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    Spooky: How a West Philly Porch Highlighted the Horror of Climate Change

    Every year for the past 20 years, a group of housemates and friends at 4821-23 Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia make our porch into a different modern horror on Halloween night. We construct a labyrinth filled with dark corners and volunteer actors, visited by over a thousand kids and parents in what has become a community Halloween tradition.

    West Philly rowhome

    This year we learned from the UN that we only have 12 years left before the climate makes life a catastrophe all year round and forever more. We wanted to take the opportunity to make sure that everyone knows what is coming if we don’t change our planet-killing ways soon. So this year’s horror theme featured the terrifying recent UN-IPCC report on climate change.

    We have always used the Halloween porch to raise the important issues of the day, from our “Spooky Surveillance Society,“ to “Occupy Sesame Street. This year we decided to partner with a group, Earth Quaker Action Team – EQAT (pronounced equate), that could help people think about the scary stuff on the porch, and offer ideas that can create a future different from the one we are currently headed for.

    desert wasteland

    The labyrinth was made to resemble a climate refugee camp. On the line to get in, kids were issued a ration punch ticket. They passed blasts of heat and cold and wind, wriggled past a maze of wires and ozone, walked through a trash dump, were shouted at by a climate denier talk show host, saw a pool of dead fish, and dodged as the president rolled an earth (painted yoga ball) down at them like the giant boulder in Indiana Jones. There were cruel border guards keeping climate refugees out.

    west philly porch

    Horror has become part of our daily lives, and this bleak future is all too possible. The rise of white-nationalist terror, authoritarianism, and climate catastrophes are all linked in divisions of wealth, power, and access. Yet even in this time of darkness, the opportunity is here for unprecedented equity and justice.

    Ending poverty, increasing resilience to climate disaster, investing in economic justice for Black and Brown communities– these are the values that should drive our solutions.

    Clean energy is already affordable, accessible, and abundant. We can build solar right where we live and use power, with community ownership of energy generation. This creates local jobs, keeps more ratepayer money coming back to the community, and provides reliability in times of storms or other disruptions. At the end of the labyrinth, we wanted people to know that hope is not lost. So we had the local grassroots group EQAT on hand to provide information on what the dangers of climate change are and practical steps we can take to prevent it. EQAT is pushing PECO to commit to 20% local solar energy by 2025, prioritizing investment in low-income communities and communities of color.

    Our house is an old one, and we do several days work every year to seal it tighter and improve our efficiency. We have had a solar hot water heater for about ten years which provides most of our hot water. And this year we have added some solar panels which will take care of about 15 to 20 % of our electricity.

    I think people will look back with repugnance at this era of wasteful use of energy and over-consumption. They will shake their head and ask: “People wasted clean water? Really? They burned gas and used coal-fired electricity to keep their houses exactly the same temperature all year- like they were too precious to put on a sweatshirt? How could they have thought that was an OK thing to do when the scientists were telling everyone the trouble it would cause?

    These common practices that are just normal to us are already causing irreparable harm, and our grandchildren will be cleaning up the mess. And the corporations profiting from that misery want us to keep our heads buried in the sand. But we can face the horrors now and take action, changing both our personal lives and the corporate practices that put us here.

    Photos by Jack R. Abbit

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