Creativity + Focused Activism in 2013

An excerpt from my annual letter to friends and family:

My organizing philosophy has changed radically this year, from try-everything to an exclusionary focus on the root of climate change. (Hold onto your ‘silver bullet’ critique for a minute).

"It's a Rogue Thing" on February 17 in Medford drew 400 attendees and 1,500 project participants.

“It’s a Rogue Thing” on February 17 in Medford drew 400 attendees and 1,500 project participants.

This shift began in January when I helped my friend Hannah Sohl in creating a big expression of climate love from 1,500 cardboard pieces individually decorated by southern Oregonians with their love for home and a stable world. The project culminated in February when over 400 smiling people gathered in Medford to assemble the pieces into a 120-foot long salmon. The success of the project—and the joy of doing it—stunned me. Art has a unique power to invite newcomers into the climate movement and build the goodwill we need to build support for real solutions.

The trouble is that just getting people to show up for big happy events doesn’t keep fossil fuels underground. Hannah and I were struck speechless by a woman in the crowd shouting “what do you want us to do now?” What should we have said? Recycle more?  Our focus on awareness had precluded practical action.  We’d punted the responsibility to our speakers—who were great, but together presented no coherent vision for change. So our ragtag band of ten lovable misfits gathered to answer her question: friends between jobs or school, parents, local nonprofit staff, and retirees. We decided on two things: 1. It’s time the climate movement focus exclusively on the root of the problem, and 2. Oregon can lead the way with a state-wide carbon tax. Your generous donations and support made the resulting event a big win.

The first Oregon Climate Action Day, May 22: nearly 200 Oregonians rallying for the carbon tax in the Capitol.  Credit: West Turn Picture Co.

The first Oregon Climate Action Day, May 22: nearly 200 Oregonians rallying for the carbon tax in the Capitol. Credit: West Turn Picture Co.

Oregon Climate Action Day was the most meaningful project of my life. On May 22nd, we towed the salmon up north to Salem. In the true spirit of a sand mandala, it spawned under the rain in front of the capitol building as 200 folks from across the state rallied for a revenue-neutral tax on carbon. (My speech is here.) Our team trained about 60 volunteers to lobby legislators for the carbon tax that day. We were thrilled to learn from our state representative that our work was instrumental in passing appropriations to finance a study on the effect a carbon tax might have in Oregon.

Top quote of 2013 is an utterance from Buckminster Fuller long ago that a problem adequately stated is a problem very nearly solved.  I have come to see that our bandaids for climate change have so failed to heal our climate because we never adequately stated the problem. Climate change is merely a symptom.  Other symptoms include hydraulic fracturing and ocean acidification.  Coal trains and pipelines like Keystone XL, or the LNG project slated to bisect Oregon, are also symptoms. The uphill battles facing local agriculture or bike commuting are symptoms.

The TEAM! L to R: Dan Thorndike, .. , Christine Haynie, Winston Friedman, Camila Thorndike, Rob Schlapfer, Erica Franks, Dan Golden, Whitney Brown, Muuqi Maxwell, Malaika Libera, ., and Hannah Sohl.

The OCAD TEAM! L to R: Dan Thorndike, Hans West, Christine Haynie, Winston Friedman, Camila Thorndike, Rob Schlapfer, Erica Franks, Dan Golden, Whitney Brown, Muuqi Maxwell, Malaika Libera, ., Hannah Sohl, and Jana Gastellum.

The source of our problem is underpriced carbon. We all pay the hidden costs of carbon for the benefit of the few. The list of symptoms is never-ending and so long as we each run off with an item on this list of “things you can do,” we will be divided and conquered—indeed, divide and conquer is pretty much the only game our enemies got. Instead, we can together pull on the highest lever of change with simple carbon pricing, shifting the whole playing field in favor of sustainability.

A climate activist must be an ER doctor, focusing on the source of the threat to our patient’s life, and a carbon tax is the simplest way to do it. One of the best ways to help is to join the Citizens Climate Lobby. The CCL’s Ghandian model helps anyone learn how to build citizen muscle. I attended the annual conference this summer to lobby Congress and ended up in their video, frizzy hair and all. Shi-Ling Hsu, author of “The Case for the Carbon Tax,” spoke to us and I think the précis of his excellent book is worth a skim. This book review includes helpful quotes from the text.

Staged reading of COAL: Fable of the Firerock at The Lensic, February 2013

Staged reading of COAL: Fable of the Firerock at The Lensic, February 2013

Currently I have the honor of applying the alchemy of community art and efficacious policy as a director on COAL, a national climate project created by New Mexican social change artist Molly Sturges. The musical tale of COAL: Fable of the Firerock is about a family coming together around the paradox of extractive energy. The story invites us to consider our own agency in the tradeoff of consumption or interconnectedness. Our vision is to inspire and train grassroots “Spark” groups to imaginatively build support for a price on pollution. We’re about to launch in Orange County. Want to host COAL where you live?

To conclude 2013, here are a couple favorite life hacks (pardon the dated phrase). My favorite books, shows, and articles are listed here.

Vipassana meditation is probably the most unadulterated technique of meditation as taught by Gotima the Buddha. Simply stated, you sit down for 10 days to observe the impermanence of sensations in your own body and develop the faculty of equanimity. Striving for enlightenment, no matter how distant, inevitably delivers guidance and energy for a proactive life. Everyone benefits. The people and centers are lovely. Oh, and it’s free.

Quitting Facebook. On day three of the retreat, I realized that the only way to wrestle down my monkey mind is to starve it. Leaving FB was the obvious first step. There are serious tradeoffs, but oh man am I happier! I always knew that letters, calls and visits are the stuff of friendship, but didn’t realize how much the Newsfeed was underlining my SoCal isolation. The best part about quitting has been recouping all the energy spent denying myself hits while working solo. Plus, FB is rolling out video ads soon. Laaame. Google+, anyone?  In the meanwhile, connect with me Twitter-wise @camilathorndike.

Wishing you all beautiful epiphanies and evolutions this New Year.


Interview on Immense Possibilities

I just remembered to post “Youth Take the Reins of Leadership”: An interview on Immense Possibilities that includes our team’s work in May to creatively funnel local climate concerns into state and national policy to price carbon.

Thanks IP!

Why I Believe in Art Activism

{This is my intro to the COAL December 2013 Newsletter}


My name is Camila and I’m a director for COAL, a new approach to the climate movement. In eight years of climate activism I’ve never been so elated as to help launch COAL. First, I want to share why this project gives me hope.

Three years ago, social change artist Molly Sturges began searching for ways to nurture insight in the face of climate disruption. Finding an opening in storytelling and music, she founded COAL: a scalable theatrical production designed to inspire a culture of action.

Through a tale of young friends facing either a future condemned by addiction to a corrosive dark power–or one of interconnectedness, COAL offers us a lens to navigate our own predicament. It invites us into today’s epic struggle by awakening the creativity, courage, and camaraderie of those fantastic childhood stories. Above all, COAL ignites faith that even against the most daunting odds, we can prevail.

 70% of Americans share my alarm that our elected leaders have idled for decades while our unchecked voracity for fossil fuels has changed life as we know it. However, united as we are by our passion for a livable future, our struggle to find solutions continues to estrange us. For all our faith in climate consensus, many of us remain skeptical of the economic and political consensus about tools that could stabilize our climate by century’s end.

This is why I love COAL: it is an on-ramp for anyone to join the climate saga, no experience needed. Here is the space to celebrate the values we share and team up without prejudice for solutions. The forces destroying our natural world are in the wrong morally, scientifically, and economically, but they manage to sustain the status quo by dividing us. Keeping us fragmented is the only game they’ve got. Art is the oldest tool available to unite behind our passions, and we believe it remains the best. Together we’ll build our movement by singing our story of love for home.

For the latest on COAL check out the December 2013 newsletter here!

How to Live with Water: The WMG Way

My personal fundraising goal is gettin’ there!  Can you help me reach $200 by the end of the year? I will send you a hand-written letter. Promise. Just give me your address.

Photo by Josh Schachter (

Photo by Josh Schachter (

A Love Letter

How to Live with Water: The WMG Way

Queridos amigos,

In years of dabbling in Western water issues, I haven’t met a worthier organization than the Watershed Management Group. Why the enthusiasm? WMG’s appeal extends far beyond the realm of water geeks. I believe that this organization is positioned at a nexus of social and environmental progress that will propel humanity out of our most dire fixes.

If urbanites – now the global majority – were to more fully participate in natural resource cycles, people would better understand what sustains us and would thus make wiser decisions, individually and together. People would be healthier and our communities more beautiful. This is exactly what WMG is achieving in Tucson and across the world.

Rainwater cisterns, stream meanders, neighborhood curb cuts, recycling wastewater back into the earth one backyard at a time: a few of the ways WMG brings modern life into a more natural alignment. Water systems stewardship shapes civilization, and vice versa. The WMG do-it-yourself approach to improving this relationship is a critical piece of how to thrive in an increasingly complex global puzzle.

The WMG trick is to help us help ourselves. Replacing pavement with native plants lessens the urban heat island effect. Backyard greywater installations and composting toilets replenish aquifers and save energy (since southern Arizona relies on CAP water pumped 300+ miles uphill by coal-fired power, it even curbs climate change!). Helping youth build their own schoolyard gardens fosters in them a sense of place. Collaborating with local artists inspires in us all a value for water… Best yet, the WMG staff, volunteers and neighborhood Co-Op members do it all with contagious commitment and a sense of humor. Please join me to sustain and multiply WMG’s work as a worldwide leader in sustainable community building!

Click here to join the honor roll of wonder:

With gratitude and best wishes for 2013,

Camila Thorndike
Treasurer & Past Chair, WMG Board of Directors

PS  I send pretty nice letters. There’s no minimum donation to receive one.  Well, ok, maybe $5 — a fancy latte’s worth of support.  Doable, right?  My pen’s ready…

COAL: The Musical … is creative community engagement for climate.

>> Can you conceive of a musical about the energy paradox of our times–-that begins when the curtains close?

>> Can you imagine together celebrating a way out of our climate mess–-into a real future for ourselves and all living communities?

>> Can you commit just few a hours a week to do what is needed?

Check out the below post with a brief video introduction my latest endeavor, COAL: The Musical.


COAL is a mythic coming-of-age story set in the present time. A boy, Olam, must reconcile his mining heritage, notions of manhood, and contemporary values with a deep-rooted love for the imperiled natural world, his home. Olam must decide what kind of man he will be.

Through his moral journey, we too are challenged to join the head and the heart, the analytical and emotional–in other words, to grow out of our consumptive adolescence into a mature society. No matter the audience, COAL is personal. Your family stars in this show.  COAL zeroes in on the central paradox of our times: that our gadgets, homes, transport and machines are fueled by poisons inking a tragic global sentencing down the fossil fuel storyline (every dig, move, and burn). This powerful, uplifting, and even funny story–yes, trust me!–is about how we are complicit and thus empowered to move forward together.

No, I wasn’t sure, either, how this story could fill a theater. But tears were running down my smiling face by the last pages of the script.  The music is snappy-catchy and the characters unforgettable.  And the story is just the beginning.  The Musical of COAL will serve to spark and boost individual and community ACTION in host towns, universities, cities and regions across the country.

The first staged reading of COAL takes place February 8, 2013 in Santa Fe, NM.  Let me know if you want to come!  Early 2014, COAL premiers in four host cities including San Francisco, CA–and from there hits the road.  Follow this blog for updates throughout our incredible journey.


This summer in Alaska I met COAL creator Molly Sturges of the non-profit organization Littleglobe. As she wrapped up her TEDx Talk I knew, sure as a lightning strike, that I needed to follow this woman. Over the past year+, Molly has delved into our moral-environmental climate crisis driven by fossil fuel use and emerged with COAL: The Musical. Since October 2012, I have been collaborating with the wonderful Adam Horowitz as a Community Engagement Strategist for COAL. In 2013 look forward to deeper work on this imaginative, invitational, and inter-generational project of immense importance. (An alliterative meld of the i’s I like best).  It is an honor to work creatively on what I believe is the biggest challenge and most beautiful opportunity you and I are faced with today.


STORY! It’s all about telling the right story: Who are we humans? What do we need? How can we do what is good? And it’s all about listening carefully to the response–so we can weave new stories together, for they create our lives just as surely as our bodies, bank accounts and blood.

As I’ve said before, I’m not the musical “type.” As a movement-builder, I see COAL as a vehicle for changemaking. To me, COAL is about using an optimistic, family-oriented, and authentically American art form to EXPAND and ACTIVATE the audience for climate action. In the production, local kids will be on stage asking the audience to step up their game–from caring to doing. This will ignite the fierce love of parents, grandparents, and communities for whom the climate crisis can no longer be distant.  Once seen for what it is–a personal problem–the reality of climate change will call forth moral strength to rectify our energy paradigm. The crisis is here, and so are rising heroes. COAL asks: How will you join them?

Solutions to climate chaos exist. The ignited will to activate them is not … yet. COAL is about lighting that fire under our collective behinds.

Vamanos ya, muchachos. El tiempo ya se acaba.


P.S. Contrary to the Indiegogo site’s funding bar, we actually came just a few $Ks short of the $12,000 goal. Thank you to all who contributed to realize this dream.  Your support goes far beyond the dollars — it fuels, grounds, and uplifts me more than anything in the world.