Monday, October 3, 2011

Spokane Lost a River and Sustainability Advocate, Lawyer -- His Voice is in Us All

Mike Chappell, who worked at Gonzaga running the environmental law clinic, died recently. Here are some decent eulogies on him --

Published on September 14, 2011

Halfway through what has been an incredibly difficult week I reflect on one of my biggest inspirations and share stories, links and quotes from those he touched


Mike Chappell, the visionary lawyer and environmentalist who helped breathe life into the Spokane Riverkeeper program, dies suddenly.


Writer suggests environmental advocates ‘think like eco-systems’

By Paul K. Haeder

I had all sorts of thoughts swirling in my head while listening to Frances Moore Lappe, author of 1971’s book, “Diet for a Small Planet.”

Here, she discussed how she thinks people’s sense of powerlessness is the real dilemma facing us, not climate chaos, not six species going extinct daily, and not global hunger affecting billions.

Lappe’s backdrop at Seattle’s Town Hall lecture earlier this month was the quote, “Hope is not what we find in evidence. It is what we become in action.” I’ve been really pondering the question of life and death, after the recent passing of 44-year-old Mike Chappell, Gonzaga environmental lawyer.

I’d seen Frances’ daughter, Anna Lappe, at Spokane Community College in April 2010 as part of the Spokane Earth Day lead-up in conjunction with Get Lit! A day later I spoke with Mike about the pressing issues of the environmental movement under President Obama, a disarrayed Democratic party and recalcitrant Republican gang under the thumb of a tea party.

Mike’s message to me in 2010 was both pessimism and also confidence that solutions already figured out and yet to be uncovered would be the leading edge of change if only young people could get ahold of individual and collective power and will. Mike was blown away Spokane was so engaged, literary and environmentally speaking.

Mike represents the goodness of hard environmental work drenched in a healthy dose of hope and skepticism.

Lappe’s dominant message was positive, AFTER, citing how out of balance, or mal-aligned with nature, our world has become. She reiterated that for every one of our representatives, corporations and special interests own two dozen lobbyists.

Then there’s the 2005 Citi Bank memo to investors proclaiming America as a plutocracy, and that the top 1 percent of our population controlling the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90 percent is a thing of glory.

Lappe was in Bellingham and Seattle for the launch of her new book, “Eco Mind: The World We Want,” and her controlling theme is steeped in neuro-psychology, cultural framing and what she calls “thought traps.”

From Eric Fromm to Adam Smith to Wangari Mathai, Lappe is steeped in a globalist viewpoint, looking now — after 20 books — at how we need these “thought leaps,” that even the hard earnest work of environmentalists needs to be stripped of the “thought trap” of “we’ve hit our ecological limits.”

“This puts the blame on nature,” she says of environmentalists who drill the message of scarcity as a dominant theme. “This focus on quantities, on things humanity needs, puts the blame on nature.”

Her talk was splashed with studies and factoids she used to try to break apart that mind trap. How some studies say that up to 80 percent of all energy generated in this country is wasted, and that more than 50 percent of food grown here is thrown away. Adding to the food analogy, she pressed that 40 percent of calories consumed by youth are empty calories.

She pressed that we are at a moment when the eco-mind is aligning with nature’s collective and holistic cycles. While we have the backdrop of extreme concentration of power, lack of transparency and the blame game, Lappe continually imparted how “blown away” she has become over the past few years witnessing how powerlessness is being replaced with collective will and action.

Smallholder farmers worldwide still account for 70 percent of the food produced. Niger has re-greened 12.5 million acres with 200 million trees. The president of that country put it wisely: “We stopped the desert and everything changed.”

The United Nations Agro-forestry group has recently stated one-third of the world’s carbon pollution could be dealt with through reforesting programs.

Lappe’s message ended with a critique of the trap that says “it’s too late to avoid suffering … with climate change … and a billion people going hungry.”

“Solutions to global crises are within reach,” she said. “Our challenge is to free ourselves from self-defeating thought traps so we can bring these solutions to life.”

This idea of fear causing us to fight or flee must be expunged, Lappe says, to be replaced with the idea that fear is a type of power to inspire.

“When I met Wangari Maathai on the first Earth Day in 1970, she was planting seven trees in Kenya as a tribute to seven environmentalists,” she said. “I thought, ‘Well, isn’t that nice.’ I gave her little chance of accomplishing much. Through her work, Wangari has planted 40 million trees in Kenya and won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2004.”

It’s about imagining a world outside our frames and contexts. To learn how to walk with fear and use fear as a prod, a reminder that we are collectively in this struggle.

As Lappe reminded us that powerlessness and futility end up in depression and inaction, that there are 50 percent more suicides globally than homicides, she made it clear that there are more cooperatives in the world than corporate thugs.

Mike would have smiled at Frances Moore Lappe’s message that we have to think and act like an ecosystem:

“What is ecology but the science of relationships? If we look through an ecological lens we can see the core lessons that all organisms including human organisms are shaped by the relationships we have and the contexts in which we grow,” she said.

That’s how Mike Chappell lived his life – helping shape relationships in Spokane toward the shared values of healthy water, air, soil and communities.

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