We have to learn how to live on the planet, and fast

Posted July 20th, 2015 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on We have to learn how to live on the planet, and fast

One thing that ought to be remarkably apparent by now is that we humans no longer know how to live on this planet. Rather than achieve wisdom for that purpose, insight, understanding of our place within the web of the whole, we westerners (victims of the Age of Enlightenment) used the mental prowess of our complex brains to set ourselves apart from that web. Worse, we have attempted to set ourselves over and above it as its Grand Manipulator, as if it was all put here for our use, as if it was given to us as our factory full of raw materials to exploit, as if our role was to so master the living systems of this planet that we would one day begin to restructure the very processes of life itself – at our service, for our pleasure and convenience.

Drilling a fracking well in western PA. Credit: Margaret Swedish

Drilling a fracking well in western PA. Credit: Margaret Swedish

And even worse than that, we often used that power to create empires, to fight wars, to oppress one another, as material wealth became source of competition, conflict, and a whole history of savage abuse of other peoples and cultures

Now, lest that brush I’m using paint far too broadly, I want to acknowledge that there are many, many people who do know how to live on the planet and are doing their very best to open paths for new creation under incredibly difficult circumstances – difficult because so much damage has been done to the web by now that we have arrived at a point where little about our future as a species is assured. We may or may not survive. We may or may not figure this out in time. We know we face ridiculously challenging circumstances in the days to come, especially as we move through this century when we will be coming to terms with the impacts of what our western industrial economic lives have done. I won’t make the list here. You know it only too well. We could start with the aridification underway in the west, the trail of wildfires across the globe, the melting glaciers and ice sheets at both poles, the saturation of the oceans with CO2, the pattern of annual record global temperatures, and we’ve barely started.

NASA video

We know this. Those of you who come to this website know this.

The Center for New Creation is not rising again like the phoenix to become another in a long list of activist or issue-oriented groups. There are many of them, millions of them, some doing really effective work, helping to raise consciousness, save vital ecosystems, protest the vast expansion of fossil fuel and mineral extraction, using whatever means from legal work to direct action to basic (and essential) community organizing.

133x130The role we see for this organization is different – it is to articulate from all that ferment, that fodder, that organic matter, a new culture, a culture of ecological wholeness and healing. It is also to challenge movements to become more consciously “integral” in terms of the organic, inescapable interconnections between the torn web of life and the shattered web within and among the human community by way of injustice, racism, and all forms of separation and alienation that strengthen destructive power dynamics in our society.

With eyes open to the true nature of our ecological and social pathologies, it is not hard to see how intimately connected is last week’s story of the death of Sandra Bland, found hanging in a jail cell in Texas after being stopped by police for a minor traffic infraction, with the stories of chemical contamination from fracking and the largest oil spill ever at the tar sands industrial site in Alberta. It is not hard to see that abusive behavior toward the planet is also expressed in abusive behavior that we do to one another, that this abusive behavior comes from false feelings or beliefs that we can separate ourselves out from one another, and from the worms and the butterflies, the bees and the bats, and build identities grounded in race, class, nationalism, resentment, intolerance, and fear of “the other.”

Thing is, that is not how Nature works, and we cannot live outside Nature and how it works. The more we try, the more damage we do – to the planet, to the living communities in which we live (air, water, soil, other species), and to one another.

East Los Angeles Interchange - google earth

East Los Angeles Interchange – google earth

The more we try, the more we see how impossible it is as we have reached this point where our personal and community lives are completely embedded within the now-daily reality of the ecological crises unfolding on the planet. We cannot escape no matter how hard we try. And the forms of escape, especially in our habits of consumption, suburban and exurban sprawl, gated communities, white flight, concentration (hoarding) of wealth and assets, are adding in huge measure to the other crises so apparent now – loss of vital habitat for millions of species, paving over of farmland that we will badly need in the future to feed ourselves, inefficient uses of energy and water, CO2 saturating our oceans and atmosphere, separation along race and class lines that are causing deep tensions, increasingly violent ones, in our urban communities. Again the list is long. And each of the realities on that list can be drawn out to reveal the interconnections among them with everything else related to ecological, social, and cultural breakdown.

We in this nation especially have attempted to create lives of fierce individualism enforced by what and how we consume, what we own, what walls we can build around those constructed identities. Because that is and always was a false ecology, eventually it would begin to crumble – or make the world around us begin to crumble – because that way of life became completely unsustainable within the course of just a few generations.

In addition, we had to become, like Ancient Rome, an empire, squandering vast resources in lives, economies, and earth resources in order to invade, oppress, dominate, then defend “national security interests,” which mostly amounted to stealing from other countries the resources we needed to keep this Ponzi scheme going.

USA - living on the biocapacity of the planet

USA – living beyond the biocapacity of the planet

We refused to live within limits. “Americans” don’t live within limits. It is antithetical to our cultural identity – which has put us on a course to ecological catastrophe. We have played our part in feeding competition among economic powers around the world to see who can get control of the increasingly scarce resources needed to continue to fuel the economic engine of industrial growth and profits. The frenzy to explore and claim the oil and gas resources of the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean is only the latest example of that insane assertion of power over Nature to fuel our grandiose and completely misplaced sense of ourselves.

The human species does not seem to know how to live on this planet anymore, if it ever really did. We have to learn, and we have to learn fast.

This past week was chock full of sobering news about the planet. Let me just list a few of the more disturbing ones to give a sense of the urgency of the moment.

Warming of Oceans is Unstoppable, say US Scientists
Continued destruction of Earth’s plant life places humans in jeopardy
New report indicates that 2014 was the hottest ever, and 2015 will surpass it
How Climate Change is Making Wildfires Worse
The California Drought Is Just the Beginning of Our National Water Emergency

A little tough to take in, isn’t it? You know I could add to this list. I’m tempted to but think we would all start crying out, “Stop! Stop!”

Just a few weeks ago, I was visiting with an old friend of some 20 or more years. She’s an adjunct professor at Columbia University, brilliant poet, former civil liberties lawyer, living in Manhattan with her partner, one young adult daughter who is amazing. When sharing something of the work I’m doing these days, I just commented briefly that we are in big trouble on this planet, and she jumped in with, “We are so fu*ked!” I was taken aback by how quickly and firmly she said it. But she lives in Manhattan below 34th Street and when Hurricane Sandy hit she lost power for over a week and during the emergency watched boat rescues from second story windows on the blocks just below her. Her building was just high enough to avoid the flooding that came in off the Hudson.

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

We would probably be amazed at how many people know, and try to live on in that knowledge, because they don’t know what else to do. We all know now that the change required is a whole lot bigger than our individual lives and that unless the systems that created this crisis are broken down and replaced with others, it’s easy to feel like we’re riding a wave that is bound to crash on shore and we have no idea of the outcome – or even if we will survive.

Of course, a lot of people still don’t know, and a majority of us in this country still don’t want to know because we are trapped in the paradigm of our cultural mythology – that however we address the crises, okay, we will endure a little inconvenience, but we still operate as if this way of life will go on, that somehow we have earned or deserve it, that our sense of identity and self-worth lay there. We still harbor the same expectations created around the Myth of the American Dream. It’s a lot harder to make the leap into the realization that it is the Dream itself, that belief that ties our happiness and life satisfaction to enhanced standards of living, that is the problem. Unless more of us begin to accept that this is the case, we will continue to use up more of the planet and thrust more waste into its atmosphere and biosphere until the whole thing unravels.

We want what we can no longer have.

Credit: USDA

Credit: USDA

Which is why what we need now is more than a few environmental fixes, a few more solar panels, a little less shopping for stuff we don’t need. What brought about the Great Recession of 2008 and following was the accumulation of people living beyond their means and the big financial institutions happy to finance that with reckless loans and speculation. We are doing the same collectively, as a species, with the planet – living far beyond our means, and the days of reckoning are upon us. I mean, some of the recent scenes on TV of fires and storms and floods look like Hollywood movies about the apocalypse!

old miners house

Abandoned miner’s cabin, Copper Country U.P. Credit: M Swedish

We have to learn how to live on this planet. It is in myriad ways right now responding to our industrial civilization. It is responding to the terrible damage we have done. The reverse is also true. If we can learn how to live within the limits, within the remarkable living systems evolved over 4.5 billion years, the Earth will respond in kind. It won’t be the same world into which my generation was born, but it will heal into something new that just might be able to hold us.

The Blue Planet - Earth Observatory: NASAWe have to stop all this consumer nonsense and start listening again to what somewhere in our biology we still know, that reserve wisdom when survival is at stake. This listening and learning is being done in many corners of the world. If we all started doing this, stopped giving our assent every day to the corporate industrial world that is shredding the Earth’s web of life, that world would begin to unravel in a way that would open spaces for new ways of life to emerge – in sync, in balance, with the eco-communities that we inhabit.

We have to partner with the Earth, to live according to its nature – and our own – because it is the same thing. We have been living outside our true nature. The result right now ain’t pretty. But we can make it beautiful again. We really can.

~ Margaret Swedish

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