St. Louis Earth Day 2012

I've wanted to check out St. Louis Earth Day for years now. Somehow, in years past, the timing never worked out for me. This year, though, when I heard that the theme was "Heroes for the Planet", I knew that I had to be there! My friend Aur "Da Energy Mon" put me in touch with one of the organizers so that we could discuss how to bring a Real Life Superhero presence to the festival. Before I knew it, I found myself waking up at 5:30 a.m. on Earth Day so that I could get ready and head to St. Louis!

It was a cold and rainy morning. When I woke up for my daily jog, it was still dark outside. After jogging a little less than usual and gathering my supplies, I was ready to head to St. Louis.

I had originally hoped to find other ecologically-themed RLSH to join me for St. Louis Earth Day. However, there aren't many of us out there, and the few I've met online don't live very close to St. Louis. Therefore, I was unable to find any RLSH from outside of the region to join us in St. Louis this year. On the bright side, avoiding cross-country flights is a good way of shrinking our ecological footprint by reducing our carbon emissions!

The trip to and from St. Louis was fun. I traveled with Advanced Energy Solutions, a renewable energy company based in Southern Illinois that serves Illinois and several neighboring states. I used to work for AES, so I know the people who work there and was glad to have an opportunity to spend some time with them as we traveled to and from St. Louis. They were going to the festival to talk about renewable energy and use their Solar Trailer to power a large energy efficiency display.

When we arrived at Forest Park in St. Louis, traffic was slow, and there was a rainy chill in the air. Eventually, though, we made it to AES's booth, and my Real Life Superhero booth was just a few yards away.

Since I was the only one operating the RLSH booth, I decided to keep it simple. The main visual display featured a few RLSH profiles from the Real Life Super Hero Project. I also had copies of my quarter-sheet flyer and a new handout titled "You Can Be A Superhero!" This handout describes a basic process for developing a coherent and compelling superhero identity by considering your Costume, Qualities, and Quest.

At first, I'll admit that I was a little concerned about how the day would go. Since I had few materials with me, my booth was ready over an hour before 11 a.m., the official start of the day's main festivities. It was cold and rainy, and the few people who were in the park at 10 a.m. didn't have any interest in my booth. But right at 11 a.m., the sun peeked out from behind the clouds for a moment, and the day started to brighten.

The booth went well! I spent almost every moment from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. standing at that booth and saying hi to people as they walked by. Since I wasn't selling anything, I didn't feel obligated to do aggressive outreach and pull in every person who came within ten feet of me. But I said hi to hundreds of people, and if my booth caught their eye, I would start talking to them about Real Life Superheroes.

Over the course of the day, I must have talked to at least a hundred people, maybe more. The depth of the conversation varied. Some people simply noticed the costume and wanted the one or two sentence explanation of who I was and what I was doing. Others wanted the full story and spoke with me at length about the work of RLSH and costumed activists. I gave two or three mini-workshops about how to become an RLSH, and I refered people to two of my favorite RLSH website: reallifesuperheroes.org and reallifesuperheroes.com. I also talked with people about various projects and activities that I and other RLSH are involved in such as neighborhood watch patrols, homeless outreach, food drives, charity fundraisers, responding to domestic violence, and of course, ecological issues. There were maybe one or two people who seemed incredulous about the idea, but everyone else seemed either mildly supportive or genuinely excited about Real Life Superheroes. Especially given the context of an Earth Day festival, they really seemed to get the idea that costumed activism can bring a positive new angle to community involvement.

One of the highlights of the day involved my opportunity to speak on the main stage. At any given point, there were usually a couple hundred people in the large open area near the main stage, and the audio can be heard throughout much of the festival grounds. This makes it a fairly big deal to be given the opportunity to speak on stage. I'm used to public speaking, so aside from a twinge of anxiety right before showtime, I was mostly just excited to have the opportunity to speak. It's good I was calm, though, because when it was time for me to speak, we had technical difficulties! The MC did a personalized introduction, but my mic wasn't working at first. The sound people eventually turned it on, but it stopped working again halfway through my talk, so I had to walk across the stage to use the other microphone. In spite of all the technical difficulties, though, it was a good opportunity to speak about what an RLSH is and how everyone in the audience can become a Hero for the Planet, regardless of whether or not they wear a costume.

After a long and fruitful day at the festival, it was time to go home. I packed up my booth and met up with the AES crew. After eating dinner together, we headed back to Southern Illinois.

Thank you to everyone at St. Louis Earth Day for putting this awesome event together! Thank you also to Aur "Da Energy Mon" Beck and the entire crew at Advanced Energy Solutions for giving me a ride to and from the festival and for doing their part to bring renewable energy to the people of our region. St. Louis Earth Day was a very positive and productive experience, and I plan on returning next year. In the meantime, there's plenty of work to do here in Southern Illinois and beyond! I encourage you to be an everyday hero for your community and planet, regardless of whether or not you wear a costume. If you want to talk about the details, you know where to find me.

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Heroes for the Planet

St. Louis Earth Day 2012 Logo: This is the logo for the St. Louis Earth Day Festival of 2012. Heroes for the Planet: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Actions!I'm pleased to announce that I'll be attending the St. Louis Earth Day Festival on April 22! This year's theme is "Heroes for the Planet: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Actions". As an ecologically-focused Real Life Superhero living only two hours away from St. Louis, I simply couldn't pass up this golden opportunity. Whether you're a Real Life Superhero, an aspiring costumed activist, or simply someone who enjoys doing good for their community and their world, I invite you to join me at the Festival!

For more information on the theme, check out this excellent article by Casandra Hage, Executive Director of St. Louis Earth Day. She offers an excellent introduction to the unique blend of serious purpose and playful presentation that often goes into Real Life Superhero work. Her personal stories about Captain Planet and a local everyday hero are concise and to the point, yet go a long way to convey the significance of both heroic icons and real people who we can look to for inspiration and guidance. If you live in Southern Illinois, or live outside of the region and have ideas about green superhero activities that we can do at this Festival, let me know. Hopefully I'll see you there!

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Save Gaia House

Gaia House Interfaith Center: This is a photo of Gaia House Interfaith Center in Carbondale, IL.Gaia House Interfaith Center is a community center that means many things to many people. For over half a century, this unique building has been a place to meet new people, share meals with friends and neighbors, get involved in environmental and social justice projects, and explore a wide variety of spiritual practices and philosophical teachings. There are many people and groups that call this place home, and many ways in which this Center serves the Southern Illinois community. However, Gaia House is on the verge of closing due to a lack of sufficient funding. Without your support, our doors will close sometime within the next month or two, and this community treasure will be lost forever.

The bad news about the situation at Gaia House is funding. Earlier in the Center’s history, we were funded primarily by several churches that supported our interfaith work. Over time, however, the annual funding from these sources has diminished. We’ve been able to generate some income by charging rent for office and meeting space, asking for donations at our programs, teaching a variety of classes, and holding fundraising events. Our income, however, has not been enough to match the basic expenses of keeping the building open. This has lead to deficit spending which has gradually eroded our savings.

We knew that the budget was in crisis. But when we received our financial reports from 2011, we realized that we didn’t have enough money to make it to the end of Spring Semester, much less the start of Fall Semester. Unless we receive enough short-term funding to make it through the next few months, our doors will close before we have time to implement our mid-term and long-term fundraising plans.

The good news is that we have many people in Carbondale, Southern Illinois, and beyond who are passionate about Gaia House. Some of them belong to groups that rent space or hold meetings here. Some come to the two weekly dinners or other events. Some simply like to experience and support a place full of independent thinkers who welcome people of all faiths, beliefs, nationalities, identities, and orientations. Regardless of why people come here, many of them have already started expressing a willingness to put their valuable time, energy, and money into the effort to save Gaia House. If you feel the same way, I urge you to join us in doing everything we can to keep Gaia House open!

The other good news is that our Board of Directors meeting on Wednesday was well-attended and brought many good options to light. Some of these are short-term efforts like our new fundraiser on Facebook. Others are mid-term or long-term efforts like teaching language classes, holding dinners and bake sales, having a Spring fundraising party in March, pursuing more grants, and starting a new membership program that would allow us to hold a membership drive and offer special benefits for people who choose to become Gaia House members.

There’s definitely a lot of energy, passion, and support for this place. There are also some clear plans about where to get started and room for more ideas from creative individuals who want to make a difference. Your support will ensure that we have the time, energy, and money that we need to get through this budget crisis and make Gaia House the best community center it can be!

Here are just a few examples of how you can get involved:

  • FundRazr on Facebook: FundRazr is a service that combines using PayPal to donate to Gaia House and using Facebook to spread the word. This will help spread the word quickly and bring in some funding to keep us going while we organize other efforts. It’s also a good way to let people know about the campaign who haven’t been to Gaia House in a long time, or who haven’t been here at all but enjoy supporting community causes. If you don’t use Facebook, you can also visit the Gaia House Donations Page.
  • Stakeholder Retreat: Gaia House Interfaith Center is holding a Stakeholder Retreat on Saturday, February 18 from 1 pm to 5 pm. This is an opportunity for everyone who likes Gaia House to come together in one place to learn the latest news, talk about the budget crisis, and explore the overall mission and vision of this Center.
  • Stay Connected: Gaia House has a weekly newsletter called Happenings in Faith, Peace, and Justice. This is an opportunity to learn more about what goes on here as well as stay informed about the latest fundraising efforts. We also have a Gaia House Facebook Page with regular updates about the Center.
  • Be Creative: What we need most right now are creative and passionate people like you to share your energy and your vision with us! We hope to meet our short-term funding goals through this fundraising drive, but our long-term success will depend on the involvement of community organizers and social entrepreneurs. We’re looking for creative proposals about new programs and services that Gaia House can provide that fulfill our vision of community service while also generating the funds that we need to keep the doors open. Come to our events, get involved, and share your brilliance with us today!

Gaia House Interfaith Center is definitely in a moment of crisis. However, with every crisis comes an opportunity. Everyone involved in Gaia House now has the opportunity to reflect on what this Center is, what it means to us, and how we can organize the operations and programming here in a sustainable way. And you have the opportunity to find new ways of getting involved in Gaia House! This includes fundraising, but it also includes simply talking to the other people and groups who come here and coming together in a supportive community. We’re facing some difficult times, but together, we can make it through and come out the other side better for the experience.

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Stop the Swap

Stop the Swap: The U.S. Forest Service is considering a "land swap" that would give 384 acres of land in Gallatin County, Southern Illinois, to a subsidiary of Peabody Coal so that it can be strip mined. Stop the Swap!

“And daddy, won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.”
— John Prine, “Paradise”

The U.S. Forest Service is considering a “land swap” that would give 384 acres of Shawnee National Forest land in Gallatin County, Southern Illinois, to a subsidiary of Peabody Energy so that it can be strip mined. I encourage you to learn the facts about this issue and join me in opposing the land swap.


American Land Holdings of Illinois, LLC, is offering to give approximately 831 acres of land spread out across 3 parcels to the Shawnee National Forest (SNF) in exchange for 384 acres of land currently held by the SNF. On paper, when you examine the U.S. Forest Service’s Proposed Action document, the land swap sounds like a pretty good deal. The SNF is gaining a significant amount of acreage, much of which is wooded and adjacent to existing SNF land. However, American Land Holdings of Illinois is a subsidiary of Peabody Energy, and their intention is to mine the land for coal. In essence, the purpose of this deal is to give Peabody free rein to strip mine on 384 acres of what is currently public land.

The proposed land swap is a terrible idea for several reasons:

  • Peabody Energy has a long and sordid history of endangering workers, exploiting indigenous communities, polluting the air and water, and actively spreading misinformation about human-caused climate change. There’s a reason why John Prine wrote his famous song “Paradise” about the destructive business practices of Peabody! They’ve supposedly been making improvements to safety and taking efforts to decrease their environmental impact — but given their track record, they simply can’t be trusted. If we give them this land, it will be ruined, and surrounding land [and communities] will suffer the consequences.
  • Land swaps should be done for the good of the forest and the public that makes use of it, not for the profit of a large private energy corporation. On paper, the Forest Service is making it look like this deal is being done for the sake of adding additional land to the SNF. The Peabody subsidiary has acquired some land that is potentially a quite valuable addition to existing wilderness areas and other natural areas, and they argue that this is the reason for the proposed action. In practice, though, the real reason for this swap is to let Peabody Energy get at some coal that is currently unavailable due to the fact that it’s on SNF land.
  • The land that Peabody desires is adjacent to the Saline River. Even in the hands of a “responsible” corporation, strip mining next to a river creates additional impacts on adjacent land and the surrounding watershed. Yes, there are regulations in place to prevent such pollution, and yes, Peabody will hopefully be monitored and fined if they violate these regulations. But by then, the damage will be done
  • Yes, Southern Illinois is in dire need of job opportunities, and mining this site has the potential to provide additional work for some people in Southern Illinois. But mining this site for coal would be a short-term solution for a small number of people, and it has long-term consequences for a large group of people. There are many other options that promote rather than detract from the health of local communities and global ecosystems, including but not limited to ecotourism [including the regional wine trail], renewable energy, energy efficiency, ecological farming and wildcrafting, ecological education, ecological research, and low-impact commercial activities such as outdoor recreation.
  • Human-caused climate change is the most urgent ecological issue on the planet today. We are already observing the effects of climate change; our greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase; and the consequences of human-caused climate change are severe. Letting Peabody mine this coal on this land would be extremely irresponsible, turning a public resource into a private source of incredible public harm.

There are surely other reasons, too, but any one of the above reasons is enough to challenge this land swap. Together, they paint a clear picture: Peabody wants to mine the Shawnee National Forest, and it’s up to us to Stop the Swap!

One quick and easy way to speak out against this land swap and spread the word to your friend is by visiting the Credo action page about the Peabody land swap. When you sign the Credo petition, Credo will forward your comments to the Forest Service. You can also visit the U.S. Forest Service site for more information on how to comment on the ALHI-Shawnee NF Land Exchange Proposal. Even if you disagree with my perspective on this issue, I encourage you to contact them and submit your own comments. All of our voices deserve to be heard, and the more people who comment, the more seriously they will take this decision.

Reading about this proposal was a “triple whammy” for me. Number one, I’ve lived in Southern Illinois for over 15 years now, and the natural areas of this region are one of the major reasons why I call this land home. Number two, I’m very familiar with Peabody’s history of abuse toward the people and the land, and the thought of them expanding their operations here in Southern Illinois greatly concerns me. Number three, human-caused climate change is the single most important ecological issue facing the world today, and letting Peabody extract and sell large amounts of coal will only further accelerate the process.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for more news on this story as it develops. In the meantime, I encourage you to let the Forest Service know how you feel about this issue. Stop the Swap today!

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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