurvivalMom.com–she’ll get you hooked up). But if we’re really interested in survival for the long term, we need to make serious effort toward global change with regards to fossil fuels.

How? According to UN.org:

  • UN Climate Action Identify and reduce your climate footprint
  • Learn more about climate change
  • Speak up–let our government representatives know that you want change

Pretty much what they’ve been telling us for decades to no avail, which means it’s time to get creative:

  • Like the teenagers who are suing the federal government for inaction with regards to climate change (after all, today’s youth are the ones who are going to have to live–or not–with the consequences)
  • Like the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is working to create a municipal electric utility because the current power company, PNM, is not rising to the call for cleaner energy
  • Like the Tiny House Movement, which has people downsizing their (on average) 2600 square foot homes for those with much smaller footprints (typically between 100 and 400 square feet), saving money, energy, stress, and work

Of course it can be hard to to give up the familiar, the comfortable, but it will be immeasurably easier to do it with planning, intention, and choice than it will be to change in response to actual disaster. The technologies, systems, and knowledge we need already exist. Better to embrace a little change-based discomfort now, than the world of hurt that scientists currently believe will begin to descend in about 30 years.

Next time: Nuclear Modernization

Two Minutes Closer to Doomsday

This past Monday, January 19, 2015, the Doomsday Clock moved two minutes closer to midnight.

Doomsday Clock
Two minutes closer to midnight.

According to their new release:

In 2015, unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.

And yet, despite it all, the scientists watching the clock believe there may still be hope, stating:

A climate catastrophe looms—but is not inevitable.

The question is, what will we do with this last remaining glimmer? Can our species make the drastic changes required to course-correct our fate from total annihilation to a world that is “survivable?” Or will the majority continue to ignore or deny the gravity of our situation?

According to the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board, the steps needed are both urgent and clear:

  • Take actions that would cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
  • Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons modernization programs.
  • Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results.
  • Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem.
  • Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies.

“The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”

Ideally, now.

Feature Friday: Return to the Trembling Heart

On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti just outside the town of Léogâne, just 16 miles from the capitol city, Port-au-Prince. Buildings were crushed, monuments toppled, and as many as 220,000 people lost their lives.

In the face of this disaster, radical arts collective Atis Rezistans and the children’s offshoot Timoun Rezistans that inhabit the Grand Rue, began to transform what was left of their world.

Return to the Trembling Heart: Grand Rue, Port au Prince from Peter Dean Rickards on Vimeo.

The Arts of Survival

Creativity can give us options. Creativity can give us something to fight for. And creativity can help us recover from the worst when it happens. Like in 2010, when Mt. Merapi erupted in Indonesia, monsoon rains flooded the Indus river in Pakistan, and a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti to it’s core. Or in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina.

Across all four regions and cultures survivors turned to art to reclaim their homes. In 2011 some of that art was featured in an exhibit called The Arts of Survival: Folk Expression in the Face of Disaster at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“The Arts of Survival provides a window to the many ways contemporary folk artists use what they know best to respond to natural disaster with vision, perseverance, dignity and imagination-even in the midst of political infighting, infrastructural log jams, and environmental after affects. Through this experience, they learn that the most fundamental power is the indomitable spirit of mankind.”  — Exhibition curator Dr. Suzanne Seriff

In Indonesia, master makers created shadow puppets representing the volcano with fire and ash spewing from it to memorialize the story.

In Pakistan local craftswomen took to needle and thread, creating ralli purrs (quilt tops) from excess clothing from relief efforts into much needed blankets, both for warmth and to raise funds for rebuilding.

In Haiti, street artists pulled scrap metal from the wreckage, transforming it into sculptures depicting the terror they had experienced. Others stitched Vodou Flags or crafted terrifying papier-mâché masks.

Evelyne Alcide, Earthquake!
Evelyne Alcide, “Earthquake!”


In New Orleans, they painted poems on the sides of broken houses, stitched quilted memorials from moldy bedsheets pulled from drowned buildings. One built an entire village from broken furniture, old chain link fencing, and other salvaged materials.

When asked  why, one artist answered:

“My reason for making this is to bring together the human family, so we can get together and rebuild New Orleans, so we can rebuild ourselves and our soul.” Joe Minter

Joe Minter, Rebuild and Restore New Orleans
Joe Minter, “Rebuild and Restore New Orleans,” 2007, mixed media. Photo: Paul Smutko