In the silence, a lot has happened

Posted November 20th, 2013 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

There are many kinds of silence, including being too busy to post here for more than two weeks. And I want to talk about that silence a bit and what went on within it. But first, some reflections on the deeper silence – in which a lot has happened.


TRAVELThere is the silence of brilliant moonlight on these cold frosty mid-November nights, a silence enhanced by the fury of the storms that rolled through the Midwest, temperatures rising into very humid 60s and 70s, before blowing out on roaring winds that finally left the stillness of bitter cold settling over our land, painting our rooftops, lawns, and worn out summer gardens with the white glow of frost.

There is the silence of austere mountaintops reaching up into the heavens, seemingly unmoved, yet moving all the time beyond our perception, often surrounded by roaring winds and storms, yet rooted in a silence that remains no matter what is going on all around them – and I knew this silence once again in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta in September. They teach me about this silence. They show me where and how to find it. And I try to go there whenever I sit, whenever I walk along the lake shore, or when I light my candles in the pre-dawn darkness.TRAVEL

There is the silence that settles into the weight of hearts and spirits as we start seeing, more than imagining now, what climate change will actually look like – in the Phillippines, on the coasts of New York and New Jersey, across Illinois and Indiana (EF4 tornadoes never recorded before in the month of November in Illinois, or this: “Since 1986, there have been 194 tornado warnings issued in the month of November in Illinois: More than half of them, 101, were issued Sunday.”),and  as we learn from scientists that CO2 emission levels will set a record of 13 billion tons in 2013.

That’s a hard silence, one laced with fear, sorrow, and grief. We know now that this is not something we can recover from anymore, or reverse, or make go away. We have altered the planet in which this era of life has evolved, the one that made the hominid possible. Stories like this one, Carbon is Forever, deepen that intense soul-silence that sits with the question, “What in the world have we done?”

There is a deep place in the human psyche, a deep inner space, a profoundly sobering silence, where that question goes to dwell.

“…anthropogenic CO2 takes an enormously long time to dissipate. If all recoverable fossil fuels were burnt up using today’s technologies, after 1,000 years the air would still hold around a third to a half of the CO2 emissions. ‘For practical purposes, 500 to 1000 years is ‘forever.’ …In this time, civilizations can rise and fall, and the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets could melt substantially, raising sea levels enough to transform the face of the planet.
“The warming from our CO2 emissions would last effectively forever… A recent study by Caldeira and Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal found that regardless of how much fossil fuel we burn, once we stop, within a few decades the planet will settle at a new, higher temperature. As Caldeira explains, ‘It just increases for a few decades and then stays there’ for at least 500 years — the length of time they ran their model. That was not at all the result I was expecting,’ he says.”

Yes, that brings me to a deep and sobering space of silence…

As they say in this article, this is one of the facts of our industrial world that no one wants to tell us about, including most climate scientists – that it is already too late to have back the remarkably stable climate world in which our entire history of human civilizations have come and gone.

No wonder we don’t want to sit in silence. No wonder we bask in all the distractions of our daily life, all the apps and videos and social media and text messaging and ongoing noise and visual stimulation and moving about from place to place and rushing here and there and getting all those shopping lists together for the holidays…

Because in the silence, fear finds a space to rise up and tell us some things. Our world is being altered more quickly than our ability to prepare and adapt. I mean, we do adapt in some ways. Already, enormous weather-related disasters are becoming norm for us. Hurricane Sandy becomes the new normal, then the Phillippines becomes the new normal, then raging lines of super-storms and tornadoes across the Midwest become the new normal, and we may even miss a story like this… a storm on the island of Sardinia dumped 17 inches of rain in less than 12 hours, half their year’s average total. [See also CNN]

17 inches of rain – in 12 hours. It simply boggles the mind.

The mind, the psyche, that’s what adapts: our ability to deny, to distance, to accept, to go on as if nothing is horribly wrong. As long as it doesn’t appear to impact MY life, MY reality, I adapt my psyche and simply go on. That kind of adapting may spell our doom.

There are many kinds of silence – and one of the most necessary now is for us to take some serious time to stop everything, to sit in the silence of our terrified and grieving hearts, and allow this reality to come to us, to SEE it, to be changed by it, and to figure out what to do now.

In this silence, deeper than anything we know, the silence that rests in the heart of the universe, which means in our own, because we, too, are the universe – in this silence, a lot has happened. In this silence, we can begin to perceive what that is, to see and hear what has happened and why. And in that depth of silence (not the same as stillness, because it has waves and flows and chaos and turbulence as well as intense calm and stillness) we may find some wisdom, and a sense of our place within it all. And maybe we can rediscover some deeper meaning for us than the kind of life that is destroying the living systems and communities of our planet.


logo tiny without wordsAnd then for this project: what has gone on in the silence between posts? Well, last week I gave two major presentations on my journey to Alberta and the tar sands, and I participated in a poetry reading celebrating democracy in Wisconsin and those who have embodied it in their daily protest and sing-a-long in our capitol rotunda – 700 times since Scott Walker became our governor – and I finished up an essay on the Alberta pilgrimage, and tried to do some fundraising for my work, and…

In that silence, a lot has happened.

And in this last silence comes my request for your support. It is obvious now that the Alberta pilgrimage has refocused our work here. Not only was that a journey into the environmental catastrophe that now fuels our global economy and our consumer way of life, it was also an education on the expansive nature of an entire infrastructure of pipelines, rail lines, barges and more that support that catastrophe and threaten most of the states in our country with our own versions of environmental disasters – directly from the Alberta oil sands or the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Since then, we have learned not only more about the industry itself – much, much more – but also about the economics of these non-conventional ways of extracting increasingly hard-to-get fossil fuels. And what we discover is that they have a very, very short life span. For the amount of damage they are and will be causing, the life span before they collapse turns out to be very, very short indeed.TRAVEL

No wonder there is such a frenzy to get it out as fast as they can, to make as much profit as they can in that short time span, and the earth and the climate be damned!

I want to share an article from Bloomberg reporting that investors are beginning to rethink the risk in their portfolios as peak oil looms just ahead:

Last month 70 investors representing $3 trillion of assets under management sent letters to oil-and-gas companies asking them to disclose plans for adapting to a world that may be edging closer to peak fossil fuels. That’s the point when humans stop increasing their annual burn – either because the environmental danger makes it too costly or because buildings and cars run more efficiently. Bloomberg New Energy Finance says peak demand could happen in 2030.
The risk: Oil and coal companies worth more than $7 trillion may be sinking billions of dollars today into projects that will never make sense to finish…
“The end is nigh” for global oil-demand growth, proclaimed a Citigroup report in March.

And so the oil sands of Alberta. While the Canadian and provincial governments are constructing a vast infrastructure for long-term development of the tar sands regions, the financial world is beginning to prepare for peak oil, for the end. And my question: how much damage are we willing to do, or participate in, collaborate with, or allow to threaten our “places” here in the Midwest, the Great Plains, all the way across New England and to the Gulf of Mexico, to support an industry with only a couple of decades until its collapse?

Source: Occupy Canada

Source: Occupy Canada

On Saturday I had the opportunity to share the Alberta oil sands story with a jam-packed room of people from many different organizations, and individuals who care about these things, and my presentation was followed by an animated and impassioned dialogue about what to do, how we can collaborate and cooperate more in our efforts to challenge the fossil fuel regimes and grow the resilient communities that can help us withstand the coming era in which everything about how we live is going to change. The energy was very high.

We have work to do, and there is much we have to offer to that work from this project. But to be a part of it, to continue to be able to do programs like this one, to develop further these Canadian connections and with those burgeoning grassroots groups around our state and region, we need your support.

We are not a big organization but a project sponsored by a non-profit called the Center for New Creation. We don’t have offices and infrastructure, we have a program. And what we are able to do is directly related to the funding that comes in to the project. What you contribute directly enables our work, provides what we need to get some things done.

That’s how the Alberta Pilgrimage was funded. That’s how last week’s programs were funded. And that’s why we can say that whatever you contribute is what makes the work happen.

To donate, click here. Your contributions are tax deductible. And for whatever you can contribute now towards this work, we thank you.


Unless otherwise noted, photos by Margaret Swedish



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One Response

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    Silence is the best medicine for the creative energy, that may be reason most of ancient saints/sages used to stay away from public, and developed cultures, now this type is called as procrastination. It all means that maintaining the serene conditions is utmost important for better creative development for the benefit of the society. For this one needs to have peace and harmony then only serenity can be established.