Local author and activist Don Ogden writes to make environmental change

By Sarah Gamard

Local writer and political activist Don Ogden has a goal of resolving the problem of local climate change. In his newly published collection, “Bad Atmosphere: A Collection of Poetry & Prose on the Climate Crisis,” Ogden criticizes the forces behind what he calls “Corporate America” and urgently calls readers to become more actively conscious consumers.

“From cradle to grave, we’re indoctrinated to be a consumer,” Ogden said in an interview with the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

“There’s so much coming at us nowadays, we don’t have time to just think and reflect on things,” he said. Ogden illustrates this philosophy in many poems found in the collection.

He also heavily references “The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” a document signed by about 1,700 scientists addressing humans’ effects on the environment, which he first encountered in the 1990’s. The urgency and power of the message inspired Ogden to fight against climate change. He was so impressed by the warning, he printed it out on little leaflets and passed it on to people and handed it out whenever possible.

Ogden conveys the same message in his book, where he believes that nearly two decades later, the world still has only another decade, maybe two, to reform before the prospects for humanity are immeasurably diminished. His book reads differently than the generic step by step guides and skips right to the immediate state of the situation.

He agrees that change has begun at a micro-level and validates the importance of little efforts.

However, he emphasizes the big picture by saying, “I think people need to be aware that while it’s important to do those things, those things are nothing compared to the scale of the kind of trashing of the planet that corporations are doing and the governments are doing.” Ogden recommends we should “just be conscious as much as possible.”

In spite of the gloominess of the climate crisis, Ogden said there is hope, but it requires “getting out in the streets and organizing with your friends and acquaintances.” He believes that “people lead, and others will follow.”

Political activism is very prevalent in the Pioneer Valley, a major progressive region in the United States. Ogden emphasizes the importance of this by saying, “It can’t take a few generations. We don’t have the time.

“It may take a worsening of mega-storms and environmental situation for things to really turn around,” he said.

Revolution is not a possibility in his mind because guerrillas would be easily stopped by government powers. The best method is non-violent protest, which for Ogden comes from publishing politically-charged poetry. Ogden agrees that many of the more “established” poets disapprove of political poetry, but it may be the most powerful and provocative kind of writing.

“Outreach has always been, in my mind, the most important thing to do,” he said.

As a New York native, Ogden describes his 30 or so years of residency in Western Massachusetts as a place conducive to getting in touch with the natural world. His own house is hand-built from recycled materials found from somewhere in the valley. Though writing is his preferred form of self-expression, Ogden has been politically active in other ways.

Ogden and his associates started Mass Earth First!, an environmental movement that advocated non-violent direct action, such as filling the tanks of bulldozer with sugar. Ogden is also involved with the movement to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, which spreads awareness of the dangers of fracking. He is also involved with the local eco-friendly radio broadcast, the Enviro Show.

The Enviro Show, stationed in Florence on Valley Free Radio 103.3 FM, is reaching its 10th anniversary this August. It airs every other Tuesday from 6 to 7 p.m. and is rebroadcasted every Thursday at 2 p.m.

“It was just sort of a logical extension to have a radio show to spread the word because there’s only so many leaflets you can hand out and tables you can do,” Ogden said.

Sarah Gamard can be reached at [email protected]