Oglala, Sputnik, the Milky Way and Home

IMG_1098_1024By: Douglas Grandt

I was born and raised in a small agricultural town in central California and lived an unstressed life that had a subliminal promise of the “California Dream.”

When I was eleven years old my family took a cross-county road trip to my mother’s birthplace for a family reunion in Nebraska. That summer of 1958, I first experienced the vivid Milky Way set against an infinitely black sky when my father brought the car to a stop on a country road in the heartland near the Sand Hills. He knew that Sputnik 1 would pass over us and made sure to give us that experience, as well.

One year before — the year Sputnik 1 was launched — Dr. Charles Keeling had begun measuring atmospheric CO2. His work continues to this day and shows that CO2 concentration has steadily increased as predicted.  Three decades after that road trip to Nebraska, climatologist James Hansen, journalist Bill McKibben, and Senator Al Gore began sounding wake-up calls about the small but accelerating warming of our planet.IMG_5771_1024

California is now suffering from historical drought, which is threatening a possible reduction in the population if water shortages continue to worsen. The impact on agriculture and the economy in general is foremost in my mind. Snowpack in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains is diminishing and the lakes and reservoirs are at record lows. I have long felt that paving over the fertile farm land in order to build homes, businesses, roads, industry and provide growth for developers and the economy at the expense of food production was a mistake. Changing climate and population are a nexus that foretell disaster for my sons, my sister and her children and grandchildren who remain in California.

The drought and threat of economic disaster are not the reasons that I relocated to Nebraska when I retired two years ago, but it may be good fortune for me that I did — time will tell.

Given the urgency to begin reducing CO2, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions, it seemed to me that ground zero for climate activism in my retirement was in the heartland. Tarsands pipelines threaten the agricultural soil, the life-giving aquifers, lakes, rivers and streams, and the very neighborhoods where people live. From Texas to North Dakota and from Montana to Minnesota, pipelines and railroad tank cars full of crude oil, tarsands diluted bitumen, and coal are expanding, exploding, and spilling with increasing frequency — at a time when we should be reducing our dependence on oil and coal. Nebraska also happens to be smack dab in the center of the USA, and a convenient point of departure for excursions to places that I have long wanted to explore now that I am retired.

IMG_1602_1024Local excursions into the Sand Hills and Oglala have been a delight for me. The landscape is beautiful and my adventures have been full of surprises. Proximity to the reservations where Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, Yankton, Ponca, Santee and so many other tribes call home also has given me unexpected opportunities to learn. I have become involved in their efforts to overcome the threat of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline — not to mention daily living conditions, tribal and personal issues that plague the indigenous people. I have experienced wacipi (pow wow) drum circles and the joyful dancing, as well as having prayed and sweated with my friends.

The changing climate will make corn and soy impossible to grow in the coming decades. Like California, increasingly arid conditions with a depleting water source threaten farmers’ and ranchers’ livelihood as well as the general economy. The Keystone XL pipeline is an existential threat to not only the indigenous people and their sacred land and water, but to the current landowners who farm and raise beef. TransCanada has used unethical and illegal tactics to coerce landowners to sign over rights to put the pipeline on their property, with unsatisfactory recourse when a leak or rupture happens. Many believe that if there is a risk of a spill, then that risk should not be taken, especially over the Oglala Aquifer or in the sandy agricultural soil within and adjacent to the Sand Hills.

It is paramount that the Keystone XL pipeline never be built, and that the tarsands remain in the ground, for the sake of the farmers, ranchers and Indians, as well as for all of humanity. Dr. George Woodwell, founder of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told me on May 15, 2009, “We must abandon our reliance on the burning of carbon-based fuels; we are poisoning the planet.”  Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, told me on June 27, 2008, that we needed to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 if we hoped to maintain a livable climate for future generations.  Dr. James Hansen and his team of climatologists published a paper on December 3, 2013, calling for a 6% per year reduction in greenhouse gases beginning immediately, in addition to land use and forest management to sequester CO2.

Nebraska, California, and the entire world are waiting for political and industrial leaders to implement serious and effective measures to protect the biosphere from further damage. The issues are local and personal, and the effects are global, also affecting the warming and acidification of the oceans, which is yet another huge story.

Douglas Grandt has suggestions for daily action to suit your particular passion and may be reached at answerthecall@mac.com.