Update on the Status of Our Walk

Here is the latest news on what is happening with Pacing the Planet. We've gotten our carts and wagons painted, signs made, Donkeys vaccinated, harness prepared, wagon wheels installed, packing done.

On Monday, September 10, we set out to begin our walk. Egon (10 years old) and I led the two Donkeys (Gemma and Sasha) and our rugged stroller through town and down to the bottom of a steep hill on a gravel lane that would take us most of the 9.5 miles to our first destination, a camp-out at Sever Lake in our Knox County. About a half-hour later, Dana, Simon (4 years old), Tillwyn (15 months old), and another helper appeared at the top of the hill with our pony cart and larger wagon. We call the latter the "Pacing Wagon," and the former the "350 cart," because the pony cart is painted to advertise the social movement for bringing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide back down to 350 parts per million. That movement is spearheaded online at the website www.350.org.

After carefully walking the (rather heavy) carts down the gravel hill, we got Gemma in her harness, and hitched her up to the 350 cart, and I started leading her down the road. This was her second time in harness and pulling the cart. Egon was leading Sasha, and pushing the stroller at the same time. Dana started out by pulling the Pacing Wagon, rickshaw style. So far, so good. The only challenge was that the donkeys were unexpectedly skittish of the sound the wagon wheels make when moving on gravel, so Egon and I had to walk them several hundred yards ahead of the Pacing Wagon.

Around the first corner, our troubles began. Egon was having a challenging time leading Sasha and pushing the stroller simultaneously. Gemma is very good at peacefully towing the 350 cart, but gets impatient when just standing still in the traces. And Dana was falling behind.

The road was just freshly laid with large gravel, and the large (but narrow) wheels of the Pacing Wagon were digging into the rocks as if it were slush. Dana was starting to see stars from the exertion. She and I switched places, and while she led Gemma, I tried my hand at pulling the Pacing Wagon, which was heavier than I had expected, once we had it all packed up. It was very slow, hard going for me, too; a passerby in a car informed us that the entire way to the town of Hurdland, MO, had received new gravel: about 7 miles. We had walked maybe a half-mile so far. Dana was hungry and not feeling well, so we found a tiny bit of shade, and made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. In the meantime, a gigantic harvester which had come to cut down the cornfield next to us on the road, began making slow passes through the field, sending a shower of dust and corn-stalk fragments billowing around us. We decided that we needed to make some different preparations, called for help, and, about an hour later, got every vehicle, animal, child, and adult back to our house. We felt worn out and morose.

Since then, we have revised some logistical details, and are making preparation for our next attempt within a week, should our newly-ordered supplies arrive. For one thing, we will be sticking to paved roads now, or else, well-packed roads scouted in advance. We will be attaching the stroller (which coverts to a bicycle trailer) to the back of the 350 cart, or not taking it at all. We have ordered a pack-saddle for Sasha, and she will be able to lighten the load of the Pacing Wagon in that way. We've also decided to bring a second tent, and got some warmer sleeping bags, and such items. After all, cooler fall weather is descending rapidly (though, as you hopefully understand, these normal seasonal variations in the weather don't contradict the overall pattern of global warming an climate change).

Probably the biggest change to Pacing the Planet is the formulation of a tighter strategy to our presentations and meetings, at least for this autumn. In the course of our research, reading, and conversations with other presenters on climate research, a clear direction for the first steps in restoring climate balance has come to our attention.

In the eight years (and very possibly as little as five years) that humanity has left to change course on our pollution of the atmosphere with CO2, the obvious necessary step is that we must shut down the coal industry. Coal still provides an unfortunately large proportion of our constant energy source in the U.S.A., and the data is clear that if humanity continues to extract and use coal, then the colossal impact of the carbon load in the atmosphere from that one source alone means that all the "going green," alternative energy, efficiency improvement, and rationing of other greenhouse gas sources won't make enough of a difference to offset the damage done by coal. In other words, coal burning, by itself, will drive us into catastrophic climate change.

So, coal has got to stay in the ground. We need to do this not only for our own responsibility, but to be in a position to credibly leverage China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia to keep their fossil fuel sources in the ground, too. In 2011, China was launching a new coal-powered energy plant every month.

A common question we've fielded, as we start to talk to people, is this: if making improvements in our personal lives ("going green") is not enough, what can we do? Shutting down coal is a goal that we can rally around, a clear community effort, and provides a measure of how serious our politicians are about addressing this problem fundamentally, before it is too late (if it is not, already). Even if we're already committed to very bad climate change, we need to stop using coal, so we don't trigger the sudden release of methane hydrates in the ocean, which will likely spike global temperatures to a level last seen during the major extinction event 50 million years ago. That spike, if history is anything to go by, could likely last for 100,000 years. Continuing to burn coal into the 2030s will almost certainly bring us to that point).

As it turns out, the Midwest, and particularly, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois (what the locals call the "tri-state area") is one of the areas most heavily invested in coal extraction and burning. If you looked at the interactive map that I linked to in my last post, you will see that we are surrounded by coal plants and coal mines, within a 150 mile radius. If you pay attention to politics, you are probably also aware that Iowa is a key swing state in the upcoming presidential election, and that Missouri could come into play: partly thanks to Todd Akin's incredible, unintentional revelation of the logic behind the GOP's anti-abortion platform plank, and partly (we hope) if young people in Missouri are made aware of the coal fiasco surrounding them, its relation to this year's devastating drought, and what "business as usual" means for the future of the Midwest.

Therefore, we will be Pacing the Planet in Missouri and Iowa this fall -- and particularly, heading to colleges and universities, where we will be giving presentations on the science, the situation. We want to help young student activists understand the importance of Mitt Romney's campaign embracing a future in coal (not to mention supporting the disastrous development of Canada's bituminous sands oil industry). We're already working on establishing connection with our local Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, as well as the University of Missouri in Columbia (whose Atmospheric Science program is chaired by a notable oil-associated "skeptic" of human-caused global warming). We have our sights on the University of Iowa in Iowa City, as well.

Of course, we are still walking to do something different than the day-to-day routine, to highlight that we can't continue our individual day-to-days, and expect technology or experts to fix this problem for us. They won't, and we will die (and so will a lot of life on Earth) if we continue. We walk because, somehow, walking helps us embody the immense geological time-frames upon which the consequences of our actions now will play out (though the consequences are already starting, and will rapidly worsen, if we do nothing). Walking also helps our imaginations embrace the very different visions of Earth that the past serves up as examples of what our world will look and feel like, as we try to picture change on that scale, with that suffusion into our entire experience.

So, friends, we need more people to walk with us. If you can join us this autumn in Missouri and Iowa, please do! Also, please support our fundraising campaign as much as you can, and pass word of it along to your mailing lists and your contacts. We are so grateful not to be the only ones concerned about this turning point in our dear planet's history, and so grateful for the help and love that have been pledged so far. Please know that, although our departure date has changed, our resolve to walk has not wavered, nor has our enthusiasm and passion to do so.  As our vision has expanded, preparations and supplies have been more expensive than we originally budgeted, so we can use all the help you can send.  And, we're already at 34 percent!  Yeah!