Creating new ways of life – the roots of authentic hope

Posted December 4th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Sorry for the long silence. I am concentrating fiercely on finishing my multi-generational memoir and it needs its time.

But I am also concentrating fiercely on the increasingly perilous nature of our  deepening ecological crisis. What we are finding on the East Coast is that it is best to prepare for what’s coming than wait for it to clobber us, to shock us, into awareness. When I read about real estate developers who are furious when anyone proposes that these beach communities and sea level towns should not be rebuilt, that it is time to begin an organized retreat from the coasts, I realize how deep our nature-deficit disorder has become and how pathological the outcomes of the disorder.

When we talk about creating new ways of life in a world in which so much will be collapsing all around us, an essential aspect of what we mean is the need to create resilient local communities that are not reliant on the global economy and satellite connectedness for what we need to exist, and even thrive amidst adversity.

We see in New York City and the Jersey Shore what this means, that those neighborhoods and communities in which people know one another, have raised their kids in the same neighborhoods, know who lives where, play softball together in the summer, etc. are the communities that are most resilient dealing with the vast destruction of their local world.

The ones doing the most poorly are, for example, highrise public housing in which the poor, elderly, disabled, and marginal residents have been left pretty much abandoned, still existing, barely, in apartments without heat, running water, or electricity.

One kind of group exercise that surfaces this challenge is to imagine oneself, one’s family, neighborhood, town in a situation like that of Breezy Point in the Rockaways and what one would do in the face of this kind of calamity – who would you call, where would you get necessities, how would you take care of one another, how you would address the shock and then the corrosive grief, anger, and fear that would steadily seep into the spirit as the realization of what has happened, and its permanence, sink in.

And then what decisions would you make out of the disaster – to try to remake the old life? continue on as before?

It helps to think about these things before they happen so you can begin creating patterns of response that are other than shock, deprivation, and misery.

Always before yet another woeful UN-sponsored conference on climate change, researchers prepare reports on the latest in the deterioration of the planet and then try to get world leaders to actually pay attention to them and act accordingly, which is what sane people would do. And here are some of the dire reports:

  • that in 2011 we reached record levels of carbon in the atmosphere and will likely surpass that in 2012;
  • that the evidence is in that the permafrost is indeed melting across the northern hemisphere heralding a monumental release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which, if not reversed, could be the tipping point that moves the planet into irreversible warming threatening human extinction in the next couple of centuries;
  • that the drought across much of the Great Plains is deepening and portends a devastating impact on agriculture next year;
  • that we are likely to pass another record high temperature across the planet in 2012;
  • and on a smaller scale, but for that reason more intimate and personal, the studies that show a link between traffic pollution and autism, one possible explanation for the sharp increase of this disease among our children;
  • and this one, that we should avoid taking naps on couches because more than half of those manufactured right now contain a highly toxic flame retardant chemical that we should not be breathing in, but, as we reported once before, just try to get these chemicals out of our lives even though they are causing cancer, brain diseases, hormone disruptions in children, and more.

In a sane world, we would look at all these things and make changes accordingly, quickly, with a sense of mission. Hard to believe that we think making corporate profits or creating jobs in these industries is more importance than our own health and our chances for long term survival on the Earth.

But there you are…

And so the need to create new ways of life, to get outside this system as much as possible and learn, as much as possible, not to need it to survive. These experiments are happening everywhere. I will post some examples at another point, but any of us can begin creating them at any time in our lives that we’re ready.

Like not shopping for Christmas… Like not shopping at supermarkets with bad food… Like getting to know your neighbors, or bringing small groups of friends and loved ones together to talk about these things, to share the sobering news and then begin dreaming together about what a different way of life might look like, what kind of work would be meaningful in it, what kind of recreation and leisure time, what neighborhoods might look like, what you would do with your days and nights, all those hours we would have available to be creative if we weren’t so consumed in 60+ hour work weeks and paying credit card bills.

The news is dire, but it is only hopeless if nothing changes, or, better said, if we don’t change anything. Hope is not something I can give anyone. I can’t tell you here that things will be okay. They won’t. We’re in for hard times. But hope is a work of the hands and heart, it is a project, not a sentiment. You have to work at it. You have to make it real by how you live.

I know this: there is absolutely no hope in the belief that we can find a way to continue on as before. That’s the pathology of the beach developers and their corporate backers; that’s the pathology of Black Friday and making shopping the heart of the Christmas season, the success or failure of retail being the measure of this form of worship, the incarnation of our savior.

Hold out your hands before you. Hold out your hands and hold those of the people around you. Hold out your hands and reach out to the natural world in such distress and suffering right now. Then become as still as you can and listen to your heart.

That’s where hope is, and it is from there that we create the new ways of living, it is there that our hope of survival rests.

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2 Responses

  1. Sandra

    Yours is the first article I have read that focuses on being prepared. The idea of thinking this through and asking ourselves questions is brilliant. To imagine what our lives would be like and look like is a key for me. I love this and I am going to formulate and story for myself….how I would like it to be.

    I have been in sympathy with the eco movement and do some things to help. Separate garbage, not support companies harmful to our planet, and such……I can do more.

    You have given me an eye opener, more to think about and share.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am going to FB share this and blog about it once I imagine my world done right.

    I came here from Katharina Wren’s Facebook page.

  2. D.Bheemeswar

    It is good topic and nice to read. To my knowledge people have to understand what is the meaning of the life and learn meaningfulness, then only the culture comes into picture. The best culture is the only one who treats all other life as life including humans as humans. We as being humans may use so many materials including the life forms for our survival. We being humans also try to impose our beliefs on others if not try other methods for they to accept. History of the world shows this. there are so many wars occurred due to cultural differences and also just for possessing women or for slaves or looting others. Unfortunate thing is all are learned person who are all involved in all these cases. Who ever goes up the ladder one day has to come down, the same way what ever amount of money or valuable one gets or any number women may have has nothing to do with life it is all false prestige and pride makes them to go for this sort of showism. They should know how to treat another human as human let what ever he or she may be.Then only humanity grows and there shall be meaning in the life and also purpose. Purpose is to live unitedly even though there may exist cultural difference one should know how to move forward with out creating fuss over or mockery over it.