Monday, September 18, 2017

Living within reality v living outside of it - as if this is a choice

That was the thought that popped into my brain after I read this AP story this morning:

US coastal growth continues despite lessons of past storms 

GOES-East image of Maria
Here comes Maria - NASA satellite image

This is denialism in the extreme - and I don't just mean the climate science deniers. I mean all of us who continue to live outside the reality of it, which is most of us in this capitalist consumer world of ours.

Everyone who believes that they can live beyond the biocapacity of the Earth and still have a habitable planet, everyone who resists seeing clearly that those who live outside the margins of what is sustainable in a regenerative sense for the ecosystems of the Earth is in denial.

The economic system, the institutions that are co-dependent with it (including cultural, religious, academic, political, financial, social, etc.), the lifestyles we live that support it, the aspirations we have that can only be reached within that system - all of that is cloaked in the mantel of denial, denial that the Earth itself cannot support it any longer and is already in the process of numerous manifestations of collapse.

The choice is inescapable, and so the resistance (especially among the supposedly knowledge-based economic and scientific cultures) is fairly stupefying the more obvious the crisis becomes:
We will either live within the limits of reality, or we will crash our world and reality will force what remains back inside those limits.
That's it. That's where we are. And the more it is said out loud, the more we squirm and wish the planet would stop insisting on this truth.

I read this stuff all the time - the studies, the reports, the data that show how impossible this has all become. We need 1.6 planets to continue as we are - but we aren't continuing "as we are." We are going to add 2-3 billion more humans to the planet by 2050, a planet that is seeing rapid depletion in all the most basic things we need for life, especially arable land and water.

However, we are not just talking about the most basic things of life. We are talking about high-rise buildings and industry and housing developments and air conditioning on an increasingly hotter planet and smart phones and SUVs and pickup trucks and giant sports stadiums and arenas and mining for the planet's last remaining minerals and metals and pipelines for oil, gas, water, and sewage and more concrete to twice the amount of concrete used over the past two centuries and on and on. How?!

Reality, my friends, not fantasy. We don't get to live in a fantasy world. No matter how hard we try, reality smacks us in the face - in Southeast Texas and Florida, and in the burning forests of the northwest and around Los Angeles, in the 106 degrees in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago and temperatures in the 70s in Milwaukee last February and Chicago's snowless winter. Millions of ticks are spreading throughout the nation carrying deadly or crippling diseases, a tiny insect raging through all those comforting fantasies.

From Forbes: "The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050... How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?"
"...large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction." ~ Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg, in their book,  Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations, as quoted in the Forbes article.
And that, my friends, is a terrific summary statement of the foundational fantasy of our time.

By the way, this is the Forbes article, Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050. It's from Feb 2016. Didn't have much impact, did it...

Now here's the thing - my own thing. I actually do not want to depress you or anyone else. Instead, I would like to see humans dig deep to find out some deeper meaning in life than this economic world that has created this false reality, the one that has separated us from what Fr. Jon Sobrino, SJ, liberation theologian from El Salvador, used to call "real reality."

Complexity of life - Lake Michigan shore
Real reality - that we can't keep extracting from the Earth more than it can replenish with the abundance and complexity of living forms that hold the Web of Life together, that we can't keep spewing more waste into her atmosphere and biosphere than she can absorb, that we can't keep shredding natural habitats and think life will somehow survive.

From Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute:
Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic...

Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

~ Museletter #303: Climate Change Isn't our Biggest Environmental Problem, and Why Technology Won't Save Us
Honesty and soul-searching.

You see, our situation is not hopeless, even if we are headed for a very painful transition. It is only hopeless if we cling to what is breaking down our world. It is only hopeless if we try to preserve the fantasy. Once we let that go, things become clear, what we have to do, and even more, who we have to become.

If the fantasy had brought happiness and joy for everyone, seeing this would be difficult. But when we look at the world and see the pain, the suffering, the anger and depression, the violence in our streets, our homes, our world, the hunger, the hatred, the resurgent tribalism, the inequality, the loss of soul - you have to wonder why it is so hard to rid ourselves of this economic paradigm and reach into something deeper, more meaningful, more worthy of the dignity of the human spirit.

This work, this project to wrest ourselves from the crisis of inevitable collapse - now that is a journey more worthy of us. And that is the challenge we face now - to claim lives of far deeper meaning than the one that has consumed our world, being at the service of global corporate powers that are the real energy behind the loss of hope.

Photo: M Swedish
Living in reality rather than trying to continually prop up a fantasy world will release a tremendous amount of creative energy. Rather than trying to fit into the world constructed for us by western capitalism, waiting for them to create the jobs they need and then playing our roles as consumers of their profit-making goods, we use our best gifts and talents to live in the real world itself, to create new ways of life out of the economies of the local communities where we live, communities that include the other sentient and non-sentient beings that make up the habitats in which we dwell. The point of these economies then becomes no longer profits for corporations and investors, but rich and abundant life for all.

Yes, it will be shattering to many of the myths and fantasies that have supported our sense of self and purpose. But they are collapsing in any case, so it's time to find a new vision for the human journey. This one hasn't worked out very well. It's time to have the courage to face the emptiness of this economic path, to release ourselves from its addictive powers, to journey back into relationship with the planet, into its reality, the one from which we emerged and on which we are completely dependent. Maybe by doing that we can begin to discover (or rediscover) the sense of a deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, and thereby bring about a rebirth of the human species.

We have to. We have no other choice - if we want to keep living here.

~ Margaret Swedish 

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Monday, September 4, 2017

We need some real moral courage now

Where will it come from?

Let's spend a little time assessing the situation. I know this can often amount to overload, but at some point we have to be willing to receive into our heads and hearts the full scope of the turbulent changes underway in order to appreciate the scope of the changes required of us now, with urgency. After all, we are already feeling them in our bodies and psyches, which react to all sorts of trauma with stress, anxiety, fear, and profound disorientation as our familiar world becomes increasingly unfamiliar.

I will do this by way of a couple of overarching themes that point to the gravity of the moment, the larger picture that we could fill in with any number of other crises - war and threats of war, racism and segregation, retreat into tribalism and religious fundamentalism, and other social realities - like addiction, gun violence, the rise of armed, organized militias - exacerbating that crisis. The list is long, and much of this is symptom, not cause, of our predicament. We are a population operating under extreme stress (as is much of the world), but largely unable to articulate the true causes of that stress. "Blame the other" has become the convenient way of coping in a culture that has never understood well the dynamics of the global economy, the breakdown of ecosystems or how they work, and how religion is often a force of social control rather than insight, wisdom, and liberation.

Friday, August 25, 2017

35 inches of rain - and an eclipse

Having trouble taking that in - 35 inches of rain? I am. Hard to comprehend. Hard to comprehend what it means to major population areas. Add to that high winds and a 12-ft storm surge. Add to that the possibility that barrier islands may be inundated. And then that the rain will go on for days.

I'm watching the Weather Channel this early morning. I know they tend to over-dramatize weather, but they are reading statements from the National Weather Service that are about as dire as anything I've ever heard.

Hurricane Katrina struck land as a category 1 storm. This will hit the Texas coast as a category 3.

A disaster like this does not end when the winds calm and the sun returns. A disaster like this destroys in ways that take years for communities to recover. Some of the outcomes will be permanent. Millions of lives could be upended.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The summer of our discontent, and the coming eclipse

Discontent abounds now in our fragmenting culture. I'm going in to a bit of a quiet mode for a week or two, reassessing what we're doing under the umbrella of this little non-profit. How to focus in the time of "the Great Unraveling" when our non-profit's financial resources are scarce, and when many people are bewildered, anxious, fearful, most of us having no clue about that comes next.

We are in crisis. Some media people are trying to tell us that. This isn't "chicken little" time. The sky really is falling.

Good time for a total eclipse.

Monday, August 7, 2017

We are water - which is good news and bad news

On Sunday (Aug 6th) I attended the annual "We Are Water" event on a Lake Michigan beach just north of downtown Milwaukee, hosted by the Milwaukee Water Commons. There are many things I love about this event. It is a beautiful combination of inspiration, education, spirituality, ecology, and ritual. It is centered on our relationship with the Great Lakes - not theoretically or romantically, but deeply, materially, in the sense that we share a common fate.

Humans have not taken very good care of this lake, or most of the others. Only Lake Superior remains fairly pristine, but it is also threatened with more coastal development, oil pipelines, and huge tanker ships carrying dangerous materials.

The world's largest fresh water "resource," as some think of them, it is a water system unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

So it is sometimes hard to believe that humans could mess them up so, threaten their future. Well, if we can do it to the oceans - and we are - we can certainly do it to the inland freshwater lakes.

Friday, July 28, 2017

We are unraveling... so now what?

It's hard to know what to write after a political week like this one. I write on ecology and spirituality. I write about the nexus between culture and ecology, how the health of the latter depends on the health of the former - and the former seems pathologically ill. I offer workshops on environmental justice, on the "new" story presented to us by scientific discovery, on the importance of humans re-finding their connections with the eco-communities that give us life and maintain them, before we shred them to pieces.

I speak and write on the role of beauty and awe in the human psyche, threatened now by small screens and endless internet connectivity and a consumer culture that has us saturated with things and pleasures and conveniences, all brought to us by massive destruction of forests, waters, farmland, and more.

And then we have a political week like this one and I know some of us think, why bother? Collapse of this culture, this western way of life, this economic system, is well underway with a seemingly unstoppable and accelerating momentum.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"the ending of the old and the beginning of the new"

The reality of the present moment contains both of these aspects: the ending of the old and the beginning of the new. What's challenging is that the beginning of the new is not that loud, it's not that manifest, it's not as tangible as what we already know. So what is required of us is a deeper quality of listening, of paying attention to the more subtle aspects of our experience, and of connecting with the sources of stillness. This is an experience that must happen not only on the individual level, but also on the collective level.

~ Dr. C. Otto Scharmer, from an interview with Annmarie Sanders, IHM, communications director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religous (LCWR)*

Crumbling of the old...
Shhhh, can you hear it? The big sound, the enormous noise, is that of the old world ending, the old paradigm of western culture going back a few centuries. It's the sound of a collapsing industrial society, its structures so frayed and stressed now that they can no longer hold it up.

But that's not the sound I mean here. That's the noise we need to silence in order to hear the other sound that is emerging - the sound of the beginning of the new.