New year, new challenges: Not much changed with the hanging of the new calendar on my wall

Posted January 3rd, 2011 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I think I like celebrating the cycles of nature more than the human-made calendar year. It has much more significance, more resonance, as it were. It is us in tune with the real. These numbers, our appointment books and calendars – they help organize our busy lives but don’t have much more significance than that. Cultures more deeply rooted in what makes us children of this planet celebrate the solstice and the equinox, honor the changing seasons, have rituals for the rising and setting sun, for the lunar cycles and the tide, for the planting season and the harvest.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Our true gods come from this, as does authentic worship and the capacity to experience the sacred.

We have created an abstract world, one inside our brains. Some believe that those brains are the peak of evolution, the path towards cosmic consciousness, as if we can escape all that makes us human – our bodies, our feelings, our mortality, our wondrously subjective (not objectified) nature. I think we believe too much in the grandiosity of the human, one of our peculiarly Western orientations, one that has made possible such vast destruction to other human beings, to our fellow creatures, to the ecosystems that once held us with such richness and abundance.

I think we are human not because we can think or even meditate – I mean, that’s part of it, certainly – but mostly because we can touch and taste and smell and see, and have deeply complex feelings about all that, and then, then, have the capacity to ponder what we experience. Without that embodied experience, the brain becomes numb, or dead, addicted to our high-tech gadgets, little screens and social networks, that keep our world abstract, distant – until we can no longer feel, actually experience, both the giftedness of it all and the deterioration of the richness of life going on all around us – and within us.

We have these screens and abstract networks and long commutes in our cars and our high-stressed busy lives that bypass and impede all that ‘merely’ natural wisdom, our own embodiment within creation, and from that abstraction evolves our ability to trash, contaminate, exploit, and ruin all that keeps us alive – in body and in spirit.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Nature is a whole complex web of interconnections, and we live as if we are not part of that web, as if what we do does not affect the whole, as if the whole does not affect us if we don’t let it.

This is our potentially fatal error.

So we begin a new calendar year facing the same challenges as in the last – but with a worse cultural crisis manifested in our politics and our deeper entrenchment into nativism, individualism, and narrow self-interest. I mean this in terms of the larger society. Within this culture are many small cultures (vernacular cultures), some incipient, others ancient, seeking a way through back to truth and wholeness. We need to find ways to nurture them, because they really are what can save us from a pretty dreadful future.

I didn’t want to start out 2011 with a lot of bad news, but it is hard to ignore what is happening in Australia right now (CBS News video), and the end-of-the-year climate chaos here in the U.S. from S. California to Arkansas (20 tornadoes, almost unheard of at this time of year) right up the northeast corridor. Hard to ignore that 2010 turned out to be one of the warmest on record globally, or that some scientists have made the direct link between the warming of the Arctic and the massive snowstorms across the eastern U.S. and Europe. Hard to ignore that a record number of people, more than 295,000, died this past year in natural disasters, a number that the insurance giant, Munich Re, reported “…provide further indications of advancing climate change.”

And yet, with all that, or maybe because of all that, this really got my attention this morning:

“Two eminent scientists said the human race is likely to  become extinct at its own hand within the next 100 years as it exhausts resources through a population explosion and unbridled consumption.”

This comes from a 2010 Year in Review at Earthweek: A Diary of the Planet, one of my favorite sources of challenging and often terrifying news on what is unfolding on our planet. I highly recommend it. If you wonder at all if the earth itself is alive, check out these weekly summaries of natural and unnatural events.

Anyway, I am not one of those who believes that humans will go extinct this century, even though I am not an eminent scientist as these guys are. I believe we are more resilient than that as a species – not because of our technology and intellectual mastery, mind you (I don’t think those are our best bets for survival and could indeed be working against our survival), but because we are a resilient natural species with gifts of adaptation and a capacity for suffering, for meaning, and for compassion – traits that ARE survival strategies.

Photo: Margaret Swedish

Also, as I have often shared with groups, I don’t think we’re going to get off that easily. I think we are going to be faced with major collapses within industrial and technological society, and with vast suffering because of the damage we have done to the planet – but that, even as population likely plummets from diseases and water and food shortages, we will have to figure out how to go through that and rebuild not just physical communities but the very meaning of the human.

Because the meaning of the human is not our voracious capitalist economies or our technological prowess. If it is, the next generations will see the collapse of human meaning.

But if human meaning is something more than that, something other, deeper, more profound than that, then the suffering coming will be the weaning of us from our grandiosity and nearly fatal consumption addictions so that, stripped back down to the essentials, we re-root ourselves in the pulse of creative energy that is driving forward the evolutionary story on this planet.

At least this is how I articulate hope these days – because, friends, it is not in getting people working again in this economy or in getting people spending again to buy stuff so that factories can hire, and it’s not in the Tea Party and Ayn Rand-inspired newly-elected politicians or in global warming denial or belief that God will take care of us and not let anything bad happen (ask the ancient Israelites about that one, or even Jesus and his disciples, or the early Christian martyrs) that hope resides. Rather, it is in allowing for the collapse of a global economy based on extraction, consumption, and waste of the planet and, in the meantime, building up resilient communities of people in deep relationship with their ecosystems and with one another, communities of compassion and simplicity and caring for each other and meeting one another’s needs – including song and dance and celebration.

This may not sound as exciting as Goldman Sachs investing in Facebook and how Zuckerburg became a multi-billionaire in his 20s, or getting the latest version of iPad. But I just need to say this because it is now becoming inescapably true: we have to choose one or the other path, because there is no way to hold our world together, and the human within it, if we don’t appreciate that this is the choice.

Lake Superior sunset - Photo: Margaret Swedish

And so, we will go back again starting this week to our usual mix of ecological news and reflection. We want to contribute what we can to a different discourse and set of values to help pave the way for this new path for the human that is so urgently needed. We have new project initiatives that we will share along the way. Expect 2 posts per week.

Meantime, if you have a little extra to spare right now, we would be grateful for any contributions to help get us off to a good start in 2011. Go to the DONATE page for information.

Many, many blessings of hope and love in this new year.


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One Response

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    “Talk of the Nation Special/ Population Jan. 6”

    What an opportunity!

    Willful silence of so many experts as well as broadcasts of ideological idiocy by clever sychophants and duplicitous minions of the wealthy and powerful for the past 60 years make the mere chance for an intellectually honest and morally courageous conversation on “Talk of the Nation” so potentially valuable now here. Opportunities like this one have been occurring for many years but were routinely missed. A catastrophic failure of nerve by many too many of ‘the brightest and best’ among us who chose, instead of presenting scientific research as was their duty, to foster belief in erroneous preternatural theories; to say whatsoever was politically convenient, economically expedient and socially agreeable; to go along with global gag rules as well as ignore and censor exchanges of sound perspectives regarding human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth. This failure could be one of the great mistakes in human history. I fear our children will come to see it in just that way.

    The growth of the human species worldwide could be the proverbial “mother” of human-induced global challenges. If that is so, then failing to acknowledge this predominant challenge will render efforts of humanity to overcome other human-driven, increasingly complex challenges to human wellbeing and environmental health ultimately irrelevant, I suppose.

    Please consider that both those who believe human population numbers are exploding and those who believe human numbers are collapsing are correct. Globally, human numbers are undoubtedly increasing, but in some places on the surface of Earth human numbers can easily be seen decreasing. It depends upon your scope of observation. I am perceiving and thinking globally when I report human numbers are skyrocketing. In a similar manner, I can certainly recognize that human numbers in many places (eg, Italy) have been declining. But in order to make that report it is necessary for me to change my scope of observation.

    Imagine that a change in one’s scope of observation is like the difference between looking at the forest or the trees. Looking at the forest is like looking at absolute global human population numbers; whereas, looking at the trees is like looking at the population numbers in a place like Italy. Global human numbers can be increasing, while the human population numbers in Italy are decreasing.

    So much of the Earth’s environs are being degraded and so many of its natural resources dissipated. So many people are coming. So much time has been wasted. So many opportunities missed. Time is precious….and short. Windows of opportunity are closing, one after another at an accelerating pace. Let us agree not to let this “Talk of the Nation” opportunity be another missed opportunity like so very many others in my lifetime.

    We could begin this week by talking to all nations. After all, what are we waiting for? The clock to run out of time, so as to relieve us of human distinctly human responsibilities we can assume and duties only human beings with feet of clay can perform?