What do you say after a year like this? – Part One

Posted December 28th, 2012 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on What do you say after a year like this? – Part One

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Really, tally it up. If you wonder about the sensation you have at times that the world is falling apart all around you, it’s not because you are crazy.

Check out the planet: we are about to break the record for warmest year ever recorded globally (locally, we shattered records for warmth, starting with mid-80s in Wisconsin in March, along with 40,000 daily heat records broken across the country).  We are also about to break a record for CO2 emissions. Something about those two factoids that go together.

IEA global human CO2 annual emissions from fossil fuels estimates vs. IPCC SRES scenario projections. The IPCC Scenarios are based on observed CO2 emissions until 2000, at which point the projections take effect. Currently, in terms of both cumulative and annual emissions, we are on track with Scenario A2, the description of which matches what’s happening in the real world fairly accurately thus far. Source: Skeptical Science

How did we experience climate change this year? Deep, broad drought which covered almost all of the nation, still deepening in large swaths of the Great Plains and US Southwest (of course, that does not stop at our southern border), raging wildfires and dust storms, Hurricane Sandy and other deluges, a disappearing Mississippi River, lower Great Lakes levels, fears that the snow melt that keeps California and other states in water is also disappearing, and on and on. You know that list and undoubtedly could add to it from wherever you live.

Scientists are alarmed at the extent of ice sheets and glacial melt, at the disappearing ice in the Arctic Ocean, and now predict both temps and sea-level rise to reach the high end or above what climate models predict for this century, altering human life on the planet forever. The permafrost is melting all around the far northern hemisphere presenting the danger of a sudden release of methane gas into the atmosphere that would put all our dire predictions of climate change into uncharted territory – runaway global warming, as some describe it.

Meanwhile, because of fracking technology, the US is about to become the world’s largest oil producer, so far are we from facing the reality of the planet that this symptom, this way of “acting out,”  ought to be proof that we really are as a culture, completely insane.

A video to terrify us all…

Check out the society: This year we had mass shooting after mass shooting, two of them right here in my community, the assault on the Sikh community down the road from me in Oak Creek, and the shooting at the spa in the west suburb of Brookfield. Christmas Eve night, a man shot down his wife, a police officer, in cold blood in the suburb of Wauwatosa, my real home town, the first cop killed while on duty in the history of the police force there. The man is a former Marine, a wounded veteran from George Bush’s immoral war in Iraq, who has testified that he once killed a child in “self-defense,” and saw 50 of his friends killed there. He has spoken of seething anger, was obviously paranoid – and so his wife is a victim of whom? Her husband, or George Bush?

And this morning’s front page has a story of how gun purchases in this country rose by 60% this year, and really soared after the reelection of Barack Obama and the massacre of school children and their teachers in Newtown CT.

Meanwhile, it was announced today that the number of murders in Chicago this year has surpassed the 500 mark.

Oh, and this factoid: more than 31,000 people in this country are killed by guns each year, more than 11,000 of those murdered, over 17,000 suicides, and an additional 65,000 gun injuries. The most popular rifle right now is the AR-15, or varying versions of it, the very one used in the CT massacre. Please note that we continue to allow ourselves to be searched, x-rayed, irradiated at airports, to have our lives surveilled by intelligence agencies, because terrorists murdered 2,900 some people on September 11, 2001.

Talk about fearing the gnat while the monster is devouring you and your children… Terrible as 9/11 was, why do we allow fear from that event to overwhelm us but not fear of the far more likely violence lurking around every corner, on every block where we live, under the car seats of the drivers next to you, in the suburban movie theaters or a shopping mall parking lot, in the hands of the unstable, the fearful and paranoid, the ones waiting for the end of the world or to start the war against their government?

Bushmaster rifle – a national favorite

Meanwhile, racism rears its ugly head and there are millions of people still unable to accept that an African-American man is president of this country and an African-American family resides in the White House (as the t-shirt of a Tea Party activist boasted during the campaign, “Bring White Back to the White House”).

And speaking of government: This is also the year in which it became clear that we can no longer govern ourselves, that a minority of people with lots of money – who see popular democracy as a threat to their interests, or their white world, who would like to free corporations from government and destroy government’s ability to enforce laws, a social contract, or a strong federal system – are creating havoc in our legislative system, bent on destroying “the black man,” bent on destroying any hope of equity and social justice, which would require strong government and a greater sharing of the wealth of this still-rich nation.

Meanwhile, with all of this, we are faced with enormous challenges of a planet in crisis and a global economy that can no longer support the hopes and dreams of the majority of people alive today – much less the far greater numbers that will be alive here by mid-century.

Are we, as some say, a failed species? Are we uniquely unable, among all other sentient beings, to know when we are in trouble and to respond with something of the consciousness that evolution awarded to us and other living creatures on this unique and wondrous planet?

Are we fated to our own self-destruction?

Thing is, after years and years of this work of mine, years and years of looking deeply into the crisis, I cannot answer that question with any honesty. I want to say, no, this is not our inevitable fate – but I cannot offer that reassurance.

Do we have the knowledge to make a different choice? Certainly, we do. If knowledge was all it took, we would have responded long ago, decades ago, to the science and research that told us that we would be exactly where we are today if we continued on this industrial course, this way of life  based on extraction, production, consumption, and waste.

Ronald Reagan rejected the Global 2000 Report commissioned by Pres. Jimmy Carter that predicted many of the calamities we are facing now. Released in 1980, it concluded: “If present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now. Serious stresses involving population, resources, and environment are clearly visible ahead. Despite greater material output, the world’s people will be poorer in many ways than they are today.” But Reagan put on a happy face and declared “morning in America.”

As it turns out, we are facing “mourning” in America and much of our world because of the choices made back then.

If we as a culture respond to all of these upheavals by arming ourselves – and we have – then where do we see the possibility of a different outcome than self-destruction, a violent clash of fear and paranoia as life gets increasingly difficult on our increasingly stressed planet?

Well, despite the evidence, I’m not done yet with the question about our fate. Not knowing the answer means I can neither offer the reassurance, nor accept the other possibility. Fact is, I don’t know, and not knowing, I, like millions of others, have not surrendered to the signs of self-destruction. Evolution has made possible another impulse within the species and more and more people are paying attention to it, shutting off all the noise of the culture to do some deep listening, some deep penetration into the truth of our predicament to see what we can learn there, and then some deep listening into the heart of what pulses within this species, how those resonances deep within us tell us how to respond and what is needed now.

Some of us are simply not ready yet to surrender the wonder and life force that remains alive within us. The story is not over. But we do need to decide where the narrative is headed – and we have run out of time to figure out when to do that. It is passed time. It is now urgent. We need to be willing now to take some serious risks, to step out into this potentially tragic story and set it in a new direction.

Part Two of this reflection comes to greet the New Year. Stay tuned.

We are making plans to significantly boost this project into a real community gathering place in 2013. To do that, we need your help. If you can, please donate to the Center for New Creation to help us realize the dream. More to come in January!

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