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).

I am aware that, unless the world acts fast (and we know it won't), carbon levels could rise by 60% or more this century from where they were the year I was born - around 310 ppm in 1949.

Lately, I feel keenly the fears and anxieties of a world facing the possibility of some sort of nuclear disaster as tensions rise in East Asia. Japan has put warnings out to their population informing people of how much time they will have should N. Korea launch a missile at them - about 10 minutes. The most terrifying part about this is that it's been done at all. This is unprecedented for Japan.

So, here's a potential for quickly reversing global warming: how about a nuclear winter?

We know which way the jet stream flows, yes? There are no walls to stop the immigration of radioactive fallout across the Pacific Ocean to North America. So what in the world are these White House people thinking? And what happens to the people of Seoul (pop. 10.3 million), not to mention our 28,000 soldiers stationed in S. Korea, if we do a preemptive strike? It wouldn't require a nuclear strike to kill hundreds of thousands of people very quickly. N. Korea has plenty of missiles already aimed at the south and could launch within minutes of a U.S. strike.

All so close together

On the other hand, what about the deeply unstable man sitting atop N. Korea's military right now? What stops him if he decides to act on his megalomaniacal paranoia and launch a missile just to prove that he can?

We forget sometimes that the war there never ended. A ceasefire was declared in 1953 and an armed truce is in place - that's all - for going on 64 years now.

Are we really this crazy? Have humans really arrived at the possibility of launching nuclear weapons? Or is it all testosterone-induced bluster between a couple of self-aggrandizing egos who see stepping back as weakness?

It's a dangerous game they're playing.

A trade war with Canada? Really? We're going to do that, too? Both the U.S. and Canadian governments are fully committed to extreme fossil fuel extraction and both will fail to meet pledged emission reduction targets made under the regimen of the Paris climate accords. On this, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the White House seem to agree.

Meanwhile, Russia's Vladimir Putin has built a military installation just outside the Arctic Circle to bolster Russia's claims to the massive oil and gas reserves under the Arctic Ocean. Understand this: Russia is an impoverished petro-state that relies on its state-owned oil and gas industries for a large portion of its economy (68% in 2014). Its agricultural sector is in ruins, and it's industrial production capacity diminishing. Russia has no interest in stopping climate change. It needs it for its economic future.

I wish I was making that up. But you don't build multi-hundreds-of-billions-of-rubles worth of military installations as a bet on a future you are working at the same time to avoid.

Yes, in this case, too, it is a reckless game they are playing. And President Trump, along with his Sec. of State Rex Tillerson (not only former Exxon CEO, but the one who brought Exxon into partnership with Putin for exploration and exploitation of Arctic gas and oil reserves), along with his EPA head, his Commerce and Energy Secretaries, and more - every one of them is engaged in a recklessness with these industries that endangers us all.

Official poster
Now, this week we find ourselves between two major outpourings of revolt and rejection of this recklessness. The turnout in cities around the country (and world) last weekend for the March for Science impressed me once again. The hundreds of thousands marching and chanting (also holding up some of the most creative signs I have ever seen - thank you, science nerds) is evidence that if groups provide the forum, the throngs will appear. Restless discontent is now a full-fledged epidemic around the nation.

And this Saturday expect an even bigger turnout for the latest edition of the People's Climate March. While the big action is usually in DC, I think I am most heartened by the enormity of turnouts in local communities because it speaks more to the depth and breadth of the discontent - not only among organized groups, national organizations, and those with the resources to get to DC, but in local communities everywhere. Again, provide the venue and the people appear, with their kids, babies in strollers, the schoolkids with ingenious signs, the churches and other faith communities, all the places people are feeling the unraveling and looking for a way out of this mess we have made.

"Oh, people will come, Ray, people will most definitely come." (Field of Dreams)


So what's the way out of this mess? It is not in the marching and the protesting. That's indication, that's measurement of outrage, of the extent of repudiation of the political corruption of our system and the longing for a different kind of world. These moments are needed so that we can all see how alone we are not.

But the way out is in taking that repudiation and putting conscious awareness into it in a way that helps people really see and understand what has brought about this crisis (starting with the rise of the industrial growth economy and the imposition of western economic culture over the world), and then getting intensely serious about building new resilient, localized self-sustaining communities that can begin to kick the foundations out from under that system.

These marches provide an opportunity to bring people together afterwards to talk about how to do that, to get past protest to the work of new creation. Like waves that break on shore, and then recede again, the rhythm of these waves - outpouring and receding, outpouring and receding, sometimes the waves get big and crash real hard, and then again the receding - I like to think of movements like that.

Or going back to the old Circle of Praxis social change model: 1) look at or immerse oneself in the reality, usually in a local community; 2) engage a deep social analysis of what is going on there and the dynamics and root causes at work; 3) reflect on that reality in the light of faith or whatever meaning framework or spiritual orientation motivates you; 4) then commit to some action to change the reality. This becomes the starting point for repeating the circle. Look at the reality again in light of what we have done, seen, learned. What's different now? What do we do next based on this experience?

It's a circle that allows a community to deepen a praxis, to share values at a deep level, to stay open to critique and self-reflection, to keep challenging ourselves to go deeper, see more clearly, and move always from those insights. Moments like these national marches provide great input into this model of action for social change.

For those in the streets this weekend, may you be filled with new energy and inspiration. If we go home and nothing has changed, we will have wasted our time and resources. Moments like these need to be part of the transformation that leads away from "the Great Unraveling" toward "the Great Turning."

And what is that "turning" again? From Joanna Macy: it is "a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization."

From her website
The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits--in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.

A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.
It is. And each and every one of us can dive into this "essential adventure" of our times - if we want to, if we are willing to make the commitment to new creation. Trust me, it is more thrilling than just about anything else I can think of. It will fill your life with meaning.
Margaret Swedish  - Check out my bio at our old website.

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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.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Necessity of Deep Truth

There are facts, and there is truth. And then there is deep truth.

What do I mean by that?

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We already know that the regime trying to gain control over all aspects of government and the economy is trying to create a fact-denying culture. Or I should say, they are trying to expand the power of a fact-denying culture that has been rising for decades in reaction to tumultuous change brought about by last century's world wars, including that Cold one, exponential population growth, collapse of old empires leaving chaos and violent power struggles in the former colonies, mass industrialization that has wreaked havoc on ecosystems, the rise of technologies that have separated us from knowledge of the natural world, the decline of White Western Domination as population diversity spills into every corner of the planet, transformational changes to the notion of work and labor as computers and robots replace people...

Monday, February 6, 2017

Don't let them steal your joy

It’s bad. Okay, it’s bad. It’s as bad as we thought it would be, perhaps worse than many thought it would be. And it’s going to be bad for a while, probably a long while.

So this is crucial. Do not let them steal your joy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s warning to the churches

Over this past weekend, in anticipation of the Dr. King holiday, I pulled out my aging copy of the collection of his writings, entitled, A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (ed., James M. Washington, 1986). I wanted to read again the entire "Letter from Birmingham City Jail," written in April 1963. It had been a couple of decades, actually, since I had read the whole amazing document all the way through. As I had anticipated, I was struck by its fierce relevance to this moment when we face what feels at times like an existential crisis in this country, a watershed moment, a time of truly consequential moral, social, personal, and political decisions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What to do in the midst of the unraveling

I started watching some of the Rex Tillerson hearings this morning, but didn't last long. Then I started watching the president-elect's press conference, for which he brought an entire entourage and piles of binders (great photo op), but after realizing he had nothing substantive to say, I turned that off, too. I went back online, and to all these tabs with articles that I had marked to be read - and there is so much to read these days.

This was the one I chose to start this post:
What will mysticism in the 21st century look like? Diarmuid O'Murchu, a writer and speaker who has had some influence on my spiritual approach to the ecological crisis and with whom I seem to be on a parallel path. It's one that involves endless expansion of view and paradigm-shattering approaches, with a certain kind of fearlessness now because old paradigms, clung to, are attempting to block the transformation under way within the culture, indeed globally, whether we like that transformation or not.

Old ways of thinking, old belief frameworks, old cosmologies and spiritualities that no longer reflect the world we know - a lot of that is unraveling now. Old certainties, old ways of looking at things, old ways of viewing the meaning of the human on this planet - it's all kind of breaking down. One reason for the breakdown, besides the obvious ecological one, is that they are part of the energy that is bringing about the unraveling.