Warren Senders is a musician and educator, an internationally-acknowledged master of Hindustani classical singing. A faculty member of New England Conservatory of Music, he’s spent his life integrating musical and philosophical influences from all over the world. He views his environmental activism and his work in music as essential complements to one another."
What did you do?
With Pat Brady Martin and two others, I entered the West Roxbury compound of the Spectra Pumping and Monitoring Station and sat down in the middle of the construction site in order to delay/block construction.
Why did you do it?
The crisis of climate change has escalated to a point where the future of our civilization and possibly our species is at grave risk. It had become increasingly apparent to me that while “polite” methods of raising awareness and changing policy were (and continue to be) necessary, they are not enough. I was determined to engage myself in more direct action, but without violating my principles of nonviolence. As to why this particular action at this particular time — it’s simple: I’d told my friends in the climate movement that the next time there were going to be NVCD actions, I wanted to be a part of them.
Why did you oppose the West Roxbury pipeline?
In preparation for the August NVCD action, I learned something of the history of the pipeline. Spectra’s callous disregard for the safety of the community was vividly evident, as was the degree to which the approval and permitting process had been corrupted and distorted. I don’t live in the immediate neighborhood of the pipeline, but I have long believed that one of the biggest problems climate activists face is the degree to which we are all able to relegate people in different places and times to the category of “Other,” and consequently dismiss what happens to them as not our concern.
What reports, studies, articles, personal experiences, etc convinced you that pipelines, fossil fuel extraction, and climate change are serious issues?
The IPCC reports, Al Gore’s film and book, the work of environmental writers and climate scientists like Joe Romm, Michael Mann, and Bill McKibben. More fundamental is the fact that I was raised in a family of scientists and learned about the scientific method and how scientists present their results. I’m not a scientist myself, but I know enough about how climate science works that I can recognize a low-key statement of statistical probability as a scientist’s way of expressing genuine and extreme alarm!
Why did you believe social movements/civil disobedience can make a difference?
They made a difference in India. They made a difference in South Africa. They made a difference in the civil rights movement in this country, and in the movement for women’s suffrage, and in countless other situations. These are inspirational moments in human history — moments in which ordinary people asserted control over their destinies in ways that had long-lasting positive repercussions.
I am a lifelong pacifist, and while I unhappily admit that humanity’s general history of, and propensity for, violence may demand in-kind responses, I regard this as personally unacceptable. Gandhi said it well when he stated that there were causes for which he was willing to die, but none for which he was willing to kill.
What other attempts did you make to stop the West Roxbury pipeline, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop climate change, etc?
I had attended marches and rallies against the West Roxbury pipeline. But in the broader context, I have been engaged in various forms of “polite” activism since my daughter’s birth in 2005 pushed me to realize my responsibilities to her future on Earth. At that point I resolved that I would try to do something each and every day to bring my energies to bear on the issue of climate change.
From January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2013 — four years — I wrote a Letter to the Editor on the subject of climate change. Every day. My letters were published all over the world (the NY Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, USA Today, LA Times, Time Magazine, and countless other publications in the US; papers and magazines in India, Pakistan, Ireland, England, Taiwan, the Solomon Islands, Greenland, and elsewhere around the world). A total of 1,461 letters.
In October 2009 I began producing benefit concerts for the climate-change awareness advocacy organization 350.org and its Massachusetts affiliate. As of today, I’ve produced sixteen such concerts — two a year — raising thousands of dollars for climate change awareness work over the past nine years while presenting the music of dozens of different and widely varied musical traditions from all over the world.
I developed an online “video collage” project called “The Climate Message” in which hundreds of musicians, poets and dancers from across the globe recorded and posted their own short messages of artistic beauty and climate awareness (www.theclimatemessage.com).
The day after Labor Day, 2015, I began daily vigils at a heavily-trafficked intersection near my home in Medford, Massachusetts. Every morning I stand for an hour during the morning traffic rush, with a sign reading “CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL.” I’ve kept this Act of Conscience going for (thus far) 123 weeks — through snow, rain, extreme heat, extreme cold, and increasingly bizarre weather, while bringing a message of climate awareness to thousands of drivers every day (perhaps more than a million “views" since I began).
Why didn’t you trust that legal systems would avert the harm of the pipeline? What articles, books, reports, personal experience, etc convinced you that our governmental processes are not effective at protecting our communities from threats like this pipeline?
The extreme influence of concentrated wealth has had a very problematic impact on the legal mechanisms of our society, skewing them increasingly in favor of the interests of the already wealthy and powerful. It requires no highly advanced social awareness to recognize that individuals and institutions in positions of power are disproportionately advantaged by our legal systems, and that the fossil fuel interests are among the most powerful of all.