“EcoAdventures” — Day four

Although I had a session plan in place, including time to work on the projects they started two days ago, the group got very interested in something else early on. So I threw out the session plan, and we followed that interest. The narrative account and the session plan for today are integrated below.

(If you haven’t been following this series, you can begin with Day One, and follow it forward.)

I/ Gathering game: Foxes, Rabbits, Leaves, and Humans — 9:15 a.m. to 9:40

Start off by playing Foxes, Rabbits, and Leaves (see yesterday’s session plan).

You need a fair number of people to play this game if you’re going to introduce a high-level omnivore like Humans. Today, we played with the following starting numbers: four Rabbits, two Foxes, nine Leaves. This brought on a quick population explosion of Rabbits, which wiped out the Leaves; then Rabbit population dropped, Fox population rose briefly, and then dropped. After about four rounds, we reached a steady state involving cycles of Rabbit population boom, small Fox population increase, Rabbit population crash, then building up to another Rabbit population boom.

Variation One: Introduce one Human, who can take one Rabbit and one Leaf for food each round, and if Human doesn’t get both, Human dies. There can be only one Human in the game, so Leaves and Rabbits killed by Human just turn into Leaves. Human can start the game anywhere (doesn’t have to stay in outer circle with the Leaves). Play four or five rounds.

For us, this variation reached a steady state resembling that of the original game.

Variation Two: Now let Human take as many Rabbits as s/he wants, and Rabbits cannot freeze to escape Humans (i.e., Humans get more efficient at killing). Also, Human can choose to kill Foxes by simply calling out a Fox’s name; no need to tag the Fox because now the Humans have firearms. If Human “eats” two or more Rabbits, all those Rabbits but one turn into a Human. Play three or four rounds.

When we played today, the Foxes got killed off quite quickly as the Humans realized that Foxes represented competition for Rabbits.

Variation Three: Let game continue until you get lots of Humans. Halfway through the round, say that the Humans bulldozed the Rabbit’s warren. Therefore, the Rabbits no longer have any safe place. Typically, indiscriminate slaughter of Rabbits ensues, because the Humans are desperate to get food. Play two or three rounds.

When we played today, Human population grew quickly, and nearly all the Leaves got eaten. If we had continued, no doubt the ecosystem would have crashed completely.

Opening by volunteer — 9:40 to 9:45

II/ Conversation about the variations of the Foxes, Rabbits, Humans game — 9:45 to 10:00

“If you noticed, before we introduced Humans, the game tended to follow a pattern. The Rabbits would have a population explosion, and then there wouldn’t be enough food so their population would crash. The Foxes tended to have a small population explosion lagging just behind the Rabbit population explosion. Then things would even out for a while until there was another Rabbit population explosion.

“When we first introduced a Human into the game, things settled down into a similar pattern.” [In fact, in the game we played today, the one Human died off.] “But when the Humans could shoot the Foxes, and bulldoze the Rabbit warren, pretty soon the ecosystem was very damaged.

Point out that a few hundred years ago, the norm for human populations was to experience periodic famines, when lots of people would die off — similar to what Rabbits experience in the original game. Today, we send food to regions that are experiencing famine among humans. So where does that leave us? Is famine acceptable from a justice perspective? Can we balance environmental concerns and justice concerns?

A good conversation ensued that touched on population control, and connections between justice and the environment.

III/ Web of Life (Urban Ecosystem) — 10:00 to 10:30

Key concept: Interconnection

Preparation: Create cards with living things from the urban ecosystem that you’re going to model in this game. I decided to model the urban ecosystem of the city I live in, New Bedford, Massachusetts. Here are the cards I used today:

Land Human Being (African American); Human Being (white); Human Being (Cape Verdean); Rat; Crow; Pigeon; Sqirrel; Peregrine Falcon; Mulberry Tree; Coyote; Oak Tree
Both land and water Seagull; Mosquito
Water Tiny microscopic plants and animals; Seal; Bluefish; Quahog (Clam); Minnow

Everyone sits in a circle. Hand out cards so that Land creatures and Water creatures are together on opposite sides of the circle, with the Mosquito and the Seagull in between the two groups.

Then take a ball of yarn, and make connections between creatures: Who eats whom? [stretch yarn between them] Who lives in whom? [stretch yarn between them] Who needs whom? [stretch yarn between them].

Now take red pipecleaners folded in half like an upside down V. These represent PCBs that got dumped in New Bedford harbor (New Bedford harbor is a Superfund site). Hang one of these red pipecleaners on the yarn in front of the Tiny Microscopic Plants and Animals (or one of the other low level sea creatures). Follow the PCBs up and around the food chain. Add more PCBs as you will. If you do it right, PCBs will affect every creature in the ecosystem. If you have enough red pipecleaners (I did not have enough today), you can let the PCBs accumulate in front of peak predators like Human Beings, Peregrine Falcon, Seal, Bluefish, Coyote.

Today, the participants realized that non-white Human Beings are more likely to live near toxic waste sites, so they came to the realization that those Human Beings would tend to accumulate more PCBs.

IV/ A Conversation — 10:30 to 10:45

From the game, we moved into a powerful conversation arising from this exercise.

Well into the conversation, someone asked me, “So what is ‘ecojustice’ anyway?” I defined it on several levels:
— “ecojustice” is a way to get away from the term “environmentalism” which has negative connotations for many natural allies of the environmentalists
— “ecojustice” means both economic justice and ecological justice, because those two concepts are inseparable
— “ecojustice” helps us rethink what we’re doing in racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice

This conversation went so well, I did not want to interrupt it to move into project time. As interest grew in trying to understand the concept of ecojustice, I decided to include a short didactic and some other exercises that better explain what ecojustice is….

V/ “Ecojustice builds bridges” — 10:45 to 11:30

A/ Didactic

“Environmentalism is primarily a white middle-class movement, which talks primarily about saving threatened species and landscapes that are far away, like saving the polar bears and the arctic ice cap. Yet environmentalism is seriously distrusted by several other groups. Some communities of color distrust environmentalism for a variety of reasons: 50 or 100 years ago, some environmentalism was pretty racist. Some immigrant communities distrust environmentalism, because there has been a strong strain among environmentalists to crack down on all immigration to the U.S. Some working class and poor communities distrust environmentalism because environmentalists are perceived as spending more time on polar bear suffering than on human suffering. And some social justice advocates distrust environmentalists because environmentalists are sometimes perceived as wanting to change others without changing their own lifestyles (e.g., “let’s stop air pollution!” while living in the suburbs where you have to drive everywhere).

“I contend that that all these groups are natural allies. You can’t have social justice in a polluted world. You can’t have a clean environment in a world where some groups of people have to live in damaged cities and next to toxic waste sites. You can’t deal with global climate change unless you deal with the fact that it’s mostly non-white communities which get damaged, because they are the ones who will be affected by rising sea levels and damaging storms caused by global climate change. You can’t solve the environmental crisis without making major changes in the kinds of jobs that are being created.

“One more thing:– I also contend that we can’t deal with any environmental problem without acknowledging that younger people are getting screwed, because they will have to deal with a worsening problem. So older people should understand ecojustice as a powerful way to build alliances with teens and young adults. And teens and young adults need to build alliances with older adults, and convince older adults that ecojustice is what we all should be doing, because after all older adults have far more money, wealth, influence, and power than teens and young adults.

“Ecojustice is a powerful concept that allows us to unite the energy behind justice work and environmentalism. True justice for human communities requires a clean and beautiful earth home. True environmentalism requires that all humans have equal access to a clean and beautiful earth. So I content that ecojustice provides a unique opportunity to unite people across age barriers, across racial and ethnic barriers, and across class barriers.

“Comments, ideas, questions?”

B/ “Who Cares?”

Brainstorm where ecojustice allies might come from…

(If you wish, prompt participants with one or more of the following. Ecojustice allies come from: different racial groups, economic strata, age groups, immigrant groups; your neighborhood, your town/city, your watershed, your bio-region, your planet; your congregation, nearby congregations; your denomination, other denominations, unchurched people.)

…then give the participants three or four ecojustice issues or actions, and ask them to brainstorm who the groups are that might be natural allies for each of these ecojustice issues.

Today, we brainstormed natural ecojustice allies for the following issues: education about lead paint hazards for children; holding a “hypermiler” contest; organizing a “Green jobs” fair at your high school or college; saving a far-away wilderness area.

Other possible ecojustice issues include: working with city government to create community gardens; educating people about lowering gasoline consumption; political advocacy to address toxic waste dump; stopping a bad housing development in a Boston suburb; saving open space your community; creating green jobs in your city; stopping global climate change.

As we brainstormed these lists, we noticed that different issues attract different natural allies. If you’re trying to build a broad coalition, it might be useful to get involved in two or more smaller issues, to build a network that you can draw on for very big issues.

C/ Web brainstorming — “Issues and Groups”

Groups [of potential ecojustice allies] are put inside rectangles — Issues are put inside ovals — Title at top says “Ecojustice.”

Brainstorm Issues and Groups that have to do with ecojustice, put them in a web. The goal is to to start with a typical UU environmental issue, and figure out ways to connect other issues and other groups, to broaden our viewpoint from a narrowly-focused environmental issue to building broader alliances and netowrking many groups.

Start out with: [Middle class middle-aged white UUs] and (Make our church building green). Tell them that there will be special bonus points (M&Ms) if they happen to brainstorm the right groups and issues. [Here are the bonus groups: local GLBTQ community; local teens — Here are the bonus issues: removing toxics from the environment; green jobs creation.]

VI/ Journal time in special outdoor place

I invited participants to make lists of natural allies for ecojustice work in their own communities — or use the time to do whatever they want in their journal, or just sit quietly.

VII/ Closing

“What did we do today?” — a quick summing-up. For the closing words, I invited participants to share something from their journals.

Continue with Day Five.