As we go on our merry way…

Posted June 8th, 2012 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on As we go on our merry way…

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

I stopped just now to watch Pres. Obama’s press conference addressing the US economy and the crisis in Europe, among other things. What struck me was how off the mark  it all feels given that really big thing that’s going on right now:  Earth Reaching an Environmental “State Shift.”  This is an article reporting on new research published in the journal, Nature, indicating that we are indeed in real trouble. Reports Margaret Munro of Postmedia News:

Humans are so altering Earth’s biosphere that an international team is warning “a state shift” could be just decades away.

They don’t use the word doomsday, but they come close.

“Humans now dominate Earth, changing it in ways that threaten its ability to sustain us and other species,” the researchers report Thursday in the journal Nature.

The researchers stress it is not known how close Earth is to a global tipping point, or if it is inevitable.

But they suggest that the planet’s ecosystems could shift into a new state within just a few decades or a few generations if human population and consumption rates continue to soar.

So here was Obama talking about debt and jobs and the Euro crisis and none of this matters a whit if we don’t address the elephant in the room. Indeed, that elephant is getting so large that the only thing more terrifying is our human capacity for denial on a scale that still surpasses the elephant, that is bigger and deeper than the planetary disaster that we are perpetrating. I mean, we are still talking about creating jobs, as if the attempt to continue this model of economy and labor has any future at all!

It can get a person down, you know?

Here’s more:  U.N. report warns environment is at tipping point

The earth’s environmental systems “are being pushed towards their biophysical limits,” beyond which loom sudden, irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes, the United Nations Environment Program warned Wednesday.

Oh, there goes that United Nations again! Bunch of socialists trying to bring down the United States of America!

The new UNEP report, prepared in advance for the Rio+20 Conference On Sustainable Development (still a woeful term because it implies something that is not true), notes that almost no progress has been made on most of the sustainability goals set over and over again at these UN gatherings. It is a very depressing record. From the UNEP, World Remains on Unsustainable Track Despite Hundreds of Internationally Agreed Goals and Objectives:

“If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled’, then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

What to do – not only to break the spell of human denial, but to keep our collective chin up as we move into very challenging times. What’s so troubling is that very few approaches to our ‘state shifting’ of the planet is on a scale commensurate with the scale of the changes required to stave off this rapidly unfolding disaster. We are moving towards planetary conditions in which humans have never lived.  And we still think somehow life will just go on, with some minor inconveniences, perhaps, but still with our mobility and our subdivisions and our fancy TV screens and thousands of apps on our smart phones to keep us entertained and endless varieties of food in our restaurants and on our dinner tables and vacations at Disneyland.

How did this creation of complex brains, brains so smart we can explore the origins of the universe, fail so miserably when it comes to understanding our place in the scheme of things and the impacts of our human behavior on our world all around us? How did the same brains that can study the limits of the planet and the threat of continued economic growth develop the capacity to deny that these limits and threats have anything to do with how we live?

How did the same brains that do studies like the UNEP’s and the ones reported in the mainstream journal, Nature, create the ability to deride these studies and act like they tell us nothing about our real human condition?

This is a mystery to me. The tension within this contradiction is becoming so extreme that something here is bound to give, to break, if we are lucky, to break open.

That’s what I feel my/our job is – to encourage that breaking open, in part by insisting on the truth of our situation. We don’t have time anymore to minimize the fear created by this research (well, c’mon world, this is not just research anymore, this is our actual lived experience!).

The world heats up, 20 years from now. Source: NCAR/UCAR AtmosNews

We have to move deeply into the fear now, and into the grief of all that is already lost and will be lost if we don’t change the behavior of this species quickly, and find there our font of wisdom and courage, our passionate commitment to live another way, our source of strength and even hope in the community of all beings, sentient and non-sentient, waiting for our cooperation.

Tough as this news continue to be, I still hold to this belief that if we would embrace our moment of unprecedented crisis full on, with passion and exuberance, with love and compassion, setting aside old frameworks of meaning that no longer work or help us, taking to the task without judgment but with simple and profound commitment to the Earth community in which we live and move and have our being – we would find in this embrace the deepest meaning ever offered to human beings since australopithecus!

Deeper meaning, deeper relationships, deeper community, deeper engagement with life – that’s what this crisis offers us.

I don’t know any other way to move through this. Politics has failed us, religion is largely failing us, educational institutions are mostly failing us (they have their scientists do the research, and then make sure it has no impact on the orientation of their institutions), the popular culture is completely failing us, journalism is failing us, refusing to report this news in any effective or substantive way.

So what are we left with? Us. What we are left with is – us. I know that can feel like a heavy burden, but we, us, are all over this planet right now creating life anew. It may not be in time to avoid ‘state-shifting,’ indeed it probably will not be, but it may be in time to figure out how to live, however hard this will be, in that shifted state until we, along with our fellow beings, the entire Earth community, figure out how to live in that new state.

Just imagine how rich and meaningful life could be if this is the commitment we choose to make now. The impact of our lives will be huge in that case, and we can pass on to the next generations the beginning of a path, a set of directions, for how to move their lives through this crisis time.  I could live with a legacy like that. That would be more than enough for me. How about you?

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