Ecological hope is really about love – and so this post is about love
Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning
by Margaret Swedish
What is the beginning of any true effort to change the world in a way that is more inclusive, just, compassionate, peaceful, healthful, a way that promotes goodness, kindness, and the well-being of all?
It starts with love, doesn’t it? It begins in relationship. Something/someone we care about, are connected to, that wants fullness of life, an easing of suffering, freedom from want and misery – that wants joy and exuberance and abundant expression of who/what they really are in their essence. We not only see this, we feel it at our core. And so does most work to change the world begin in love, with something about which we care deeply, a place where we feel the hurt – and want to relieve it.
Where the suffering begins is in the stifling of this essence, repressing it, committing violence against it, trying to dominate it so that one has control or possession of as much of what life has to offer as one can manage to acquire for oneself.
Western civilization has tended in that direction, especially in its economic expression. It built a whole economic model on acquiring for oneself whatever one can through various forms of competition, setting us against one another, or at least putting our various forms of self-interest at odds with one another.
We have certainly done this in relation to our fellow sentient and non-sentient beings, making our natural places into owned property, pitting economic interests against the interests of the well-being of all of those beings, heightening human tendencies toward fear, acquisition, and power rather than heightening some of those other qualities that might make our world a kinder, gentler, more just place in which to live and move and have our being.
I am writing this because I want to share some thoughts on my work for the rest of this year and beyond – and to ask for your support, which is much needed.
When I returned to Wisconsin after 25 years in the Washington D.C. area, it was for very personal reasons. My mother was suffering from broken bones, early signs of dementia, and the diminishment of old age. I came to walk with her through this journey to her death, an extraordinary experience – of love.
Now, I have always had warm feelings for my state of birth, but what I hadn’t counted on was how profoundly I would fall in love again, be smitten all over again, by Wisconsin, the Upper Midwest, Lakes Michigan and Superior, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the lakes and rivers and woods, the slower pace of life, and on and on. Writing a memoir that looks at the lens of my family’s immigrant history as a way to view, and critique, the Myth of the American Dream, has only deepened this love, one that I experience now as with me long before I was born – if you know what I mean by that. I inherited it. It was something given, not acquired. It feels part of me long before there was me!
What happens when you fall in love? What happens when you then see your loved one suffering? What happens when you see your loved one violated and abused, forced into submission, put to the service of masters who do not have the best interests of the loved one at heart, but rather their own mastery and power? What happens when your loved one becomes sick, and you know the causes but can’t get anyone to deal with them, or ease them, or prevent them?
I think you don’t sit home doing nothing, or go on unchanged by the situation. If we are alive with blood flowing through our veins, we tend to spring into action, or at the very least to do what we can to ease the suffering and to offer our love in an abiding fidelity to the relationship.
Ecological hope begins in this kind of love.
I have lived in the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. I have lived in Quebec where I discovered the Laurentian Mountains, La Riviere du Nord, fall color that made me weep with the beauty of it, and deep snows that could even satisfy this snow-lover here! I lived in the mid-Atlantic where I was able to befriend the ocean shores of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley and more. I have visited family in the Pacific Northwest, spent time in the Cascade Mountain range pondering the volcanic fury of this planet. I have watched sunrises over Lake Michigan and sunsets on the shores of Lake Superior.
And, to add a bit of the exotic, I have walked the warm sands of the Pacific Coast of El Salvador, passed through the forests of Quiche in Guatemala, and boated out on Lake Atitlan in the shadows of tropical volcanic mountains that can still take my breath away just thinking about them. I spent 8-days backpacking through the Cevennes Mountains of South-Central France, and sat hours on the edges of the Grand Canyon. You know, I could go on, right? Big Sur, the Oregon Coast, the coast of Maine…
I have fallen in love over and over again!
So it’s hard to see so much destruction of our earth for the sake of the economic growth gods, this industrial project that we have come to believe is the only way to create a decent “standard of living” for the human, even though it is leading us to a form of ecocide that jeopardizes our own human future.
The social justice work that I did for so long out of love is the ecological justice work that I do now out of love, melding the two into one, because we can’t have one without the other. Social and ecological justice means a commitment to a very broad view of what “the good life” is on a crowded planet with finite resources, which is beginning to show severe signs of too much exploitation, too much extraction and waste, too much utilitarian use, until none of our most deep-seated crises can be resolved without dealing with the ecological whole.
We cannot end war or poverty in a world that will be competing desperately for dwindling sources of water and arable land. But we also cannot begin to heal and restore the planet’s damaged ecosystems if we allow the fierce concentration of wealth and the power of big corporations to continue in this vicious version of an economic Social Darwinism.
This video was posted on Facebook this morning, and I want to include it here as a segue into how I intend to express my love through this project over the next year or more. It is about the Alberta tar sands once again, but, as an example of what I mean, it is apt.
We are in a moment where we have to make a profound decision as a nation, a culture, and as a species. The fact that the high price of fossil fuels and new technology have given us access to sources of energy not available to us before – for example, that Canada can destroy boreal forests to strip tar off the earth and squeeze oil out of it, that we can drill deeper into the earth’s core for oil that was until now out of our reach, that we have devised fracking to coax bubbles of oil and gas out of shale rock – means that we will have to decide whether or not to go off these fuels not because of imminent depletion but in order to salvage the earth’s atmosphere and much of its biosphere.
And right now, the signs that we humans have the capacity to make this decision in favor of the planet are not looking too promising!
Now here’s the personal part, the place where love resides for me, where this becomes something other than a profound and challenging issue of ecological and social justice that we must address, but something deeply relational and intimate. If you watched this short video, you saw again a simple map that has become my fierce focus, the place where my love is being horribly violated. When the map appears, look at where Wisconsin lies in this scheme of things, this ominous, threatening, dangerous scheme of things.
And that’s not the least of it. As I have written here before, tar sands oil is already being shipped by rail through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Plans are in the works to ship more of it by supertanker through the Great Lakes, right through the one remaining almost pristine jewel that is Lake Superior.
And there is still more in line for my state, if these industrial interests have their way. Wisconsin (and Minnesota and Iowa) have been “cursed” by nature to have the perfect sand for fracking, sand that is combined with massive amounts of groundwater and toxic chemicals to shoot into the lines deep in the earth that break up the gas or oil bubbles in shale rock. Before most of my state is even aware of it, we are nearing 100 active frac-sand mines, yet another form of strip-mining, on some of our richest western county farmlands.
And still more: the plans to lease 22 miles of our North Woods to a company named Gogebic Taconite for an open pit iron ore mine (all of which is slated for export to Asia). GTAC is owned by Cline Group, a coal mining company infamous in part for mountaintop removal practices in Appalachia and strip-mining for coal in Illinois.
You begin to see my point here. My state is like a Ground Zero for the super-exploitation of our planet that is being ramped up to feed the voracious appetite for industrial development that the West and Japan and Russia have modeled for the world.
And so my fierce focus for the remainder of this year into the next: to bear witness to this destruction, to work with others in my community and communities around the Midwest who are working to end these practices; and to begin envisioning the new economic way of life that could put this species back into balance with the ecosystems that brought us about in the first place and kept us alive and evolving over the past hundreds of thousands of years. We are having a hard time showing our proper gratitude to this planet for all that it has given us.
I will be traveling to some of these places this year. I will be writing and speaking about these things. I will be collaborating with environmental and faith-based groups to bring a deeper awareness to the people of this region about what all this violence against nature really means for our future. I will be working with other groups and individuals to begin articulating concretely what a different way of life might look like.
And so I am asking for your support. Since we began this project in 2007, our support has come from individual donors, various religious congregations, and program stipends (speaking engagements, facilitated group processes, and retreats). We have tremendous potential here, and we would like to liberate it!
We would be especially grateful for your support over these summer months as we make plans for a big push on the issue of tar sands oil transhipment across the Midwest this fall, along with more education and advocacy around the frac-sand mining industry.
And, of course, I will continue to write my essays on this blog, hoping you will not only read them, but share them, along with the link to this website, on your own websites, newsletters, and more.
We are changing the planet. We can choose to change it again…