The poet Jane Kenyon was known for her mastery of the style known as “the luminous particular”. The phrase is a reference to imagery, expression and ideas, that ground us in the local, personal, intimate, in ways that illuminate our experience of existence and of truth. She can define the undefined by writing that happiness “comes to the woman sweeping the street / with a birch broom”, “to the boulder in the perpetual shade of pine barrens”, or “to rain falling on the open sea…” Her excellence in bringing the reader into the intimate space of detail informs my own thinking about writing, meaning, and what we value and how.

The particular is what we tend to find most luminous, but our political language is full of the assumption that the opposite is true and correct. This often leads to conflict between what we talk about and what we value.

For Pablo Neruda, “dwelling on Earth” was more than a fact of our existence, and more than a way of thinking about the world. In the book Residencia en la Tierra, he inhabits and explores the world of human experience with a way of using language so unique it seems to speak from all perspectives at once: from the curiosity of the inner life, that seeks meaning in the world, to the ambition of the rhetorician, who seeks to define what is possible, and then to redefine it in new and more dazzling terms, from the heart of the one who desires to the mind of the prophet discovering prophecy on a kitchen table. He crosses expanses of meaning that range from the surreal to the sublime, an mixes mundane, dark, and threatening realities, with flashes of joy described as “the lifting-off of butterflies”, “the unexpected flame-matter of you”, “dawn dripping”, “a faithful nutrition”, a sudden ability to “write the saddest verses”, or, simply, as love.

This is the world we live in—a vast and life-giving tangle of luminous particulars that makes each of our stories fertile ground for new discovery, every time we engage in dialogue with others. But the particular is luminous in other ways as well, blinding us at times to the value of the views of others. For many people, letting the experience of others in feels like a near guarantee that their own luminosity will be dampened, that the particular details of the world that matter most to them will somehow be sidelined.

Attention is not a zero-sum game, however. Human awareness can expand dramatically, as new information comes to light, and new information emerges not only from your ideas or from mine, but from what happens when they flow together, and make new insight.

September 2015 was a landmark moment in the evolution of open and inclusive, morally driven, civic spaces. Pope Francis came to Cuba and the United States, with a message of dialogue, tolerance, deep-rooted human sympathy, and mutual empowerment. The 193 member states of the United Nations formally adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals as the structure of the global strategy for development assistance, economic policy, environmental protection, trade, and diplomacy, for the next 15 years.

After 70 years of striving to establish protections against violence and improve the human condition, the United Nations General Assembly formally committed to ending poverty, hunger, disease, discrimination, and to a project of resilient, responsible environmental stewardship in relation to all areas of development policy.


In the powerful current of this moment, it can feel as if we are tossed on the tides of history, so we need to ask: What is our role in the world? Yesterday, I attended the announcement of the People+Planet Project, at the United Nations, in New York. Everyone who was there came for a single purpose: to ensure that individual good will and wisdom can play a leading role in how we shape the future.

The luminosity of your particular way of being in the world can be catalytic for good outcomes, or add to the momentum of degradation from which we are trying to escape. Local action starts within, and has a global impact.

The Note for September 2015 ]

Australian PM Tony Abbott, who dismantled a policy to price carbon, rose to power by attacking and dividing—a strategy that eventually backfired. 

Tony Abbott came into office with a hard-charging campaign against his predecessors, and a vow to repeal Australia’s carbon pricing law. Abbott had been close to the coal industry and had opposed Australia committing to strong climate action. Today, Julie Bishop, the deputy leader of Abbott’s Liberal Party asked him to resign or hold a party ballot. He chose to call a party leadership ballot, and rival Malcolm Turnbull won the vote to replace him.

Turnbull will now be Australia’s fourth prime minister in three years. In 2013, Julia Gillard, who had ousted her own Labor Party’s leader and then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a similar way, was herself ousted by Rudd. Rudd then lost the election to Abbott, and now Abbott is pushed aside by his own Liberal Party leadership, in favor of Turnbull. It remains to be seen whether Turnbull will fare any better than his predecessors. The risks, and the opportunities, are many. Read More


The pessimist argues: most things don’t work out in an ideal  way, and entropy is the way of all systems, so to be realistic, let’s err on the side of lower ambition. Pessimism, which often calls itself “realism”, is a claim to prophetic vision. The pessimist becomes invested in the reliability of negative prophecy. So the advocate for pessimism migrates from emotional investment in good outcomes to emotional investment in the idea that if it’s a good thing, it won’t be possible and ultimately to the deep and tangled self-binding we call cynicism. It is in contrast to this view that we are told the optimist is one who likes to be hopeful, despite all the ills of this world. Optimism is often described as “positive thinking”, but it is actually something very different and far more powerful than that.

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Earth: Respect

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This is an open letter to all writers, scholars, reporters, and policy-makers. More specifically, we also address this piece, respectfully, to editors from the world’s leading newspapers and news bureaus. The ask we are making is: Please, when you write the name of the planet, use the capital initial E: we live on a planet called Earth. Earth is a proper noun, a place, like New York, Nairobi or Nazca. By contrast, the word earth means soil or dirt.

The two may appear together, in the same report, on sustainable farming practices, for instance, but the distinction is important, and failure to recognize this distinction conveys a cavalier attitude about the facts. It may not be the case that a reporter is actually cavalier about the facts, but the message is sent, implicitly.

Such confounding of meanings affects the way the reader receives the report. For instance: no distinction between…

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An idea whose time has come

In 2010, when Citizens’ Climate Lobby brought 25 citizen volunteers to Capitol Hill, it felt like a big challenge to get enough people to go the distance, to meet with all 535 voting members of Congress. This year, we brought 36 times as many people, and it is looking more like we will need more elected officials to welcome and build relationships with all the citizen lobbyists coming to make democracy work.

The 2015 CCL International Conference brought a record number of citizen volunteer lobbyists together—more than 900—to have real policy discussions with elected officials. It was a breakthrough year in a lot of ways:

  • For the first time, we had more people attending than could reasonably fit into the meetings we had scheduled.
  • We had nearly three times as many volunteers to role-play members of Congress in our basic training than we had volunteers total in our first conference.
  • We heard from not one but two great scientists who have been named to TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people on Earth.
  • We were joined by dozens of faith leaders, who came to support this message of enhanced civics and substantive policy for a livable world.
  • Pope Francis released his Encyclical Laudato Si: On caring for our common home 5 days before we went to the Hill.
  • On the morning of our Lobby Day, the Lancet released a comprehensive public health study that calls for pricing carbon as necessary to protect human health from now on.
  • And, in one Republican office after another, we heard the message: we get the science; we want to talk about solutions.

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In 2009, three Citizens’ Climate Lobby core team members went to Capitol Hill, to start building a new way for citizens to engage Congress on climate and energy policy. In 2010, 25 volunteers came from around the U.S. Last year, CCL brought 608 citizen volunteers to Capitol Hill, for 507 meetings in 2 days. This morning, the 2015 CCL International Conference opens, with more than 900 citizen volunteers attending.

The first day starts with a meeting for CCL volunteer group leaders. The group leaders anchor hundreds of local chapters, where thousands of citizen volunteers are building local policy networks, adding their voices to the teams led by their legislators.

The work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby is not only about advocating for climate policy. One part of the mission is to build political will for a livable world. But equally vital to building this network of citizen-driven policy teams is the…

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The Papal Encyclical Letter Laudato Si (Praised Be)focuses “on caring for our common home”. It makes clear the too rarely explained link between ecological ethics and a life of faith. For many, it seems like a shift in the politics of how we can or should talk about the climate. But what it makes clear, above all, is that we are intimately connected, through a fabric of resources and relations, in a way that implies a deep and inescapable ethical obligation.

Pope Francis grounds his Encyclical in theology, science, and universal values, and says the letter is meant to open a “dialogue with all people about our common home”. He praises the Creator at the opening, and notes the need to respect “our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us”. He cites his predecessors, including Saint John Paul II, who wrote of the increasingly urgent need…

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We can achieve an economy that thrives, and provides for expanded human freedom and dignity, without doing harm to the natural systems that support life. When one of the world’s most influential spiritual leaders calls for integral human ecology as the integral human ecology as the guiding principle for all policy everywhere, the fact that we can do this without suffering economically, impeding innovation or limiting human freedom, becomes a foundational insight that makes all future success possible.

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The climate crisis is not only about polar bears. Our own actions have ramifications in the world, so polar bears and other life forms are threatened by the degradation of complex life-support systems. Those natural systems depend on a stable climate, with carbon dioxide concentrations between 280 and 350 parts per million. Those same life-support systems help to make our world livable for human beings, so we have built a civilization that depends on that efficient, life-giving interplay of natural forces. 

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The governing paradigm for energy policy and climate action is shifting, now, in real time. With a few crucial innovations, we can achieve a more rapid pace of decarbonization than was previously thought possible by any players in the global negotiations. We will need:

  1. Commitments that are catalytic, cooperative, and accelerating over time;
  2. A framework that makes clear no one wins by stalling action;
  3. Regular escalation of national commitments, with tangible economic benefits;
  4. More direct participation by citizens and civil society, at all levels.

Though many are frustrated with the pace of progress toward the Paris consensus, we have seen meaningful progress on all of the above.

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