Monday October 23rd 2017

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Wild Words

Yes, it has been a long time.  Been having a hard time finding that “life-balance” thing.  My life has been consumed by work — little time to read, ponder, or write……
For a while there I was really in a groove.  I was reading quite bit on sustainability and I had lots of ideas for the blog and messages that I wanted to share.  I haven’t picked up a book in three months.  I haven’t written a thing in two months.  It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routine.  The days pass.
Each night as my head hit the pillow I would feel disappointed in myself for failing again to make any progress on the blog.  For failing to learn more.  Failing to share more.  As I would drift off to sleep I would promise that tomorrow I would get up early and do some research and some writing.  Didn’t happen.  At home each night I would be too tired and would find ways to avoid “thinking.”
The months pass and little has changed.  Our society is hurtling toward disaster and still no real discussion.  No serious re-evaluation of who we are, of what we are becoming, and of what we could be.  There is system failure all around us (environmental, political, economic, social) but people hang on tighter and tighter to beliefs, ideologies, and values that are simply not valid in the world we now live in.  (The increasing “shrillness” of our political system is a clean indicator of this)
There are thousands of people out there creating a new reality.  Creating the world of what could be.  I will be writing about some of them and their “movements” in the weeks to come.  I will be encouraging you to find the one(s) that resonate and figure out how you can make your mark.
But for today, I will leave you with some “wild words.”  Every day I rack my brain trying to figure out what is the statistic, the turn of phrase, which image, which vision is the one that will enable someone to finally have that “Aha” moment.  Do I paint the apocalypse or sketch the milk and honey?  What will it take to inspire someone?
Every day more and more people “get it” but that number is still far too small to change the system.  So today, an attempt to jar some consciousness:

Herman Daly and John Cobb wrote this in 1994 (15 years ago!)
But at a deep level of our being we find it hard to suppress the cry of anguish, the scream of horror—the wild words required to express wild realities.  We human beings are being led to a dead end—all too literally.  We are living by an ideology of death and accordingly we are destroying our own humanity and killing the planet… Even the one great success of the program that has governed us, the attainment of material affluence, is now giving way to poverty.  …The United States is just now gaining a foretaste of the suffering that global economic policies, so enthusiastically embraced, have inflicted on hundreds of millions of others. If we continue on our present paths, future generations, if there are to be any, are condemned to misery.  The fact that many people of good will do not see this dead end is undeniably true, very regrettable, and it is our main reason for writing this book;

(For the Common Good:  Redirecting the Economy toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future)

This is a great book and one of the first that I ever read on ideas around sustainability.  Herman Daly was a World Bank economist who realized that mainstream economic thought was flawed and ultimately unsustainable.  He shows why most of what we were taught in Econ 101 is wrong.  But this book is much more than economics.  Cobb is a theologian.  Together they write a fascinating book that maps out what a sustainable society could look like, and they were some of the first to look at the economic and spiritual and philosophical changes needed to create a sustainable society.  Pick it up at your library!

I am going to leave you with some selected thoughts from Adam Sacks.  In this blog post (shown in blue text) Adam writes a long critique on the environmental movement and its failure to properly communicate the problem of climate change to society.  His critique challenges the very core of our history, and challenges how we define ourselves as humans.  You can read the full blog post here.

I’ve already shortened his piece, but if you are really in a hurry, read the selections I highlighted in RED

In the 20 years since we climate activists began our work in earnest, the state of the climate has become dramatically worse, and the change is accelerating — this despite all of our best efforts. Clearly something is deeply wrong with this picture. What is it that we do not yet know? What do we have to think and do differently to arrive at urgently different outcomes?[1]
The answers lie not with science, but with culture.
Climate activists are obsessed with greenhouse-gas emissions and concentrations. Since global climate disruption is an effect of greenhouse gases, and a disastrous one, this is understandable. But it is also a mistake.
Such is the fallacy of climate activism[2]: We insist that global warming is merely a consequence of greenhouse-gas emissions. Since it is not, we fail to tell the truth to the public.  I think that there are two serious errors in our perspectives on greenhouse gases:
Global Warming as Symptom

The first error is our failure to understand that greenhouse gases are not a cause but a symptom, and addressing the symptom will do little but leave us with a devil’s sack full of many other symptoms, possibly somewhat less rapidly lethal but lethal nonetheless.

The root cause, the source of the symptoms, is 300 years of our relentlessly exploitative, extractive, and exponentially growing technoculture, against the background of ten millennia of hierarchical and colonial civilizations.[3] This should be no news flash, but the seductive promise of endless growth has grasped all of us civilized folk by the collective throat, led us to expand our population in numbers beyond all reason and to commit genocide of indigenous cultures and destruction of other life on Earth.
To be sure, global climate disruption is the No. 1 symptom. But if planetary warming were to vanish tomorrow, we would still be left with ample catastrophic potential to extinguish many life forms in fairly short order: deforestation; desertification; poisoning of soil, water, air; habitat destruction; overfishing and general decimation of oceans; nuclear waste, depleted uranium, and nuclear weaponry — to name just a few. (While these symptoms exist independently, many are intensified by global warming.)
We will not change course by addressing each of these as separate issues; we have to address root cultural cause.

[MD:  long section on climate science, let’s skip that and get to the good stuff]

Bitter climate truths are fundamentally bitter cultural truths. Endless growth is an impossibility in the physical world, always — but always — ending in overshot and collapse. Collapse: with a bang or a whimper, most likely both. We are already witnessing it, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
Because of this civilization’s obsession with growth, its demise is 100 percent predictable. We simply cannot go on living this way. Our version of life on earth has come to an end.  Moreover, there are no “free market” or “economic” solutions. And since corporations must have physically impossible endless growth in order to survive, corporate social responsibility is a myth. The only socially responsible act that corporations can take is to dissolve.
We can’t bargain with the forces of nature, trading slightly less harmful trinkets for a fantasied reprieve. Geophysical processes care not one whit for our politics, our economics, our evening meals, our theologies, our love for our children, our plaintive cries of innocence and error.
We can either try to plan the transition, even at this late hour, or the physical forces of the world will do it for us — indeed, they already are. As Alfred Crosby stated in his remarkable book, Ecological Imperialism, mother nature’s ministrations are never gentle.[5]
Telling the Truth
If we climate activists don’t tell the truth as well as we know it — which we have been loathe to do because we ourselves are frightened to speak the words — the public will not respond, notwithstanding all our protestations of urgency.
And contrary to current mainstream climate-activist opinion, contrary to all the pointless “focus groups,” contrary to the endless speculation on “correct framing,” the only way to tell the truth is to tell it. All of it, no matter how terrifying it may be.[6]
It is offensive and condescending for activists to assume that people can’t handle the truth without environmentalists finding a way to make it more palatable. The public is concerned, we vaguely know that something is desperately wrong, and we want to know more so we can try to figure out what to do. The response to An Inconvenient Truth, as tame as that film was in retrospect, should have made it clear that we want to know the truth.
And finally, denial requires a great deal of energy, is emotionally exhausting, fraught with conflict and confusion. Pretending we can save our current way of life derails us and sends us in directions that lead us astray. The sooner we embrace the truth, the sooner we can begin the real work.
Let’s just tell it.
Stating the Problem
After we tell the truth, then what can we do? Is it hopeless? Perhaps. But before we can have the slightest chance of meaningful action, having told the truth, we have to face the climate reality, fully and unflinchingly. If we base our planning on false premises — such as the oft-stated stutter that reducing our greenhouse-gas emissions will forestall “the worst effects of global warming” — we can only come up with false solutions. “Solutions” that will make us feel better as we tumble toward the end, but will make no ultimate difference whatsoever.
Furthermore, we can and must pose the problem without necessarily providing the “solutions.”[7] I can’t tell you how many climate activists have scolded me, “You can’t state a problem like that without providing some solutions.” If we accept that premise, all of scientific inquiry as well as many other kinds of problem-solving would come to a screeching halt. The whole point of stating a problem is to clarify questions, confusions, and unknowns, so that the problem statement can be mulled, chewed, and clarified to lead to some meaningful answers, even though the answers may seem to be out of reach.
Some of our most important thinking happens while developing the problem statement, and the better the problem statement the richer our responses. That’s why framing the global warming problem as greenhouse-gas concentrations has proved to be such a dead end.
Here is the problem statement as it is beginning to unfold for me. We are all a part of struggling to develop this thinking together:
We must leave behind 10,000 years of civilization; this may be the hardest collective task we’ve ever faced. It has given us the intoxicating power to create planetary changes in 200 years that under natural cycles require hundreds of thousands or millions of years — but none of the wisdom necessary to keep this Pandora’s Box tightly shut. We have to discover and re-discover other ways of living on earth.
We love our cars, our electricity, our iPods, our theme parks, our bananas, our Nikes, and our nukes, but we behave as if we understand nothing of the land and water and air that gives us life. It is past time to think and act differently.
If we live at all, we will have to figure out how to live locally and sustainably. Living locally means we are able get everything we need within walking (or animal riding) distance. We may eventually figure out sustainable ways of moving beyond those small circles to bring things home, but our track record isn’t good and we’d better think it through very carefully.
Likewise, any technology has to be locally based, using local resources and accessible tools, renewable and non-toxic. We have much re-thinking to do, and re-learning from our hunter-gatherer forebears who managed to survive for a couple of hundred thousand years in ways that we with our civilized blinders we can barely imagine or understand.[8]
Living sustainably means, in Derrick Jensen’s elegantly simple definition, that whatever we do, we can do it indefinitely.[9] We cannot use up anything more or faster than nature provides, we don’t poison the air, water, or soil, and we respect the web of life of which we are an intricate part. We are not separate from nature, or above it, or in any way qualified to supervise it.[10] The evidence is ample and overwhelming; all we have to do is be brave enough to look.
How do we survive in a world that will probably turn — is already turning, for many humans and non-humans alike — into a living hell? How do we even grow or gather food or find clean water or stay warm or cool while assaulted by biblical floods, storms, rising seas, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, snow, and hail?
It is crystal clear that we cannot leave it to the technophiliacs. It is human technology coupled with our inability to comprehend, predict, and prevent unintended consequences that have brought us global catastrophe, culminating in climate disruption, in the first place. Desperate hopes notwithstanding, there are no high-tech solutions here, only wishful thinking–the tools that got us into this mess are incapable of getting us out.[11]
All that being said, we needn’t discard all that we’ve learned, far from it.[12] But we must use our knowledge with great discretion, and lock much of it away as so much nuclear weaponry and waste.
Time is running very short, but the forgiveness of this little blue orb in a vast lonely universe will continue to astonish and nourish us–if we only give it the chance.
Our obligation as activists, the first step, the essence, is to part the cultural veil at long last, and to tell the truth.

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