Archive for the Metaphors Category

Green Goggles Metaphor

Posted in Applied Storytelling, Metaphors with tags , , , , , , , on August 7, 2014 by daveroom

This is the power of Pop Culture. Notice the response from the commissioners in this video of the Local Clean Energy Alliance’s Dave Room giving testimony at the CPUC Energy Efficiency proceeding about the Green Goggles from Wizard of OZ, Greenwashing, and PG&E.

This 2010 post on Sustainablog explains where the Green Googles metaphor comes from.

In the Wizard of Oz book, the first Dorothy and her friends saw of the Emerald City was a beautiful green glow in the sky before them. As they walked on, the green glow became brighter and brighter, and they came to the great bright green wall that surrounded the City. It was there they first encountered the gatekeeper, a little man clothed all in green; even his skin had a greenish tint.

When Dorothy explained they had come to see the Wizard, the gatekeeper insisted that they wear the green goggles. He explains “if you did not wear spectacles the brightness and glory of the Emerald City would blind you. Even those who live in the City must wear spectacles night and day. They are all locked on, for Oz so ordered it when the City was first built, and I have the only key that will unlock them.” He proceeded to fit spectacles on Dorothy and her friends, and even on little Toto; and then locked them on.

The gatekeeper then opened another gate, and they all followed him through the portal into the streets of the Emerald City. Even with the green spectacles, Dorothy and her friends were dazzled by the brilliancy of the Emerald City. Streets were lined with green marble houses and green marble pavement. Window panes were green glass; even the sky had a green tint, and the sun rays were green. There were many people dressed in green clothes and with greenish skin. Everything in the stores was green. Green candy and green pop corn, green shoes, green hats, and green clothes of all sorts. Green lemonade paid for with green pennies.

Unfortunately, Dorothy and her friends were sent away by Oz on what he thought was an impossible mission: kill the Wicked Witch of the West.

When Dorothy and friends return after dissolving the witch, they discover that the Wizard of Oz is a fraud, and that the Emerald City is not really green. Oz explains “Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City… Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.”

As it turns, The Emerald City is no more green than any other city. “But,” as Oz explains “when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you… My people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City.”

As well as how it applies to PG&E and their 2012 Utility Power Grab – Proposition 16, whose intention was recently resurrected in Ab 2145.

PG&E often presents itself as on its way to becoming the greenest utility, if not already there. They point out that they were named the greenest utility in Newsweek‘s Green Rankings 2009. But the fact of the matter is that they are not even close to being the greenest utility.  Many of the public utilities in Northern California have not only greener power but also lower prices.  These include Palo Alto Utilities with the most successful 100% green power option, Sacramento Municipal Utility District with 19% renewable power, and Alameda Municipal Utility which claims to be the greenest utility with most of its power coming from renewable sources.

On the other hand, only 14% of power delivered by PG&E in 2009 was derived from renewable sources in 2009.  Investor owned utilities are mandated by the 2002 Renewable Portfolio Standard to be at 20% renewable power by 2010; PG&E had 12% in 2003. PG&E has already said that they will not make the 20% target for 2010.

For more information on the latest shenanigans of California’s investor owned utlities, check out this post from the Local Clean Energy Alliance on AB 2145.


The relevant passages are in chapter 10 of the Wizard of Oz:

“So he is,” said the green man, “and he rules the Emerald City wisely and well. But to those who are not honest, or who approach him from curiosity, he is most terrible, and few have ever dared ask to see his face. I am the Guardian of the Gates, and since you demand to see the Great Oz I must take you to his Palace. But first you must put on the spectacles.”

“Why?” asked Dorothy.


“Because if you did not wear spectacles the brightness and glory of the Emerald City would blind you. Even those who live in the City must wear spectacles night and day. They are all locked on, for Oz so ordered it when the City was first built, and I have the only key that will unlock them.”


He opened the big box, and Dorothy saw that it was filled with spectacles of every size and shape. All of them had green glasses in them. The Guardian of the Gates found a pair that would just fit Dorothy and put them over her eyes. There were two golden bands fastened to them that passed around the back of her head, where they were locked together by a little key that was at the end of a chain the Guardian of the Gates wore around his neck. When they were on, Dorothy could not take them off had she wished, but of course she did not wish to be blinded by the glare of the Emerald City, so she said nothing.


Then the green man fitted spectacles for the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and the Lion, and even on little Toto; and all were locked fast with the key.


Then the Guardian of the Gates put on his own glasses and told them he was ready to show them to the Palace. Taking a big golden key from a peg on the wall, he opened another gate, and they all followed him through the portal into the streets of the Emerald City.

As well as chapter 11 of the Wizard of Oz:

Even with eyes protected by the green spectacles, Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds. They walked over a pavement of the same green marble, and where the blocks were joined together were rows of emeralds, set closely, and glittering in the brightness of the sun. The window panes were of green glass; even the sky above the City had a green tint, and the rays of the sun were green.

And chapter 15 of the Wizard of Oz:

“Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.”


“But isn’t everything here green?” asked Dorothy.


“No more than in any other city,” replied Oz; “but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy. I have been good to the people, and they like me; but ever since this Palace was built, I have shut myself up and would not see any of them.

Featured image by chris tarnawski


Metaphor in the Green Pill Inquiry

Posted in Inquiry, Metaphors on August 7, 2014 by daveroom

[I resurrected this post and added an image because it shows how metaphor shows up in the Green Pill Inquiry. It was written after the 2009 Green Festival about the first Green Pill Inquiry. If you feel so inclined after reading, please tell me what you think “we look like to nature” in the comments. Read for more info.]

The green pill green festival 2009 from Dave Room

Despite some technical complications with the audio and video, we did ultimately have a successful workshop at the 2009 San Francisco Green Festival.   It started out with about 25 people, but 10 folks left when they heard that it was in fact going to be a real workshop and they would have to interact with one another.

After the introduction, the workshop had a short GREEN GOGGLES IS GREENWASHING skit based on the Wizard of Oz, and featuring several of the Bay Localize team  (Aaron Lehmer, Jenni Perez, Kirsten Schwind, Leah Fessendenn, and Nile Malloy).  That was followed by a primer on metaphors called “What’s Your Goggles”.

Why do we use metaphor? 

Some concepts are more abstract (like IGNORANCE is abstract)  and more easily understood in reference to something we understand better like spatial orientation and objects.  In this case, it is spectacles but it could also be clouds or fog…

Metaphors emphasize some aspects, while de-emphasizing or hiding others.  Certain aspects of a concept flow from the general metaphorical definition of the concept. Other aspects do not fit well within that construct, and are therefore not addressed.  Some of those hidden aspects can be addressed through complementary metaphors

Some Metaphors are Complementary

Note that Einstein famously said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

Metaphors shape how we see the world.

This is very apparent. A common metaphor is ARGUMENT IS WAR.  We speak of arguments in terms of war, such as she shot down all of my arguments.  This perspective leads us to view arguments in a very adversarial and competitive manner. [click] How might we view argument if we were in a culture that used the ARGUMENT IS DANCE metaphor.  [click] It is critical note, that our perspective determines the possible interventions.  There will be different interventions in an argument in a culture that thinks ARGUMENT IS WAR vs. a culture that thinks ARGUMENT IS DANCE

What are the different types of metaphor?

Mirrors are conventional metaphors that describe the dominant cultural narrative. Magicians are new metaphors which constitute a new way of looking at things. Mutinies are new metaphors that criticize and transform the dominant narrative.  [click] Take the concept LOVE.  LOVE IS A JOURNEY is the typical way of thinking of it – start, end, ups and downs, etc.. LOVE IS A COLLABRATIVE WORK OF ART suggests much greater control and co-creating something that others might consider beautiful.  LOVE IS A DEAD END STREET riffs off LOVE IS A JOURNEY, saying this is a journey not worth taking.

Next was a thought experiment on the notion “If Nature could see us in our entirety, what might we look like?”.   One answer is the ECONOMIC SYSTEM IS A ROBOT metaphor below.  This particular metaphor is not only explanatory abut also actionable; that is, it can be used to identify and target interventions.  It also be can to look at the big picture and also drill down on particular economic subset or holon (e.g., clean energy jobs in Richmond, the state prison system, asthma in West Oakland).

Then it was time for the main event – the breakout groups to find compelling metaphors.  Each groups selected someone to take notes and report back, and then selected a relationship to focus on.  The possibilities were:

  • Humans and Nature
  • System and Nature
  • Humans and System
  • Global North and Global South
  • Indigenous and Modern Society

The breakout groups discussed elements of relationship they wanted to emphasize, and brainstormed examples from pop culture illustrating emphasized elements.  The results of the breakout groups were:

Humans and Nature

  • Child at Christmas – me, me, me; taking not giving back
  • HUMAN IS ZOMBIE – mindlessly consuming
  • Gilligan’s Island – workign with what we have

Humans and System

  • Seen as a monolith
  • We are compelled to be part of economic system
  • Vast, complicated
  • Trope of “missing the forest for the trees”
  • Being caught in a maze and not knowing how to get out

Indigenous and Modern Society

  • Primary aspect: exploitation
  • Modern culture as slave-driver
  • Modern culture as cult leader
  • Idealization of indigenous culture – closer to nature, deeper spirituality, but lots of indigenous people buy into our “shot” more than we do
  • A young married couple that suddenly find themselves living together, trying to get along, with some really dysfunctional (patriarchal) power dynamics and a tendency to simultaneously idealize and despise the other’s gender. (Submitted via email.)


  • Choosing the right metaphor is important – they can take culture down right or wrong path
  • Comics use metaphors, sometimes in the wrong way
  • Some metaphors can be cross cultural

In addition, the Green Pill Workshop inspired Kirsten Schwind of Bay Localize to use a common Guatemalan metaphor of woven fabric in the Resilience For All panel discussion to explain the subject matter of an anti-oppression workshop featuring the Catalyst Project that Bay Localize had convened recently.

What do you think we look like to nature?

Strategic Alignment for Climate Justice

Posted in Metaphors on November 13, 2009 by daveroom

[This is a stellar example of using a pop culture metaphor to support the shift towards a better future.  Go-Pal    Go-Pal    Go-Pal! ~Dave]

(be the R2D2 you want to see in the world)

by Gopal Dayaneni

The Mess We Are In

Most readers are probably familiar with the 1977 science fiction blockbuster movie, Star Wars. Remember the trash compactor scene? That scene provides a nice metaphor for the state of global economic and ecological crisis. We are all trapped in a global trash compactor. The walls are closing in.

On one side, we have climate chaos with all its myriad consequences. On the other, we have the wall of racial, gender, economic and environmental injustice also closing in on us. In the middle, we have us – everyone. And as the walls begin closing in, what is the first thing you do? You try to push back. Many people concerned over the past 30-plus years with the rapidly increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been pushing against the wall of climate chaos. Armed with the best science, they have been demanding, and sometimes taking real action to slow the release of carbon into the atmosphere and/or get carbon out of the atmosphere.

Up against the other wall are the communities attempting to push back against the advance of ever increasing inequity, poverty, violence and injustice. Those folks (for the sake of the metaphor, we’ll call them the rebels) are primarily peoples in the global South and indigenous peoples worldwide and poor communities and communities of colour in the North. These are the people who have been the victims of colonisation, environmental racism, destructive development and economic impoverishment in the name of progress. The North (and elites in the South), instead of pushing back, are running to the centre, staying as far away from the walls closing in as they can, buying themselves some time, but only time and not very much of it. As they crowd the centre space, more and more folks are forced up against the walls, allowing those in the centre to ignore both the walls closing in and the folks getting crushed. But we are now at a place in which the walls are so close they can no longer be ignored. So what do we do?

We grab some big piece of metal and try to jam it up there, thinking that a system designed specifically to crush that stuff might be thwarted by it. Let’s call these the false solutions. They are everything from the techno-fixes such as biofuels, ‘clean coal’ and geo-engineering, to the kinds of market-based climate policies that we know won’t work, but might, at best, slow the rate of collapse. Slowing down the collapse – that is the best we can hope for from these false solutions. And the best evidence we have right now says that those false solutions will make the situation worse – accelerating both the ecological collapse and the inequity, thereby making mitigation and adaptation that much harder for the most vulnerable and least responsible.

So what do we do? We need to do exactly what they do in Star Wars. Shut the system down. We need to go R2D2 on a systemic level and address the root causes of the problem. That is what climate justice is about. As David Pellow and Lisa Sun-Hee Park of the University of Minnesota write:

People of color, indigenous communities, and global South nations bear the brunt of climate disruption in terms of ecological, economic, and health burdens. In addition, climate change infers a naturally occurring process rather than a disruption created by specific human activity. For these reasons, activists and scholars have developed the concept of climate justice, which recognizes that the struggle for racial and economic justice is inseparable from any effort to combat climate change. Climate justice begins with an acknowledgement of climate injustice and views this problem not as an unfortunate byproduct of climate disruption, but as one of its core elements, and one that must be confronted if climate disruption is to be reversed.1

But what is the R2D2 of climate justice? Here is where the metaphor breaks down. Our solutions will not come from folks on the outside of the crisis, but from coordination of forces within the climate justice movement – where we recognise that we have multiple strategic points of leverage and that we must align these approaches. Currently, the term ‘climate justice’ is used in many ways, but without some level of strategic alignment in interventions, we will not achieve the level of impact necessary to lead us towards the real solutions we need. While there is some alignment, and the different approaches to climate justice are in no way mutually exclusive, greater alignment is critical. Let’s explore these different takes on climate justice.

A Rights-Based Approach to Policy

As we approach Copenhagen, the question of what kind of global policy on the climate crisis can emerge has very much dominated the political imagination, and in this context climate justice refers to a rights-based/justice-based approach to climate policy. Organisations that take positions that are broadly in line with declarations and statements in the international context on climate justice such as the Bali Principles (2007), the Belem Declaration (2009) and others, are within the climate justice fold. Additionally, a key theme is the subordination of climate policy to UN rights declarations and conventions, such as the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Policy initiatives emerging from this approach include broad opposition to a markets-based approach to carbon (carbon trading), and even more adamantly, opposition to exotic market instruments, namely, offsets; ramp-down to low-carbon economies; a phase-out of fossil fuels; and, probably most importantly, an ecological debt-based mechanism for financing and technology transfer from the North to the South. In this category we include a broad range of groups who share positions, who work domestically and/or internationally and who employ diverse strategies, including research, international solidarity, analysis, public education, advocacy and organising. This approach to climate justice is also present in US climate policy.

A Multi-Sectoral Movement Building Agenda

In the US, the environmental justice movement has given rise to a climate justice movement that has simultaneously fought to raise the voices of those communities least responsible for and most severely impacted by climate change, namely poor people of colour and indigenous peoples, and demanded that climate policy does not further exacerbate existing economic and environmental inequality, but redress it. According to Nia Robinson, director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, “[T]he successful creation of climate policy can not happen without the input of communities that have suffered as a result of the US fossil fuel addiction. Our government must begin to recognize these communities as experts or run the risk of creating policies that will do as much harm if not more than climate change itself.”2 Just as the environmental justice movement transformed the environmental movement by repositioning human communities and equity at the centre of environmentalism and brought a racial and economic justice lens to that work, the climate justice movement has pushed the climate movement in the US. Through the movement’s orientation embodied in this use of the term ‘climate justice’, we see emerging a ‘popular movement of movements’, led from the grassroots. A key issue for the climate justice/environmental justice movement in the US is articulating that even within the North, there is a South; that this ‘South in the North’ is owed the same ecological debt (to indigenous peoples, to African Americans for the legacy of slavery and others); and that there are communities disproportionately impacted due to race and class.

Grassroots Resistance to Root Causes of Climate Change

In recent years, also stemming from the environmental justice and environmental health movements, the use of climate justice has emerged as referring to the grassroots struggles of communities in the US and Canada who are fighting against the root causes of climate change in their own backyards/front yards. Put another way, Fence-line and Frontline communities fighting oil, coal, gas, tar sands, incineration, deforestation, etc. Only more recently have these folks emerged on the scene as part of the ‘climate’ issue. For example, communities fighting refineries and power plants across the country as environmental justice struggles against point-source pollution have focused on health, poverty and environmental racism as the core themes of their struggles. Now, confronting the root causes of climate change has emerged as a critical, unifying theme. This started in the late 1990s, and really took hold after the 2nd People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington DC in 2002 (10 years after the 1992 Environmental Justice Leadership Summit). Examples are the struggle against ‘mountain top removal’ in Appalachia (the practice of blowing off entire mountaintops to reach underlying mineral deposits), coal mining on indigenous lands and tar sands development in Canada. These struggles have long been fought locally and are now flashpoints of climate justice as local fights to address the root causes of climate change, while fighting for concrete improvements in the daily lives of communities. There is a strong focus here on accountability to communities and on communities speaking for themselves, while there has been less emphasis, until recently, on the questions of climate policy.

Climate Action for Climate Justice

Also developing more in recent years is the conflation of climate justice with climate action. Some of this is emerging from mainstream environmental organisations and some from the youth climate movement. While we see lots of young people holding posters that say ‘Climate Justice’, we did not see a clear articulation of a justice/rights-based agenda on climate. In fact, many groups that are driving the youth climate movement support policies that run counter to the established principles of climate justice. We are seeing more and more of this use of the term by a broad range of groups who are now using direct action in some form or other to address climate change. There is, again, overlap. Many groups that are engaging in creative direct action or civil disobedience as part of their strategy are also advancing a rights-based framework, are supporting the leadership of those most directly impacted and are attacking the root causes of climate change. But many are not, and differentiating between the two becomes critical. One way to think of this is that climate action is not always action for climate justice. Depending on the theory of change and strategies you are employing, the action must either, and ideally in combination advance a rights-based agenda consistent with the frameworks established collectively by the international climate justice movement; take leadership from and be accountable to those most directly impacted and least responsible; or engage in community struggles at the root causes of climate change.

The strongest movement for climate justice coming out of the US will be one where we have strategic alignment between these groups, and there are many organisations and networks that represent this alignment, particularly the Mobilization for Climate Justice, and the Indigenous Environmental Network, among others. We need a rights-based approach to climate policy led by directly impacted communities and grassroots organising that takes direct action in support of and with leadership from communities on the frontlines of the chain of production of climate change. As Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network observes:

    In the US and across the globe, the movement for Climate Justice has been steadily growing, not simply demanding action on climate, but demanding rights-based and justice-based action on climate that confronts false solutions, root causes of climate change and amplifies the voices of those least responsible and most directly impacted. Not only are we the front-line of impacts, we are the front line of survival. As Indigenous Peoples, all of humanity is dependent on our traditional, sacred, evolved knowledge of Mother Earth.3

If we can create a people-powered, inside-outside approach both in the US and internationally, we have a chance for a just transition to a sustainable future.