Let’s look at the moment and see where we are

Posted May 7th, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Zine 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

I want to try something and see what happens. This past week there have been so many new reports and so much news related to our work that it all has me a bit dizzy. I need some time to really ponder them and what they tell us when we put them all together. Readers of this blog know that I love to do this – not just see things in fragments but to combine themes and trends in the culture that are not always seen together, but which inform one another in profound ways. This can help us SEE differently, especially our conundrum in the face of multiple crises piling up and why it is so hard to see our way through to the “new creation” we like to talk about here.

So today I just want to list some new articles and resources that have lit up my computer this week and sparked a lot of reflection and conversation, and to do that without comment (because I’m not quite ready yet). And I want to invite you to read or view them and to do the same – sit with them and see how they come together for you, what they tell us about where we are, what the obstacles are, and how to reorient how we even think about our historical/cultural/ecological moment.

Number of planets required to support business as usual. Source: Global Footprint Network

Number of planets required to support business as usual. Source: Global Footprint Network

Because I think that, unless we address these places of connection among our profound cultural issues, we will not be able to find a path that can lead us beyond crisis to the new creation that must be built if we are to survive long term. This isn’t just about global warming, because warming and the resulting climate crisis is not a cause, it is a symptom, evidence, of the greater crisis. It is proof of the connections, the interrelatedness of the political, economic, social, and cultural mixture that has led us to the edge of this cliff. We can’t change the direction of climate change and the sixth great extinction separate from the contexts in which they are coming about, the conditions that created them. What are those conditions and how do they impact one another?

I invite us to think  about this not just in terms of grand systems and global trends, but fiercely locally. What is going on right where you live, in your bioregion, in your watershed, on the streets of your cities and towns, in your neighborhoods, schools, faith communities? In other words, in the “spaces” in which you live your lives most immediately connected to or embedded within these contexts.

I hope some of you might take some time in these next days to ponder these things with me, share your thoughts by way of the comment function, and then I want to write a next essay out of that ferment early next week.

Here’s my list:

1) Let’s start with one of the most obvious ones – the release of the new National Climate Assessment, highlights and summaries of which are available at the link. You can download the entire report for free, if you want all 800+ pages. It is stark. It is dire. And yet, as reported in the Washington Post: “’It’s important to understand that this is a very, very, very conservative document, a consensus document,’ [Drew] Harvell said of the assessment. The truth is more dire, she said.”

Changing planet, 6 decades of warming –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gaJJtS_WDmI

Still scientists feel they have to hold back some. And what does the rightist corporate world say? We shouldn’t do anything about it because it would cost money. Ask the insurance industry what they think about that.

2) Okay, so then let’s turn to that topic of human extinction. This is one of those subjects where, if you really stop for a moment to let it in, one has to be shocked, stunned, stopped in one’s tracks to realize we live in a time where we are actually talking about this. It comes up not only in the context of climate change scenarios, but also the contamination of the planet by the 83,000 synthetic chemicals we have introduced into the environment, the vast majority of which have never been tested, the permanent destruction of arable land from overuse, erosion, chemical contamination, and industrial agriculture in general, the dwindling water supply at the same time as population continues to grow, the collapse of fisheries all around the world, and on and on. It all adds up to some serious threats to our future.

So here’s just one example of what I mean – one of millions – when I write that we are contaminating everything we need for life. Look around you. Stories like these are happening in every place we live. This video is from one of my favorite organizations, Appalachian Voices. See more about their campaign to stop coal ash pollution at that link.

Video: At What Cost? – from Appalachian Voices

Climate chaos is not the only thing threatening our future. Last time I checked, we also needed food, water, healthy soil and air to breathe. This next article is from last month, but I just found it and think it summarizes the extinction potential very well – it isn’t so much a matter of the ecological crisis itself but how humans will respond to it. Human Extinction: Is It Possible, by Australian science writer Julian Cribb.

“…in a classic case of improvident human behaviour, a global energy stampede is taking place as oil, gas, coal, tar sands and other miners (who, being technical folk, understand quite clearly what they are doing to the planet) rush to release as much carbon as possible as profitably as possible before society takes the inevitable decision to ban it altogether. Thanks to them, humanity isn’t sleep-walking to disaster so much as racing headlong to embrace it. Do the rest of us have the foresight, and the guts, to stop them? Our ultimate survival will be predicated entirely on our behaviour – not only on how well we adapt to unavoidable change, but also how quickly we apply the brakes.”

This is true, of course. These people know exactly what they are doing, and only a fierce determination on our part to apply the brakes will stop them. Do we have the guts, friends? Understand what that means – ending our economic lives as we have known them now for several generations.

3) Next, a new series from a local journalist, Craig Gilbert, on the racial, economic, political divides in the Milwaukee Metro area which sadly mimic a lot of the country. He is describing our local reality, but with obvious lessons for the nation and its deepening dysfunction as a working polity. It’s well worth reading even if you are not from here. He’ll probably win a prize for it. The series will be a topic for a daylong conference at Marquette on May 15. I’m going, so stay tuned.

Dividing Lines, by Craig Gilbert. Two stories in the series have been published this week. Two more to come.

My question – can we address or respond adequately to one single issue related to our future on this planet if we continue to live behind these dividing lines? If we don’t address this, we won’t accomplish anything that can help heal this planet.

4) This next one is to really put things into historical perspective. When did this ideological war begin? I mean, there has always been a battle of ideologies in this country. But since the years of protest, the years of the Vietnam War and the struggle for the full recognition of civil rights, which often took place in our streets amidst clouds of teargas and mass arrests, there has emerged a powerful, well-financed reactionary movement to push back against what was then a growing tide against the military-industrial complex and the corporate culture that was controlling more and more of the world’s economy.

Recently someone on Facebook posted a copy of the infamous “Powell Memo,” a document sent out by Lewis Powell to the Chamber of Commerce in 1971 in which he lays out their battle lines. I had almost forgotten about it. It was quite notorious and not meant to be leaked to the public back then. I will withhold comment for now. Read it and see if it doesn’t explain – a lot!

5) One more theme, and then I’ll end. Fracking. Perhaps nothing has ignited more fear, protest, and organized local action than the fracking frenzy that has come to this nation. It impacts my state as well, cursed as we are with the perfect silica sand needed for the process. Frac sand mining is industrializing, polluting, and destroying vast areas of our western counties, including some of the state’s richest farmland. So despite not having shale gas, we are nonetheless deeply affected.

Frac sand mine:  m.kenosion Howard EOG mine 2012-06-15

Frac sand mine: m.kenosion Howard EOG mine 2012-06-15

Burgeoning movements like those against BP, oil pipelines and exploding tanker trains, tar sands oil extraction, and more, are rising up, people are organizing, getting to know their neighbors, and working together because their places are being threatened, seriously threatened. I could give thousands of examples of the hope that is embedded in these “uprisings,” but since this one came along just today, I will use it.

We are not powerless here. But, if we don’t band together in ever growing circles, we will be. As you will see in this short film, Marie McRae felt powerless to save her valley. When she thought herself alone, she saw no way out. Then she and her neighbors came together and empowered one another, bonded by their deep attachment to the land. The community of Dryden NY shows us what can be done and how it can change the world. For more info, go to the source of the video, EarthJustice, another one of my favorite organizations.

 Video: Dryden – The Small Town that Changed the Fracking Game

Now all these things came through my computer screen and my brain and my heart during a several day period in which we experienced 128 tornadoes in one day resulting in vast destruction, mindboggling rain events, including more than 2 feet of rain in Pensacola FL in one day, and Oklahoma wildfires that raged out of control burning homes and other structures. Temperatures there and in northern Texas topped 100 degrees – 25 or more degrees above normal. Because of deepening drought, huge areas of the West and southern Great Plains are parched beyond anything seen during the Dust Bowl.

Feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? Today I turned on TV news stations to see who was following up on all that coverage from yesterday about the new National Climate Assessment. Monica Lewinski’s interview with Vanity Fair is getting far more air time. Mere climate catastrophe? News today is hard to find.

So, those are a few things that may shed some light on the moment. What do they tell us? What do they reveal? What do they suggest about the core of our conundrum and just what it is we need to do to begin moving away from the precipice?

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2 Responses

  1. Duane Ediger

    What are we learning about this moment? It is bewildering. We are ever more frequently brought to places of anguish in our souls. As the story of Dryden brilliantly displays, the choie to come together to share our bewilderment — and not letting shame of it lead us into isolation — is the biggest first step toward something better that we can take.

  2. Dave

    Your comment about some thinking that “we shouldn’t do anything about it because it would cost money” made me think of another part of the IPCC release that gave me some hope. They show that investing heavily in mitigation now will only “cost” 0.06 percent of global consumption growth, but waiting will mean very rapidly increasing costs.

    Your mention of the insurance industry is another example of how even capitalists are coming to the realization. The whole reality of the carbon bubble that will eventually destroy the stock value of fossil fuel corporations is another promising change.

    I really liked Chris Hayes’ piece http://www.thenation.com/article/179461/new-abolitionism?page=full comparing the climate struggle with the anti-slavery struggle in the U.S. – not from a moral/ethical lens, but the economics of it all. And why the economics are much more favorable to us today than they were in the 1800s.