Think globally, act locally

The 2nd part of a series on this year’s Earth Day Omaha speakers

David Corbin, Ph,D, Emeritus professor, Health Education & Public Health, UNO

Before he retired from 31 years of teaching in Omaha, David Corbin packed a lot of traveling into his youth, getting college degrees in New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania, playing guitar professionally on cruise ships in Puerto Rico and teaching college in Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Corbin is a board member of the Nebraska Sierra Club Missouri Valley Group, Nebraskans for Solar and the Public Health Association of Nebraska.  He is one of the organizers of 350.org Nebraska, a non-profit founded by Bill McKibben devoted to raising awareness of climate change. He organized UNO's first bike-share program including the current B-cycle program. He created several videos related to the environment posted on YouTube and TeacherTube that have a total of tens of thousands of views, including an interpretive dance music video called “Bagdaddy,” where he dances to “Posed to Death” by The Faint while chasing plastic grocery bags. In 1991, Corbin appeared on The David Letterman show demonstrating how to turn items you want to throw away into sporting equipment. Letterman called him, “A man with too much time on his hands.”

Corbin is the longtime opener for Omaha’s Earth Day, so long he can’t remember when he started. “Back in the eighties sometime,” is the closest he can guess. He plays original songs on the guitar and tells people things they can do on a local level to protect the environment. For instance, Corbin is currently involved in an effort to bring solar energy to low-income housing projects and schools. “We are working with groups like Habitat for Humanity and the science magnet schools. It depends on how much money we raise, how many homes we can bring solar to,” he said.

This year, because Earth Day is celebrated two days after the U.S. State Department hearings on the Keystone XL pipeline, Corbin plans to encourage people to write letters before the comment period ends on April 22.

When asked what he will be singing, Corbin gave a preview of lyrics from one of his original songs. “Too many people singing too many songs, multiplying faster than they can get along. Too many people are grabbing all they can, taking what they don't need now, and wash it down the drain.”

Andrew Jameton, PhD, College of Public Health, UNMC

Andrew Jameton is a professor in the Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health Department in the College of Public Health at University of Nebraska Medical Center where he teaches courses on bio-ethics. Jameton’s current research focuses on the ethical aspects of environmental health and especially the health effects of climate change. He is a co-founder of City Sprouts, a north Omaha community gardening project, and serves on the national board of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Jameton is a philosopher by training and by temperament. “On Earth Day, I will be speaking as a philosopher,” he said. 

“I think I have three things to say that are pretty simple. One of them is about building alternatives. My progressive friends think that’s easy. We’ve got the sun, we’ve got the wind, we’ve got the technology, all we have to do is build it,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard to retire hundreds of billions of dollars of fossil fuel capital and all the technologies involved in that. This is no small or easy matter.”

“The coal companies aren’t our only enemies. We are our own enemies. Most economists want to grow economies. You can’t grow economies without using more stuff, unless you are changing the nominal value of money. We have to contract economies. Most people think that it can’t be done without contracting the amount of energy we use overall.”

If this sounds like the topic for a book, it is. On the verge of retirement, Jameton plans to spend part of his time fleshing out this very idea. “We certainly are not going to stop using fossil fuels if all we do is build alternatives. If you look at overall health statistics, there’s a chance that a country can live on a third of the current energy consumption and actually be very healthy. The healthiest countries in the world are not fuel hogs or energy hogs. They tend to be small. Simple homes, not much transportation, lots of walking.”

Asked what books he would recommend that are currently available, he mentioned three resources. One is a book from the 1970s called The Limits to Growth. Another is more current, The Long Thaw. Jameton’s other two talking points will focus on “when” and “why” contraction and fossil fuel reduction must begin. Spoiler alert: it must happen now because our children and grandchildren depend on it.

Ann Bleed, Ph.D, Lower Platte South Natural Resources District Board

Ann Bleed has spent a lifetime protecting and managing Nebraska’s waters. For most of her career she worked for the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, serving as the State Hydrologist and eventually as the Director of the Department. She worked with local NRD’s to develop integrated management plans for the allocation of surface water and groundwater. She served on the negotiating teams that settled two interstate water lawsuits before the U. S. Supreme Court. Bleed is a Director on the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District Board, and an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska School of Natural Resources. Bleed is currently president of a consulting firm that provides facilitation, mediation and arbitration services on water and environmental issues. She has two Masters degrees, a Ph. D. and a license as a professional engineer.

Two weeks after Earth Day, Bleed will be moderating a panel at the Water For Food Institute’s global conference in Lincoln and leading participants from around the world on a tour of the Platte River basin. The title of the conference is “Too Hot, Too Wet, Too Dry: Building Resilient Agroecosystems.”

“Resilience in water issues is the ability to continue to provide water for beneficial uses, no matter what the stresses are,” she explained.  “There are going to be a lot of challenges we must face if we are going to continue to use our water.”

One of the challenges is growth -- as population grows, so does water use. Another challenge is climate change. “To the extent it is caused by human actions, you can deal with human actions. We also have to figure out how to adapt to that change in the timing and intensity of storms.”

“Irrigation consumes most of the water use in the world,” according to Bleed. “Nebraska has more irrigated acres than any state in the U.S., surpassing California.” Even under normal conditions, there has always been tension between those who use groundwater and those who use surface water.

“There is a phrase, whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting. If we don’t resolve these issues, there will be increased conflict over water.” Bleed is most concerned about “mining” groundwater or removing more than is replenished by recharge. “If you end up lowering the ground water table, it affect stream flows. It’s like a bank account. If you take out more than you put in, eventually you erode the principle.”

Chuck Hassebrook, Executive Director Center for Rural Affairs

For 34 years, Chuck Hasebrook has been involved with the Center for Rural Affairs, a nationally recognized research, advocacy and development organization supporting small communities, small businesses and family farming and ranching. During his tenure, Hassebrook has won changes in federal tax, farm, conservation and rural development policy. He served on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, including two terms as chair, and is current Chair of the Board of the USDA North Central Region Rural Development Center. He previously served on the Nebraska Rural Development Commission, US Department of Agriculture National Commission on Small Farms, USDA Agricultural Science and Technology Review Board and the Board of Bread for the World. Hassebrook is a University of Nebraska graduate and a native of Platte Center, Nebraska, where his family has been engaged in farming for more than a century.

“One of the things I'll talk about is climate change and the importance of addressing that. It is the most critical environmental challenge of our age. It is one of those issues where we have to make sacrifices for the next generation. I think the reality is that when we think about what it means to hold traditional Nebraska values, it does not mean that we put our heads in the sand and let our kids and grandkids suffer while we go on refusing to sacrifice,” he said.

Hassebrook sees more than sacrifice in climate change. He also sees a solution in the opportunity that wind generation offers to rural communities. “We have the third best wind resource in the country. We need to change our tax law to provide more favorable sales tax treatment for wind development. We need to improve our transmission so we can move wind from the Great Plains to demand centers in larger cities to the east and west,” he said.

One of Hassebrook’s ideas is to have companies set aside stock in wind farms so that employees who climb the towers to keep them running would have ownership in the towers. “Rural people working in those farms should share in the profits,” he said. “We had a bill and it got amended. It's not in any bill right now.”

Hassebrook thinks a majority of senators in Nebraska would like to see wind developed and so would the utilities. “OPPD and NPD are getting there. I think they are becoming -- over time -- more favorable toward wind.”

Jane Kleeb, BOLD Nebraska, Standing with Randy and Chief Tom Poor Bear

Jane Kleeb is a well-known name in Nebraska.  As the founder and Executive Director of BOLD Nebraska, she is known as the point person who organized opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline. In 2009, Kleeb led a statewide organizing campaign on health care reform. She has been a frequent guest on FOX and MSNBC and was a key advisor for “Thin,” a documentary on eating disorders. Prior to marrying Nebraska native Scott Kleeb, she was a reporter for MTV. In Washington, D.C., she served as the national executive director of the Young Democrats of America working with “Rock The Vote.” In her home state of Florida, she was the foundation director for Renfrew, a mental health facility dealing with eating disorders. She began her career working with AmeriCorps. Kleeb is the mother of three daughters and now calls Hastings and the Sand Hills her home.

What is rarely mentioned about Kleeb is that she was a Religious Studies major at Stetson University. Her focus was on how religion and community change interact. “Individuals who know me know how I tackle politics. I do it from a community change perspective. I’m not a political operative. Politics is and should be about the issues we care about.”

Right now, the issue she cares about is Keystone XL and how it affects people like rancher Randy Thompson and Sioux nation leader Tom Poor Bear. “When we started this fight four years ago, we got into the fight to protect the Sand Hills and the water. And we’re still trying to do that. It's been an amazing journey, whether you are a conservative rancher or a progressive Democrat. The only reason we are still in this fight is because people come to events like Earth Day and then write to members of Congress,” Kleeb said.

“We must remind our elected officials that this is about real people. This pipeline will be destroying farms and ranches and taking land away from people. I think that will be the bulk of what we talk about on Earth Day, how citizens are the ones who will stop this pipeline, to ask people to stand with Randy and the tribal leaders.”

Asked what she will do if the pipeline is approved, Kleeb remains a resolute pipeline fighter. “That’s plan B. Protecting citizens’ rights. That’s what our elected officials are supposed to do. It shouldn’t have to be this way.”

Chief Tom Poor Bear, Vice President, Oglala Sioux Tribe

Tom Poor Bear’s life has been a living metaphor for the Native American’s experience of the United States government. He was born in Chicago in 1954. “I was a relocation baby. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was moving people off the reservation,” he explained. His family left Chicago when he was two years old. “I ran away from boarding school at age 16. I joined the Trail of Broken Treaties to Washington, D.C. where we occupied the BIA building in 1972. We just wanted the U.S. government to fulfill their obligations to treaties they had signed.”

Poor Bear went to Wounded Knee in 1973, referring to the incident where American Indian Movement activists occupied the town for 73 days after failing to impeach the elected tribal president. The occupation became entrenched by a massive military-style response that resulted in the deaths of tribal members and federal agents. 

“To make a long story short, I’m still a very active member of AIM. I’m part of the tribal government. I still continue my activism, my resistance to U.S. government policies, especially the desecration of mother earth and the land theft,” Poor Bear said. 

“I’m still very much involved in a lot of issues that our tribes face today. One of them is the XL pipeline. I’m strong on opposing this pipeline. To me it was a slap in the face because the XL pipeline never contacted any of the tribes, especially the treaty tribes, to get our consent or make us aware of it. White America has a habit of stealing whatever the Lakota’s have. Now, they’ve taken one of the most sacred things we have and that’s our water. I am very strongly opposed with that.”

“I have laid my life on the line before. Brothers and sisters I traveled with are all in the spirit world now. People say they are going to lay their lives on the line and don’t do it. What’s left? Once our water is taken, we can’t live without water. Water is life.

When asked if his life was worth more than a pipeline, Poor Bear said, “It’s worth it to sacrifice to protect that water. One life to save many is a small sacrifice. I’ll turn into a wildflower. Maybe they will plow me under.” 

“I will stake myself to the ground. It’s my last stand, maybe.”

Buffalo Bruce, Western Nebraska Resources Council

He has a last name, but he doesn’t want anyone to know it. Asked why he goes by Buffalo Bruce, he says, “It was a handle that stuck on me,” but he won’t explain how or why. What he does want to talk about are aspen trees and uranium mines and burying beetles and especially his glorious Sand Hills, the place where he was born, the place where he has lived most of his life and where he wants to die. “It would be fine if a mountain lion ate me,” he confessed.

Bruce’s bio does not contain academic credentials because he never finished college due to a fragile bone disease. He has suffered approximately 100 fractures in his life. He described his career this way. “I am currently a research ecologist, semi-retired, after working for Western Nebraska Resources Council and the Smithsonian Institution. My first home in the Sand Hills community of Tryon where I was born in 1945 was just a few miles from the sod house where my mom was born. My education as a veteran of Woodstock and Earth First! attendance formed my environmental activism. I presented the Maiben Memorial Lecture at the 2012 Nebraska Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting and am the recipient of the 2011 Conservationist of the Year Award from Nebraska Wildlife Federation. I have presented many lectures coast to coast on ecology within the Great Plains.” His work was the topic of an 11-minute video, “Fighting for Survival: The Ancient Aspen of the Niobrara Valley,” made with funding from The Nature Conservancy. 

Bruce is a veteran of perhaps ten lawsuits on behalf of the environment, including one against TransCanada Keystone LP for “violations of the Endangered Species Act resulting from actions and inactions related to the Keystone XL Pipeline project.” The Center for Biological Diversity and WNRC asked for relief for TransCanada’s unlawful “taking” of endangered and threatened species by killing, harassing, and harming individuals of the endangered American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), whooping crane, Interior least tern, piping plover, pallid sturgeon, and other listed species.

“If you don't sue somebody, they will continue doing illegal things,” Bruce said. “Lawsuits mean a lot. But getting in the way does, too.” On Earth Day, Bruce plans to focus on what he loves and is trying to protect. “I am going to talk about the sensitive and rare areas they are tearing apart,” he said.

posted at 06:26 pm
on Monday, April 15th, 2013

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