Thanksgiving 2018: Giving Thanks for Kindred Spirits, Here at the Edge of the Climate Disruption Cliff

This year Thanksgiving has fallen on the coldest day of the season here in New England. Sunny but frigid, the streets are quiet as everyone huddles at home around fires and heaters. It’s a reminder of how human beings living in the north have always needed fire to warm us, whether that fire comes from trees recently alive or those ancient fossilized carbons known as coal, gas and oil.

Today I am giving thanks for being warm. I am giving thanks for having a loving family with whom to spend this holiday, laughing and talking over a delicious feast.

I am giving thanks and even as I do so, I am feeling guilty for the abundance I enjoy, and thinking about the suffering of others that I contribute to just in the simple fact of heating my house or driving my car to my parents’ home.

I’m feeling so uncomfortable about Thanksgiving this year that it’s been very hard to begin writing my annual Thanksgiving post for Transition Times.

I’m feeling guilty about my own enjoyment in the face of others’ suffering (and not just human others, but animals and all life on Earth are in my compassionate thoughts today).

I’m feeling guilty as I realize that the obliviousness of myself and others to our collective impact on the Earth—so clearly on display in the American tradition of Thanksgiving—has brought us to the cliff of climate disruption, upon which we perch today.

Many people I know are not fully awake to the danger of our moment. They’re still going about their lives as though the next few decades will unfold as they always have in our lifetimes: with some personal change and political turbulence playing out against the predictable stability of our ever-giving environment.

This is the premise that continues to fuel our debt- and growth-based capitalist economy. We borrow against the future, expecting growth and appreciation to continue to carry us along.

How_many_earths_2018_large-768x1261Intellectually many of us know that humans have now outstripped the carrying capacity of the Earth—Thanksgiving occurs nearly four months into overshoot territory, where we humans have officially consumed more than the planet has to give. We are eating our principal now.

We know this…and yet we continue to eat, burn fossil fuels and buy goods that take more resources to make than the Earth has to give. And every one of these actions takes human civilization inexorably closer to the edge of that cliff….

This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the luxury of being able to sit in a warm house on a cold day, contemplating the end of the world as I have always known it. If the IPCC scientists are right, this is a luxury I may not have much longer.

Worldwrights copyThis Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all those who are awake and working to back-peddle us away from the edge of the climate disruption cliff—brilliant thinkers and social influencers like Stephen Harrod Buhner, Charles Eisenstein, Mary Lyons, Joanna Macy, Bill McKibben, George Monbiot, Daniel Pinchbeck, Nina Simons, Rebecca Solnit, Starhawk, Daniel Christian Wahl, Andreas Weber, Terry Tempest Williams and many more, whose ideas enliven and inspire me as I work on my Worldwrights book about leaders for social and environmental justice who have used writing to right the world, and written purposeful memoirs about their own journeys.

Sometimes, as I go about my work of publishing, editing, author coaching and teaching, not to mention my own writing, I wonder if this is the best use I could be making of the precious time we have left. Is there something more important I should be doing to help wake people up to the danger, and turn this gigantic ship of corporate capitalist doom around?

I keep coming back to how critical it is that we communicate with each other, building resilient communities through sharing our hopes, dreams and visions.

That is what my work of purposeful memoir is about: looking back in order to better understand how we’ve arrived at the present moment (as individuals, as societies and as the world civilization known as the Anthropocene), with the ultimate visionary goal of aligning our personal values with our political and planetary presence in order to create the thriving future we all want to live into.

And doing all this together with others. Purposeful memoir is not only a path to individual awareness, it’s also a profoundly valuable community-building technique.

I give thanks for this work that is mine to do, and for the community of kindred spirits who offer strength, courage and wisdom for our collective journey into the future.

I give thanks for you, reader—welcome to the table! Together we can, and we must, change the world.

Leave a comment


  1. Alice Mae Lewis

     /  November 22, 2018

    I give thanks for folks like you… sending out the messages we all need to hear and heed. Stay warm and safe.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  November 23, 2018

      Thank you Alice! Yes, it’s important to draw our kindred spirits around us when the cold and dark threaten to close in….thanks for being there!

  2. Diane Husic

     /  November 24, 2018

    Sounds like a few of us are thinking about climate disruption over the holiday weekend:

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  November 25, 2018

      Yes, I am grateful that climate disruption and its consequences is now getting some real play on mainstream fields like The New York Times. It’s way overdue! But better late than never. Nice to see you here on Transition Times, Diane! Happy holidays.

      • Diane Husic

         /  November 25, 2018

        I too look forward to the Worldwrights book. I see that we admire many of the same people.

        A colleague from the U.N. climate meetings shared an article from the NY Times today ( with this comment:

        “Today’s New York Times article on the power and pervasiveness of coal is discouraging. I find a lot of irony here – the negotiations advance slowly while the coal industry seems to be expanding rapidly. COP 24 parties will work on a Paris Agreement rule book while many national economies continue their dependence on fossil fuels. The negotiations are, of course, political, and many politicians seek short term gains even if the long term costs are potentially profound.”

        “Still, I remain cautiously optimistic. I struggle, though, to identify ways to strengthen the connection between science/research and policy.”

        From the article:

        +So, why is coal so hard to quit?

        — Because coal is a powerful incumbent.”

        “In the public imagination, the coal miner has long been a symbol of industrial virility, a throwback to an era when hard labor — particularly men’s labor, rather than robots — fueled economic growth.”

        I can’t help but think of the analogies to our current political situation, but that is another story.
        I get asked over and over again about the appropriate role of scientists in advocacy. Increasingly, I worry about the consequences of our staying out of the political fray. Scientists have long thought that data is sufficient; if we put it out there, it will speak for itself and people will make good decisions.
        Whether it is the belief that coal can be clean and good for the economy (despite all evidence against both, at least if you are from a region like Appalachia where coal-related health issues persist, the toll on the environment is great, and the area remains in poverty), that we are slow to act on climate change despite all the day, that vaccines save life and don’t cause autism, etc, etc. … what is common is that scientific data and other evidence takes a back seat to a lot of other factors that dictate policy and personal decision making.
        On campuses, we hear about “other ways of knowing”. In other venues, non-experts (with vested interests) spread seeds of doubt about science. We remove all the romaine lettuce from shelves in the store because a small number of people get ill, but do nothing about gun control. Rationale thinking is endangered!

        As I wrote in my blog post yesterday, “Our government defends a lot of our actions by claiming they are in the interest of national security but, in my opinion, it fails to recognize where the very real threats lie.” [] And as my colleague notes, we (governments around the world) focus on the short-term gains. How then, do we work to counter these forces?

      • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

         /  November 25, 2018

        You are so right, Diane, about the lack of rationality we face. People are obsessing over the small stuff, like contaminated lettuce, while meanwhile the pesticides of industrial agriculture are wiping out an entire biological family, insects!

        I have been writing less on Transition Times in the past year because if I responded to every news item that enrages or grieves me, I’d be in a constant dysfunctional emotional state; I have been trying to focus on the positive news I can glean, and pass it along with blessings. I have thought a lot in the past few months about hope and despair, and decided to try to avoid that roller-coaster for myself and my readers. We have to move forward with our vision of the positive future we want to co-create with other kindred spirits…and build the bridge to that future every day, with every small act and choice we make.

        For me, “aligning the personal, political and planetary” means that we don’t start with asking how we can change the government; we start with asking how we can “be the change we want to see,” and then let the ripples from our decisions and actions move outwards into the political and planetary realms. Grounded activism–I don’t see any other way. We are so networked now, in terms of our global consciousness, that shifts in perception really can have a big impact in a relatively short time. For instance, I am grateful to see the New York Times FINALLY putting climate change on the front page, and finally starting to do the investigative reporting to connect the dots. The environmental movement is FINALLY starting to move into the mainstream, and that is where it must be for change to start to happen at the scale and speed we need.

        Higher education continues to have a critical role in teaching young people to think for themselves; to be able to review research and competing claims with an informed and independent lens. That’s a super-important role we teachers can play, even though for me it often seems like my work in the classroom does not have enough relevance to the issues that most concern me. I’m working on that–aligning my teaching with my thinking!

        Thanks for this juicy comment, Diane! Onward!

  3. Adrian Dunn

     /  November 25, 2018

    Wow, Jennifer, this book looks wonderful! I want to get a copy.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  November 25, 2018

      You mean my Worldwrights book? Coming right up, I’m working as fast as I can while keeping another dozen projects going….looking for a good chunk of time to really focus and finish. Will keep you posted–thanks for the encouragement, Adrian!


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