Author and educator Joanna Macy has taught that there are three positive ways of dealing with a difficult situation:
1. Fight to save what matters
2. Work to create new, positive alternatives
3. Change consciousness
Sometimes, if we’re lucky and stubborn enough, we get to do all three.
Several years ago, when Shell Oil announced plans to build an ethylene cracker plant on the banks of the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania’s Beaver County, Radical Joy for Hard Times board member Joanne Martin was among the first to fight the plan. She and the other activists knew that the project would produce a million tons of plastic a year and emit large amounts of harmful air pollutants. The fight against the project failed, however, and Shell proceeded with construction.
The New York Times compared the 386-acre site to “a giant Lego set.” This construction project is one of the largest in the United States and employs more than 5,000 people. It will be fed by the natural gas piped from the many fracking sites across the state. The gas molecules will be “cracked” at extremely high temperatures, then cooled, so that they form small plastic pellets, each about the size of a grain of rice.
Many of the activists have continued to engage in the fight. Joanne, however, was determined to find a way besides outrage of living with the new reality. She co-founded a new group, Reimagine Beaver County. Their vision is to develop a positive, environmentally sustainable and economically viable future for their area, and they’re focusing on four major sectors of economic development: Energy Innovation, Green Chemistry and Manufacturing, Sustainable Agriculture, and Riverfront Recreation and Tourism. The group has already received grants for their work, which strives for a “circular economy,” in which materials and resources are used over and over again, just as nature has a role for every organism in an ecosystem.
Joanne Martin also practices the third of Macy’s guidelines for living with the unlivable. Besides encouraging members of the community to accept what is and create something positive out of it, she has led several Global Earth Exchanges there. Participants gathered to gaze at the monster across the river and make a gift of beauty for the river and land. And on Earth Day, 2022, she and I had a picnic lunch on the site, after which we crafted a RadJoy Bird out of stones, twigs and fragments of trash.
—April 27, 2022