We have got to get these things connected! Wealth concentration, injustice, and ecosystem breakdown come from the very same source

Posted March 7th, 2016 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

The planetary news this past week was dire, to say the least. A few highlights:

Our Hemisphere’s Temperature Just Reached a Terrifying Milestone, by Eric Holthaus

Sea Ice in Arctic Melting Faster Than Thought, from CBS News – one of those positive feedback loops long feared, as lost ice and open water means more heat from the sun absorbed into the atmosphere rather than reflected back out into space. This really is a terrifying new signal.ncep_cfsr_t2m_anom_022016.png.CROP.promovar-mediumlarge

Greenland’s Melting Is Feeding On Itself, Scientists Say, by Chris Mooney – another possibly already-irreversible positive feedback loop, a very bad sign in terms of sea level rise.

From newly returned astronaut Scott Kelly, who had more time to meditate on the state of the planet from a vantage point few humans will ever experience: “The Earth is a beautiful planet. The space station is a great vantage point to observe it…you notice how the atmosphere looks, and how fragile it looks. Makes you more of an environmentalist after spending so much time looking down on our planet.”

“There are definitely parts of Asia, Central America that when you look at them from space, you’re always looking through a haze of pollution. As far as the atmosphere is concerned, and being able to see the surface, you know, I would say definitely those areas that I mentioned look kind of sick…

“When you look at the … atmosphere on the limb of the Earth, I wouldn’t say it looks unhealthy, but it definitely looks very, very fragile and just kind of like this thin film, so it looks like something that we definitely need to take care of.” [see Sanjay Gupta interview on CNN]

That’s the big view, the very large view, of our human predicament – human because we are the driver, the species forcing these changes. It’s a predicament for all life on Earth as living beings try to adapt to changes occurring far more rapidly than the normal course of evolution. But it’s ours because we are responsible for it, and we are one of the species most at risk, most vulnerable, because of it.

Meanwhile, in terms of our social/economic reality, the week also saw some very harsh news, especially here in Wisconsin where I live:

Poverty Across Wisconsin Reaches Highest Level in 30 Years, by Karen Herzog

Amid Sea of Evictions, Landlords Pull In Profits, by John Schmid

Racism, segregation, structural poverty based on exclusion of whole communities in our inner cities, and many rural communities abandoned and left to industrial agribusiness – these trends are also accelerating all across the country.

Are you old enough to remember the 60s and 70s? We thought all of these trends would have been reversing by now. We really underestimated the strength of the blowback, the cultural revenge of the white male conservative, and the determination of the corporate world to move toward a globalized economy that they and their investors would dominate.

In the years since then, a chasm has widened between the rich and poor in this country, a gap that in 2012 was already measured as 4th worst in the world.

And in 2014: “The 85 richest people on Earth now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the global population, according to a report released Monday by the British humanitarian group Oxfam International.”

This is wealth concentration on steroids!

We surrendered justice and the common good to the the concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer elites who don’t really give a damn about the planet or the people and other living and non-living beings who dwell here.

What to do…

Well, one thing is that more of us need to see the organic connections among these realities. In effect, justice and ecology are about the very same thing – it’s an attitude, a structural framework of our global economy, that treats human beings in the same way it treats the eco-communities that support us and give us life – from the forests and the seas, to the fragile life of deserts, to the soil’s organic matter, to the animals, birds, and insects that interact in the dynamic that keeps life in balance. And what we see in some of the dire news of the planet is that the balance is unraveling; indeed, in some locations it is already gone.

Because we refuse to live within limits.  View into Hell - Kern River. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Because we refuse to live within limits.
View into Hell – Kern River. Source: Wikipedia Commons

And in the same way that a lot of more mainstream environmental work has been modeled on strategies of segregation – saving a woodland here and a park there, a beach in one place, and some trees somewhere else – we have segregated huge parts of humanity from the interests and priorities of the corporate global economy because they have no use to its profit-making and its concentration of power. And in a lot of the environmental work, those human communities are also ignored, segregated from the whole, as if you can have a lovely conservancy protected while the human community is being degraded by poverty and neglect.

Think Flint, Michigan. Think of how the people of that city were dropped from the concerns and priorities of corporations and local governments when they were no longer useful to them. Then see how the dots became connected – the toxic contamination of the Flint River by the dirty industries that used it to release their waste, the pollution from runoff, the oil and muck of an industrial city, the combination of the ruination and poisoning of water, soil, and human beings.

That is the harsh reality of the world we have made.

I feel such need to move now in this direction – of making these connections into the one picture, the whole of which they are each a part, deeply interrelated on moral and ecological grounds.

I will go a step further, and this could get me into some trouble: while I think the work on the new cosmology, the “New Universe Story,” the inspiring work on ecology and spirituality is important and paradigm-shifting, my experience of it is often very white and seldom integrated into the whole of the planetary crisis. It seldom is expressed in concrete solidarity with poor, marginalized, and discriminated-against populations.

The most powerful expressions of what Joanna Macy and David Korten call “The Great Turning,” or what Thomas Berry referred to as “The Great Work,” is where humans have crossed those lines of separation and worked together in defense of places under threat from the industries seeking to extract and/or exploit “natural resources.” The pipeline company Enbridge comes to mind. Grassroots groups in Minnesota have been waging a long and effective struggle to halt construction of a pipeline network bigger than the stalled Keystone XL.

Here are two websites to visit for a little inspiration: Honor the Earth and Friends of the Headwaters. These are examples of what I mean.

Alice's Garden, in the heart of urban Milwaukee

Alice’s Garden, in the heart of urban Milwaukee

We have examples emerging here in Milwaukee as well, and they give me hope, energy, inspiration, new ideas about putting substance and content into the meaning of “new creation” and what that work entails. Alice’s Garden is one example, as is Walnut Way’s project, The Commons,  in one of the most beat-up dangerous neighborhoods of our city.

If we want to save the ecosystems of the planet, we have to go to the places where transformation can become deep and empowering. Where structural poverty and racism are entrenched, we find communities with the most at stake in our work to learn how to live differently on this planet. Their resilience and spiritual strength often take my breath away, reminiscent of what drew me to the Basic Christian Communities of Central America that stood up to dictators in defense of their dignity and rights.

We cannot do this struggle without them – as leaders. In the same way that we listen to the sounds of a planet we love in peril, we have to quiet our white privileged tendency to think we know how best to do things and listen – really listen – to the voices of those finding their voices now, constructing new communities and neighborhoods, new networks and collaboration, pipelines of human connectivity using social media, the internet, and regional gatherings to share stories, insights, strategies.

If we want to build movements that embrace and move toward ecological wholeness and balance, our work, our organizations, our movements, have to reflect that vision.

So, my dream right now is to create a new Center for New Creation website dedicated to how we see that work of “new” creation, where it is happening and who is doing it. We have started raising funds for this, and have a first donation from a local parish. If you could help with this right now by sending a donation our way, we would be most grateful. We need a site that can be interactive, allow for community sharing,  that will bring other voices to the forefront, and present some of the best examples of collaboration, creativity, and strategic thinking that we know of – from “below,” not from above.

We live in very intense times. It is not at all clear how we humans will do in the long run. There are bad signs and good signs wherever you look these days. The important thing is to do all we can to add strength, visibility, and transformative energy to the good signs, yes?

~ Margaret Swedish
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2 Responses

  1. Joan Krebs

    You’re certainly not in trouble w/me because of the paragraph on the “white” you experience in encountering new cosmology, “New Universe Story” due to their often exclusionary discourse. Change of mindset is a hard nut to crack, for sure. But as Dan Berrigan says in my very favorite poem: “How graceful//the bow at rest; // but // O under pressure, like // the bold breath of Creator Spirit. Twang!// And torn // from thin air, a song of songs.” EQUILIBRIUM. Contribution to a Joan Chittister Festshrift

  2. Margaret

    Thanks for the comment, Joan, and thanks for the Berrigan verse. We still have a lot to learn about how to bring about change, don’t we?