The planet is changing forever. Now what do we do?

Posted March 3rd, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Zine 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

It’s changing. The whole blessed planet is undergoing profound change very quickly, and much of this is because of one voracious species that lost its sense of connection, its understanding of itself within the whole, a species that became deeply narcissistic and began devouring its own habitat for the sake of its own grandiose ambitions – at the expense of all the other sentient and non-sentient beings that make this Earth a place that is habitable, rich in life and abundance – before greed and a false sense of separation cut off  even that species’ own survival instincts.

Okay, yes, this is all true. It’s really bad and conditions on the planet are going to get worse for us faster than we are able to adapt.

So now what do we do?

After a while, you just get tired of delivering the depressing news, the latest in climate change disasters, US government policies to ramp up the pace of destruction (now the latest announcement about how the Obama administration is about to sacrifice ocean wildlife in the reckless search for more oil and gas off our eastern coasts), the latest extinction threats, the latest news of toxic contamination or looming scarcities of all the things we need for life, and on and on.CO2 Mauna Loa feb 2014

I assume that most of you who read these essays are more than aware of the trouble we’re in, how bad things are going to get because we are already locked in to some big time changes in our lives on this planet, how frustrating it is because so many hear the news, buy different kinds of light bulbs, plant a backyard garden, and then go on about their lives, buying new iPhones, traveling around the world, consuming at the high end of the world’s economic life, or are invested in a global economy that spews poisons into the ground, drills and mines for fossil fuels, creates unneeded consumer items at ever greater costs to our water, soil, and air, and does all of this at greater and greater speeds and creature comforts. Whew! That was a long sentence of bad news frustration!

It seems we are habituated and addicted to the exact ways of life that are destroying our future. And I suppose the heroin addict doesn’t really believe that this next dose, just a bit stronger than the last, that he/she hopes will provide that longed-for moment of bliss, will be the one that will bring about his or her death.

The only way to avoid that death would have been to get off the drug completely, to get into a rehab program and endure a painful and difficult journey of detoxification and learning how to survive without the drug – no more heroin, ever. Let the body heal. Let it be cleansed of the drug that is killing it and the spirit that has used it in an attempt to stay out of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.

The metaphor really works, doesn’t it? If you stop for a moment and really think about what it would be like to live without all this technology – the internet, email, cell and smart phones, cable TV – do you begin to feel anxious? does it feel scary and depressing, inconvenient and uncomfortable? do you feel a little angry at the suggestion, or accused, or guilty? Two things: one, we have had this technology for how long? Was there life before this that humans actually loved and enjoyed (maybe we even spent more quality time with one another or chatting live on the phone)? How long did it take us to get addicted and feel that all of this is now necessary? How long did it take for us to addict ourselves to constant connectivity?

Internet map - we're all in here somewhere. Credit: Wikipedia

Internet map – we’re all in here somewhere. Credit: Wikipedia

And now if one adds this other layer – that these technologies (including the one I’m using right now) are among the biggest drivers in the poisoning of the planet, in the extraction industries and the burning of fossil fuels – what then?

Meanwhile, this addiction is still in the process of spreading across the globe. The Pusher has a long, long ways to go before 7 billion of us are steady customers, along with the 2 or more billion still to come by mid-century. That’s a lot of customers. That’s a lot of extraction-production-consumption-waste yet to go on a planet whose living systems are already in severe crisis. That’s a lot of potential market share and stock earnings for corporations duty bound to give their stockholders the best return on their investments.

So, again, what do we do now? As more and more people around the world are getting into rehab, getting off as much as possible the daily infusions of what feeds this global economy (extraction-production-consumption-waste), we still see every one of our environmental indicators worsening. Ecological collapses are no longer predictions, they have begun.

How do we learn to live in this unfolding reality? What do we need to find a path that is also passage to a next phase in our human evolution that is not about the end of the species but the renewal of it, a regeneration from the bottom up of what it means to be homo sapiens sapiens, conscious self-aware beings, on the planet Earth?

I wish I had the answers to this most profound question of our time. But not having it does not mean not going forward in any case to construct new ways of life out of the looming disintegration of the old.

What will we need to get through? One thing is to move as much as possible out of the global market, to need it as little as possible for one’s survival. In order for that to be possible, we need to rebuild, strengthen, and deepen meaningful shared community life, along with networks that can provide alternatives for gaining access to what we need for life (not just for human life, but all the creatures who have rights to have their needs met, and upon whose health and well-being our health and well-being depend in any case).

One example of this that has been a fairly easy one to construct is how we access food. Here in Southeastern Wisconsin, we are blessed with a thriving and growing network of organic and conventional small farmers, farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs), backyard vegetable growing programs in the inner city, and advocates for and a mayor passionate about the possibilities of creating an urban farming economy. Many local restaurants now buy from this network, chefs changing menus with seasonally and locally available produce. All of this is part of getting out of the global economy and becoming fiercely local and sustainable.

Now take this model and think about all the other aspects of our lives. How would we begin to seriously create these community networks that can become resilient, vibrant, where we can together learn survival skills, train ourselves again in how to fix things, to “repurpose” things, to share creatively in providing what we need for life together, including shared joy, laughter, camaraderie, and a sense of being part of something greater than ourselves to which we contribute our talents and gifts?

You know, you can start this sort of thing anywhere. Think of pot luck gatherings as another metaphor – everyone bringing something to the table, each dish with different flavors, each taste an adventure, a contribution to the whole.

Does that sound unpleasant, miserable, an awful trial, a suffering? No, I didn’t think so. But it does threaten our individualistic isolation from each other, our often well-protected isolation. But only our technology and consumer habits have allowed a sensation or experience of isolation that is in fact false, it is not real.

Rare earth mineral mine - Bayan Obo, China. Image: NASA Earth Observatory

Rare earth mineral mine – Bayan Obo, China. Image: NASA Earth Observatory

I sit in this room alone at my computer. But at the same time, I am using energy, I am communicating on a Word Press platform shared by millions, I am attempting to communicate out to a world via WiFi (in itself a grave threat to our long term health) and DSL connections, across cables buried underground and under oceans. The laptop I’m using was created using fossil fuels, rare earth minerals that came from open pit mines often worked by exploited cheap labor in other countries, and then assembled god-knows-where in factories that are energy-intensive and with the cheapest labor available.

I am decidedly not alone.

It is not possible to get out of the global economy completely and survive. That day will come – either by forethought and planning or by disaster and collapse – but it will come. Moving toward that eventuality by forethought and planning is part of our task now, our challenge, our “Great Work,” as Thomas Berry called it. It is not about purity (because there is no such thing) or about judgment or guilt. It IS about recognizing our predicament, how serious it is, understanding what created it and drives it, and beginning to move as quickly as possible in another direction.

To do that, we need one another – badly. We need community necessarily, essentially, and urgently. That will take a lot of fear out of the great unraveling, the great transition, the great transformation – and it has the potential to add a lot of joy, depth of friendship, deep solidarity with one another and the planet, and, most essentially – love.

Let’s give it a try, shall we?


Many of you are already at work carving out the new paths, our ways through the crisis. We welcome your stories and would love to share them here.



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One Response

  1. Clifton Ware

    I found a link to your website in a GrowthBusters e-newsletter, and checked it out. Thanks for a very thought provoking, stimulating, and insightful blog. My wife and I concur with your thoughts as expressed, and admire your desire to communicate this all important message. We’re in a similar situation, as co-founders of Citizens for Sustainability in St. Anthony Village. We have a website ( and also a FaceBook page. The most recent issues of our e-newsletter are available on our website. Incidentally, our son and his wife live near Westby, WI, and are active in the Viroqua Food Co-op and the surrounding community. The area is as you describe it, a sustainable community that’s focused on creating local services and businesses. Best wishes in your ongoing work to make a difference!