I’m worried about big things

Posted February 15th, 2009 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on I’m worried about big things

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

It is my job right now to search out the ecological condition of our world.  That is the work of this project — that, and then working with all sorts of people and communities to figure out how we live in that, what we are called to do, what our responsibility is towards the ecological reality in which we find ourselves.

As I often say, we speak of ‘ecology,’ not environment, because we speak of the ‘whole.’ That means this reflection is not only about  ‘nature’ — as if this is merely a topic or an issue among many topics and issues on a list of concerns, rather than the whole of which we are a part —  but about the many interlocking dynamics of our world, the dynamics in which we are embedded.  That is why we speak here not only of ‘nature’ and environment, but also of poverty and justice, of war and peace, of social conflicts and economics.  Because all of those dynamics interrelate in ways that either enhance life or diminish it, nurture it or threaten it.

Example — the war in Iraq is a monumental environmental disaster (for info on the environmental impacts of war, visit Environmentalists Against War).  Example — the conflict among the Palestinians, Israelis, and Arabs is as much about ethnic and tribal conflict as it is about access to water.  Example — the threat to the Great Lakes comes now from suburban sprawl outside the Great Lakes basin and the new, mostly affluent communities demanding water as their wells run dry, and from western communities that have depleted aquifers and would like us to pipe our water to them so that they can continue unsustainable population and economic growth (thank God the triumph of the Great Lakes Compact last year may help avert such an outcome).

I’m sure you could offer a few quick examples of your own.

Ecological Overshoot - Global Footprint Network

Ecological Overshoot - Global Footprint Network

We are in a state of economic collapse because we have overshot our economic resources, lived beyond our means, had a lavish party on credit and now the credit comes due.  We are in parts of the world in a state of ecological collapse because we have overshot the bioregional resources at the service of human economic growth and development, using inappropriate and grandiose models of economic development, depleting resources needed for life — and now the credit is coming due.

Why I write this today?  Because of these articles that sit in front of me:

Global Economic Crisis Poses Top Threat to U.S., Spy Chief Warns, by Mark Mazzetti
Unemployment Surges Around the World, Threatening Stability, by Nelson D. Schwartz, on this morning’s NY Times front page
‘Water is worth fighting over,’ by Barbara Miner, top op-ed in this morning’s Milwaukee paper

I am very worried that we are not getting the scale of the meltdown that is occurring and how much of this is related to ‘ecological overshoot,’ rapid and accelerating population growth mixed with a model of capitalist globalized  economics that is destroying ecosystems needed for life — with its relentless model of extraction and consumption as the only way it can think of to organize human behavior and create wealth —  that is leading us to disaster faster than we can even get a hold of the problem, disasters like millions of displaced peoples, an increase in social and political conflicts, collapse of water and foods systems, etc.

In fact, there is fierce resistance to even getting the problem.

So I was in near despair when I read this yesterday:

Appeals Court Overturns New Mountaintop Rules

“The decision is a big win for mine operators. The coal industry says most of the nearly 130 million tons of coal produced at mountaintop mines in Appalachia goes to generate electricity for 24.7 million U.S. customers. Moreover, mountaintop mines employ some 14,000 people across West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.”

Mountaintop removal, WV - phooto, SouthWings

Mountaintop removal, WV - phooto, SouthWings

Are we really going to do this, friends?  Are we really going to destroy the precious ecosystems of the Earth, are we going to ravage our planet, in a futile attempt to stave off the inevitable?  Here are the classic arguments — this destruction keeps your lights on and creates jobs. Guess what else it creates?  Coal, this dirtiest of industries, is also causing the planet to warm, climate to change, toxic contamination of the Appalachian rivers and streams, destruction of local communities, and sickness and death in the areas of contamination.  I could make a longer list, including the death of the human spirit, intimately connected as it is to Nature.  Do we really want economies and some thousands of jobs to depend on such destruction, as if we couldn’t come up with some other way to create jobs and economies?

So, then, what is the inevitable if we continue like this, if our laws continue to allow this?  The economic and ecological collapse of human civilization —

…if, IF, we continue like this.

Prez Obama can say what he will about having to endure hard times if we are to get through this crisis.  But hard times are coming, and then some, if we don’t figure out another way out of the crisis other than trying to salvage the capitalist ravaging of the resources of the planet that is leading to these collapses.

Lake Michigan from South Shore Park, Milwaukee

Lake Michigan from South Shore Park, Milwaukee

Someone at a meeting I recently attended noted that it is inevitable that my part of the world, the Great Lakes region, is going to face an unprecedented migration of humanity to these shores in coming decades as water disappears from the U.S. Southwest.  What are our plans to control this migration and ensure that it is sustainable?  What are the plans being made in the Southwest to control human development so that it falls within the limits of the bioregion at the same time as global warming is changing its climate?

This site’s purpose is to foster hope in the midst of this hard news.  But I worry each day about this ‘biggest’ thing — the potential of humans to change in time to prevent irreversible disaster, which means building societies in which a court cannot make a decision like the one noted above, when protection of watersheds and rich soils and habitats and whole ecosystems are written into law, when we begin to define ourselves not as economic beings but ecological beings, with our first allegiance not to nations and individual pursuit of wealth, but to the common good, and even more, the good of the commons, all the commons of which we are a part and apart from which we do not exist.

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