Ruination – and its antidote

Posted July 30th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 3 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Meaning and Culture

by Margaret Swedish

‘Ruin’ is a decision we are making. We know now exactly what we are doing. We are wasting the land. We are forever destroying and contaminating vast areas of the planet, and now we know exactly what we are doing. We know what it will cost us. We know that the children now living, playing, laughing among us will inherit the ruin.

Many are grieving. Many are working like crazy to stop the ruin. It goes on…

My state is being ruined.

Front page of this morning’s Journal Sentinel business section, something we have been writing and screaming and wailing about for some time now:

Frack sand mines spring up in state

Source: Kate Golden, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Vast areas of my state are being offered up to the fracking business so that we can continue our fossil fueled lives a little while longer (good resource here). You won’t be able to put this stuff back in the ground, get the toxic silica dust back in the ground where it should have remained, or be able to eat from the farmland on which the dust falls. And then there are the people, including small children, getting sick breathing the stuff, and the illness to come, a very dangerous one, called silicosis.

It goes on… We won’t stop it. We think this lifeline to our wholly unsustainable way of life is worth this sacrifice – the health of our children, the generations of farmers who have lived and worked this land, the beauty of this part of my state.

We need the jobs. And so the jobs we create in my state, which government is now firmly in the hands of politicians funded by the dirtiest of industries, will be jobs to destroy the future of living at all healthy and well in my state.

Meanwhile, for all those oil pipeline lovers out there, here’s another local story that began small (these spills always start out as supposedly small stories, just a little contamination that the industry will clean up, no problem) and is now mushrooming into a big local catastrophe the scope of which just keeps growing with every passing day:

Three more Washington County wells tainted with gasoline

Today the NY Times published an Op-Ed by a notorious global warming skeptic, Richard Muller, prof of physics at the U. of CA – Berkeley. The Koch brothers have loved this guy – and funded his research – because of how he has so thoroughly attempted to debunk climate change science. The column is entitled:

The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic

Oops! Now, I assume some climate scientists are likely to challenge his claim that this year’s heat event is not part of the climate change scenario, but the important point is that he has allowed the science to inform his change of heart.

Watch how those who are bringing about the ruination of the planet decide now to go after – right – not human-caused global warming which now has no serious scientific challenge, but the man who just had the change of heart.

That’s what they do – so that we will all stay hooked to our consumer-driven, comfort-driven, convenience-driven global economy.

And therein lies the hard part of this. As long as there is profit to be made, the ruin will continue, until it is complete – until there is no more sand, no more oil, no more gas, no more coal, no more healthy air, no more uncontaminated land and water, nothing more to be wrested from the earth or dumped into it as toxic waste, for the sake of profit.

Only the ruins of a sick planet in which to try to craft a new kind of life – if we are still around, and if we have learned anything at all from what we have done.

The only other scenario I can come up with, since these industries and the governments they have purchased all around the world will not alter their course for the mere survival of a healthy planet, is for vast global non-cooperation with these intentions, a decision at the scale of the damage being done and the damage still to be done to stop participating as much as we can in the ruination.

That sounds daunting, but that scale is not something each of us has to achieve. Of course, that would be daunting and impossible. But we can each choose non-participation exactly where we are.

However – and I feel need to emphasize this:

this is not a mere individual choice, this is not about taking care only of my own non-participation is if the decision to stop the ruin is only a matter of my own individual consumer choices.  We are far past that point now. No, we are at the point where we have to make those decisions in sync with, in conscious awareness of, the interrelatedness of all things. The work to heal the planet can be no more a decision separate from the whole and all that is around me than the selfish decision to consume as I want, make profit as I want, invest as I want.

In other words:

it is crucial that we make our decision of non-participation in deep connection with our surrounding families, friends, communities, local organizations, and bioregions – and always in awareness of how all of this is connected to the greater whole of the planet.

Today’s NY Times (Monday) carried an editorial about the Alberta tar sands pipeline proposal. The editorial board is calling on Sec. of State Clinton to take the impacts on climate into consideration as it makes a decision on whether or not to allow the project to proceed. It is not strong enough, but it’s at least something – demanding that we stop avoiding this crucial question for our human future. But it caught my attention mostly for the headline:

Canada’s Oil, the World’s Carbon

Pres Obama and Clinton have said that this decision is ultimately about what is best for the nation’s national security (read: for the nation’s fossil fuel industry on which the economy depends completely and we don’t have a plan yet to replace it), but this headline begs one of the essential questions – how can one nation (or two, with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper firmly in the back pocket of the tar sands industry) make a decision that will have dire consequences for the entire world? How can we decide that our short-term national interests (short-term because this industrial civilization is headed for collapses in this century – and, again, we do not yet have a plan to replace it) are more important than the fate of the Gulf Stream, the health of the oceans and the rising sea levels as glaciers and Arctic sea waters melt, or the dying coral reefs and fisheries being destroyed all over the world, or the wildfires in the west and the destruction of increasingly powerful storms, or the vast areas of land in the process of desertification all around the planet, and the future of the world’s next generations?!?!

This is a moral and ethical challenge on a scale humans have never faced before. It is especially challenging because it impacts every aspect of our lives. We cannot get through a day without dozens of decisions that have an impact on how this story will unfold.

And we don’t like that. We get tired. We get impatient. We want to just not have to think about it. We don’t want that weight put into our daily lives – and yet it is the very nature of our daily lives that is the problem.

Which is why non-participation cannot be sustained as a mere individual trying to make good consumer choices. It needs the strength and spiritual support of communities and friends, of people working together to make the new things happen, to learn once again how to live less reliant on that industrial economy and more reliant on one another. It requires more than turning down my thermostat or buying a hybrid car or eating local; it also requires reinventing how we live within our communities, how we care for one another as we seek to heal and live embedded in a healthy way within our local bioregions. It’s about how we care for our sick and elderly, how we share what we have with one another, what we mean by human labor and how to live from that labor, how we offer spaces to ‘be’, to just ‘be,’ together in community, to rediscover the riches of unencumbered, undistracted deep living where gazing at the stars at night or healing a damaged part of our eco-community matters more to us than texting or downloading more apps into our smart phones.

In other words – non-participation in the addictions of a society that can no longer feel itself as part of a living planet, in need of that living planet, completely dependent upon the health of that living planet.

We need to get off the drugs that have numbed us from this profound, awe-striking, awareness of the truth of who we are.

Frac-sand mine. See more at The Save the Hills Alliance

I am resigned to large parts of my state being ruined. So many areas are already ruined, some in process of being ruined. I know this is true everywhere. But there is a kind of renewal and regeneration that is still possible if we can begin to live differently. The full frontal assault on industry and the powers-that-be is not working very well. It has not really altered course, just delayed some things (like the pipeline which I firmly believe Obama and Clinton want to approve, but don’t know how to do it before the election without losing a lot of support).

Now, expressions of public resistance, of protest and direct action, are very important. But I think what is still needed is to ramp up very quickly a movement of non-participation/non-cooperation in the industrial corporate economy – a highly visible commitment to the new way of life, to a new human endeavor to restore our proper place in the scheme of things, our humble place within the biosphere that we are currently shredding – a movement that challenges religious leaders and educators and cultural workers and others who influence the culture to finally step up to this generational challenge – a movement that shows what simple living in a post-industrial world would look like.

And that new way of life must be very appealing; it must sing and dance, enjoy friendship and community, laugh as freely as we grieve, and help all of us realize that the reason so few people really enjoy the essentials of life anymore is because industrial civilization has deprived us of so much joy and meaning.

There’s a challenge I set before us this week.  Let me know what you think…



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3 Responses

  1. monica king

    Not to hurt your feelings but everyone has been suggesting this for a long time….its the DOING it that is the tricky part. For instance, have you extricated your own life from the addictions? Are you living in a home, for example, where you are not using oil for heating fuel and transportation, coal for electricity and being a co-producer rather than a consumer? If so, that would be “new” what to talk about ~ leadership ~ how you walk the walk.

  2. Margaret

    Be careful using the accusative ‘you’ when talking about the DOING since we usually don’t really know how others are living. If it is necessary to say this, you have no idea how simply I live, how low my consumption levels, how little energy I use because I choose to live so simply. My oft-used mantra is a line from a Mary Chapin Carpenter song: “The key to traveling light is to not need very much.”

    Yes, the doing is indeed the tricky part – mostly for those who have so much. The hard part is to stop needing, or thinking we need, so very much.

  3. hombredelatierra

    I believe societies are reaching a kind of tipping point. Denial is no longer a viable option for an increasing number.

    The student protests in Québec – ostensibly over a tuition hike by the Charest Liberals –
    once underway soon began to challenge the model of society we have chosen: it’s values and objectives. I was – to put it mildly – surprised. I tend to see the university crowd as part of the f(l)ailing “System”, not part of the solution. In this I was thinking of my own generation, the Boomers..

    I’m not sure what all this means yet or where it will lead but I imagine that a sea change is taking place. It probably means that a tipping point has been reached: people can no longer deny that the System is failing / flailing. The evidence has simply become too evident to deny.

    At this point, my biggest worry for N. America is that the extreme Right will manage to recuperate the desire for real change: the Tea Party for example (which “blasphemously” co-opts the language of the American Revolution: the Boston Tea Party, one of the triggering events of the American Revolution and a patriotic reference point for most Americans).