Notice life changing all around us?

Posted June 8th, 2008 in Blog Comments Off on Notice life changing all around us?

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Just a reminder: fostering ecological hope is not about fostering false hope about our situation on the planet right now. It is not about fostering denial or trying to assure us that life can go on as it is without a lot of inconvenience or, to be honest, profound change.

Life cannot go on without profound change — at least not life as we know it, as the rich biodiverse life of which we Homo sapiens sapiens are a part.

earthrise-from-apollo-8.jpgTo emphasize the point, the Earth and our way of life within it is already undergoing permanent change, permanent, as in, no going back. We need to get the big picture of this, the interlocking nature of the transformations underway, in order to understand all the fragments of the changes, from climate craziness to accelerated population growth to living beyond the means of the Earth to record oil prices to growing water shortages to rising unemployment and a globalized economy, and on and on.

We are coming up to the limits of the planet. This changes everything. Human consumption and waste is overwhelming the Earth’s ecosystems. How we address this will determine what kind of future we pass on to our kids.

We are entering a time of crisis and we need to figure out how we are going to live through it, if we are going to live through it, what kind of world we want at the other side — a world with us or without us, a world of immense suffering and catastrophic breakdown or one in which we help ease the planet through the crisis and make possible healing and regeneration for generations to come.

The choices get stark.

What I want to do today is just list some of the indicators of the new reality we face with links to several articles. They are pieces of the puzzle that bring the picture into view — and they are just a few recent examples.

We can’t live without water.

Many parts of the world are running out of water or overshooting their available supply. In addition, climate change is turning some agricultural areas into desert. As one example — Spain. Large areas of Spain are turning into desert. The dry climate of Northern Africa is sweeping over this part of southern Europe.

While this is happening, as this article notes, developers continue to overshoot the available water resources. Spain is headed into crisis — by climate change and by greed.

Meanwhile, Gov. Schwarzenegger has just declared the entire state of California in drought. Reservoirs are receding, winter snowpack is diminishing and the melt coming earlier. It is the eighth year of drought in the Colorado River Basin. low-water-level-lake-mead-nasa-earth-observatory.pngWater levels in Lake Mead will reach critical levels in the next 5 or so years.

Now something extraordinary is happening in the state of California. Developers are actually being slowed or stopped in their tracks by regulations that mandate that development plans must show a minimum 20-year available water supply in order to proceed — and many can no longer do this.

Okay, let’s just stop to get the significance of this — California has overshot the water available for its unsustainable growth and, with climate change, is beginning to run out of water. This state that symbolizes the epitome of the American Dream of limitless growth and development has just come up to its limit.

We cannot yet live without oil.

No, which means our economy, already reeling from record oil prices, is in the beginning stages of a permanent alteration. We are going to be living very differently from here on out. This is not just about the vehicles we drive but about so many of the things we consume every day. We already know from the news what this will mean for our mobility — we are going to be less mobile, a lot less mobile.

The airline industry is in crisis, and the only thing that will restore the ease and choice of travel will be oil prices going back to where they were a year or two ago, which will not happen ever again.

Now we read that high oil prices are beginning to impact manufacturers across the board. Of course this was inevitable. From this linked article in the NY Times this morning:

Procter & Gamble… expects to spend an additional $2 billion on oil-based raw materials and commodities. That is double last year’s increase, and it is carved from total revenue of just under $80 billion…

Natural oils have been substituted for ingredients made from petroleum; for example, palm oil now goes into a variety of laundry soaps. But like rubber, the cost of palm oil and other natural commodities is rising…

No business in America produces more of the oil-based ingredients that go into the nation’s products than the Dow Chemical Company, based in Midland, Mich. From Dow’s petrochemical operations come the basic ingredients of a wide variety of plastic bottles and packaging, including numerous containers once made of glass or tin.

Indeed, paint, computer and television screens, mobile phones, light bulbs, cushions, paper, mattresses, car seats, carpets, steering wheels and polyesters are all made with ingredients that Dow and other chemical companies refine from oil and natural gas.

Dow normally raises prices piecemeal. Last month, though, the surge in the cost of oil and natural gas, the company’s principal raw materials, produced a rare across-the-board price increase of as much as 20 percent.

Just examples of how the escalating costs of oil impact the products of two corporations. Just a couple of examples of the costs of our addiction to oil in virtually every part of our lives.

One more example for the day, one affecting my home state of Wisconsin. GM is about to close its plant in Janesville, a factory with 2,400 workers. Multiply each worker by average number of family members, add in the impact on the local ecomony (from buying groceries to going to the movies to eating out), and this is one of those stories with a great ripple effect.

What did they make at the factory? SUVs. Suddenly out of fashion. GM could have planned for this long ago, since predictions of stark oil price increases have been around for years, not to mention the need to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions. Lack of foresight means loss of jobs means great economic impact.

Fostering ecological hope does not mean pretending that none of this is happening. Ecological hope is not optimism, as we insist over and over. A fantastical world of growth without limits, of oil-based mobility, of consumption of goods beyond our wildest dreams, of endless wealth generation, of a world that can endlessly absorb rapid human population growth with all our consumption and waste, is a fantasy coming to a rapid end.

So, what do we do? spirituality-and-ecological-hope-logo-by-diane-therese-pinchot-osu.jpgWe need to get busy about creating the new world that can emerge from this crisis, based on new values, a new sense of what is important in life. We need to begin restoring a sense of community, not just among humans but within ecosystems and bioregions, we need to restore a sense of our true identity as a species of the planet, a conscious one that is right now still making some very bad decisions. We need to restore a sense not just of the common good but of the good of the commons, and a new humility about the place of the human within the biosphere.

I came across a wonderful Op-Ed today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel written by Dale Olen, an ecological psychologist and conservation chair of the Great Waters Group, Sierra Club. It is very much in sync with the focus of this blog and the website to come, the core of this project of Spirituality and Ecological Hope, and with my new book, Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope. I leave you with this link, A shift to a new ethics? and this brief excerpt:

Our honored and useful human-centered moral system has correctly focused on individual freedoms and rights. We understood that we had the right to use all the resources of the earth to serve our human growth – the right to clean air, fresh water, food, safety, land and property. We possessed the right to equality, free speech, to work for pay and so on. We also believed we had the right to increase our wealth, expand our material possessions, our property and the number of children we brought into the world.

Finally, our ethics has held that the earth’s resources were infinite and our ability to grow and increase was also infinite. For a long time, the human population successfully lived according to this human-centered ethic.

But now we see a shift…

When humans act to protect and renew the resources of the Earth, they act in the most morally and ethically responsible way possible…

We are starting to consider the environmental principle as the basis of our moral life. In reality, the environment has veto power over a human-centered ethics of expansion, growth and consumption…

Please read the whole thing. Let us know what you think.

Coming next: flooded in the Midwest, sweltering out east, drying out in the west — get ready for a new climate

[tags] living beyond the end of the world, earth carrying capacity, record oil prices, water shortages, parts of Spain turning into desert, drought declared in California, GM to close plant in Janesville, end of American Dream, airline industry in crisis, Dale Olen[/tags]

Photo credits:

Desertification in Spain, Monica Gumm for the International Herald Tribune
Low water level, Lake Mead, NASA Earth Observatory
GM Janesville plant, Ron Kuenstler, KansasCity.com
Spirituality and Ecological Hope logo by Diane Therese Pinchot, OSU

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