Evolving out of this mess is going to take time. What should we do in the meantime?

Posted February 13th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on culture and meaning:

Evolution takes a long time. The most important thing, the absolutely most important thing, for everyone to remember is that we need time. We can solve all of our problems only if we can create a sustainable civilization that gives us the time to figure out how to do it. ~ Nancy Ellen Abrams

I was watching this great video, a lecture by the two authors of the new book, The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World, astrophysicist/cosmologist Joel Primack and cultural philosopher Nancy Ellen Abrams. It was in the Q&A time at the end that Ms. Abrams offered up this great quote. Have been thinking about it all day.

I have been sharing with some friends and colleagues lately my growing fears that humanity is on a destructive course that cannot be stopped, that it simply has to play itself out, and that no matter what we do, there is a driver in the trajectory of techno-industrial society that runs faster than we can catch up to meet it – much less bring it down, or halt it in its destructive tracks.

Really, you cannot ask people to turn off the lights to save the basic conditions for human life in the long term. They won’t stop driving big vehicles. They won’t decide to buy a computer that lasts 5-6 years, instead of the new model coming out next month. They won’t even turn off all those little red or green lights when they leave the house or go to sleep, you know, the ones on the stove and the coffeemaker and the DVR or Tivo, and the router and the modem and, and, and…

I was a social justice activist of one sort or another all my life. What drives an activist? We want to save life right now! We want justice right now! We want to ease human suffering right now! We want to alter this destructive trajectory right now! I mean, as I often do here, just look at some of my recent bookmarked articles, things I want to share and write about, articles across the tabs at the top of the screen which after a few days begin to look like a deep-throated, heartfelt, gut-wrenching earth lament.

Can the Southwest Survive Climate Change? Worth the listen. Great reflection on the hubris of our way of life and how we have managed to create scarcity out of abundance. Don’t move to Arizona, okay?

A little update on the Amazon rainforest from the journal, Nature – not good news.

Extremely bad news for New Orleans as the state prepares for a 3-4 ft sea level rise by the end of the century.

Awful impacts of climate change = severe drought on one of northern Mexico’s indigenous peoples, exacerbated by the politics of economic priorities favoring big business interests over, you know, human beings.

And then there’s our old friend – the matter of how the carbon we are spewing into the atmosphere at accelerated rates year after year is causing extreme climate disruptions all over the planet – but, shhhh!! we’re not supposed to talk about it. I suppose I’ll hear from the global warming deniers again (a debate I refuse to engage on this website, sorry, guys.).

And then Ms. Abrams said, “Evolution takes a long time…[and] we need time.”

And what if we don’t have time?

But what I take from this, as I sat here listening to the radio program on climate change in the southwest, after viewing the lecture, after sending out meeting notes from one of the groups with which I collaborate that focuses on creating an alternative way of life based in conviviality, things like, “friendship, fellowship, and foolish renunciation” [see, The New Confluence Project] – what I take from this is two things: 1) we have to do everything we can to slow down, obstruct, undermine, the trajectory; 2) we have to create the kinds of resilient communities that can not only play that role, but create the new way of life that will emerge out of the chaos.

Because the crumbling of techno-industrial society, the major disruptions that will come (think Greece, for example), the demise of a whole culture of human civilizations based on exploiting the planet for human desires (well beyond need) will not happen with ease. That doesn’t seem to be how we do things. Still, how the crumbling occurs in our communities, how we cope with that, and how we live through it, will determine the kind of life, and its quality, that follows the crumbling – on a planet that will be very different from the one of our near ancestors – and even of our own era.

What Abrams says really struck me – what we need is time. We don’t shift from one era to another overnight or with one more protest or one more election cycle. If we expect big cultural shifts out of these activities, we tempt depression, despair, anger at the recalcitrant ones, intense frustration at the slow pace of change. Because the issues we address are so serious, it is hard to accept that there is just so much we will be able to do, just so much impact we can have, while the drivers of this era continue to play themselves out.

We need to change our perspective on our role in all this. Of course, in my one lifetime, I would like to see evidence that we will pull through this without heading down the path to extinction, or to generations of unimaginable suffering as food and water scarcities set in, as diseases start wiping out whole populations, as parts of the planet are left uninhabitable and millions are left wandering aimlessly from their homes in search of survival.

Do it for the kids, and their kids, and their kids...

To avoid that future we need time. To create another future we need time. We need a long time. We need to start seeing in each of our lives, in each of our offerings – actions, cultural endeavors, teaching, spiritual seeking, what we consume and how we consume, what we give back to the planet, how we raise our kids, what shapes meaning for us in ways that open the future rather than close it – we need to start seeing our lives in the context of this long, long time.

And so it seems to me that if long time is needed, we need to start creating the spaces for, well, time – real time, quality time, quiet time, community time, sharing time, creative time – so that what wants to unfold can unfold through us and begin to be created through us.

The most important thing we can do, in whatever way our gifts add to this endeavor, is to create the civilization that can give us the time to figure out how to move from this era into the new one that is being begged from all we are discovering about who we are in this planet and within the cosmos. Next to the vision given us by the Hubble Space Telescope, for example, and the discoveries made by visionary cosmologists and physicists, capitalist, profit-driven, consumer-driven civilization looks almost ridiculous alongside this vast opening within the human spirit as we move towards the light of that vision. But it takes time. We have made most of humanity dependent on that crumbling civilization, crumbling in meaning as well as ecologically and economically. It will take time to make this transition.

So part of our essential task – and mission – is to create the space – and the time – for this new civilization to emerge, one commensurate with all that we are learning about the history of the cosmos and our place in it.

Primack and Abrams argue that this new shared cosmology can transform the world. I agree, because it is the first time that humans have had a true shared vision based in a common discovery based in science. This does not replace our sense of mystery, of cultural and mythic diversity. Rather, like all of nature, we see how the diversity of cultural expression, of language and mystery, is also necessary to what binds us and gives us life.

So this is my pitch for making this a priority, to create that long and necessary time that evolution needs for us to figure out ‘how to do it.’

 Margaret Swedish
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3 Responses

  1. Michael Chadd

    I totally agree that we need time to sort out how we humans can live in mass population in a sustainable manner. I fear that it is like we are on a huge ship that desperately needs a coarse change before we run into the ice berg or the tipping point, but huge ships take a long time to change coarse even after the coarse change is plotted. It appears that people in the mainstream will not take action,change and demand change till they are suffering to an extreme degree and it will most likely be too late and past the tipping points. The destruction of the Amazon Rainforest is yet another sign of this inability to see the future when it is in anyway an abstract not clearly visible image right now. We need major change right now to even have a possible chance for a viable coarse change.

  2. Margaret

    Michael – wish I didn’t agree with you. But, yes, if we hope for a chance at a rich viable future that begins to embrace what we have come to know about who we are and where we are in the great cosmic narrative, we have to start now to create it, to live it, or live into it. It will mean turning off the noise of the culture and developing our skills of paying attention, listening, learning, trying things out, building community, cultivating resilience and compassion – all of which require time, that thing most of us say we do not have. The major change required begins right here, right now, with us. So, you know, we’d best start taking the time. That alone implies a radically different way of life.

  3. D.Bheemeswar

    Politicians do not have time even to think about it except talking big big things and finally going with money making mafia. It is big puzzle to be solved yet there is no time for that. If any one of those politicians or those who are in money making business are humans these problems would not have come, for their greediness and creed to be in power all this mess has been done.