Sparks of hope

Posted October 27th, 2009 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today form Margaret Swedish:

Interfaith Earth Network

Interfaith Earth Network

On Sunday I offered a presentation for a conference organized by Milwaukee’s Interfaith Earth Network.  The title of the conference: “Faith Encounters the Energy Crisis: Transitioning to Reduced Energy Consumption.”  By now, many folks know I always come armed with a lot of grim news — but also a firm belief that if we are honest about the reality, face it directly, rather than be paralyzed by it or in denial about it, we can rise to the occasion and begin to create the necessary new way of life, even as the old collapses all around us.

My talks are often based on the ‘see-judge-act‘ model; i.e., first look at and examine the reality, then look at the reality in the light of faith or of a keen social analysis, and then take action commensurate with that reflection.  So I brought with me images of our human industrial and suburban/exurban sprawl, photos of the tragic and enormous damage that comes from production of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) and, sadly, biofuels, which many people think an alternative.  I bring graphs and images that describe our moral culpability here in the U.S. where we are still by far and away, and even in the midst of the Great Recession, the world’s biggest consumers of natural resources and the biggest emitters of waste, including CO2, into our atmosphere and biosphere, on a per capita basis.

Deficit ecological spending by country - Global Footprint Network

Deficit ecological spending by country - Global Footprint Network

Which then always leads to this last point — that if we are not willing to change here in the U.S., to scale down our lifestyles drastically, to consume drastically less, to live more simply and locally, the world has little chance to avoid catastrophe in the face of the deteriorating environments, or ecological communities, in which we live.

And in these presentations, we all suffer a little — because it is depressing, because it is hard, and because it is inescapable. I try my best to remove the guilt factor — we did not intend this to happen.  But it did.  And now we have to figure out how we are going to work our way through to that necessary new way of life.

And I always add that not only are we capable of this, but we are likely to end up with far happier, richer, more satisfying lives than the ones we have now, than the stressed out, lonely, isolated, insecure, personally draining lives created by this economy of extraction, consumption and waste in which we feel our work lives to have very little to do with the meaning of life.

And folks get this, they really do.  It rings truthfully. I venture to say, it even rings hopefully — because you cannot cure the disease until you know what it is, until you have an accurate diagnosis.

Representatives of various faith groups met on Monday morning to talk about how to implement this struggle for life within their communities.  It will be interesting to see what emerges from this.  But just the coming together helps us all feel less powerless, more energized, more empowered to get busy.

Want to end with this link to today’s column in the NY Times from Bob Herbert, Changing the World.  A shot in the arm, a boost to the spirit, a reminder of that of which we are fully capable.  It ends:

The nation’s political leaders and their corporate puppet masters have fouled this nation up to a fare-thee-well. We will not be pulled from the morass without a big effort from an active citizenry, and that means a citizenry fired with a sense of mission and the belief that their actions, in concert with others, can make a profound difference.

It can start with just a few small steps. Mrs. Parks helped transform a nation by refusing to budge from her seat. Maybe you want to speak up publicly about an important issue, or host a house party, or perhaps arrange a meeting of soon-to-be dismissed employees, or parents at a troubled school.

It’s a risk, sure. But the need is great, and that’s how you change the world.

You, me, each one of us can be a part of this.  It is, as Thomas Berry said, our ‘great work.’  Indeed, it is now our most profound human mission.

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One Response

  1. hombredelatierra

    ” But just the coming together helps us all feel less powerless, more energized, more empowered to get busy.”

    Emotional energy rises when people come to grips with their personal responsibility for environmental problems. There is, I suspect, a general principle at work here, one proponents of the New Economy (Post Peak Oil) need take seriously: “in numbers there is strength”.

    – Taking responsibility for our non-sustainable acts can be liberating IF people subsequently join their individual efforts to create the New Economy in their local community. This is what “empowerment” is all about. (See footnote 1 for experimental evidence of the beneficial effects of control over an aversive situation.)

    – Empowerment, once initiated and well canalized into productive projects, can be highly self-reinforcing. This aspect of empowerment is especially important today where it provides a way out of the soul deadening, vacuous, herd mentality indocrinated by consumer society (the “Old Economy” based on cheap fossil fuel energy and which is now ending). (see footnote 2 on the social nature of empowerment)

    We must begin to unite people to create the New Economy at the level of the local community NOW. The New economy will be nothing if not “local” and “decentalized”.

    http://www.cmaq.net/en/node/37197

    discusses some of the POSITIVE potentials of the emerging New Economy.

    Action NOW is critical. Heel dragging will only assure that the internal contradictions of the Old – non-sustainable – Economy will prove fatal to our vaunted “civilization” and its puported “humanism”. (Are we really so humanistic? Why then do we collectively prepare an anti-human future through our inaction on environmental challenges..)

    Unfortunately, contemporary history – the post World War II decades – shows that the forces of reaction learned early on how to grab the popular consciouness by employing paranoid social and political programming (with strong ethnocentric, racist, anti-egalitarian, and proto-fascist currents): the “Red Scare” of the 1945 – 1970 early Cold War era. The forces of reaction have emerged victorious from the Red Scare and we must ask ourselves “why?” and “how?”.

    They masterfully captured, molded and shaped the “popular consciousness” at the grass roots level of community organization, thus assuring their success through a form of pseudo-empowerment of the “masses”. In the long run, of course, it was a scam and the people are the worse off. I think of those suburban housewives and their coffee klatsches organized by the John Birch Society..

    http://press.princeton.edu/titles/7031.html

    chronicles the rise to power of the New Right in the early Post WW II years.

    All we can say today is that the Right got it right! Now why can’t we? The stakes today are, realistically speaking, vastly higher than war between geopolitical super-powers (with feet of clay as the fall of the Soviet Union showed).

    I have tried for several years to get people to join “writers’ circles” to promote alternative energies in their local communities – in effect, the green equivalent of the Bircher inspired “patriotic” coffee klatsches of the 50s and 60s. I have tried in both English and French on the internet, to no avail.

    I am now wondering if a public faith-based, faith-inspired commitment, a communal binding together in a shared vision, is possible, desirable, is capable of turning things around before it is really too late.. And how would this be done?

    footnote 1:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WY2-4NP4VHT-5&_user=10&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F1973&_alid=1097761747&_rdoc=113&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_cdi=7174&_st=18&_docanchor=&view=c&_ct=123&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=f5da4ac9796c8d8d95e4dce4b244abc8

    footnote 2: Empowerment, especially in the present context, needs to be seen holistically, as a set of realations between people and the community in which they find themselves, its power relations, psychodynamics and so on. Empowerment, I am begining to realize, seems to have strong – and possibly dominant – culturally determined elements..

    Serge Latouche: Décoloniser L’imaginaire (Parangon, Paris, 2003, page 74, my translation): “Is what the French call ‘development’ desired by the villagers.. No. What they want is.. ‘bamtaare’.. the striving of a highly cohesive, convivial society for harmonious, social well-being in which each of its members, the poorest to the richest, finds his place and his personal realization.” Note that in this (rather alien) concept of social well-being the pair “individual” / “community” are not opposed, but actually complement each other in a synergistic “figure” / “ground” relation. The healthy individual is nutured within a a healthy community which, in turn, depends upon the existence / co-operation of healthy individuals.