Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Paying attention to the shift...

What shift? Well, there's the shift we see on the surface of things - the tumultuous politics of our time; the existential threats to our democratic form of governance; the corruption of our political system now so deeply rooted in it, so intertwined at every level of it, that it's hard to see what could free it at this point; the national fragmentation; the imploding of the global economic system; the threats of more and more international conflict; melting polar ice sheets...

All that, yes, and more, requires a stepping back, some serious reflection, on what we think is really going on, and why now, and how come so fast. Otherwise we may find ourselves feeding the systems that have created the crises, that have brought us to this point of tremendous upheaval, where our nation's politics is in shambles.

But for the purpose of this essay, I'm thinking more here about the shift on the "inside" of things, the more profound shift about which all those surface energies are like waves of an ocean that signal some serious turbulence at the depths. What's going on underneath?

To make the work I do under the umbrella of the Center for New Creation relevant to that deeper shift, to sharpen perception and understanding of what is really changing, and what the nature of that change is - this requires serious ongoing searching, and conversations with others asking the same questions, that process we like to call, reading the signs of the times. Like many or most of you, I have been riveted by the unfolding of Trumpism and how quickly it is breaking all the furniture within our political system. But I know this is not the big thing going on, merely a turbulence caused by the big thing, or things.

What things? Here's my own take:
1) the end of the age of industrial growth capitalism, whether most capitalists and consumers realize it or not and persist in its destructive behaviors; 

2) the end of the Age of Enlightenment (take what was good in it, and leave the rest - a lot of it - behind, including a merely scientific, mechanistic, utilitarian [mis]understanding of life); 
Forest plundered for tar sands oil*
3) the rise of the Anthropocene, the disruption of all the Earth's ecosystems by this voracious predator species;

4) the Earth's responses to the spreading of human industrial economies over the past centuries, including climate chaos and increasing incidents and intensity of "natural" disasters;
5) the collapse of white imperial Anglo-European supremacy and the great comeuppance for old empires built on domination that included colonization, genocide, and slavery; 

6) the rising up of those colonized, who suffered enslavement and genocide, now among our most important social change agents, new creators culturally, spiritually, ecologically, building movements that are emergent all over the planet;
7) last, but hardly least, the "new cosmology," our new understanding of our small place on this tiny planet in the vast expanse of an expanding universe, and the dislocation, disorientation, and collapse of old belief systems under the weight of that knowledge.
I'm sure we could all add to the list, but these stand out for me. What they represent is the really big thing going on - the unraveling of one world that's been around for centuries or more and the emergence of what comes next.

Anyone who thinks that a shift of this magnitude is going to be easy or simply wonderful hasn't been following the planet's or this species' history. Change of this magnitude comes with turbulence, chaos, violence, a lot of inner and outer dislocation, tremendous fear as uncertainty enters our daily lives and survival instincts kick in.

is one of the most powerful forces of our human nature, even more so after centuries of philosophical and religious individualism, and economic aspirations built on the capitalist dream of unending wealth and material security. We formed identities from or within that dream. Our religions separated our personal lives from the greater drama of our economic and planetary lives, and we see the result. Clinging still to the notion of personal salvation (religious, nationalistic, racial, lifestyle, career identities, life achievements, degrees, retirement portfolios, etc.), we fear the letting go that would reflect the big thing going on - which is that these things are collapsing with or without our consent because they do not reflect reality very well, if they ever did. Life simply does not work that way and we are reaching a quite logical, inevitable conclusion. The striving for the interests of the self separate from "the rest" is a contradiction, and a violent one, of the inter-relatedness of everything that is.

The old compass isn't working anymore. We can't find true north. We can't get a sense of direction. The ways we are used to getting our bearings are breaking down. Many of us know now that what is, in terms of systems and the way we see ourselves on the planet, is not only not working, but is in fact destroying us, and, except for some wonderful communities here and there, we see no emerging collective vision that can keep that from happening.

Too many people, I believe, are still looking for change within the political systems created to serve this dying era, searching for change within the structures that are familiar to us (the 2-party system, the stock market, job creation via economic growth, familiar religious and educational institutions, left-right political alignments, etc.) to try to get those structures to be responsive to the growing crises, to get their act together and save us somehow. We see Trumpism as exceptional threat that needs addressing, rather than reflection of the unraveling, a product of exactly those structures that we've relied on for too long. They are institutions of the very historical, philosophical, economic era that is unraveling. Clinging to them will not help us.
What is bringing about the shift, and why the speed of it is accelerating, is that we have come to the end of an era because it is not sustainable any longer. We outgrew the western economic paradigm by a long shot, living wildly beyond the biocapacity of Mother Earth. And we continue to do so at greater and greater speed, as if we are bent on proving that these limits can be defied by our sheer refusal of them. In that seemingly desperate attempt, we hasten the unraveling of the Web of Life as we continue to tear out the threads that are holding it together.
This is how I understand the big "shift" underway. It comes whether we choose it or not. What we do get to choose is how we will respond to it, and what direction it will take. We get to decide whether we will participate in the accelerating process of ecological destruction, or in the work of new creation, the work of supporting the emergent new ways of life that can provide the resilience, meaning, sense of purpose, the community of life that can move us through the chaos time to a new era in which humans learn how to live once more within the life-abundant limits of this beautiful planet of ours.

I can't give you the one script for those news ways of life because they are and will be diverse, depending on where we are, what history is lodged in the local community, and what we have available to partner with wherever we are - the terrain, the soil, the climate, the cultures, and more. But some general principles will guide the creation of these news ways of life. Among them: 
1) taking no more from our bioregions than we need, and certainly no more than the bioregion itself requires to maintain health, vibrancy, and abundance for all the sentient and non-sentient beings that reside there (for example, we have to cease human development in vital ecological areas, such as farmland needed for food, vulnerable forests and shores, deserts without self-sustaining water supplies for the local eco-community, etc); 

2) deep respect for all other forms of life that surround us, none of which should be sacrificed for our pleasures or convenience; 

3) a deep and abiding commitment to social and economic justice because the gross inequities built into our economic systems are not sustainable, nor is it possible to build sustainable economies on foundations of social and economic injustice; 

4) an opening to multiculturalism so that we can learn from the cultures, values, and wisdom of others, because no one belief system or culture holds all the truth. We must be as diverse within the human community as Nature itself is because that's what makes life resilient. There is no room for racism, ethnic hatred, segregation, or other forms of intolerance within the new communities of emergent new creation; 

5) we must shift quickly from a culture that measures success by lifestyles, acquisition, and mobility, to cultures that honor roots, community-building, and care for one another;

6) we must re-think the whole capitalist notion of "work." Think of all the things that capitalism does not honor - raising children, working in community gardens or urban farms to raise food for one's household, a whole lot of community cultural work, artists, poets, singer-songwriters, and more - yet this is work that is necessary for a healthy community. It is also work that gives people joy, and leaves minimal ecological footprints. In fact, they are ways of connecting more deeply with our local bioregions, are incalculable contributions to our communities, and ought to be supported with sustainable incomes;

7) we must honor grievances and historical wounds, as well as the grievous wounds to the Earth where we live, by way of truth-telling and searing honesty, in the mode of "truth and reconciliation" commissions in former conflict areas, and hold rituals for the asking of forgiveness, for forgiveness itself, for reparations that restore the scales of justice, for the healing of broken places, and for restoration of the community, including the eco-community;

8) an "open space for democracy," real democracy this time, with open discussion from the bottom up and leaders who are truly representative of and accountable to the community.
Again, we could add more, but it's a start and a way to get some serious community dialogue going around the work of new creation. But we have to start moving passed dialogue and community conversations and to the work itself. Actually, it is in the shared work of new creation that that dialogue will deepen, the trust within the community will begin to take root, and a sense of empowerment as we realize we really can do this!

Of course, some of this work is political and therefore difficult and draining. But I like to think of it as not so much going up against the powers-that-be, against all the resources they can muster against us, and instead doing all we can to kick the foundations out from under those powers. This is a long struggle, but we are already seeing the changes that are underway. The refusal of environmental destruction is happening everywhere, in acts of resistance and effective local organizing. In the process, communities of friends and neighbors are growing out of these same movements and it begins to be more than protest, creating cultures of poets, artists, musicians, children, extended families, and inclusiveness and diversity that was missing from most of the movements of the past. And in the meantime, a lot of people are also having fun!

I keep harping on this theme in my writing, my workshops, and other presentations: while this all sounds hard and often scary, embracing this shift, making this turn, will fill our lives with meaning, perhaps more than we have ever known. And if we do it in community, it takes away a lot of the fear of leaving an old life behind to begin a new one. So, that's also on each one of us - helping to create the safe space for the great letting-go, to embrace what is unraveling, to embrace the shift, as one of the most exhilarating moments in the entirety of the human journey.

~ Margaret Swedish 

Photos: Margaret Swedish 
* photo from Alberta tar sands industrial site

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

It won't work unless we begin to think and work within the truth of interconnection, the healing of broken relationships

It was 47 years ago that the first "Earth Day" was marked in this country. It emerged out of a deep sense that our planet was moving into a crisis mode, that population growth and unlimited consumerism was not sustainable, that lethal smog in our cities, contamination of fresh water sources by dirty industries, toxic waste, and more were making people sick, shortening the lives of our children, posing long-term health threats.

John McConnell's Earth Day flag

We started to care about the quality of the food we ate, how it was raised, how it was sourced.

47 years! It seems that as a species, as supposedly smart educated westerners, as a culture here in this country, we have failed miserably at avoiding environmental catastrophe. One chief reason that remains almost impossible to talk about (even in a workshop with loads of graphs and scientific info and dramatic photos): we refuse to give up the economic aspirations of our capitalist consumer culture.

Every movement, every social change group, every non-profit organization working to "better" the world has to stop now and then to rethink things. How are we doing? Is the work having an impact? Is the orientation of the work still appropriate for the moment? What has changed in the culture that needs attention, that may alter the work we do under our mission? Is the mission itself still relevant?

I've been doing a lot of reflecting on the work of these past 10 years to get a better sense of how that has evolved, how our roots in the intersection of ecology and spirituality have deepened but also been challenged. I've pondered this question, raised it among many friends and colleagues. It goes something like this: what is it about us that makes it so hard to let reality sink in to these resistant brains of ours, the resistance to seeing that we cannot go on like this? What is it about us that makes it so hard to break with our fantasy world to see what is happening to our planet and our future in it, to realize that the accelerating trajectories of our western lives and economic culture have already put us wildly past the Earth's carrying capacity?

We cannot be supported on this trajectory. That is not an opinion. That is as much established science as the fact of global heating, or evolution, or that the Earth is round and revolves around the sun!

Source: Global Footprint Network
Yet we go on. And each day the path out of crisis gets harder, because each day we take more from the planet than it can replenish, and put more waste into it than it can absorb. There is a fundamental truth of our age that we refuse to accept, it's the one in this graph, which I have shown over and over again for years now. It is clear, it is stark, it usually brings an intense quiet to the rooms where I show it - and it changes almost nothing. Maybe some people reflect on the need to do more recycling or buy a more energy efficient car. Almost no one wants to talk about an entire economic way of life that needs changing - and fast.

We don't want that. We don't vote for it. We don't live in the truth of it. We still think affluent consumer lives are a reward for our hard work and lifelong aspirations, and well-deserved, I might add, rather than a denial of reality itself.

Antarctic Dispatches - NY Times
It's wired into our brains. And our brains have trouble connecting the two things - the consumer lifestyle choices I make now and the melting of the ice sheets at the North and South poles that will inundate coastal cities around the world in the next century. I mean, we don't seem able to connect those choices with the regular high tide flooding in Miami Beach, the deaths of coral reefs around the world, the drowning of island nations in the Pacific, and the crumbling away of shores and villages in Alaska where our own fellow citizens live.

We refuse the connections in the face of obvious climate change signals in record droughts, monstrous storms, record wildfires, unstable weather patterns, and every year, the record global heating.

So, that's one part of this reflection. Why is this so? Has consumer culture so rewired our brains with its addictive pleasures that we are no longer able to discern threats to our own biological survival?

The other part has to do with that interconnected theme of ecology and spirituality. Like many people in the past few decades, I have been powerfully moved by what is called "the new universe story," or "the new cosmology." It is a magnificent panorama of the creation story through both space and time that has come to us via breathtaking scientific discovery. It has collapsed a lot of old belief systems and shown us the possibility of breaking through religious divisions by offering us at long last a common creation story for all of humanity, the Earth, all her living creatures, and the cosmos.

That's a big vision. And then there's the reality "on the ground" where the same divisions exist, the same violent conflicts, the same deep injustice that marks most of the world, the same racism, and, in this country, the same inability for those who descended from the Anglo-European invaders and/or later benefited from this history to see the oppression that is their legacy - in white supremacy, in racism, in degrading poverty that puts the lie every day to the supposed morality or promise of market capitalism, in certain mainstream religious institutions that from our founding days as a nation have provided justification for the ideology of "American exceptionalism."

Oh, and then there's all those wars, military interventions, and collaborations with some of the most brutal human rights violating regimes in the world (like Trump's recent trip to Saudi Arabia and the oil/gas/defense deals that were signed there), that is the way we defend that exceptionalism, the economic way of life that at least some majority of people in this country get to enjoy.

Yes, I have had need to ponder all of that, especially with the shifting vantage point of where this project locates itself now - in Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in the country, with the highest incarceration rates for black males, with some of the highest rates of poverty among African Americans, where discrimination is so much part of the DNA of the metro area that people hardly notice it - white people, that is.

Earth from inside Saturn's rings: NASA Cassini
The new cosmology has brought many to fall in love with the planet, to realize the miracle that is the Earth. I mean, if we are talking about "exception," then this is it, because we sure haven't been able to find another one like it. At the same time, the photos from space, from Earth orbit, from the moon, from the deep outer reaches of the solar system, have shown us how fragile we are indeed. As we wreck this jewel of a planet, at least some people are beginning to realize the magnitude of what could be lost.

So these days I have become more and more focused on what for me is the crucial place of interconnection, the nexus among ecology, social justice, culture, and spirituality. The interplay among these dynamisms, if you will, or energetic interactions, is the "place" or "space" where we must focus more of our attention, to see these interactions, to see how broken these connections are, and why, and what we must do to heal them. Because if we don't, all the grand cosmological visions in the world, whether based in science or spirituality or both, will not keep us from destroying the human future on Mother Earth, or at least making it a wretched one for a long, long time to come.

To make the shift we need to make it at the scale required, we need to come closer to the planet where we live, to plant roots deep in her soil, to want to get to know her as we do a prospective lover - a being we want to touch, to listen to, to get know deeply, to probe, to learn, to see just how it is we were made for each other. We need to know the place where we are located, what grows here, what other sentient and non-sentient beings share the space with us, how they interact with us and we with them. We have to want to smell her breath, hear the beating of her heart, know what she needs, what gives her delight.

And when I write that, I don't just mean the flowers, the trees, the rivers, the birds - I mean the human community among whom we live. Who are they? What are their lives like? What connects us and what divides us, as we share this space where we live - our cities, our neighborhoods, our rural areas, our watersheds? What are the needs that must be met to support healthy, dignified life in the eco-communities in which we dwell?

This is not a top-down work. This is not led and coordinated by national organizations. This is an emergent work, grounded in the soil of our lives and our places. National groups can help serve that emergence, but it is not theirs; it is of, by, and for the roots that both take in and nurture the life energies that can begin to heal this industrial, economically unjust mess that our world has become.

Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock - video
This is why what happened at Standing Rock, at the Oceti Sakowin camp, mattered so much. This was an emergence, a coalition of people and water and land and history come together to witness not only the threat of a pipeline but something of what life ought to look like when ecology, justice, culture, and spirituality come together as a force for life that encompasses the whole by caring for the place of interconnection. It is because these points of connection are so broken that things are falling apart, in this case broken by genocidal conquest combined with settler greed that has continued to manifest itself in the violent rape of the land and threat to the water that is the Dakota Access Pipeline. The entire months-long action of the Water Protectors was done in ceremony - it was done in ritual, with profound discipline, and a sharing of labor and responsibilities that was evidence of a new kind of human community that just might emerge from these kinds of uprisings.

The labyrinth. Photo: Cheri Johnson
At Alice's Garden, the urban farm where I have a garden plot, spiritual caretakers have created a labyrinth out of herbs, have led rituals with chants from African ancestors and the pouring of libations. We are growing food there, but we are also growing culture and spirituality rooted in these two acres of soil in the midst of a city deeply troubled by poverty and segregation fueled by racism and structural injustice, and high levels of trauma and violent crime - the last point a result of all the others. In this "space" we not only reject those negative energies of our city's history, but we live differently, with a different sense of community. We consider it sanctuary, a sacred space, a way to heal some of the profound brokenness and distrust that is a result of that history.

What do the indigenous and the African American communities have in common that makes this so important? They are the human sacrifice offered up to the gods of conquest and racial superiority inflicted on this continent since Columbus first set foot on it. The land had to be cleared of its native nations, and enslaved people needed to be kidnapped, brutalized and sold here to create the labor force that built this nation. This is the only way that an economic empire like this one could be constructed, by oppressive modes of nation-building. Without these strategies of raw power, this nation would never have emerged as it did.

That violence was expressed also against the land itself - forests felled, rivers contaminated, land tamed for settler farmers, mines torn open for profit, animals hunted to near extinction, native life ripped to shreds to make way for human development. Surely it is time to take the blinders off and realize that all of this violence is also deeply interconnected. It has one source. It has roots in one basic orientation of the white western economic philosophy. And since this is the case, to think we can heal one aspect of it, like conserving forests and rivers, without healing the rest of it, like racism and poverty, is an illusion.

Which is why I believe it is crucial that we pay attention not only to "nature" and the cosmos as we try to heal the planet, but to the emergence of the peoples and cultures that bear witness as none of the beneficiaries of the economic structures of power and privilege can to the real brokenness of this world. There is an age of Anglo-European entitlement and arrogance that has played itself out. The Earth itself is screaming at us about the results of that arrogance - by way of changing climate, collapses of ecosystems, toxic contamination or manipulation of everything we need to live. Skyrocketing rates of cancer and neuro-diseases are not only practical outcomes of this way of life, but also perfect metaphors for it.

Nexus - the place of connections. This is where our work of healing needs to take place - not in isolated siloes of issues and causes, but in the places where they are interconnected. Ecology, justice, culture, and spirituality are all bound up in one another. Like time and space, where do you find the points where they are separated? In illusion, we separate them. In illusion, I can buy the smart phone and not harm the environment. In illusion, I have the mountain vacation house, and the beach house, and the SUV, and fly to Europe every year for vacation, and not keep pushing the planet beyond its many breaking points. In illusion, each member of my household can have multiple computers and smart phones and not bring harm to the places where the materials are mined, or to the villages in Africa or Asia where small children process our e-waste when we bother to recycle these things.

Only in illusion can big financial firms keep investing in the military-industrial complex and think we can stop war, save the climate, and finally get western control over everything to our satisfaction.

In a state of illusion, white people of some means can simply move out of a city like Milwaukee to the suburbs, taking their money and taxes with them, with no sense or care for the impacts this has on urban poverty and segregation practices, or on the land and waters where those developments were constructed and put under pavement. Development of suburbs and exurbs has an impact on people and places, on poverty and nature's living systems, but once they are built, who notices?

In so many ways, our western economic ways have caused us to lose our sense of just how it is that we are deeply interconnected within this nexus of life and community. Our cultural pathology is most evident in how we have tried to separate ourselves from that nexus, to live as isolated individuals unaware of the impact of our daily lives on everything around us. Coming back home to this awareness is the most essential journey of our time, because it is here that our work becomes part of what we call "new creation," where it begins to mimic nature itself. It is at the nexus of ecology, justice, culture, and spirituality - the point at which the mandate of social justice, an authentic earth spirituality, and a cosmological vision rooted in a common creation story come together as one organic whole.

There is no other way to live on this planet if our children and their children's children are to live on it at all.

~ Margaret Swedish 


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Monday, May 8, 2017

THE REAL CULTURE SHOCK OF OUR TIME: the realization that we cannot save our western affluence and power, and a human future on this planet

So, meanwhile, despite all the noise in the political culture around Michael Flynn, and DT's tweets, the election in France, the corruption of an administration whose family is freely enriching themselves by taking the notion of "conflicts of interests" to a whole new level - while all this continues and escalates, the dismantling of science and research in critical government agencies that impact our future on this planet also continues. The war on facts regarding climate change and our national parks continues. The war on nature being perpetrated by the fossil fuel corporations, now emboldened and further enabled by the GOP regime in Washington DC, proceeds.

In the morning's Washington Post, this article: EPA dismisses half of key board’s scientific advisers, Interior suspends more than 200 advisory panels. Get those truth-tellers out of the way. Get those people showing us that the world we insist on is no longer possible out of the way. Replace them with those who can reassure us, as we look backward not forward, that we can still have that old world back and everything will be okay.  "Make America Great Again" means returning us not to the days of union factory work, good wages and benefits, high taxes on wealth to support public education, highways, and parks - but rather to the days of the old robber barons, the ones that "settled" the West with their railroads, gold rushes, land grabs, and genocidal ways.

And so that's where we feel need to focus this week, to remind us once again that it is up to us to partner with Nature, with the Water Protectors, with the National Parks defenders, with the anti-pipeline protestors, with local environmental justice groups, with our best scientific researchers and agencies like NOAA and NASA/Global Climate Change, in a broad, powerful unstoppable movement to impede, and ultimately halt, these grave threats to our future on this planet.

I was heartened by the enormous turnout for the March for Science - actually, many marches all over the country. By the hundreds of thousands, scientists went out into the streets (a rare thing in itself), along with their enormous fan base (people like me), to defend research, facts, science itself, an event that in its necessity marks how far we have sunk as a nation.
March for Science, Washington DC

This broad cultural descent into willful ignorance, reflected in the current political regime in DC, in my state of Wisconsin, and many other states around the nation, is a stunning reflection of our times, of the demise of a nation that, in my baby-boomer generation at least, considered education and knowledge to be source of pride in who we are as U.S. Americans. To have political "leaders" who embrace ignorance if it threatens their campaign donors, their place in a hierarchy of power, their religious beliefs - this is something that feels absurd and incomprehensible to many of us who grew up and went to school from the 1950s to the 1970s.

We must remind ourselves that reactionary movements, especially as strong as this current one, are also evidence of how threatened the old powers-that-be feel with the changes underway in the world. That's why they are called "reactionary" in the first place.

To what are they reacting? From the days of the Civil Rights struggles, the anti-Vietnam War movements, the women's movements, farmworker and immigrant rights movements, the emergence of rights groups around gender and sexual orientation, the first Earth Day that was accompanied by the first research showing we were headed toward an existential ecological crisis - all through those years, the reaction has been growing with the creation of corporate-funded right-wing think tanks, Tea Party activism, and the rise of a form of Christian fundamentalism that shifted the culture to the right - and away from science that challenged the tenets of those religious and/or economic groups.

Per US eco demand & resource supply - Global Footprint Network
In fact, the changes to culture and knowledge over these recent decades has been disorienting indeed, revolutionary, a real upending of an order marked by white Anglo-European, imperial, western economic domination that has been in place for centuries. That order considers itself superior to all others that have ever been, an aura that is collapsing in the face of reality - starting with its destruction of the living systems of the planet, its complete non-sustainability as it tries to live outside the boundaries of the Earth's own biocapacity. Add to these upheavals the imminent disappearance of the "white race," including the recent challenge to "whiteness" itself as defining anything real (I keep wishing more white supremacists would get their DNA ancestry checked to find out how mixed their blood really is), the collapse of male identity as superior to women, the collapse of old strict gender roles and identities - I mean, we could go on.

This attempt to try to reassert cultural or political "control" over this upheaval in the Western European-American order is at the very least desperate, sad, even kind of pathetic.

But it is powerful and it comes with a lot of corporate money to back it up. Perhaps Trumpism and the rise of former CEO Rex Tillerson to Secretary of State are the best examples of exactly what I mean - an aging generation of "grumpy old men," corporate titans from an old world order soon to die out, feeling their power dwindling, their old world views collapsing, but desperate to hold them in place.

Kind of like the attempted rise of the Old Confederacy as part of that dynamic of desperate clinging.

What I think a lot of them know, however, (sometimes better than a lot of progressives know) is that the Earth cannot possibly sustain the wealth of the rich and powerful while also promoting the well-being of all. This impossibility is not an opinion, this is just some of that uncomfortable reality of facts and science. It is not even remotely possible that wealth can remain this concentrated and all people have enough to eat, clean water to drink, arable land for their crops, uncontaminated environments, dignified housing and work, education for their kids. The Earth can't do it, and we can't even attempt it without destroying the planet's ability to hold us, to keep us here. This impossibility is perhaps the greatest stumbling block of our time. Most of us who benefit from the western capitalist system cannot see any way around this, and so we hedge, we retreat, we go into denial, about how profound and fundamental is the nature of the redistribution of wealth, well-being, and ecological sustainability required for our survival as a species.
Source: Global Footprint Network

Those who know these things and are still pushing forward with the agenda of the global corporate and financial powers are making a choice with grave moral implications.

If personal and corporate wealth are incompatible with preserving the living systems of the planet, if we are already living outside the boundaries of the Earth's biocapacity, how do we proceed in the Age of Trumpism, of corporate control and financing of our political system? How do we move forward, instead of backward, in this Age of Ignorance in which we refuse to see our demise even in the face of floods, firestorms, record heat, and rising seas? How do we find any hope in the efforts we make in the face of daunting challenges like the yawning gap between rich and poor, the growing desperation of populations facing war, terror, and mass dislocations, and the rise of dangerous tribalism and racism all around the planet, a defensive reaction to the social, cultural, and economic changes underway - everywhere?

This is big stuff, and more than can be addressed by the actions of any single one of us. It will take broad collective effort, movements and strong coalitions, education and action, advocacy and political engagement, deep cultural and spiritual work. While none of us can do all of these things, all of us can do some of these things. But crucial to effectiveness is that we not act in isolation, that we avoid "silos" and bubbles, that how we engage this transitional era mimic the way Nature itself works.

The inescapable nature of reality is that there is no such thing as an isolated, individual act. We exist within a complex web of relationships in which everything we do or do not do has impact beyond us, reverberating along the threads of that web. Do too much damage to it, and the web can no longer hold. And we have been doing a lot of ripping away at that web in the age of industrialization and models of endless economic and technological growth.

In the framework of our current political culture, we are seeing an aggressive push against the knowledge and wisdom - the truth - of how Nature works. And I don't mean Nature "out there" among the trees and rivers, I mean Nature that is the trees and the rivers and also human beings interacting with them at all times. We are not a separate silo'ed life form outside Nature that gets to use it for our pleasure, even when that pleasure is a nice hike in the woods. That means that we have to see ourselves and our impacts within the truth of our interrelations with all other sentient and non-sentient beings. 

Part of our challenge is to look at the work we do as expression of the interrelatedness of all those threads that hold, repair, strengthen the connections that hold the web together, meaning that hold us - all life, all the communities of life working together. It is not a matter of feeling the pressure that we must somehow address the whole blessed crisis in order to save the world, but rather to SEE each effort we make, project, or action, or story, or poem, or workshop, or community gathering as part of that web. We need to offer our lives and our efforts not just for the sake of ourselves, our ambitions, or our organizations, but for the sake of the whole, for the health and well-being of the whole of life.

It is from that conscious awareness of the whole that the new cultures and spiritual expressions are emerging that can serve to propel us to the new experience of what it means to be human within this planet. We saw glimpses of this at Standing Rock, now an inspiration for the work of Water Protectors all around the continent and beyond. We saw this in the unprecedented step taken by scientists to walk out of their labs and research institutes and out into the streets as activists for facts and truth. We saw glimpses of this in the two People's Climate Marches (2015, 2017) that put millions into the streets to advocate for the Living Planet - because that's where we all live, and she is in serious trouble.

Earth from inside Saturn's rings. NASA/Cassini
What is emerging is a new experience of what it means to be human within the living whole of this precious little dot spinning in dark space within an unfathomable breadth and depth of cosmic reality.

The new age in which we are living involves this unsettling, even terrifying, awareness - that the age of a certain form of economic culture is bringing us to the brink of planetary disaster and we can't keep doing this anymore. We cannot have wealth accumulation based upon capitalist systems of economic growth and survive much longer. We have set in motion, and continue to set in motion, the conditions for our own demise - if not extinction (and probably not that) at least a future of terrible suffering and want on a devastated planet that could take centuries to fully recover.

These are thrilling times to be on the planet, yes? Here we are at the threshold between eras. Humans have been here before, but never at this scale, never with this much at stake. What I think I want to remind us of with this post is that reaction is not only not the end of the world, but is often indicator of an old world dying and a new one being born. It's just that we U.S. Americans have been at the top of the western economic culture for so long that for us this looks like disaster coming. For a lot of the world, and for Mother Earth herself, this may look indeed like an obstacle beginning to get out of the way. As the dominant economic culture loses credibility, new ecological cultures are rising up.

So as we confront this unresolvable conflict - that we cannot keep our way of life and preserve a human future on this planet - we are going to face the choice of despair or hope, depending on which of these paths we choose. We cannot have them both.

Margaret Swedish  - Check out my bio at our old website.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

How's 'the great unraveling' going for you so far?

Are you enjoying the ride?

Seriously, though, how is it going for you? Panic, rage, fear, terror in the night, nightmares, cold sweats, insomnia? Hard on relationships, too. We are bearing a lot these days - those tuned in to the rapid acceleration of every destructive aspect of western economic domination of planet, cultures, and peoples. Of course those not tuned in are feeling it, too, with all sorts of anxieties, prescription drugs, lashing out, demonizing "the other," and just wondering why they are so out of sorts all the time now.

I could post every day about the unraveling, and probably need to start posting more often in any case, just to keep us all up with the major trends.

Bleaching/dead coral: The Ocean Agency
So, each day I check in with the planet to see how it's doing - and it ain't doing so great anymore. The unraveling of deeply intertwined ecosystems is apparent now - from the bleaching and death of huge portions of the Great Barrier Reef, to the drowning of coastlines in Tasmania (herald for many parts of the world), to the record warmth in the Arctic causing cascades of waterfalls off melting ice sheets, to coming to terms with the reality that most of our water sources on Turtle Island are contaminated with the leaching of toxins and the waste of our industrial society while also diminishing from overuse (e.g., from fracking and unsustainable human development), to surpassing 410 ppm of carbon in the atmosphere for the first time since before the evolution of hominids (in other words, the conditions which gave rise to our evolutionary era) - 412.63 ppm on April 26, to be exact (NOAA-ESRL).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Urgency of change

Where to start... A couple of weeks go by between posts, and the news feels overwhelming. When we say that we are living in momentous times, it's because we are. When we speak of the Great Unraveling, what that metaphor is showing us is that, if you keep pulling at the threads, the fabric weakens. It can hang on for a while, but then it reaches a point where it can no longer hold together and it all falls apart rather quickly.

The U.S. culture is more siloed than ever before, people tucked away in so many bubbles of like-mindedness, of fear, of resistance to change, the blinders pulled in more tightly to keep the view narrow and comforting - and yet the reality is that we are never siloed, we are always interconnected, and these attempts have impacts far beyond us. The more we narrow, the more the world unravels. The more we silo, the more we lose resilience, which is necessary for life. The more we silo, the less prepared we are to deal with change.

Even that the word "silo" is being used as a verb tells you something about the cultural moment.

Yesterday AG Sessions lauded the proposed wall for the southern border and his determination to keep the "filth" from entering our country. Walls. Border enforcement. Strict separations. Enforced silos. Nature doesn't work that way. The attempt, down through the millennia, to keep populations separate and one dominant over all the others, or one species dominant over all other species - well, when I ponder the cost in bloodshed and planetary destruction of these attempts, that we are facing collapse should not surprise us. At some point, a history like this crosses a threshold.

So, how do we enter in to this great moment of human struggle when we will determine whether or not we can create the conditions for survival - but not mere survival, rather rich and abundant life and well-being for future generations? Whether or not we can do this will be determined now, by this generation, or mix of generations, living on the planet right at this very moment. Breathtaking, isn't it?

Crossroads: even the Trump administration could not withdraw outright from the Paris climate agreements, even though it has no intention of fulfilling the U.S. commitments made by President Obama. That at least tells you something about the pushback from a world that is seeing island nations or coastal cities drowning, record heat/floods/drought/wildfires all across the planet, expanding aridification zones (like in our desert Southwest), ocean acidification that is killing off the primary food source for marine life, the sixth great extinction (well underway now), and looming threats of water and food scarcity, facing hundreds of millions of people with starvation.

Yes, the counter-currents to this administration's climate change denialism and lack of concern over destruction of ecosystems in order to free up corporations to extract and poison as they please are pretty strong. The silo says we can do this, and that we have a right to do it. The global community and the reality of the planet says that if we destroy the eco-communities of this nation, we also destroy ourselves.

So here's one thing we all must do: weak and insufficient as it is, we must defend the Paris climate agreement and we must raise holy hell in our legislators' states and districts in this cause.

Here is something else we must do. Wherever we live, Nature is under threat - from bad agricultural practices (industrial agriculture is one of those industries that does not need saving, it needs dismantling as quickly as possible, for the sake of water and soil and our future ability to eat), to extreme extraction for fossil fuels or metals and minerals for consumer products or industrial production, to pollution of our streams, rivers, lakes, aquifers, and groundwater, to suburban and exurban sprawl, and more - wherever you live, these issues are present and urgent. We must partner with the living systems in which we are embedded, with our larger ecological/biological communities,  to work with them to restore, replenish, allow to heal, and end any corporate practice that threatens them.

And we need to do this no matter the cost - because, if nothing else, the cost of not paying this price now is greater than any cost we really want to know, experience, or endure later on. Look into the eyes of the little ones around you if you fear the economic hit, the hit to your lifestyle aspirations, that will likely accompany this ecological mission. Ask yourself what matters more.

I am an avid vegetable gardener, and I have learned in the most visceral way possible that my life depends on the life of my soil, on the worms, the bees, the microorganisms, the water - and that none of those living beings depend on me, on my existence (except that I not destroy them). Such an insight ought to humble us all. Who needs taking care of first and foremost?

I don't say that as the kind of "deep ecologist" who sees humans only as pestilence and threat. I say that because it is true, and if we see the human as also sacred and precious and part of the evolutionary unfolding that makes this Earth unique in all the universe, then we best get into deep relationship with all that makes us possible and take damn good care of those relationships.

Here's some news for you: 
From the Guardian, April 5:  Climate change impacting ‘most’ species on Earth, even down to their genome 

It reads under the headline: "Three recent studies point to just how broad, bizarre, and potentially devastating climate change is to life on Earth. And we’ve only seen one degree Celsius of warming so far."  

First sentence of the article: "Climate change is rapidly becoming a crisis that defies hyperbole."
"Continuing to burn fossil fuels at the current rate could bring atmospheric carbon dioxide to its highest concentration in 50 million years, jumping from about 400 parts per million now to more than 900 parts per million by the end of this century, a new study warns.
"And if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated beyond that point, the climate could reach a warming state that hasn’t been seen in the past 420 million years."
These levels are not locked in. They are what happens if we continue business-as-usual - which the world rejects, but not yet this nation. And we have to change that in a hurry.  

From the Chicago Council on Global Affairs: Why is water scarcity a global security concern?

"By 2025, the UN predicts that 1.8 billion people - 22% of the global population - will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity." Last time I checked, that was less than 8 years from now. If ever there was a statistic that showed starkly the unsustainabillity of our human way of living on this planet... Remember, it is water that made the Earth blue and green and teeming with life. What in the world are we doing?!

We have to step it up now.

So next weekend, scientists will march in Washington DC in defense of knowledge and truth (my mechanical engineer professor brother, who is an energy expert, will be there, marching and lobbying our state legislators). And the following week is the huge climate march in DC and elsewhere - or let's hope they are huge. Even though I think marching will not do it, showing the breadth of the movement is important right now. But if we don't do the hands-on grueling work of organizing and education, speaking and writing, making legislators really uncomfortable, creating movements that do actually threaten the global economic order, we will not have done enough in time.

So, protest, march, lobby, advocate, yes, but remember that equally crucial is the work of "new creation." We only send people to anger, frustration, and despair if we tell them we can't live like this anymore and have nothing to point to in order to show what other ways of life might look like, and how we can begin to live them right now.

Here's some more news for you:
This area in Detroit is now America's first 100% organic, self-sustainable neighborhood
Yes, in Detroit. When you don't have the luxuries and pleasantries of the consumer culture to lose anymore, it's amazing what creativity gets freed up to create cultures not only of survival, but of goodness, health, resilience, and well-being, along with friendship and community.
Yes, we must create with urgency...
Alice's Garden Urban Farm - this is where I have my garden plot. I can't even begin to describe all the ways new creation is going on now in this neighborhood.
And this:
Ho-Chunk Nation General Council Approves Rights of Nature Constitutional Amendment

We need a whole movement around those rights, even if it means accepting that we must relinquish some of our economic "rights" to wealth and consumption, to consuming more than we need.
How about this?
"Calling all Water protectors" - Water Is Life
It's not that nothing is going on. All sorts of things are going on, and they are mostly invisible to the mainstream culture. The Dakota Access Pipeline is still being fought - in Iowa, North Dakota, in Louisiana. The Keystone XL is being fought all over again in Nebraska and elsewhere. Other pipeline battles are underway in New Mexico and Texas. Fierce resistance is emerging to plans by the Trump admin to open public lands to more drilling and fracking. In parts of Appalachia, communities are not waiting for the coal industry to be revived, but are moving on to create new economies that can thrive without destroying their precious mountains and streams [see, for example: Appalachia's New Trail: finding life after coal - CS Monitor].

All around us, we see the threats, the dangers unfolding. All around us, if we look beyond the dominant economic/political world, we see the acts of new creation. Trust me, this is where you want to be when things fall apart.
There is a transition that must be made now - yes, with urgency - from one way of life to another. We don't have to wait for someone else to do it for us, or save us somehow. We just need to begin right where we are. The Earth isn't waiting for our politics to change. She is not a product of an economic culture. It is not for her to bend to us to save that culture, it is for us to bend to her so that we may learn again how to live here.
~ Margaret Swedish


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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fast backward of the old, and the new passageway we must construct

In Germany, they are working on a potentially breakthrough technology using heat from lamps that, when concentrated in one spot, reach temperatures of 3,500 Celsius, or what this article calls "the world's largest artificial sun," and then to use this heat to create hydrogen fuel for energy.

Meanwhile, in France, a huge project is underway, called International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), to develop nuclear fusion as a source of unlimited clean energy for the future. What they are attempting is to find a way to control atomic reactions and harness them for energy. International partners include the U.S., Russia, and China, an initiative first negotiated by Pres. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev - yes, that long ago. It is still unproven and it may never work, but it is cutting edge technology in any case. Also hugely expensive.

In China, the government is moving toward huge wind farms and solar arrays, aware that choking on coal in cities where breathing is deadly does not bode well for the nation's economic future.

MTR coal-mining - Vivian Stockman
Meanwhile, in the Trump White House, they are trying to revive the coal industry.

Talk about dinosaurs. That's what I see every time I look at a room full of white men standing ceremoniously around the fearless (also corrupt and incompetent) leader as he signs some other document intended to harm humans and the planet out of motivations of revenge and resentment. I see dinosaurs. I see remnants of a species after the asteroid has hit, and the fast-rolling responses of a planet's climate systems as the living beings of an old era slowly succumb, disappear, left to future generations only as fossil imprints buried under layers of new eras of the evolution of life.

This new era - already emergent. But not in the giant fusion experiment. That feels a lot like geoengineering - throwing even bigger industrial projects at the planet to try to salvage an aging industrial civilization. Rather, this new era is emergent in the resilient communities rising up all around the planet, reconnecting with the Earth's living systems instead of trying to "harness" them, raising food and new small industries to support neighborhoods and cultures, cleaning up the contamination that marks the character of the old economic model, developing "sharing economies" and eschewing "industrial grandiosity" for the sake of simpler, richer, more tender and loving lives.

Photo: M Swedish
One era is dying, has entered its thrilling and destructive last death throes. The other is creating paths to get us through this difficult passageway to the new evolutionary era, and to the new humans we still might become if given time to heal from the damage this industrial age has done to us. And I ask which road we would rather all be on? And what can we do with our lives to be decisive about the direction we choose?

This poignant article from the NY Times: Hope Springs Early, but Not Eternal, for the Deadnettle - or for Us. While I appreciate the gorgeous writing, poetry, and art emerging from this tragic time of ecological demise, how many more more deeply touching lamentations and expressions of deep grief and fear must we read before they tip the balance away from our collective cultural embrace of industrial society?

So, before cheering on an example of breathtaking arrogant human grandiosity like ITER, which, even if it worked, would come too late and require enormous amounts of mostly mined resources to pull off, can we begin to imagine the simple, the scaled-down, the reduction in energy use rather than finding bigger and better ways to produce more of it? Do we get so focused on reducing CO2 emissions at the point of emitting them, and miss the depletion and destruction of living systems required to address that one end-stage piece of our planetary crisis?

I read this morning (March 28) that Energy Partners is beginning to put oil into the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota this week. I also read that Bold Louisiana has pledged to put their bodies on the line to stop completion of that pipeline in their state. I also read that the legislature in Maryland has voted to ban fracking in that state, the third to do so. Trump has granted the presidential permit for construction of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline. Bold Nebraska is prepared to go back to court over issues of eminent domain in order to try yet again to stop it.

Alice's Garden - M Swedish
In Milwaukee, we gear up at Alice's Garden for the next growing season at what we consider our sacred inner city urban farm, April being the month when our labor gets serious. The Garden is part of a growing new food "economy" here in Milwaukee where urban farming combined with neighborhood markets and skills development in growing businesses related to that economy is taking root - by the sheer will and determination of people in some of our most challenged neighborhoods.

Hope comes from there. Hope comes from all those engaged in one way or another in opening that passageway from an old destructive way of life to the new one emergent everywhere.

That asteroid hit our planet decades ago, when our industrial/consumer economy drove us past the tipping point, beyond the carrying capacity of Mother Earth. That was back in the 1980s. We have been tearing at the threads that hold the web of life together for a long time now. It has shown its resilience to abuse for a long time. But it cannot hold together much longer. Indeed, the signs of the unraveling are already with us. That deadnettle - that deadnettle is announcing the times.

Photo: M Swedish
Some people are listening. Some people are taking action. Some people are dreaming new cultures and new ways of life and actually birthing them. We don't give up. We know we are seeing the death throes of a dying civilization. We know we are about the work of new creation. We are working to open that narrow passageway.

~ Margaret Swedish

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Didn't We Say This Time Was Coming?

            Many are shocked that it’s this bad, but do we deserve to be surprised? Haven’t we been saying for a long while now that we’ve been moving toward collapse? The culture, full of unresolved tensions and strains it could no longer hold, has been so clearly unsustainable for a long, long time. Those tensions and strains have been bred into the very nature of the society since its founding days, fed on a steady diet of western economic thought, the kind that wasted Europe before Europeans came to North America to begin wasting this continent as well. And in the last two centuries of industrialization and exponential population growth, those tensions were bound to implode.

            We have said this. Many have seen it coming for decades – all through my adult life, actually, because it was the projections of collapse from way back in the 1970s that were part of what propelled me into the work of social justice and from there to the work on eco-justice and the connections among ecology, spirituality, and culture that is the orientation and content of the work I have been doing since leaving Washington DC in 2006.