Is the tide going to turn this year?

Posted January 8th, 2014 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Is the tide going to turn this year?

Hard to say, isn’t it? We’re in this deep freeze, which is not a bad time to kind of pull in a bit, do a little soul care, take some time for the deep listening that is so crucial now and so counter-cultural.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Photo: Margaret Swedish

I wrote before Christmas that I would be rethinking my work and this project, and that process continues. The most important question is how, from this vantage point, I/we can make a contribution towards the work of “new creation” within a clearly dying industrial culture. What can we contribute to our local awakening? What can we contribute from this vantage point to the work of the Great Turning here in the Upper Midwest?

Wisconsin is becoming a metaphor in so many ways for how not to proceed. Every time I hear a politician or economist talk about how we need to bring good manufacturing jobs back here, and then read another article describing our worn down, outdated, manufacturing infrastructure reluctant to change with the times (we hear this on so many levels in this part of the world, that reluctance to change even in the face of the evidence that change is already upon us), I am filled with despair, because there is a whole other conversation that needs to be happening here. Those days are long over. Yes, humans will continue to manufacture things, but fewer and fewer humans will be doing the assembly of those things. And, given the ecological crisis now unfolding, this isn’t a path to a sustainable future in any case.

There is no better example of this conundrum than the one in the paper today, Solar projects cool in Wisconsin. It’s a classic example of the problem. While other states in the region are moving aggressively toward more solar and wind energy, Wisconsin is moving the other direction. While thousands of jobs are being created in these industries elsewhere, my state is reducing its commitment toward the renewable energy regimen that is essential to getting us to the post-carbon world before the most horrific consequences of climate change befall us.

Meanwhile, the crude oil and natural gas industries are taking advantage of the current political regime to make our state a cog in the fossil fuel machinery that covers much of North America now. From the frac sand mining industry that is ruining our western counties, making rural communities and farmlands into industrial zones literally overnight, to the central role the state now plays in the transhipment and refining of crude oil from Bakken ND and the Alberta tar sands (pipelines, tanker car trains, even barges), to easing of regulations around open pit mines, we are a state firmly entrenched in an industrial model that is costing the planet dearly and which ultimately has no future.

Credit: Margaret Swedish

Credit: Margaret Swedish

While some states are preparing for the crises looming in our near-future by moving towards solar and wind, more mass transit (Gov Walker famously rejected $810,000,000 in federal  money for high-speed rail), Wisconsin is set to be uniquely unprepared for them, and to be causing irreversible ecological damage in the meantime. While we face challenges of increased demands for water, pollution of waterways, and the need to protect valuable watersheds and wetlands, this state is easing regulations and favoring the very industries that have already caused so much damage to the environment.

My trip to Alberta last September really helped sharpen the focus of my work now. Yesterday we heard news of yet another train explosion, this time in New Brunswick, Canada, and following on the disaster in Casselton ND, which followed the one in Alabama, which followed the one in Lac Megantic – well, we have these same trains rolling right across our state and along the streets of many of our communities.

Time to focus in on our relationship with energy as paradigmatic of our cultural pathology – living as if none of this is real even in the face of the evidence that all of it is real.

I’ve just started reading Mary Pipher’s book, The Green Boat, Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture. She really nails the cause of the psychological impasse that plagues our spirits as we try to address fears that are not simple, about which we feel often powerless, and about which we seem to have no control. The climate is changing; all our water sources are polluted; species necessary for the chain of life are going extinct. So, now what do I do? How do I get through my day – today?

So, as I continue to rethink this project’s direction, I can say that I am feeling more compelled than ever to get to the cultural roots of the impasse and to find the ways that, together, we can empower ourselves to do the kinds of things that help us realize we really can make meaningful contributions towards creating a new and different future. This is happening all over the world, burgeoning from “below,” as more and more people encounter the loss of the places they love, of the health of their eco-communities, and worry about the future of their children.

I'm doing it for her

This work is for her.

Here in Wisconsin and in the Upper Midwest, one of the ways to do that is to bring the reality of the dangers we are now living with, and of the insanity of putting our state at the service of dying industries, into the heart of our presentations, meetings, and gatherings. And we need to start being brave enough, bold enough, to start articulating new visions for a different kind of world. We need to take more power in deciding what kind of communities we want to live in, and then go about creating them wherever and however we can.

On the same business page of my local paper, there was another story placed right on top of the article about the lagging solar power industry. Entitled, Natural Growth, it is a story about one of the nation’s most enduring food co-ops, Outpost, founded here in Milwaukee in 1971 and just recently opening its 4th store. The article is about Outpost’s commitment to source what it sells as much as possible from local and regional producers. This is exciting news, one of the ways we create resilience in the food network and break our dependency on energy intensive BigAG. Outpost, one of my favorite stores in the world, is becoming more and more a sign of what communities can do to support one another in the creation of a new, more viable, more resilient, more sustainable local economy.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Once again, as many local groups have already learned, when neighbors, friends, faith communities, etc. come together around some common dreams and visions, amazing things can happen.

How we do that matters. As Pipher writes: “We must not only be able to acknowledge and talk about a problem, but we must also be able to conceptualize it in ways that allow people to act upon it as human beings.” And that is not something that can be done by individuals in isolation; that can only be done together.

And so we move into 2014, still sober about the future, still fearful, but still also full of hope.

Margaret Swedish


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