The Climate Activist Who Is a Goat!

Rebecca Gilbert, who runs a teaching farm, is very concerned about the effects of climate change and the overuse of petroleum. She sees a parallel with the last of the quest for whale oil and has an unusual accomplice in sharing her vision. George Fred the Goat is Ready

This year, the tamest baby goat ever born on our farm arrived on May 8th. Usually the kids don't pay much attention to us until they become interested in corn around the time of weaning. George Fred was friendly and attracted to people, right from the start. I began to wonder if I could keep him as a pet, in addition to the job he was born and bred for, which is clearing invasive species (like poison ivy and bitter sweet) from overgrown areas on the island. (As the Department of the Interior, and cities around the country are learning, it’s much better to accomplish this job with goats, than with herbicides and heavy equipment.)

Around this same time there was a big demonstration in Washington DC, where the Cowboy/Indian alliance rode their ornamented horses into town, to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. There was a poster saying “Our Horses are Ready.” This triggered a dream in which I brought George Fred on a leash to a similar demonstration. I have spent awhile thinking about the ethics of this idea. George Fred is just a small goat. Should he be dragged into difficult and dangerous circumstances because of my beliefs? On the other hand, if the island sinks due to climate change, his home is gone, along with ours. Goats are not safe in times of war and global conflict, during extreme storms, or when there are food shortages. Climate change affects them too.

I have come to believe that George Fred is, by nature, a climate activist.

George Fred is named for George Fred Tilton, the whaling captain who once lived in our farmhouse. Tilton was the last captain of the whale-ship Charles Morgan, until her restoration this year. Tilton was also famous for walking out of the arctic when the fleet was frozen in. He was a strong man and a well-respected captain, popular with his crew. He knew perfectly well that they were eliminating a formerly sustainable resource by hunting the last whales to extinction. It paid to sail from New England all the way around South America and up to the Bering Sea to get them, and so they did. It's how the lights stayed on. Our economy and culture were saved from collapse (and whales were too) only by the discovery of 'earth oil' or petroleum.

Here we are again, coming to the end of an energy resource. We know that pipelines and fracking and vast toxic waste spills will not save us from having to move past 'earth oil.' We know that we are going to have to find another way to keep the lights on, or we will face the darkness. Either way, the status quo cannot endure. Yet aren't we just like Captain George Fred, going after the last few whales? This seems to be human nature... it may be our species’ fatal flaw.

Goats, on the other hand, are always seeking the new, the diverting, the fascination of the unexpected. They fearlessly explore new territory, vocally keeping in touch with the herd as they go. We could learn a lot from them about how to change our paths. Perhaps it is too late. But the springy and youthful spirits of a young goat can ignite hope, melt anger, provoke thought, and make people smile. George Fred, the goat, is ready.